Make sure to include your feline friends in your new year’s resolutions


At the start of every year, many of us make resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more, save more money and get more organised. When it comes to eating healthier, Whiskas encourages us to include our beloved feline friends in our positive plans for 2020, especially when it comes to getting a balanced diet.

A balanced diet for cats means including wet and dry feeding in their daily food regimes. This will ensure their nutritional requirements are met and reduce the risk of overeating, keeping them healthy in every phase of their lives.

Giving our cats wet food with their daily dose of dry food will help prevent the development of uncomfortable conditions such as tooth decay or bladder stones as they age. While the abrasiveness of dry food helps remove plaque from our cats’ teeth, wet food provides them with more moisture and ensures they enjoy the benefits of a higher daily water intake, thereby increasing urine volume and dilution.

Research conducted by the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition[1] found that the intake of both dry and wet food is important as they offer different benefits:


Whiskas suggests one third of dry cat food with two thirds of wet food daily – for kittens and older cats alike. It is important to remember that even with a combination of wet and dry food, cats’ diet plans will change based on their age, weight and breed. Ensure regular visits with your local vet to make sure your feline friend is getting their optimal nutritional requirements.

A cat’s diet is just as important as a human diet. Making sure we understand their nutritional needs will ensure our furry friends will live healthier and happier lives.

Source: WHISKAS®

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How fireworks harm nonhuman animals

How fireworks harm nonhuman animals

Fireworks and other explosive materials, whose reactions can produce sparks, flames, and fumes, cause various harms to nonhuman animals. These often affect animals who are human companions, and whose reactions we can easily see. They also harm the other animals who are around us, both in urban environments and outside them, as well as those who are on farms or confined in other spaces.

Physical damage to the hearing organs of animals

The hearing of many animals is much more sensitive than it is in humans, so the explosions of fireworks are not only more disturbing to them, but they can damage their hearing more severely. Fireworks can emit sounds of up to 190 decibels (110 to 115 decibels above the range of 75 to 80 decibels where the damage to the human ear begins). Fireworks generate a higher noise level than firecrackers, gunshots (140 decibels), and some jet planes (100 decibels).

Noises caused by fireworks and firecrackers can lead to loss of hearing and tinnitus. Dogs are known to suffer irreversible hearing loss caused by proximity to the noise of gunfire.

Fear and stress

In addition to these harms, the noises caused by fireworks harm animals by causing fear. In fact, repeated exposure to unexpected, unpredictable loud noises can cause phobias in many animals, increasing panic reactions to loud noises in the future.1

It is estimated that one-fifth of disappearances of animals who are companions to humans are due to very loud sounds, mainly fireworks and storms.2

The effects of fireworks on animals can be observed very clearly in zoos.3 It has been shown that the noise of fireworks makes animals such as rhinos and cheetahs very nervous, also visibly affecting others such as elephants, while rodents continue running minutes after the noises cease.4

Harmful effects by chemical particles

In addition, firecrackers are poisonous, and their explosion releases harmful particles such as fine dust (PM10) that is toxic to inhale. It can worsen existing diseases and cause others. Therefore, fireworks represent a danger both to animals who live in areas where they explode, or in relatively distant locations when the wind transports the particles.5 There is also a risk of ingestion of the residue of fireworks and firecrackers.6 The proximity of the animals to the areas where the firecrackers are made often causes burns and damage to the eyes.

The chemicals are also dangerous for cats and dogs, just as they are for humans with respiratory diseases such as asthma. Careless use of fireworks can also cause mutilations and fatal accidents in animals near the event, as well as causing fires that harm animals. When accidents of this type occur that affect humans, it is common for us to talk about it, but we must remember such things often affect animals of other species even when humans aren’t badly affected.

Ways different animals are affected by fireworks



Dogs are able to hear up to 60,000hz, while humans can’t hear anything above 20,000hz, which is only a third of the capacity of dogs. This auditory acuity of dogs is one of the reasons the sound of fireworks can be so harmful to them. They show signs of overwhelming anxiety as they are unable to escape from the sound.7

Dogs, like many other animals, also suffer from other phenomena that produce loud sounds, such as storms. However, in the case of storms, the noises are accompanied by previous warning signs, so that animals can perceive them in advance. This can cause them anguish in anticipation, but it does not cause them the unexpected fright caused by fireworks, which are sudden and not identifiable.8 The fear of noise among older dogs is more common.9

Many urban dogs suffer negative symptoms from the explosions of firecrackers. Common reactions are freezing or paralysis, uncontrolled attempts to escape and hide, and tremors. Other more intense signs may also be present, such as salivation, tachycardia, intense vocalizations, urination or defecation, increased activity, hyper alertness and gastrointestinal disorders. All these signs are indicative of great discomfort.

