Hemangiosarcoma cancer linked to Bartonella bacteria

Researchers at North Carolina State University have found that dogs who have hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of the blood vessels have high levels of Bartonella bacteria. This leads researchers to believe that there is a connection between persistent infection and/or inflammation and some types of cancer.

Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is an aggressive, deadly cancer that comes from cells lining the blood vessels. It is responsible for two-thirds of all heart or splenic tumors in dogs, and is most common in medium-sized and middle-aged dogs.

What makes this difficult is that the bacteria are found in tumors and tissues but not detectable in blood samples. This indicates that Bartonella can survive undetected within tissue.

I have personally lost two dogs to cancer of the spleen. I hope that the researchers can develop a simple test to detect hemangiosarcoma and the Bartonella bacteria.

Jib, SAR dog who died from cancer of the spleen

Cancerous tumors in dogs

A study conducted by Oregon State’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences by Katy Townsend, an assistant professor in the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine; and Joanne Tuohy of Colorado State University showed that if a cancerous tumor in dogs is completely removed, the risk of the cancer coming back is reduced by 60%.

The researchers found that to reduce the reoccurrence of cancer the tumors must be removed with microscopic margins to be sure that all of the cancer cells are removed.

The importance of this study shows that veterinarians need to adopt standard research guidelines to improve treatment of cancer in animals. This way information can be more useful.

Non-social fear in dogs

According to a recent study at the University of Helsinki there are a number of factors that cause a dog to have non-social fears.

The researchers studied 14,000 dogs of various breeds and found that those who were fearful of novel situations, noise sensitivity, slippery surfaces, heights and transparent stairs, for example, benefited from physical activity. Some dog owners avoid doing things with their dogs because they do not want to put them into situations that cause fear.

Lily and Jib

Lack of proper socialization is also a contributing factor that causes a dog to develop fear. They found that urban dogs are more fearful than rural dogs and fear is more common in spayed females and smaller dogs.

The article goes into more detail about the various breeds and the fears that they have. Interestingly they stated that Cairn Terriers were among the most fearful breeds.

The fact that there are breed differences indicates that a good breeding program can go a long way in reducing fear in breeds of dogs. Socializing puppies is something everyone can do. However, it should be done under the guidance of a competent dog trainer, especially for first time dog owners.

Chiggers Those Hellish Creatures

 By guest blogger, Vi Hummel Shaffer a 28-year veteran SAR/R K9 Handler specializing in K9 Forensic Human Remains Detection, an instructor, consultant, and speaker. She is the author of K9 Teams: Beyond the Basics of Search and Rescue and Recovery published by Brush Education.

Technically, chiggers are not insects – they are “arachnids” in the same family as spiders and ticks. Chiggers are also known by other names around the world: some call them berry bugs, red bugs, harvest mites, harvest bugs, harvest lice, mower’s mites, scrub-itch mites and others. Their scientific name is “trombiculidae mites” and there are approximately 30 species known to attack humans and other animals.

Where They Can Be Found       

Chiggers like areas of high humidity. They live in every country around the globe except in high elevations or where it is too hot or dry. Fortunately, North American chiggers don’t seem to be carriers of major diseases unlike in East Asia and the South Pacific. In those areas’ chiggers can cause scrub typhus also known as Japanese river disease. This disease can cause fever, muscle pain, headaches, rash, gastrointestinal problems and coughing.

Chiggers live in damp areas such as grass – like fields, lawns, forests, along the edges of wooded areas, swamps, bogs, rotten logs and stumps, overgrown briar patches and other moist habitats near lakes and streams. However, although chiggers may be heavily concentrated in one spot, they can be virtually absent nearby areas.

When   

Chiggers are most abundant when weeds, grass and other vegetation are substantial – usually in spring, summer and early fall when temperatures are in the 70s and 80s. But they avoid temperatures hotter than 99⁰F (37.2⁰C) and become inactive at temperatures below 60⁰F (15.5⁰C) and 42⁰F (5.556⁰C) will kill the biting ones.

Who and How They Attack    

Only the larvae (baby chiggers) are parasitic! Nymph and adult stages do not “bite”. While adult chiggers average about 1/60 of an inch long (0.4mm) the larvae are only 1/100 to less than 1/150 of an inch (10.15 to 0.3 mm) in diameter. They are bright red, hairy, have six legs (larva pictured). Adult and nymph chiggers have eight legs. Some species of chiggers are yellow or straw-colored. After the chigger eggs hatch into larvae they don’t move very far by themselves. They congregate in groups on grass blades, low plants and bushes and small clumps of soil. They attach themselves to small mammals, birds, reptiles, rodents and humans (their least preferable host) who walk through the infested vegetation.

