Sunday, October 30, 2011


OK, all those of you who expected a bunch of photos this year involving dogs and cats dressed up for Halloween, raise your hand...and then go stand in the corner!  That approach has been vastly overused in Helpful Buckeye's estimation.  Instead, take a look at this critter:

This is real and didn't involve being dressed up.  Yes, for those of you who recognized it, this is a Red Knee Tarantula and it provides the welcome for our Halloween issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats.  Many of our readers do keep other types of pets besides dogs and cats.  Some of those are spiders...which always seem to be a part of any scary Halloween scene.  There is actually a specialist for these spidery pets at the University of Illinois, as detailed in this article:

How to care for your ... spider? By Andrea Lin

While I find spiders interesting, they're not an animal I'd consider keeping as a pet. But when this column from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine arrived -- with the headline "Care and Keeping of Giant Spiders" -- well, how could anybody not be intrigued?

Creepy-crawly spiders of any size frighten some people, but a few species of tarantulas are commonly kept as pets and can be quite friendly.

According to Dr. Mark Mitchell, an exotics veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, the most common pet species -- the red knee tarantula, the Chilean rose spider and the Goliath bird-eater -- are technically "giant spiders" and not tarantulas. The first two make friendly pets, while the Goliath bird-eater, which is one of the largest spiders in the world, can be quite aggressive.

Red Knee Tarantula

Chilean Rose Spider

Goliath Bird-Eater

Giant spiders are typically kept in tanks. Most owners prefer a realistic, natural-looking vivarium. It is recommended that the tank be at least three times the length of the spider's leg span. For the red knee and Chilean rose spider, adult leg span is around five inches, and the Goliath bird-eater can reach 12 inches!  The keys to a good habitat are shelter, substrate (material used for flooring), humidity and temperature. You can find all the necessary supplies -- and the spiders, too -- at pet stores.

"Be sure to provide shelter where your tarantula can hide," says Mitchell. "Shelter can be anything from a piece of bark to one of the decorative resin shelters sold in pet stores.

"The right substrate depends on the species," he advises. "For example, sand is good for the Chilean rose spider, which lives in the desert, and orchid bark is appropriate for the red knee tarantula, which lives in tropical forests. Artificial turf found in pet stores can also work well. Make sure that the substrate does not get too moist, because this can lead to dermatitis for the tarantula."

Humidity and temperature should also fit the species. Desert species require lower humidity than tropical species require. To monitor humidity, you will need a hygrometer. Maintain proper humidity by misting the environment, being careful not to mist the substrate and make it damp. Proper temperature should be provided by a radiant heat source, such as a heat lamp. Do not use heat rocks, which can burn the pet. (This goes for reptiles as well as spiders.)

Of course, your pet will also need water and food. "Provide water in a very shallow dish or on a sponge or cotton ball," says Mitchell. "If you us a large open bowl of water, your tarantula may accidentally drown."

The food provided depends on the size of the spider: smaller insects for young, small spiders and larger insects for larger spiders. Tarantulas do quite well with live insects. Unlike reptiles, spiders have no bones, so there is no need to dust the insects you feed spiders with calcium or other supplement dust as you may do for reptiles.  Goliath bird-eaters can grow large enough that you can feed them baby mice, known as pinkies or fuzzies. Dr. Mitchell advises against feeding live mice in order to reduce the danger to your tarantula.

To interact with your tarantula, let it crawl onto your hand. Never grab your spider, which will cause stress to your pet and could also result in damaged legs or worse. Damaged legs do regenerate with the next molt, but it is certainly preferable not to hurt them.

"Giant spiders have a mild venom comparable to that of a bee sting," says Mitchell. Tarantulas have urticating hairs on their bodies, which they flick off as a primary defense. These hairs have barbs and can be highly irritating, sometimes causing a hypersensitivity inflammation of affected skin.

You should learn to recognize your pet's behavioral cues. A threatened spider will rear up and expose its fangs. A spider with a bald patch on its abdomen is stressed. If this is the case, you need to eliminate the cause of the stress to keep your spider healthy.

Like any pet, tarantulas can require veterinary care. Most tarantula owners call a veterinarian experienced in spider care for consults rather than bring their pet to a clinic. The most common health problems involve molting, mites and damaged legs and abdomen.  When tarantulas molt, they flip onto their backs and crawl out a cut they make in the abdomen. It is an emergency situation for the spider if it gets stuck. This problem is usually associated with humidity, so raising the humidity may help. If necessary, you can help by very carefully peeling the exoskeleton off.