It has been pointed out that the reaction of dogs to the sound of fireworks is similar to post-traumatic stress in human animals. However, this effect could be much more harmful in dogs, because they do not have the ability to rationalize their anxiety, or the possibility of an immediate cognitive response that allows them to respond to their fear. It is likely they experience a deeper and more intense form of terror. This is in addition to the noise phobia which can be greater in some dogs due to personality differences. It is important to keep in mind that in the first years of their lives, dogs are especially vulnerable to the development of phobias, and exposing them to sounds like fireworks contributes to future fear responses that they might not otherwise have had. It has been estimated that one in two dogs has significant fear reactions to fireworks.10


The effects of fireworks on cats are less obvious, but their responses are similar to those of dogs, such as trying to hide or escape.11 However, regardless of the fear they have, they have a higher risk of being poisoned. Many cats who are near areas where firecrackers are made ingest them or their parts. In addition, they can go blind or be seriously injured by the explosions of firecrackers.12


Horses can easily feel threatened by fireworks due to their hypervigilance since they are constantly on high alert due to possible predators.13 Horses also act quite similarly to dogs and cats, showing signs of stress and fear, and trying to flee or escape. It is estimated that 79% of horses experience anxiety because of firecrackers, and 26% suffer injuries from them. Sometimes they react to fireworks by trying to jump fences and flee to dangerous areas where they can be run over by cars.14


The noise of firecrackers can cause birds tachycardia and even death by fright. The high degree of stress birds experience is indicated by the fact that birds may temporarily or permanently abandon the places where they are.15

In areas that are ​​aircraft flyover zones, Creole ducks grow more slowly and have a lower body weight than Creole ducks who live in areas with little noise. Snow geese affected by these noises spend less time eating during the day and try to compensate during the night, which entails shortening their period of rest and sleep, gradually reducing their survival rate.16

Disorientation and panic from fireworks can cause birds to crash into buildings or fly towards the sea. The colonial species of birds who nest in high densities, such as silver gulls, are at greater risk of this during explosions of firecrackers. Many birds who flee from their nests due to the sounds do not know how to return to their nests once the noise ends, which leaves many of their young helpless.

Invertebrates and small vertebrates

The harms caused to invertebrates and small vertebrates have been evaluated much less than those caused to the animals discussed above. Presumably, these animals can do little to avoid harm if the explosions occur in areas near where they live. Keep in mind that for these animals fireworks are very large explosions, so the harms to them can be much greater than in other animals.17

Alternatives to the use of fireworks

There is a growing acceptance of alternatives to fireworks, such as laser light shows. One notable case is in the city of Collechio (Italy), one of the first to program silent fireworks, with the message that it is possible to enjoy fireworks without causing panic among the nonhuman inhabitants of the municipality.18 However, there is the possibility that this type of show may affect birds negatively.

Some might think that administering a soothing drug to animals could be the solution, but this proposal isn’t satisfactory for two reasons. First, the use of drugs to calm animals could cause harmful side effects. Second, we wouldn’t be able to reach almost all of the animals affected by fireworks. The animals who live with human beings are not the only ones harmed. Even if we only consider domesticated animals in urban areas, there are animals who live in the street or are alone. In addition, domesticated animals are the minority of animals affected. We must take into account all animals who live outside the reach of humans, whether in the wild or in urban environments, as well as those on farms and other places where they are exploited. For this reason, the only really satisfactory solution is to reject the use of fireworks.

Further readings

Asociación de Veterinarios Abolicionistas de la Tauromaquia y del Maltrato Animal (2017) “Informe técnico veterinario sobre los impactos de la pirotecnia en los animales”, AVATMA [accessed on 13 January 2019].

Bowen, J. (2015) “Prevalence and impact of sound sensitivity in dogs”, Vet Times, October 19 [accessed on 18 June 2019].

British Veterinary Association (2016) “Policy statement: Fireworks and animal welfare”, Policy, March [accessed on 24 April 2019].

Brown, A. L. & Raghu, S. (1998) “An overview of research on the effects of noise on animals”, Acoustics Australia, 26, pp. 63-67.

Dale, A. R.; Walker, J. K.; Farnworth, M. J.; Morrissey, S. V. & Waran, N. K. (2010) “A survey of owners’ perceptions of fear of fireworks in a sample of dogs and cats in New Zealand”, New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 58, pp. 286-291 [accessed on 25 April 2019].

Gahagan, P. & Wismer, T. (2012) “Toxicology of explosives and fireworks in small animals”, Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small animal practice, 42, pp. 361-373.

Overall, K. L.; Dunham, A. E. & Frank, D. (2001) “Frequency of nonspecific clinical signs in dogs with separation anxiety, thunderstorm phobia, and noise phobia, alone or in combination”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 219, pp. 467-473.

Shamoun-Baranes, J.; Dokter, A. M.; van Gasteren, H.; van Loon, E. E.; Leijnse, H. & Bouten, W. (2011) “Birds flee en mass from New Year’s Eve fireworks”, Behavioral Ecology, 22, pp. 1173-1177 [accessed on 30 March 2019].

Shannon, G.; McKenna, M. F.; Angeloni, L. M.; Crooks, K. R.; Fristrup, K. M.; Brown, E.; Warner, K. A.; Nelson, M. D.; White, C.; Briggs, J.; McFarland, S. & Wittemyer, G. (2016) “A synthesis of two decades of research documenting the effects of noise on wildlife”, Biological Reviews, 91, pp. 982-1005.

Simpson, S. D.; Radford, A. N.; Nedelec, S. L.; Ferrari, M. C.; Chivers, D. P.; McCormick, M. I. & Meekan, M. G. (2016) “Anthropogenic noise increases fish mortality by predation”, Nature Communications, 7 [accessed on 12 May 2019].


1 British Small Animal Veterinary Association (2019) “Fireworks”, BSAVA [accessed on 18 June 2019].

2 American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (2015) “Independence Day can be perilous for pets”, ASPCA [accessed on 27 February 2019].

3 In one case, the noise caused by nearby works were a cause of stress for snow leopards kept in zoos. They withdrew to the most remote parts of their exhibition area, and spent more time sleeping than on the days when there was no noise. We can imagine the harm caused by much more thunderous sounds, such as those caused by fireworks. Sulser, E.; Steck, B. L. & Baur, B. (2008) “Effects of construction noise on behaviour of and exhibit use by snow leopards Uncia uncia at Basel zoo”, International Zoo Yearbook, 42, pp. 199-205.