Larvae mites have claws that help them latch on to the host they choose – such as the shoes, clothing, fur/hair – and skin of animals. Generally, they crawl around and explore the host, sometimes for several hours, seeking a safe place before they feed. Bites can happen on any area of the body but mainly where there are folds, wrinkles or where skin in thinnest and easier to penetrate. Those areas are commonly where clothing is tight – around ankles at the sock line, around the waist, near the groin, behind knees, under the armpits – inconvenient places like panty lines, bra straps and there have been cases where they have made their way on to “private parts.” Chiggers can leave hundreds of bites on a host in just one exposure!      

Prevention 

Other than staying out of chigger infested areas – which isn’t always possible – searchers and those working in the field should wear long-sleeved shirts, tall boots with their trousers tucked into their socks and a belt to minimize chiggers’ ability to connect directly to skin under a shirt.

Insect repellent is also suggested. But even repellents that specifically state they repel chiggers may only afford some degree of protection. Over-the-counter insect repellent effectiveness usually lasts for several hours before needing reapplication. Those containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) may be applied directly to exposed skin but avoid getting it around or in the eyes. All repellents should be used according to label directions. If sunscreen is also used it should be applied first, rubbed into the skin and let absorb before using a repellent.

Long-lasting products such as those containing permethrin should only be sprayed on clothing (not on skin) and allowed to dry on the clothes for a couple of days before wearing. Permethrin sprays on clothing will remain effective even through a couple of washings. It is important to follow all label instructions. For double protection in heavily infested areas, it has been suggested to use repellent with DEET on your skin, and permethrin treated clothing. Sulphur powder applied to clothing has also been mentioned as providing some protection. But it has a horrible smell like rotten eggs.  

Author’s Note: Being the recipient of thousands of chigger bites through the years, and although trying various repellents, I have found one thing that has truly lessened them. Bounce Dryer Sheets! I have used them for years, shared them with others in the field, and they have helped! Take two fresh dryer sheets and wrap them around each ankle – that’s two sheets per ankle – under your socks. I also tuck some in my waistband and then sprayed myself with repellent. I don’t know if the “fragrance free” sheets or if any other brands work since I have only used the scented Bounce sheets.

“Bite”     

As previously stated, the larvae, not the adults or nymphs, are what does the damage. Chiggers don’t really bite nor do they “suck blood” or burrow into the skin. The larvae have tiny, sharp mouthparts that pierce the skin – poking a hole where they inject saliva containing digestive enzymes. Those enzymes break down and liquefy skin cells causing the human immune system to respond by hardening the cells all around the hole creating a hard feeding tube structure (referred to as a “stylostome”). It is through that tube that chiggers gain access to the digested skin cells where they constantly secrete saliva to liquefy new tissue. The larvae continue to feed sucking up the fluid until they are engorged. The enzymes are what causes the intense, relentless itching that begins several hours after the initial bite.

Because of the delay between the actual puncture and the itch, the host may not at first, associate it to their exposure to chiggers. The result of these bites will be clusters or groups of red pimple-like bumps or blisters whose itching usually peaks around 24 – 48 hours after the original piercing. Chigger larvae typically feed for three days before dropping off to find a place to digest their meal and molt into their next stage of life.

After Exposure: Clothing, shoes, gear (and dog) should be thoroughly brushed off immediately upon returning from the field. Once home, that clothing should be isolated from the rest of the laundry then washed in hot, soapy water. Boots should be left outside until cleaned. Dog bedding or vehicle kennel pads should also be cleaned.

A hot shower or bath should be taken as soon as possible with repeated soaping and vigorously scrubbing with a washcloth to dislodge any larvae that remain on the body. Although some chiggers may be forced off, the itching from the enzymes in the “tube” will still exist.

Some information sites suggest a cold shower should be taken, rather than hot, to help reduce inflammation from the bites and help relieve itching.

What to Do/Human Treatment (Note: This treatment information is a compilation of ideas from reputable sources. It is not medical advice.)

First of All, Don’t Scratch. Scratching can cause a secondary infection.