"If your tarantula has mites, do not use any sort of anti-parasite medication," warns Mitchell, "because these can affect your spider too. Instead, dip cotton swabs in mineral oil and carefully wipe the mites off your spider."

Damaged exoskeleton of the leg or abdomen will heal with the spider's next molt. In the meantime, a touch of liquid bandage glue can help seal off the holes.

If you are ever uncertain about the condition, don't hesitate to bring your tarantula to an experienced veterinarian. Mitchell also suggests finding a good support group of experienced tarantula owners or a pet store with knowledgeable staff to help you get started with your interesting and unconventional pet.

Adapted from:

This week's main topic is the result of many questions recently received by Helpful Buckeye about whether or not any vaccinations are necessary for dogs and cats.  This subject has always been worthy of discussion but recent information might have shifted the weight of the evidence to the middle, or "gray," area between yes and no. 

For starters, a rabies vaccination is usually necessary in most states and localities for dogs, as evidenced by the requirement for buying a dog license.  This is also becoming a more frequent requirement for cats as well.  Since rabies is almost always fatal to humans, this vigilance is understandable.  However, for all of the other vaccinations available for dogs and cats, there may be some questions about their necessity.  Let's begin with a short introduction as to just what exactly is a vaccine:

What Is A Vaccine?  Dr. Dawn Ruben

Our world is full of many different forms of life. Some of the more potentially dangerous creatures for pets include parasites, bacteria and viruses. In response to the severe and devastating illnesses or even fatalities that these creatures can cause, researchers and scientists have been working to find ways to eliminate them. Medications were developed to treat many parasite infections. Antibiotics were discovered to treat bacterial infections but the effective treatment of viral infections still eludes us. So far, the best we have been able to do is prevent viral infections, as well as some bacterial and rickettsial infections, through the use of vaccinations.

Vaccinations are the introduction of vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease. The term vaccination comes from the Latin vacca or cow, and was coined when the first inoculations were given with organisms that caused the mild disease cowpox to produce immunity against smallpox.

For centuries, the smallpox virus caused serious, debilitating illness in people. Once someone became infected, there was nothing that could be done. In the late 1700s, Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who developed the mild and temporary cowpox virus did not become infected with smallpox. As an experiment, he intentionally infected people with the cowpox virus, also known as vaccinia. As with the milkmaids, these people did not get smallpox. The procedure of using a similar substance to prevent viral infection became known as vaccination, as homage to the vaccinia disease, which started it all.

Have you ever wondered why you get chicken pox once and are considered immune for life but you can get the influenza virus year after year? The reason for this is directly related to your immune system's ability to recognize, detect and destroy previous invaders. The chicken pox virus doesn't change, so your body can recognize it. The flu virus mutates nearly every year and each mutation is considered a new virus. This is the principle behind vaccinations.

A virus is a packet of genetic material, often DNA, surrounded by a viral envelope or membrane. This virus is quite fragile when outside the body but is very damaging when allowed to thrive inside a body. Once it enters a body, it attaches to certain cells and inserts its DNA into the cell. This DNA takes over the function of the cell and begins to rapidly reproduce itself. In a short time, the cell becomes so full of viral particles that it bursts and releases more viruses throughout the body. Each of these then repeats the process until the body is overwhelmed with virus and illness develops.

As the body undergoes this attack by the virus, the immune system begins to realize there is an invader present. Since the immune system has been basically ambushed and has never seen this invader before, the immune system is not prepared, although it makes a valiant attempt to destroy the virus. In time, the immune system often destroys the virus and the body recovers from the illness. Unfortunately, there are some viruses that never leave the body and ultimately cause death.

In the case of viral infections that result in recovery, the immune system is now prepared and memory cells circulate through the body, waiting for that virus to try to invade again. If and when this occurs, the immune system is ready and the virus is destroyed before it is ever allowed to get a foothold.

This is how vaccines work: A modified virus is injected into the body. This altered virus is unable to cause illness but it is recognized by the body as a viral invader. Sometimes, vaccines are made from mutated viruses, sometimes by killed viruses. Newer recombinant vaccines are being developed that work with the viral DNA.

Once the modified virus is injected into the body, the immune system responds and mounts an attack. Since the virus is unable to replicate and cause illness, the immune response quickly subsides, although memory cells continue to circulate. If the real live virus is encountered, the immune system is primed and ready for attack. The virus is destroyed before ever causing illness.