4 Rodewald, A.; Gansloßer, U. & Kölpin, T. (2014) “Influence of fireworks on zoo animals: Studying different species at the zoopark erfurt during the classic nights”, International Zoo News, 61, pp. 264-271.

5 Greven, F. E.; Vonk, J. M.; Fischer, P.; Duijm, F.; Vink, N. M. & Brunekreef, B. (2019) “Air pollution during New Year’s fireworks and daily mortality in the Netherlands”, Scientific Reports, 9 [accessed on 11 June 2019].

6 Stanley, M. K.; Kelers, K.; Boller, E. & Boller, M. (2019) “Acute barium poisoning in a dog after ingestion of handheld fireworks (party sparklers)”, Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, 29, pp. 201-207.

7 Blackwell, E. J.; Bradshaw, J. W. & Casey, R. A. (2013) “Fear responses to noises in domestic dogs: Prevalence, risk factors and co-occurrence with other fear related behaviour”, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 145, pp. 15-25.

8 Franzini de Souza, C. C.; Martins Maccariello, C. E.; Martins Dias, D. P.; dos Santos Almeida, N. A.; Alves de Medeiros, M. (2017) “Autonomic, endocrine and behavioural responses to thunder in laboratory and companion dogs”, Physiology & Behavior, 169, pp. 208-215.

9 Storengen, L. M. & Lingaas, F. (2015) “Noise sensitivity in 17 dog breeds: Prevalence, breed risk and correlation with fear in other situations”, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 171, pp. 152-160.

10 Hargrave, C. (2018) “Firework fears and phobias in companion animals – why do we let owners take the one in two chance?”, The Veterinary Nurse, 9, pp. 392-392.

11 Ibid.

12 Especismo Cero (2011) “Pirotecnia y sus consecuencias en los animales”, [accessed on 2 April 2019].

13 British Horse Society (2018) “Fireworks”, BHS [accessed on 30 April 2019].

14 Gronqvist, G.; Rogers, C. & Gee, E. (2016) “The management of horses during fireworks in New Zealand”, Animals, 6, 20 [accessed on 2 January 2019].

15 Schiavini, A. (2015) Efectos de los espectáculos de fuegos artificiales en la avifauna de la Reserva Natural Urbana Bahía Cerrada, Ushuaia: Centro Austral de Investigaciones Científicas [accessed on 26 June 2019].

16 Conomy, J. T.; Dubovsky, J. A.; Collazo, J. A. & Fleming, W. J. (1998) “Do black ducks and wood ducks habituate to aircraft disturbance?”, Journal of Wildlife Management, 62, pp. 1135-1142.

17 Morley, E. L.; Jones, G. & Radford, A. N. (2014) “The importance of invertebrates when considering the impacts of anthropogenic noise”, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281, 20132683. Studies have also been conducted on the effects of noise on marine invertebrates, due to their economic interest. Hawkins, A. D.; Pembroke, A. E. & Popper, A. N. (2015) “Information gaps in understanding the effects of noise on fishes and invertebrates”, Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, 25, 39-64; Nedelec, S. L.; Radford, A. N.; Simpson, S. D.; Nedelec, B.; Lecchini, D. & Mills, S. C. (2014) “Anthropogenic noise playback impairs embryonic development and increases mortality in a marine invertebrate”, Scientific Reports, 4, p. 5891.

18 Venzel, S. (2016) “Town in Italy keeps animals calm with silent fireworks”, Wide Open Pets [accessed on 13 March 2019].

Source: Animal Ethics
Animal Ethics

Family reunion: Top tips for bringing your pet into South Africa

Family reunion: Top tips for bringing your pet into South Africa

Port Elizabeth – Emigration is a hot topic right now – at least one person in our inner circle is looking at making the move or has an aunt or twice-removed cousin that has emigrated successfully.

However, in the midst of this, the #ImStaying movement is trending in South Africa. What started as a Facebook group dedicated to the loyal locals that choose to stick by their beloved country and help improve our current state of affairs, has grown into a national wildfire.

PETport supports the #ImStaying movement and has seen an increasing trend of people returning to South Africa with their pets. Although we are known for our pet emigration expertise, we also specialise in immigration – helping pet parents to bring their fur family back into the country.

Consider this your step-by-step guide on how to return to the rainbow nation with your fur babies intact.

Seek professional help

Moving with our furrball friends can be a very stressful and confusing time for owners and pets alike. Knowing the ins and outs of international pet-travel can not only ease our anxiety, but more importantly, potentially save your pet’s life as well – that’s why it’s crucial to appoint a professional relocation specialist before you plan your immigration.

The following guidelines are important to bear in mind:

  • If you’re bringing your pooch, don’t do any blood tests before you speak to a professional as the blood tests are only valid for 30 days from the date of the blood draw.
  • South Africa is very strict when it comes to the testing of blood samples – these need to be done at a registered government lab.
  • Ask as many questions as you can and follow the timeline given by your relocation specialist. Once you have decided on the arrival date, your consultant will apply for the Veterinary Import Permit (VIP).
  • After the blood draw and application for the permit, there is a waiting period – this is when you can start booking your flight. Your pet must be registered as manifest cargo to enter South Africa.
  • As soon as the blood results come back negative and the permit is available, you can arrange for a Veterinary Health Certificate (VHC) to be completed and endorsed by a government vet. The VHC is only valid for 10 days, so it should be done within five days of departure. 
  • Once all the documents are in place, your flight must be confirmed and finalised.
  • Always make sure your pet’s rabies vaccinations are up to date i.e. older than 30 days, less than 12 months. 
  • Your pet should also be microchipped as this is a requirement for South Africa and most countries. 