Don’t put clear fingernail polish on the bites to try to “suffocate” the chiggers. The chiggers may already be gone. Remember it is the enzymes already in your skin that cause the itching.

Don’t put bleach on the bites it doesn’t work! 

All itch relief remedies provide only temporary relief. The following suggestions are the most authoritative.

Unfortunately, No one remedy works equally well for most people and, even less encouraging it can take two to three weeks for chigger bites to heal!

Rubbing alcohol will burn when it touches a wound but it may have a little benefit and possibly kill any larvae if they are still attached.

Hot (or cold) showers and baths

Cold bath with a few scoops of colloidal oatmeal

Cold compresses

Applying wrapped ice to the bites

Over-the counter anti-itch creams, ointments and sprays.  If any contain hydrocortisone, consult with a doctor before using on children under the age of 12, or if pregnant or nursing.

Calamine or Pramoxine lotions

Menthol ointments (Vicks VapoRub)

Apple cider vinegar

Antihistamine pills such as Benadryl

Analgesics (pain relievers) may provide itch relief.

Ground up aspirin paste or baking soda paste applied to each bite.

Camphor Oil

In addition, antiseptic ointment will help prevent infection for bites that have been scraped by clothing or scratched.  For severe cases of chigger bites a physician should be consulted. Steroid shots may be prescribed to alleviate the itch and if infected, antibiotics may be needed.

Chiggers on Dogs

Although a dog’s fur can protect it from some chiggers they still latch on to other areas. Those less hair-covered places such as around the dog’s eyes, ears, legs and stomach are particularly vulnerable. Once on-board they will crawl around and also climb around down into the fur looking for a good, safe place to feed.

Chiggers or Fleas

Fleas prefer warm-blooded hairy animals. They can jump eight inches high and thirteen inches horizontally. Fleas feed on blood so there may be some “flea dirt” (dried blood from bites) present on the dog’s body as can be seen in this photo. There are usually three or four bites lined up in a row in an area. They are small red bumps with a halo-like ring around them.

Photo from PulpBits website

Chigger bites are in large, random clusters and look similar to small pimples, welts, blisters or hives.

Photo from University of San Francisco webpage

Sometimes chiggers can be identified by observing what looks look like paprika on the dog’s fur. Those almost microscopic reddish dots are larvae.

Indications of Chiggers on Dogs

Intense itching/scratching – typically starts three to six hours after exposure – that lasts for days is the most apparent indication. While not all dogs react with itching, some may develop an allergic reaction with hives or facial swelling.  As with humans, the itching enzymes will remain although the larvae will fall off after feeding for three or four days.

Clusters of Small, red crusty pimples, welts/bumps on skin which occur after several hours.

Red patches on exposed skin (can even be visible under their hair).

(If unsure of what the problem is, since other skin conditions may cause bumps, consult a veterinarian who can make the diagnosis.)

Treating Chigger Bites on Dogs

As previously mentioned, the dog should be brushed/wiped off immediately after returning from the field. It is recommended a soft cloth or vet-approved skin wipe be used around the sensitive areas. Chiggers can also infect a dog’s inner ear.

There are products/shampoos on the market to treat chigger bites on dogs but it is important to review them for safety and results. There are home-remedies (with mixture directions online) which may or may not be effective such as: bathing the dog in Epsom salts, a warm Colloidal Oat or Brewed Green Tea bath, Wrapped Ice Packs or Cold Compresses. Before using human treatments, a veterinarian should be consulted. The Vet may prescribe anti-parasitic sprays, dips, topical medication or suggest an antihistamine. In cases of severe infestation steroids may be prescribed. Remember continuous scratching can develop into bacterial infection which then would require antibiotics.

Prevention Veterinarian approved, dog medications for killing ticks and mites (Frontline, NexGard, Seresto, etc.) may help fend off chiggers. If chigger infested areas are within the dog’s home territory – Keep the dog away from them for about two weeks while those places are treated with pet-safe products.

Chiggers and the Ecosystem

After much research, due to curiosity about the “benefits” of chiggers, the most learned is that they feed on different foods at their different life stages. Larvae are parasitic while nymphs and adults feed only are various plant materials and smaller arthropods in the soil. Natural predators of chiggers (and other mites) are spiders, beetles, birds, lizards, centipedes, salamanders, certain species of ants and other small creatures which live in areas populated by chiggers.

