Canine Influenza Outbreak 2015

Several pet owners have recently inquired about reports of an outbreak of canine influenza virus  in the Midwest.  This new strain of canine influenza A, H3N2, has been isolated from infected dogs in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio.  H3N2 was originally found in dogs from southern China and South Korea and is thought to have made its way into the United States by the import of dogs into the Midwest.  A dog infected with the virus may be asymptomatic or show signs of fever, anorexia, lethargy, nasal discharge, and coughing that may persist up to three weeks.  More severe cases may progress to pneumonia and, in some cases, death.  At this time, no cases have been identified in New York State.

 Transmission occurs from dog to dog, and, as with other strains of influenza, poses a higher risk in areas where dogs congregate, such as kennels, shelters, doggie day care, and dog runs.  The onset of clinical signs occur within 2-3 days after infection, with a peak in viral shedding in 3-4 days post-exposure. The virus in not transmissible to humans but cats, ferrets and possibly guinea pigs, may become infected.

 The H3N2 virus is distinct from the H3N8 canine influenza virus originally identified in 2004, for which there is an available vaccine.  At this time, it is not known whether the vaccine developed for H3N8 virus confers protection to dogs exposed to the H3N2 strain.  Dogs at higher risk, such as dogs that routinely go to dog parks or boarding, may benefit from being vaccinated.

 Please contact your veterinarian if your dog has a cough, is at a higher risk of exposure, or if you plan to travel with your dog to the Midwest. Contact us today with any questions you may have.

Scents and Sensitivity: Dogs Know When We’re Happy or Angry

Science is proving what pet owners have long believed: Dogs understand what we’re feeling. Specifically, dogs can recognize the difference between a happy and an angry human face, a study published Thursday in Current Biology suggests.

It’s the first research to show definitively that dogs are sensitive to our facial expressions, says coauthor Ludwig Huber, head of comparative cognition at Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.

In the Austrian study, 20 pet dogs of various breeds and sizes were taught to play a computer game through a series of exercises. In the first, the dogs were shown two touch screens, one with a circle and one with a square. Through trial and error, they learned that a treat would appear if they chose the right geometrical figure.

Eleven of the 20 dogs were able to catch on to rules of the game and make it to the next phase, where they were shown photos of faces. Half the dogs were rewarded for picking a happy expression and half for choosing an angry expression. The interesting catch: the dogs were shown only the upper half or the lower half of a face.

It was easier to teach the dogs to choose a happy expression than an angry one, suggesting the dogs do indeed understand the meaning behind the expression, Huber says.

As a test, the dogs were then were presented with:

the same half of the faces they saw during the training, but from different people
the other half of the faces used in training
the other half of new faces
the left half of the faces used in training
In the vast majority of cases the dogs chose the right answer 70 to 100 percent of the time.

Dogs who had been trained to recognize an expression of anger or happiness on the upper part of a face could identify the same expression when shown only the lower part, and vice versa, Huber says, adding “the only possible explanation is that they recall from memory of everyday life how a whole human face looks when happy or angry.”

Dog owners know their pets not only recognize emotions but also feel empathy.

Delilah, a 3-year-old Chihuahua, always seems to know when her owner Eva Shure is having a bad day.
Delilah knows when her owner is having a bad day.
Making eye contact and cocking her head to the right, the little dog will stare at Shure’s face as if trying to assess her feelings. “It’s weird, I can see her thinking and processing,” says Shure, a 35-year-old New York City business owner. “I’ll say, yeah, it’s not a great day and she’ll come up and sit next to me.”

Beverly Levreault, 57, says her 6-year-old Australian Cattle Dog mix is always tuned in to her moods. “If I’m not feeling well, like when I have the flu, Lacey is definitely lower key and will not leave my side, ” says Levreault, a graphic designer from Williamstown, New York. “If I take her for a walk, she’s not as rambunctious as she usually is.”

Lynette Whiteman says she’s not sure that her 5-year-old Yorkie-Maltese cross is using facial expressions to gauge how she feels. “But she definitely reads my emotions,” says the 58-year-old from Toms River, New Jersey. “I run a therapy dog program and the dogs are just amazing. They go into a room and immediately pick out the person who needs help.”

Behavioral experts say the new findings, while important, wouldn’t surprise anyone with an intimate knowledge of dogs.
Coco and Lynettte
“This new work continues to build the case for just how sensitive dogs are to our subtle behaviors,” says Dr. Brian Hare, chief scientific officer at Dognition and an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “This is the strongest evidence yet that dogs are even reading our facial expressions.”

