2015-08-26 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

On Aug.16, Dr. Richard E. Goldstein, chief medical officer of the renowned Animal Medical Center (AMC) in NYC, began a Shelter Summit with these words of wisdom: “Please don’t use the term “kennel cough” anymore. We now know that many factors, besides bordetella, can cause coughing and infectious respiratory disease in dogs.”

Dr. Goldstein is internationally recognized for his expertise in infectious diseases in dogs and cats. He lectures all over the world. He understands the domino effect of problems set in motion when dogs encounter various respiratory pathogens while in shelters. Dr. Goldstein believes that if veterinarians, municipal shelters, non-profit rescues and the veterinary pharmaceutical industry all work together, we can reduce the number and intensity of canine respiratory diseases within Animal Care & Control (ACC) shelters of NYC and other crowded facilities, as well as dispel the myth that the ACC has spawned its own antibiotic-resistant strain of respiratory super bug. There is no basis for that rumor.

Shelter Beagle with pneumonia in intensive care. Shelter overcrowding contributes to the spread of canine respiratory diseases. Shelter Beagle with pneumonia in intensive care. Shelter overcrowding contributes to the spread of canine respiratory diseases. The AMC, located at East 62nd Street in NYC, is a non-profit veterinary institution that has been a national leader in animal care, education and research for the last 105 years. Dr. Goldstein has been chief medical officer at the AMC since 2012. Prior to coming to the AMC, he was a professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University, School of Veterinary Medicine. He has published over 60 research papers and textbook chapters to date.

Dr. Goldstein reminded us, “Often dogs entering shelters are part of a unique canine population– malnourished or never vaccinated. Many are seniors already suffering from other medical issues. Now they’re within a stressful, noisy, crowded setting with a constant stream of similarly vulnerable, new dogs joining them each day.” He mentioned some dogs become so anxious, they don’t sleep in a shelter environment. In 30 years of visiting shelters, canine insomnia never crossed my mind.

Most shelters do give several vaccines upon intake, but these shots are not magic bullets. They take time to protect. In addition, a dog not showing symptoms yet, but already exposed to a particular disease like canine flu, could be shedding that virus, infecting others. Combining all these factors explains why neglected dogs are more predisposed to infection from each bacteria or virus they encounter in the shelter, and more apt to develop complications like pneumonia. Healthy, vaccinated pets, living in a home, even if exposed to a disease, tend to remain immune. (Dr. Goldstein used the analogy of nursing home patients being so vulnerable to viruses and colds that they can develop into pneumonia or other life-threatening conditions.) There is never enough room to isolate ill shelter dogs, or prevent healthy dogs from being exposed to sick ones. We see this on a smaller scale at Babylon Town Shelter where every inch is utilized to house dogs and cats. Presently the garage doubles as an isolation area for kittens and a new puppy.

Dr. Goldstein heard rescuers saying they were reluctant to take more dogs from city shelters because it seemed they were pulling many really sick dogs, or dogs requiring hospitalization for pneumonia. Besides heartache, these sick dogs depleted their treasuries. This news prompted him to take the first step at limiting canine upper respiratory outbreaks by visiting the Manhattan ACC to tour the shelter and discuss current disease prevention and treatment protocols; bringing two diagnostic and vaccine industries – Boehringer Ingelheim and IDEXX – into this collaboration and teaching volunteers from nonprofit rescues that pull dogs from the ACC and other municipal shelters about the whole syndrome, now called CIRD (Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease). He wants to continue the Shelter Summit and to assist in the solution to this shelter dog medical problem. Believe me, this is great news. Dr. Goldstein’s expert (and non-judgmental) intervention is as sensational as Michelangelo coming over to help you paint your ceiling, or Edison offering to give you tips on fixing your stereo.

Dr. Goldstein remarked that “shelter medicine” has become an important course of study. Vet students interning at shelters learn to think outside the medical box when best veterinary practice is impossible due to limited resources, sheer numbers of pup patients and the impact of your course of action upon the rest of the shelter population. I’ve been fortunate to witness shelter medicine evolve on LI during my tenure as a Town shelter volunteer. Over three decades, we’ve gone from watching helplessly while dogs and cats were left to suffer in pain until their stray hold was up and they could be “put out of their misery,” to present time where there are intake exams by veterinarians, vaccines, heartworm testing/preventives and even blood work, hospitalization and surgery when needed. In the past, any symptom, no matter how minor, would have been a death sentence for a shelter pet.

Dr. Goldstein has state-of-theart testing ideas he’d like to see implemented at the ACC. PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) realtime testing is an innovative way of determining which specific pathogens are infecting a dog. The test quickly identifies which pathogens are present (and their intensity) in the dog’s respiratory tract based on the pathogen’s DNA or RNA so the appropriate drug can be prescribed. A Q-tip swab of the dog’s nose and throat is placed in a tube and sent to IDEXX Laboratories. Dr. Goldstein hopes that by introducing IDEXX to the ACC’s need for answers, some PCR testing can be done at a reasonable cost. “PCR testing every dog that comes into the ACC for several months may show a pattern of which pathogens are typically present upon shelter intake. This data would be useful in developing treatment plans,” he said.

Dr. Goldstein had positive things to say about his visit to the Manhattan ACC. “The adoption area is clean and welcoming. I was impressed by the passion the people there had and their feeling of wanting to do right despite limited staff and resources, plus being handcuffed by a physical facility that struggles to house the number of dogs coming in each day,” he said. Dr. Goldstein’s Rescue Summit idea and further collaboration between veterinary experts, the pharmaceutical industry, shelter staff and rescue volunteers can bring real hope to the horizon for healthier shelter dogs.

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