Note from Susan: While this article applies to people and dogs, chiggers can bite cats and other animals as well.

Dog Training Tips 4 The age to start training

For a long time, it was believed that you should not start training a dog until he was six months of age. I feel that this came about for a number of reasons. One, trainers did not know how to train a young puppy. Two, people did not have the patience to train a puppy. Three, trainers felt that a dog younger than six months was not mature enough to train. But consider this, from birth a puppy is able to learn. At birth they learn how to nurse, how to sleep with their litter mates and that they have a benefactor, their mother.

As they grow, they learn how to play with each other. If they are raised by a diligent breeder, they learn how to interact with humans. Each week that they grow, they are able to learn more about their environment. They explore, watch, and interact. By eight weeks of age they are able to associate and mentally sort what they experience well enough to start learning things like house-training. The point is, that puppies are very able to learn.

However, they have a very short attention span and seem to forget lessons from one day to the next. In reality they do not forget, they are developing the ability to categorize what they have learned. Even humans will learn something much quicker and easier if they can relate it to something they already know. When people have to learn something totally new, it takes much longer. Dogs are no different than people.

If you wait until a dog is six months old to start training them, you have to undo all of the things they have learned on their own that you do not want. The dog has been learning anyway. It is much easier for the dog and the owner to start training as soon as you bring your cute puppy home. I recommend giving the new puppy a week to adjust to his new environment and you, then using clicker training to teach him his house manners. The main thing is to have patience and realize that it will take longer for the puppy to be reliable, but he will learn. I started training all of my search and rescue dogs at 12 weeks of age. They grew up knowing the job that they had to do.

The key is to understand that each dog will learn at their own pace. You have to be patient because dogs learn the same way as human babies or young children. Training should never physically or mentally hurt the dog. Only reward the behavior you want. In the next Dog Training Tips, I will talk about how to communicate to a dog.

Heavy mixed breed dogs have greater health risks

Benjamin Hart, a professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, did a comprehensive studyon health issues in mixed breed dogs weighing 44 pounds and over. He found that if these dogs were spayed or neutered prior to one year their health risks increased.

Scout SAR training wood pile

The study analyzed 15 years of data from thousands of dogs at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. They found that joint disorders including hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tears, and knee injuries jumped from 4% in intact dogs to 10 – 12% in those neutered or spayed prior to one year.

The problem which the study pointed out, is that when someone adopts or purchases a mixed breed dog as a puppy, they may not know who the parents are and thus will not know for sure how big the dog will get as an adult.

In an earlier study, the scientists determined that health risks due to the age of neutering varied a lot depending upon the breed of dog. In this case the common belief that a mixed breed dog is generally healthier than a purebred does not seem to be the case.

My question is, why is there a difference between mixed breed and purebred if the injuries are a result of weight.

The bigger issues as pointed out in the article is that the common practice of early spay and neuter needs to be reviewed and possibly modified. This is also important information for people who train working dogs.

Early childhood adversity lasts a lifetime

A study by scientists at theUniversity of Notre Dame on baboons has shown that early adverse conditions such as famine, abuse, neglect or the death of a parent in early childhood are not reversed by support in adulthood. They feel that things such as elevated stress hormones take a physiological toll on the body, and remain, even with a healthy, supportive relationships in adulthood.

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Because the subjects of the study were baboons, scientists measured life experience against levels of glucocorticoids (fGCs) — hormones that regulate physiological functions such as metabolism and immune function, and moderate the body’s response to stress. They found that the levels of fGC’s were 9% higher in subjects that had three or more adverse experiences and 21% higher than subjects that had no harsh experiences.

I have to wonder how this study relates to other animals. Does this mean that pets who are abused or experience harsh situations as youths, will not ever fully respond to kind treatment when they are adults? Will the stress always be with them? What comes to mind are children who are given up for adoption at birth and then suffer from attachment disorder. While further research is needed and on a wider subject base (other animals) this is important information to keep in mind when trying to rehabilitate abused pets. This may mean that failure is not the result of poor rehabilitation techniques, but is a result of the chemical changes in the subject.

Dog age vs human age

The old rule that one dog year equals seven human years is not true. New research has indicated that dogs are much older than we think. Based on DNA chemical markers called methylation marks, researchers have been able to come up with a better idea of the age comparison between dogs and humans.