The whole process may seem intimidating, but your consultant will guide you through everything with ease.

Familiarise yourself with typical waiting periods and delays 

Receiving the permit for your fur child can take anything from 14 to 28 working days. Booking quarantine space also takes time. Not to mention, the potential delays and closure of labs and quarantine areas during particularly busy periods and the holiday season.

If your paperwork isn’t correct, SARS will delay processing and clearing your documents, and the vet clearance process on arrival can also take several hours.  

Ensure the correct blood-tests are completed 

Speak to your vet about the following blood tests, which are required when immigrating with pets into South Africa: 

  • Brucella canis test
  • Trypanosoma evansi test and blood smear
  • Babesia gibsoni test and blood smear
  • Dirofilaria immitis test
  • Leishmaniasis test

In today’s world, more and more animal lovers are immigrating with their beloved household companions. While South Africa is pretty strict compared to other countries, having a professional pet relocation specialist on your side is sure to make the tricky process that much more seamless.

By Hazel Imrie, PETport Owner and Founder
Source: RNews

Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs – An Aggressive Blood Vessel Cancer

Every pet parent dreads “The Big C” for their fur babies. Cancer strikes fear in the hearts and minds of pet-owning families. As a board-certified critical care specialist, one of the most common cancers I diagnose and treat is called hemangiosarcoma. I wanted to dedicate some time explaining this cancer, as some encouraging news about a novel treatment was recently released.

Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs

Hemangiosarcoma – What is it?

Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer of endothelial cells, the cells that line blood vessels. We don’t currently know what causes some dogs to develop this cancer. Multiple studies have tried to shed more light on this topic. Risk factors include:

  • Heritability – certain breeds are over-represented for developing this cancer
  • Ultraviolet light exposure – long-term exposure in lightly pigmented short-haired breeds increases risk
  • Abnormal gene expression
  • Abnormal development of new blood vessels

Hemangiosarcoma usually occurs in middle-aged and geriatric dogs. Certain breeds are over-represented, including:

  • Golden retrievers
  • German shepherds
  • Labrador retrievers
  • English setters
  • Boxers
  • Doberman pinschers

Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs

Hemangiosarcoma can develop anywhere in the body where there are blood vessels. This cancer is often classified as follows:

  • Dermal – The skin form typically appears as red or black skin growths. These masses can become ulcerated and bleed. Approximately 33% of these tumors will spread to internal organs, so early identification and removal are key.
Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs

Classic appearance of dermal hemangiosarcoma in a dog. Photo courtesy of Joel Mills.

  • Subcutaneous – The layer immediately beneath the skin – called the subcutaneous tissue or hypodermis – can develop dark red to black growths even though the overlying skin looks completely normal. Pet parents simply feel a lump beneath the skin. Almost two thirds of subcutaneous hemangiosarcoma spreads internally.
  • Visceral – Hemangiosarcoma affecting internal organs or viscera is the most common manifestation of this aggressive cancer. The most commonly affected organs are the spleen, heart, and liver. Visceral hemangiosarcoma if often life-threatening since tumors tend to rupture and bleed profusely.
Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs

Hemangiosarcoma in the spleen of a dog. Photo courtesy of Uwe Gille.

Hemangiosarcoma – How is it diagnosed?

Pet parents should regularly check their fur babies for skin masses.

Any skin mass larger than a pea (1 cm) and/or any that has been present for more than one month should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

The doctor should aspirate some cells from the mass(es) to determine the type of growth. No one – not even a veterinarian – can simply look at a skin mass and know what it is. As DrSueCancerVet advocates, #WhyWaitAspirate! Early identification and intervention for the dermal and subcutaneous forms of hemangiosarcoma are of paramount importance!

Patients with visceral hemangiosarcoma often don’t have any clinical signs until a tumor ruptures to cause internal bleeding. Depending on the location and severity of the bleeding, patients may be depressed, refuse to walk or play, develop pale (or white) gums, have trouble breathing, collapse, and/or have a distended abdomen.

A veterinarian should obtain a thorough patient history and perform a complete physical examination. Initially, some blood and urine tests, as well as some diagnostic imaging,  will be recommended:

  • Complete blood count – a non-invasive blood test that measures red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets
  • Serum biochemical profile – a non-invasive blood test that assesses liver and kidney function, as well as electrolytes (i.e.: sodium and potassium) and certain gastrointestinal enzymes.
  • Urinalysis – non-invasive urine test that helps to evaluate renal function and to screen for possible urinary tract inflammation and infection.
  • Coagulation profile – a non-invasive blood test helps determine if a patient can properly form a proper blood clot
  • Chest radiography (x-rays) – a non-invasive imaging test to screening for evidence of heart and lung changes, including metastasis (cancer spread)
  • Abdominal radiography +/- sonography – non-invasive imaging of the abdomen can assess organ size and architecture, and identify tumors of internal organs
  • Echocardiography – Sonographic examination of the heart can evaluate this organ’s function, identify tumors of the heart, and confirm the presence of abnormal fluid in the sac around the heart (called pericardial effusion) caused by a bleeding tumor

A definitive diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma is made by removal and biopsy of the tumor.

Hemangiosarcoma – How it is treated?