That sensitivity may be the result of generations of selective breeding for a true partner, says Dr. Carlo Siracusa, director of the behavior service at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “We have selected animals that are able to perceive our emotions and communicate with us at a level that no other animal can,” Siracusa says.

Dogs may not talk, but they are very good communicators, says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a professor in the department of clinical sciences at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and director of the animal behavior clinic at Cummings.

“Just as we are masters of the spoken word, dogs are experts at reading body language,” Dodman says.

“It’s almost impossible to hide your feelings from a dog.”

Turns out, reading facial expressions isn’t the only thing dogs have in common with us.

They can be bitten by the computer gaming bug. “They can really become freaks for it,” Huber says with a chuckle. “They don’t want to stop playing. It’s incredible. They’ll play till they are exhausted and fall asleep.”




Diabetes in Pets

What is diabetes?  In the normal animal, the pancreas releases insulin that is instrumental in transporting glucose into the cells so that it can be used by the body.  In a diabetic animal, the pancreas is either not releasing insulin or the body is no longer responding to it.  This leads to high blood glucose that the body is unable to use.  Essentially, the body believes it is starving and then starts using the body’s protein and fat for energy instead of glucose.


What animals are at risk?

  • Some breeds of dogs are genetically more predisposed, i.e., Keeshond, Poodle, Samoyed, Dachshund, Alaskan malamute, Miniature schnauzer, Chow chow and Beagle.
  • Animals that are obese.
  • Pets with pancreatitis… inflammation of the pancreas can destroy the cells that make insulin.

Symptoms you may notice:

  • Excessive eating but losing weight
  • Excessive drinking and urination
  • Weakness
  • Cataracts (can be secondary to diabetes in dogs)

Your pet is diagnosed with Diabetes, now what?

Early diagnosis is key!  In dogs and cats it is imperative to treat other underlying diseases as well as starting insulin therapy.  Your veterinarian will select an appropriate insulin and dose and will demonstrate how to give the twice daily injections. Blood glucose monitoring is important to make sure your pet is on the correct dose. This is usually done in the hospital but some owners feel comfortable using a blood glucose monitor at home (this can be a lot more accurate).  The goal of treatment is for the clinical signs to abate (excessive drinking and urinating, weight loss).  Regulating animals perfectly can be difficult but our goal is to make sure these clinical signs disappear.  Working closely with your veterinarian to get your pet on the appropriate dose of insulin is very important to controlling this chronic disease.

Cats who are diagnosed with diabetes can sometimes go into remission after appropriate treatment with insulin and a change of diet.  The most up-to-date diet choice for cats is a low carbohydrate/ high protein diet. These diets promote weight loss in obese diabetics and are available in both canned and dry formulations. For dogs, high fiber diets are still favored as fiber seems to help sensitize the pet to insulin.


One of the scariest things about treating diabetes is making sure that your pet does not go into hypoglycemic shock.  Although having a very high blood glucose is damaging to the body, it is not immediately fatal. If blood glucose falls too low, it can be fatal.  Signs of hypoglycemia include seizures, wobbliness, a drunken appearance,  and acting inappropriately.  This can sometimes happen if too much insulin is given. In this dangerous situation, Karo syrup (or a sugar/water formula) should be applied on the gums immediately to elevate the blood glucose. You should then contact your veterinarian ASAP.

It is important for diabetic pets to have their teeth cleaned annually. Dental tartar seeds the body with bacteria and when blood sugar levels run high, important organs are prone to infection. Urinary tract infections are also common in diabetics due to glucose in the urine.  Both of these conditions can make our patients difficult to regulate.

Diabetes is a very serious disease, but with the right communication between pet owners and their veterinarian, it can be managed to allow our pets to live healthy and happy lives.

The Dangers of Pet Obesity

As a small animal veterinarian, a regular part of my day is having conversations with owners about what they feed their animals, and the best way to monitor and control the body condition of their pets, especially identifying underweight or overweight pets. Imagine my horror when I recently recognized what should have been obvious to me: my own dogs were starting to look, well, chubby! How had it come to this?

By now, everyone knows that obesity, in both people and animals, occurs when energy intake exceeds energy expenditure. You or me, or you dog or cat, eat more calories than are burned and excess weight results. But because dogs and cats do not feed themselves, we as their caretakers need to accept responsibility for the body condition of our beloved friends. I, who should know better, allowed my dogs to get fat!

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What is the Extent of Dog Obesity Worldwide?

An estimated 20-40% of dogs and cats worldwide are overweight or obese. Certain breeds may be predisposed, such as the West Highland Terrier, Beagle, Dachshund, and Labrador retriever, among others. Obesity is more common in female dogs and neutered dogs of both sexes. The incidence of obesity rises as dogs grow older, and, interestingly, as the age of the human owner increases. From my own experience, I suspect a large number of animals become obese from the confused cultural notion that “love equals food.”