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Dogs age faster when they are young and slower as they get older. The article points out that a 6 – 9-month-old puppy is capable getting pregnant which would be the same as a human who has reached puberty. Yet an eight-week-old puppy is equal to a nine-month-old human. A one-year old dog is the same as a 30-year-old human.

The researchers studied Labrador Retrievers and found that a 12-year-old Lab corresponds with a 70-year-old human. The researchers plan to study other breeds to see how their methylation marks relate to corresponding human age. This will be interesting since dog breeds have lifespans from six to eight years up to 16 years. The researchers hope that their findings will help veterinarians determine the best care for different breeds based on their relative age.

Dog Training Tips 3

In Dog Training Tips 2 I talked about how the type of dog, its breed(s) influence the dog’s personality and how biddable the dog is. The term biddable means how willing the dog is to obey. Some breeds are much more biddable than others. For example, most of the herding and some of the hunting breeds are very biddable. Some of the breeds classified as working dogs are biddable but some are not. The least biddable breeds tend to fall into the livestock guarding breeds and the hounds. However, this does not mean that they are less intelligent. As a matter of fact, the livestock guarding breeds are very intelligent but as a rule are bred to work independently, and alone. They must make very important decisions to protect the flock that they are guarding. Many people are attracted to these breeds because they are very quiet and calm. However, they do not make good pets. They are bred to repel an intruder regardless if it is animal or human. It takes a special person who understands this type of dog and knows how to train them to successfully own one.

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Created by Bruce Ross

The hounds are another difficult breed to train. Again, not because they are less intelligent, but because they are bred to be very focused. Think of it this way. If a hound is bred and taught to hunt fox, they must only find and follow the scent of a fox. A Foxhound who is side-tracked on the fresher scent of a rabbit or deer, is no use as a Foxhound. But, some of you may say, what about Bloodhounds that look for missing people. Each person has his own unique scent. This is true, but the hound is trained to follow only human scent, whichever human scent his handler indicates. The Search and Rescue (SAR) Bloodhound will not veer off a trail to track an animal.

Because the hounds are very focused, they often block out everything else. For the pet owner, this can be frustrating because as hound owners know, when these dogs go for a walk, their noses are often on the ground taking in all of the scents. Their tendency to focus so strongly on scent, and their ability to block out everything else makes them seem to ignore the commands of their owners. The younger the dog, the harder the hound is to train because he is going to follow his instincts first. This means that the dog’s owner must exercise a lot more patience and realize that it will take much more effort on their part to motivate the hound to break his focus and listen to commands. One way to circumvent this is to use clicker training on the very young, 12-week-old puppy, before he fully develops his ability to focus on scent. All puppies have short attention spans and if you do not want to train your puppy to hunt, then this is a good time to take advantage of the puppy’s short attention span to teach him to focus on you.

Never forget, dogs do not speak human languages. Therefore, it takes patience on our part to teach them and you must take care not  to repeat a command. The dog does not understand that “Sit” is one word. If you say, “Sit, Sit, Sit!” the dog will think it is all one word and never sit until you say it three times. A thought for today, did you ever wonder why dogs seem to be able to communicate to us better than we can to them?

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or if you need a certified canine behaviorist.

Health issues related to early spay and neuter of dogs

For many years I have had working dog people tell me that a dog should not be neutered or spayed until after they reach puberty. For a bitch that would be after the first heat. They claimed that the dog fully develops mentally after puberty and that early neutering and spaying retards this development.

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In a recent study, scientists found that some breeds have a higher risk of developing certain cancers and joint disorders if they are neutered or spayed during their first year of life.

This study looked at 35 breeds over a ten-year period and analyzed thousands of dogs over fifteen years. What is interesting is that the age and sex of the dogs did factor into whether or not the dogs were afflicted with health issues.

The health issues under consideration included hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tears and elbow dysplasia, lymphoma; hemangiosarcoma, or cancer of the blood vessel walls; mast cell tumors; and osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. While the study showed that early neutering did not affect all of the dogs, there were breed related problems.

I personally feel that a dog needs the full range of hormones to fully develop mentally. But it can be difficult for the owners of female dogs to control a bitch in heat and prevent an unwanted litter. For the owners of male dogs there are methods to prevent the dog from siring an unwanted litter other than neutering. It is always wise to consult with your veterinarian and explore all of your options.

As an aside, I would like to see a similar study about the health and mental affects of early spay-neuter in cats.