Treatment depends on the location of the tumor. When identified early, surgical removal of dermal hemangiosarcoma can be curative. The reported median survival time for the dermal form is 780 days. Chemotherapy may be recommended if the skin tumor couldn’t be completely removed or if it spread to the underlying subcutaneous tissue. Similarly, subcutaneous hemangiosarcoma should be resected whenever possible. Unfortunately, complete excision is not often possible. Therefore, patients with this form of disease may benefit from chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. The medial survival time for subcutaneous hemangiosarcoma is 172-307 days.

Visceral hemangiosarcoma requires aggressive therapies. Patients with bleeding masses in internal organs generally need emergency surgery. The spleen is not a vital organ, and can be surgically removed. Similarly, bleeding tumors of the liver can often be removed. Unfortunately, not every tumor of an internal organ can be excised, and some patients have inoperable disease. Bleeding into the sac around the heart (called the pericardium) also requires immediate intervention. The fluid must be removed via a procedure called a pericardiocentesis so the heart can function properly. Family veterinarians often refer families to veterinary specialty hospitals where board-certified veterinary surgeons and emergency/critical care specialists can provide life-saving interventions and post-operative critical care.

Surgery alone unfortunately doesn’t appear to confer a marked survival benefit for patients with visceral hemangiosarcoma. The reported median survival times for dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma treated only with surgery are 19-86 days. Nevertheless, patients who do undergo surgery tend to feel better in the short term.

Chemotherapy after surgery is often recommended because hemangiosarcoma is highly malignant and readily metastasizes. Indeed, this cancer has typically already spread at the time of diagnosis. Many different chemotherapeutic agents have been investigated to treat hemangiosarcoma. Use of the drug doxorubicin is associated with longer survival times. The reported median survival times for splenic hemangiosarcoma treated with surgery and doxorubicin-based chemotherapy is 141-179 days. The prognosis for heart-based hemangiosarcoma is very poor. Families should consult with a board-certified veterinary oncologist to ensure the most appropriate treatment plan is selected for their fur baby.

Hemangiosarcoma – Are there any new treatments?

Recently some novel interventions have been reported to afford a survival benefit in dogs with specific forms of hemangiosarcoma:

  • Antibody therapy – Cancer researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine are investigating the efficacy and safety of treatment with antibodies to inhibit the activity of vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF. This protein stimulates angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels. Dysregulated formation of new blood vessels has been implicated as a cause of hemangiosarcoma.
  • Immunotherapy – Liposome-encapsulated muramyl tripeptide phosphatidylethanolamine (L-MTP-PE) has been used in combination with splenectomy and systemic chemotherapy for the treatment of hemangiosarcoma. Results of study published in the mid 1990s showed L-MTP-PE conferred a significant survival benefit in dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma. Unfortunately, this therapy has not been approved in the United States and is not commercially available now.
  • I’m-Yunity – This is a newer compound derived the mushroom, Coriolus versicolor. A bioactive chemical in the mushroom called polysaccharopeptide has antitumor activities and inhibits the growth tumors in animal models. In a recent study performed at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, I’m-Yunity significantly improved survival times in dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma compared to those who only underwent surgery to remove the spleen (199 days vs. 86 days). This same oncology team is now currently conducting a clinical trial using I’m-Yunity to assess the efficacy and side effects of I’m-Yunity compared to doxorubicin-based chemotherapy after splenectomy.
  • eBAT – Earlier this month a team of researchers and board-certified veterinary oncologists at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine published exciting results in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. They reported on the effects of a new drug called eBAT used in dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma. This new drug improved the 6-month survival rate to approximately 70%. Additionally, 21% lived more than 450 days! This is an exciting breakthrough, and further use is need to corroborate these initial encouraging results.

The take-away message about hemangiosarcoma in dogs…

Hemangiosarcoma is a highly malignant cancer arising from endothelial cells. Tumors may be found anywhere in the body, and most commonly affects the spleen, liver, heart, and skin. Early identification and treatment are essential. Treatment may involve surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Recently, some novel interventions have been investigated, and preliminary results are encouraging.

Critical Care DVM

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Chylothorax in Cats – Our Feline Friends Don’t Like This Milk!

Pleural space disease causes fluid and/or air to abnormally accumulate between the lungs and the chest wall. There are many potential reasons for fluid to collect in the pleural space. There are even different types of fluid. This week, I share information about one of the more common types of fluid – chyle – found in this location to cause a condition called chylothorax.

Chylothorax in Cats

Photo by Jean Beaufort

Chylothorax – What is it?

The chest or thoracic cavity contains many vitals structures, most notably the lungs and heart. When a cat (or you) breathes in, the chest wall expands outward and the diaphragm contracts. These movements decrease the pressure in the anatomic location called the pleural space. The resultant negative pressure in the chest cavity allows the lungs to expand and fill with oxygen-rich air. We call the pleural space a potential space because there is minimal fluid (<5 mLs) and no air in this location under normal circumstances. As mentioned earlier, several disease processes cause larger volumes of fluid to accumulate in this potential pleural space. When this happens, the lungs can’t expand as much, and thus the body can’t take in oxygen normally.

Chyle is one of the types of fluids that can abnormally accumulate in the pleural space. Chyle is a white-to-light pink milky fluid (i.e.: looks like plain or strawberry milk) that contains fat (to give the milky appearance) and lymph(atic) fluid. The latter is extra fluid draining between the cells of the body that typically flows into lymph vessels and through lymph nodes. When something compromises the flow on lymph fluid in the body, it can accumulate in the pleural space.

Chylothorax – What causes it?