My two mixed-breed dogs, one a Pug Beagle mix (Puggle) and the other a Chihuahua mix with suspiciously short legs, are not only disadvantaged by their breeds, neuter status, and advancing ages, but also by the fact that their Mom (me) is a softy who all too often dotes on them in the form of dog cookies!

The Dangers of Pet Obesity

As a vet, I know that obesity is the most common nutrition-related disease in companion animals and that increases the risk of orthopedic diseases, respiratory disorders, heart disease, and hypertension in dogs. In addition to orthopedic diseases, obese cats are at greater risk for developing diabetes, liver disease, and skin issues.

I know that in one study, dogs that were placed on a calorie-restricted diet to maintain an ideal or a just-below-ideal body weight, were shown to live, on average, two years longer than overweight dogs allowed to consume unlimited calories. Certainly, I wish to enjoy the company of my own dogs for as long as possible, and I know what I have to do!

Helping Your Pet Maintain a Healthy Weight

Helping our animal friends to lose weight requires both dietary and lifestyle modifications. One of the most important components to guarantee weight loss in your animal is ensuring that every member of the family is involved in the process. Your veterinarian can help you determine the daily calorie requirement for your animal, based on his or her current weight and activity level. Depending on how much weight your animal needs to lose, your vet may recommend decreasing the amount of the regular diet as well as restricting treats, or may recommend a prescription diet that is less energy-dense but fortified with higher levels of proteins and enriched with vitamins and minerals to ensure that your pet’s nutritional requirements are met. With greater weight loss, trying to restrict calories with a regular commercial diet may result in nutritional deficiencies. Once the calorie requirement is determined, the food should be carefully measured or weighed out. On average, the number of treats fed in a day should not be greater than 10% of daily calories. Everybody involved in feeding the animals should know exactly how much to feed and who is responsible for feeding the animals at given times.

Increasing energy expenditure is another important aspect of weight loss and often benefits the owner just as well. As with humans starting an exercise program, exercise for our pets should be gradually and slowly increased in duration and intensity over time. Exercise, in the form of walks, fetching, chasing laser pointers, and hunting feather toys, not only has calorie-burning cardiovascular benefits, it also enhances and enriches an animal’s mental well-being, as well as strengthens our emotional bond with them.

Final Words on Pet Obesity Concerns

It is important to realize that weight loss is a long-term project and requires frequent monitoring and readjustment of goals. Working closely with your veterinarian as weight loss proceeds, calorie requirements may need to be fine-tuned to help continue weight loss or to maintain ideal body weight. If you are unsure whether your animal is overweight, your veterinarian should be able to help you assess the body condition of your animal and talk to you about diet and strategies to establish and maintain an ideal body weight for your own beloved pets. As for me, I will replace cookies with kisses, and work with my family to make sure our dogs stay healthy and with us for as long as possible.

If your pet is overweight and management counseling is needed, please contact our team. We will be happy to provide our advice!

Labor Day Safety Tips for Pets



1. Do not apply any sunscreen or insect repellent product to your pet that is not labeled specifically for use on animals.

2. Always assign a dog guardian. No matter where you’re celebrating, be sure to assign a friend or member of the family to keep an eye on your pooch-especially if you’re not in a fenced-in yard or other secure area.

3. Made in the shade. Pets can get dehydrated quickly, so give them plenty of fresh, clean water, and make sure they have a shady place to escape the sun.

4. Always keep matches and lighter fluid out of paws’ reach. Certain types of matches contain chlorates, which could potentially damage blood cells and result in difficulty breathing-or even kidney disease in severe cases.

5. Keep your pet on his normal diet. Any change, even for one meal, can give your pet severe indigestion and diarrhea.

6. Keep citronella candles, insect coils and oil products out of reach. Ingesting any of these items can produce stomach irritation and possibly even central nervous system depression in your pets, and if inhaled, the oils could cause aspiration pneumonia.

7. Never leave your dog alone in the car. Traveling with your dog means occasionally you’ll make stops in places where he’s not permitted. Be sure to rotate dog walking duties between family members, and never leave your animals alone in a parked vehicle.

8. Make a safe splash. Don’t leave pets unsupervised around a pool-not all dogs are good swimmers.


Car Sickness In Pets

Does your dog throw up in the car when you go for rides? He may be experiencing typical motion sickness, just like some people do. Motion sickness usually begins very shortly after starting the car ride. The dog will begin to drool and then vomit. It’s not serious, but certainly not something that we like to clean up! To solve the problem, first try acclimating the dog to car rides. Do this by simply putting him in the car for a few minutes each day without going anywhere. Then try just going down the driveway and back, and the next day going around the block. Gradually build up the distance and time the dog rides in the car.