The effects of vaccines vary. Some last for years and others for just a few months. This is the reason that repeated vaccinations are needed. Vaccines are helpful in preventing some viral diseases but they are not foolproof. Some vaccines only provide partial immunity and some vaccines fail to elicit an immune response. For this reason, just because your pet was vaccinated does not guarantee complete protection from the virus.

Now that you know what a vaccine is and how it works, you can understand the importance, as well as the limitations, of this important part of preventative medicine. Due to the amazing courage and foresight of one man in 1798 who intentionally infected people with one virus to protect against another, many people and animals throughout the world have been protected and saved from certain viral, bacterial and even rickettsial infections.

Adapted from:

Now that you understand what a vaccine really is and what is involved in how it works, the American Veterinary Medical Association has put together a list of "Frequently Asked Questions" about vaccinations.  Some of your questions will surely be on this list:

Q:  What are vaccines?

A:  Vaccines are health products that trigger protective immune responses in pets and prepare them to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. Vaccines can lessen the severity of future diseases and certain vaccines can prevent infection altogether. Today, a variety of vaccines are available for use by veterinarians.

Q:  Is it important to vaccinate?

A:  Yes! Pets should be vaccinated to protect them from many highly contagious and deadly diseases. Experts agree that widespread use of vaccines within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals. Even though some formerly common diseases have now become uncommon, vaccination is still highly recommended because these serious disease agents continue to be present in the environment.

Q:  Which vaccines should pets receive?

A:  When designing a vaccination program, veterinarians consider the pet's lifestyle, related disease risks, and the characteristics of available vaccines. "Core vaccines" (e.g., rabies, feline panleukopenia, feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus infection, canine distemper, canine parvovirus infection, and canine hepatitis) are recommended for most pets. Additional "non-core vaccines" (e.g., feline leukemia, canine kennel cough and other vaccines) may be appropriate based on the pet's particular needs.

Q:  How often should pets be revaccinated?

A:  Veterinarians have traditionally vaccinated annually; however, they are now learning that some vaccines induce immunity that lasts less than one year, whereas others may induce immunity that lasts well beyond one year. The AVMA recommends that veterinarians customize vaccination programs to the needs of their patients. More than one vaccination program may be effective.

Q:  How does my pet's lifestyle affect its vaccination program?

A:  Some pets are homebodies and have modest opportunity for exposure to infectious disease, whereas others have a great deal of exposure to other pets and/or wildlife and infectious disease by virtue of their activities. Still other pets live in geographic areas that place them at greater risk for contracting some infectious diseases. Differences in lifestyle illustrate the importance of customizing a vaccination program to individual patients.

Q:  Are there risks associated with vaccination?

A:  Vaccines have protected millions of animals from illness and death caused by infectious diseases. All medical procedures, however, carry with them some risk. Fortunately, in the case of vaccination, serious adverse responses are very infrequent. Veterinarians minimize risk by carefully selecting vaccines on the basis of a pet's individual needs and by choosing appropriate injection sites. In an effort to find ways to prevent even these limited numbers of adverse responses from occurring, the AVMA is working with government and industry to redefine how information regarding adverse responses is gathered, analyzed, and disseminated.

Q:  Is serologic testing useful to evaluate immunity to some diseases?

A:  Theoretically, tests that measure antibody response (i.e., serologic titers) may help veterinarians determine the need for revaccination in some cases. Unfortunately, veterinarians cannot be certain that a specific concentration of antibody is always protective or that a lower concentration leaves an animal unprotected.

Adapted from: 

Vaccination Principles


Medical decisions concerning vaccine selection and administration protocols are among the most complicated medical decisions facing veterinarians today. The reasons are numerous and include, but are not necessarily limited to 1) continual changes in our understanding of the immune system; 2) changes in local/regional population susceptibilities to various diseases; 3) increased animal valuation with related liabilities; 4) longer animal life expectancies; and 5) improved medical record systems which allows for better tracking of the short, medium, and long-term effects of vaccine use/administration. Other contributing factors include improved, 1) understanding of infectious diseases; 2) knowledge of the biologic regulatory licensing/labeling, and 3) awareness of potential risks associated with vaccine use/administration…

…Vaccines have played a significant role in enabling people and animals to live longer and healthier lives in this world filled with microbial pathogens. Vaccine products vary in effectiveness and safety and are not necessarily indicated for all patients. Modern science continues to develop strategies and technologies for safer and more efficacious vaccines. Consequently, thorough evaluations of the potential for disease exposure, individual patient susceptibility to various diseases, and the risks/benefits associated with vaccination, are necessary in order to establish optimal health care programs for each individual patient.