There are many potential causes for chyle to accumulate in the pleural space. Major possibilities include:

  • Heart disease
  • Trauma
  • Heartworm infestation
  • Fungal disease
  • Tumors in the chest cavity

Interestingly, we can’t determine the cause in more than 50% of cats. We call this form idiopathic chylothorax, as the term idiopathic is the scientific way of saying, “we don’t know why!”

Chylothorax – What does it look like?

Cats with pleural effusion classically breathe rapidly and shallowly. They also frequently cough. Pet parents bring their cats to the hospital for labored breathing. These patients are truly at risk for sudden death because of their respiratory distress. Watch the video below to see the classic shallow & rapid breathing pattern of cats with chylothorax.

Other clinical signs commonly associated with chylothorax are:

  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Appearance of intermittently breath holding
  • Reduced (or loss of) appetite
  • Exercise intolerance

Interestingly, some cats with chylothorax appear relatively stable. If pleural fluid accumulates slowly, then affected cats can adapt and compensate until the fluid accumulates to a critical volume, eliciting respiratory distress.

Chylothorax – How is it diagnosed?

Documentation of pleural fluid is relatively straightforward. A patient’s history and physical examination provide major clues about the site of cat’s respiratory distress. For example, a cat breathing rapidly with shallow breathes strongly supports the presence of pleural space disease. A veterinarian will listen to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Normal lung and heart sounds are typically muffled when fluid and/or air has accumulated abnormally in the pleural space.

To confirm the presence of pleural fluid, the veterinarian will perform radiographs (x-rays) of the chest cavity and/or a procedure called a thoracocentesis to collect fluid from the pleural space. Evaluation of pleural fluid is required to determine if the fluid is, indeed, chyle. Once the presence of chyle is confirmed, additional testing will be recommended, potentially including:

  • Blood & urine screening to assess major organ function
  • Screening for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
  • Heartworm antigen and antibody screening
  • Heart ultrasound examination (called echocardiography)
  • Heart muscle testing (i.e.: proBNP)
  • Culture of pleural fluid for bacterial and fungal infections
  • Abdominal imaging (radiographs/x-rays +/- sonography)
  • Advanced imaging of the chest cavity (i.e.: CT scan)

Partnering with a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist can be invaluable for developing a logical and cost-effective diagnostic plan for a patient with chylothorax.

Chylothorax – How is it treated?

The initial priority for cats living with chylothorax is ensuring they can breathe comfortably. Such initial stabilization requires provision of supplemental oxygen and performing a thoracocentesis to remove pleural fluid. The rate at which fluid re-accumulates in the pleural space is variable, and may happen with 24 hours. Some patients require the placement of a temporary chest tube (called a thoracostomy tube) to facilitate fluid drainage.

Once affected patients are stable, then a thorough diagnostic investigation should proceed as efficiently as possible. It is imperative to identify a possible cause of chylothorax because until such a process is treated, fluid will continue to accumulate. Unfortunately for more than 50% of affected cats, we won’t find an underlying cause. For these pets living with idiopathic chylothorax, both medical and surgical interventions are available. Major medical therapies include feeding a low-fat diet (~6% on a dry matter basis) and supplementing with a supplement called rutin. A low-fat diet is recommended to reduce blood triglyceride levels. Rutin reportedly stimulates special cells called macrophages to remove fat from chyle and may reduce the overall volume of lymph fluid in circulation.

Surgery is recommended for patients who fail to adequately respond to medical management. Several surgical interventions have been employed in patients with chylothorax, including:

  • Thoracic duct ligation – The thoracic duct transport lymphatic fluid in the chest cavity. Ligating (closing off) this vessel successfully reduces or resolves chylothorax in up to 40% of cats. Watch the video below to see this procedure performed.

  • Pleuroperitoneal shunting – In this technique, a special drain is placed to allow fluid to drain from the pleural space to the abdominal cavity. Unfortunately, this technique is not often successful, and is not currently recommended in cats.
  • Thoracic duct ligation with pericardectomy – The pericardium is the sac that surrounds the heart. When this sac is removed, lymphatic fluid flows more efficiently. When pericardectomy is combined with thoracic duct ligation, chylothorax resolves in up to 80% of affected cats. Watch the video below to this procedure.

Partnering with a board-certified veterinary surgeon is recommended if surgery is needed for cats living with chylothorax.

Chylothorax – What is fibrosing pleuritis?

Remember the pleural space is a potential one. That means a large volume of fluid as occurs with chylothorax is abnormal. Chyle readily irritates the surface of the lungs called visceral pleura. With chronic irritation, the lungs scar (called fibrosis) and can’t expand normally. Removal of this scar tissue (a process called decortication) is frought with potential life-threatening complications. Thus, the best course of action to prevent fibrosis pleuritis is to aggressively diagnose and treat it as quickly as possible.

The take-away message about chylothorax in cats…

Chylothorax is the presence of fat-laden lymph fluid in the pleural space. There are many potential causes, but unfortunately one is not identified in more than 50% of cats. Prompt identification, stabilization, and treatment are essential for maximizing the likelihood of a positive outcome.


Critical Care DVM

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Myasthenia Gravis – When the Muscles & Nerves Don’t Talk

Nerves send vital signals to muscles throughout the body. When these chemical signals don’t interact with muscles normally, one possible result is profound muscle weakness. A unique disease caused by this very scenario is called myasthenia gravis, and has been documents in dogs, cats, and humans.

Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia Gravis – What is it?