Sometimes this will help to decrease the dog’s anxiety over riding in the car and may help to decrease vomiting. If that doesn’t work, there are some over-the-counter medications you can try. The medication will need to be given about an hour before the car ride. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation as to what drug to try and the dosage for your pet.


(Never give any medications to your pet without your veterinarian’s advice!) These drugs are safe, with drowsiness usually the only major side effect. But since your dog isn’t driving the car, that shouldn’t be a problem! If over-the-counter drugs don’t work, your veterinarian may be able to suggest another method for curing the car sickness.




Ticks, Mosquitoes, and Intestinal Parasites, OH MY!

All the pets of NYC are out and about enjoying the spring weather, but so are all the bad bugs that can cause disease in our furry friends. People think that just because we live in a concrete jungle as opposed to a green one, the threats of the great outdoors aren’t there. They are mistaken. The risk of diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks and intestinal parasites are prevalent in New York City and you need to be informed so that your pets are protected!



Heartworm Disease: Heartworms are parasites that are carried by mosquitoes and can infect our dogs and cats. The larvae are transmitted to the animal when the mosquito bites. As they mature they go to the heart and can grow to up to a foot in length! These worms can cause fatigue or cough. Believe it or not, mosquitoes love the city because they breed in stagnant water. Thankfully, heartworm disease is completely preventable by giving your dog heartworm preventative in the form of a tablet once a month. If an animal becomes infected, the treatment is very expensive and painful (deep muscle injections). Even dogs that never leave the apartment are susceptible because mosquitoes can come through unscreened windows (I have been bitten and my apartment is on the fourth floor!). Therefore, it is recommended to keep your dogs on heartworm preventative year round and a blood test annually to make sure they do not have this horrible disease.


Lyme Disease: Dogs can get Lyme disease if they are bitten by a tick carrying the disease.  Lyme disease can cause arthritis and swelling of the joints, fever, lameness, and kidney failure. While it is true that apartment dogs that never go to the park have a decreased risk of infection, any dog that frequents wooded areas or is lucky enough to go out to Long Island or upstate NY, NJ, PA or CT is at risk of being infected.  Ticks can be prevented by topical or oral monthly medication.  It’s recommended to test our dogs for Lyme disease (and other tick-borne diseases) with an annual blood test.




Intestinal ParasitesProbably the most prevalent creepy crawlies that our furry friends can get are the parasites they pick up from the dog park and the streets.  Giardia, roundworms, whipworms and hookworms are commonly acquired in our city pets and can sometimes even be transferred to us!  These bugs can cause diarrhea and weight loss or no symptoms at all.  Checking a fecal at least once a year is recommended (even when there are no signs).  Thankfully monthly heartworm preventative can also prevent against most of these parasites.


Here at St. Marks Veterinary Hospital we are happy to see the beginning of warm weather but we hope that you keep your family and pets protected against the diseases that come along with it! Hope to see you and your pets soon!  Maria Racioppo, DVM



Today is Love Your Pet Day

The month of February, seems to be all about love, and our pets are no exceptions. Today is Love Your Pet Day!  Give a special treat to your pet or just some extra cuddle time today.  We also share in your love for your pets!


Lucky the Norfolk Terrier trying to make friends with the dog in the picture frame!

Senior Pets

How do I know when my pet is a “senior” and what can I do to maintain my older pet’s health?

Many of us are familiar with the commonly held belief that pet age 7 year for every one of ours. While our pets do age faster than us, this equation is not strictly true. While cats over 9 years old are considered seniors, large breed dogs reach their senior years even earlier. As they age, we need to be extra vigilant about our pets’ nutrition, teeth, joints, kidney and liver function, heart health and mental faculties.

As with humans, the best medicine is preventative. If we catch these changes early, we can slow or even halt the progression of disease. Biannual exams and bloodwork are recommended for all seniors to help us veterinarians catch certain diseases before they progress too far. Did you know that over 75% of the liver or kidneys must be failing before outward symptoms occur? A new heart murmur might be the first sign of developing heart failure? Simple bloodwork, auscultation and other diagnostics allow us to catch subtle changes early and treat with medications or diet changes.

In many cases, the addition of safe, simple supplements and medications can protect and prolong the health of many organ systems in the body. Ask your veterinarian for more information about fish oil, glucosamine & chondroitin, and probiotics specific for our animal friends.

If you have any questions about caring for your senior pet contact us.

Sally Haddock, DVM