…there are insufficient data available to scientifically determine a single best vaccination protocol regimen for application to all animals globally. The body of knowledge surrounding the genetic variability within individual breeds or species and the resulting responses to vaccination (including vaccine-associated adverse reactions), is increasing but remains too inconclusive to make specific recommendations appropriate for all patients. Consequently, …a customized approach to recommended vaccination protocols is the safest and most effective method to medically address the increasing diversity in patients presented for immunization.

Under a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, the practitioner and client must determine the best patient care programs for implementation. Since our knowledge base is constantly evolving, vaccination decisions require a thorough and ongoing review of scientific information and expert opinion in order to appropriately customize vaccine recommendations for individual animal patients.

The one-year revaccination recommendation found on many vaccine labels is often based on historical precedent and was allowed by USDA regulation since it was based on the best scientific knowledge available at that time.

Vaccination is a potent medical procedure with both risks and benefits. While there is evidence that some vaccines provide immunity beyond one year, revaccination of patients with sufficient immunity does not necessarily add to their disease protection and may increase the potential risk of post-vaccination adverse events.

Adverse events may be associated with the antigen, adjuvant, carrier, preservative, or a combination thereof…these are all important parts of any vaccine. Possible adverse events include, but are not necessarily limited to, failure to immunize, anaphylaxis (shock), suppression of the immune system, autoimmune disorders, transient infections, long-term infected carrier states, and local development of tumors. The role of genetic predisposition to adverse events needs further exploration and definition.

Vaccine program goals include providing optimal immunity against clinically relevant diseases the patient is at-risk to contract, while minimizing the potential for adverse events.

Those veterinarians with an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship are in the best position to make recommendations customized to the needs of the individual patient(s) and owner/client.

Revaccination recommendations should be designed to maintain clinically relevant immunity while minimizing adverse event potential.

Veterinarians should create a core vaccine program, intended for use in the majority of animals in their practice area. Core vaccines are those that protect from diseases that are naturally found in a region, those with potential public health significance, required by law, virulent/highly infectious, and/or those posing a risk of severe disease. Core vaccines have clearly demonstrated effectiveness and safety, and thus exhibit a high enough level of patient benefit and low enough level of risk to justify their use in the majority of patients.

Veterinarians should create a non-core vaccine program, intended for a minority of animals in their practice area. Non-core vaccines are those that fit any of the following criteria:

• Targeted for diseases that are of limited risk in the region

• Protects against diseases that present less severe threats to infected patients

• Have a benefit/risk ratio that is too low to justify the use of the product in all circumstances
• Lacks adequate scientific information to fully evaluate the safety and/or efficacy of the product

Adapted from:

Now that we've addressed some of the concerns about vaccinations, the next step in this discussion will be to determine just what vaccines are considered to be more important and when should they be given.  That will be the topic of next week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats.  Come back next week for the informative conclusion.

In the meantime, any questions or comments should be sent to: 

The Pittsburgh Steelers faced a tough New England team today in Pittsburgh, a team that has beaten the Steelers 5 of the last 6 times they've faced each other.  The Steelers opened the game with an impressive drive and never trailed after that.  New England made it interesting at the end, but we all expected that the game would be, that wasn't a surprise.  We play our main divisional rival, the Ravens, next Sunday in Pittsburgh...a very important game that will most likely have huge implications in the playoff seedings.


During our trip down through the Verde Valley, Desperado and Helpful Buckeye explored the towns/villages of Sedona, Cottonwood, Jerome, Clarkdale, and "Old Town" Cottonwood.  In a quaint bread/pastry shop in Old Town Cottonwood, Helpful Buckeye found what had to be the largest coconut macaroon known to man...bought one...and took it home for future enjoyment.  It only cost $1.75!!!  When I got it home, I weighed weighed 4 5/8 ounces...yes, a new world record!  By the way, it tasted great....

Since we're speaking of desserts, Helpful Buckeye made his trademark "special" for a dinner the other night...Tiramisu.  Wow, it was rich with calories...but it was to die for...or so they told me.

Helpful Buckeye's biking continued to be upgraded this week, with more good effort at increasing stamina and strength.  A 35-miler today was a perfect preliminary to the Steelers' game.  Things are looking better for the Tour de Tucson....

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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