Muscles are controlled by nerves, but nerves don’t directly connect to the muscles. There is a small gap between them – this is called a neuromuscular junction. Electrical signals travel through nerves until they reach the neuromuscular junction, and somehow the signal must jump the gap from nerve to muscle. This jump is facilitated by a chemical messenger called acetylcholine. This chemical is released from the nerve, flows across the neuromuscular junction, and attaches to unique receptors on the muscle like a key fitting into a lock. In patients with myasthenia gravis, the communication between nerve and muscle is abnormal. To view a high-level review of the the neuromuscular junction, please watch the video below.

There are two forms of myasthenia gravis:

  • Congenital – Patients aren’t born with enough acetylcholine receptors. To use the lock & key analogy mentioned above, these patients are born with too few locks
  • Acquired – The immune system produces special proteins called antibodies that destroy acetylcholine receptors. The locks are destroyed by the immune system

Myasthenia Gravis – What does it look like?

Patients with the congenital myasthenia gravis generally show clinical signs by 6-8 weeks of age, particularly generalized weakness and occasionally muscle tremors. This weakness often progresses and may ultimately lead to death. Certain breeds are hereditarily predisposed to the congenital form, including:

  • Dachshunds
  • Smooth fox terriers
  • Springer spaniels
  • Jack Russell Terriers

The acquired form is documented later in life, typically between 2-4 years of age and 9-13 years of age. Clinical signs may be as non-specific as generalized weakness with affected pets showing intolerance to exercise that improves with rest. Severely affected patients may too weak to lift their heads. The video below shows a dog who hindlimb weakness especially after taking a few steps.

Sometimes only a single muscle (or group of muscles) is affected, most commonly muscle groups in the mouth and throat. These patients may drool excessively, have difficulty swallowing, experience labored breathing, have a voice change, and/or regurgitate food and water. When the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) is affected, then it becomes markedly dilated. This condition is called megaesophagus.

Myasthenia Gravis – How is it diagnosed?

Your family veterinarian will recommend some screening blood and urine tests after reviewing your pet’s complete medical history and performing a thorough physical examination. These tests are:

  • Complete blood count – non-invasive blood test that measure red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets
  • Biochemical profile – non-invasive blood test to evaluate kidney & liver function, as well as to measure electrolytes (i.e.: sodium, potassium) and certain gastrointestinal enzymes
  • Urinalysis – non-invasive urine test to help evaluate kidney function and look for infection
  • Chest radiographs / x-rays – a non-invasive imaging test that looks for evidence of cancer, pneumonia, and dilation of the esophagus

These screening tests are profoundly important to look for other diseases that could cause similar clinical signs. Ultimately the best test to diagnose myasthenia gravis in dogs and cats is the acetylcholine receptor antibody assay. This is a non-invasive blood test that measures the quantity of antibodies that may be attached the acetylcholine receptor (the lock). Depending on the result, additional testing may be recommended to support a diagnosis of myasthenia gravis:

  • Edrophonium/Tensilon® challenge – Edrophonium chloride is a very short-acting antidote for myasthenia gravis. Upon injection into a vein, affected patients temporarily regain their strength. Watch the video below to a dog with myasthenia gravis improve after an injection of edrophonium

  • Electromyogram – This is a minimally invasive test that delivers a small electrical signal to muscles and then evaluates how the muscles respond.
  • Muscle biopsy – Evaluating a muscle sample for acetylcholine receptors is important in patients with congenital myasthenia gravis

Pet parents may find it uniquely helpful to partner with a board-certified veterinary internal medicine and neurologist to develop a logical and cost-effective diagnostic plan.

Myasthenia Gravis – How is it treated?

There are many potential therapies to improve the quality of life of patients with myasthenia gravis. Some of these address the disease itself, while other address complications associated with it. Affected patients are classified into one of three groups:

  • Group 1 – focal or mild generalized
  • Group 2 – moderate generalized
  • Group 3 – severe generalized

Patients in groups 1 and 2 are frequently treated with medicines that make acetylcholine stay in the neuromuscular junction longer and prevent the immune system from forming antibodies against the acetylcholine receptor. The former drugs are called anticholinesterase medications and the latter are immunomodulatory agents, of which there are several types. Pyridostigmine bromide/Mestinon® and neostigmine bromide/Prostigmin® are classic anticholinesterase drugs. Prednisone is the prototypical immunomodulatory.

Myasthenia Gravis

Image courtesy of

Patients in group 3 are quite challenging to treat, and are best managed in an intensive care unit. Affected patients typically need help breathing, and are placed on a device called a mechanical ventilator. Some referral hospitals offer therapeutic plasma exchange. During this treatment, a patient’s plasma that contains the dangerous antibodies against the acetylcholine receptor is removed and then replaced with donor plasma.

Various supportive therapies, including fluid and nutritional support, as well as medications to treat aspiration pneumonia and support the gastrointestinal tract, may be needed in certain patients. Partnering with a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist or emergency and critical care specialist will be helpful to ensure your fur baby receives the most appropriate care.

The take-away message about myasthenia gravis…

Myasthenia gravis is an important cause of exercise intolerance and weakness in dogs and some cats. A common complication of this condition is megaesophagus with subsequent aspiration pneumonia. Early identification and treatment are essential to maximize the likelihood of an affected pet being able to lead of high quality of life.

Critical Care DVM

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Primary Hyperparathyroidism in Dogs – High Calcium Isn’t Always Cancer!

Many dog owners know a finding of elevated blood calcium can be quite concerning. Cancer, including lymphoma and apocrine gland carcinoma of the anal gland, is a leading cause of blood calcium elevations in dogs. Yet, sometimes this elevation is not caused by lymphoma or anal gland cancer! Sometimes, the parathyroid glands in the neck are simply working too hard. This condition is called primary hyperparathyroidism.

Primary Hyperparathyroidism in Dogs

Image courtesy of

Primary hyperparathyroidism – What is it?

The parathyroid glands are closely associated with the thyroid glands in the neck. Most dogs have four glands, and they are located on or in the capsule of the thyroid gland. Occasionally, parathyroid tissue can be found is other locations in the body, including the mediastinum in the chest cavity.

Primary hyperparathyroidism

Image courtesy of Dr. Mark E. Peterson (

The parathyroid glands produce, store, and secrete a unique hormone called parathyroid hormone (also called PTH). When blood calcium level decreases, PTH is secreted into the blood to raise the calcium level via some intricate pathways, including:

  • Increased resorption of calcium from the kidneys
  • Mobilization of calcium from bones
  • Increased absorption of calcium from the intestinal tract

In patients with hyperparathyroidism, too much PTH is secreted. Thus, the effects of parathyroid hormone on blood calcium are augmented. Most affected dogs have a solitary nodule associated with one parathyroid gland. Approximately 10% of dogs have enlargement of more than one parathyroid gland. These nodules are overwhelmingly benign, and rarely are the parathyroid glands affected by malignancy. A biopsy is required for definitive diagnosis, and we will discuss surgery for primary hyperparathyroidism later.

Primary hyperparathyroidism – What does it look like?

Dogs with hyperparathyroidism tend to be older with more than 95% being older than seven years of age. Males and females appear to be affected equally. Every breed of dog may develop this condition, but Keeshonds have a genetically transmitted form of this disease.

Keeshonds have a genetically transmitted form of primary hyperparathyroidism.

Other commonly affected breeds are:

  • Mixed breed dogs
  • Labrador retrievers
  • German shepherds
  • Poodles
  • Shih Tzus
  • Springer spaniels

Dogs with primary hyperparathyroidism have a variety of potential clinical sings, including:

  • Urinary tract signs (i.e.: increased frequency of urination, blood in urine)
  • Increased thirst
  • Weakness & exercise intolerance
  • Reduced (or loss of) appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle wasting
  • Shivering
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff gait & skeletal pain

Primary hyperparathyroidism – How is it diagnosed?

It is imperative a veterinarian obtain a thorough patient history and perform a complete physical examination for any dog with elevated blood calcium. Some dogs develop deformities of their jaw bones and deposits of calcium in their conjunctiva and corneas. To initially document hypercalcemia, the doctor will perform some simple blood/urine tests:

  • Complete blood count – non-invasive blood test that yields information about red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets
  • Biochemical profile – non-invasive blood test that give information about calcium, phosphorus, kidney values, and electrolytes like sodium & potassium
  • Urinalysis – non-invasive urine test that helps to assess kidney function, and may show unique crystals in patients with elevated blood calcium
Primary hyperparathyroidism

Image courtesy of Trade

Once persistent elevated blood calcium has been noted, further diagnostic investigation is warranted:

  • Ionized calcium – biologically active form of calcium in the body
  • Parathyroid hormone level – a non-invasive blood tests essential more making a definitive diagnosis of primary hyperparathyroidism
  • Vitamin D level – vitamin D disorders can affect blood calcium levels
  • Chest radiographs/x-rays – simple imaging study to look for problems within the chest cavity
  • Abdominal sonography – a non-invasive imaging test to assess the size and architecture of major internal organs, as well as to screen for urinary bladder stones
  • Urine culture – non-invasive urine test to confirm the presence of a bacterial infection; this test is commonly performed in patients with urinary bladder stones
  • Parathyroid gland sonography – a non-invasive imaging test to evaluate the structure of the parathyroid glands

Pet parents are encouraged to partner with a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist to develop a logical and cost-effective diagnostic plan for any patient with elevated blood calcium.

Primary hyperparathyroidism – How is it treated?

The most common and effective method for treating primary hyperparathyroidism is surgical removal of an enlarged parathyroid nodule(s). This surgery is called a parathyroidectomy. The surgical cure rate is 95% if all hyperfunctional tissue is removed. Many pet parents worry about the age of their dog and the need for general anesthesia. When performed by an experienced, board-certified veterinary surgeon, the duration of anesthesia is short, risks are low, and success rate is high.

Some non-surgical therapies are available for those patients for whom a family elects not to pursue surgery. These include:

  • Ultrasound-guided heat ablation
  • Ultrasound-guided ethanol ablation
  • Management with various drugs

Heat and ethanol ablation can be highly effective (~90% cure rate). However, these procedures are only appropriate for those patients with identifiably enlarged parathyroid nodule(s) via sonography. Specialized training and expertise, as well as specific equipment, are needed to perform these intricate procedures safely. As such, only experience board-certified veterinary specialists tend to perform them at some referral hospitals. Management of elevated blood calcium with various drugs is possible, but is also frequently frustrating and unrewarding. Consulting with a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist can be helpful some parents to pick the most appropriate treatment for their dog.

The take-away message about primary hyperparathyroidism in dogs…

Primary hyperparathyroidism is an under-appreciated cause of elevated blood calcium in dogs. Accurate diagnosis is relatively straightforward after performing some logical, non-invasive blood, urine, and diagnostic imaging studies. Surgical removal of an enlarged parathyroid gland is recommended for affected dogs, as this type of intervention offers an exceedingly high cure rate.

Critical Care DVM

To find a registered South African Veterinary practice please see our listed vets HERE