A Publication of St. Louis Critter Sitters
April 2007

Breed of the Month –The Havanese

DESCRIPTION   If never primped, clipped or altered in any way, the Havanese gives a rugged impression in a little dog. The legs are strong and allow for free and easy movement. The dark eyes and long tail are covered with long silky hair. The profuse coat varies from wavy to curly. The Havanese is a double-coated breed with soft hair, both on outer and undercoat. Adult coat reaches 6 to 8 inches, and has a pearly sheen. Some Havanese carry a short haired recessive gene. If two Adults with this recessive gene have a litter of puppies, it is possible that some of the puppies will be born with smooth coats.

TEMPERAMENT  Havanese are natural companion dogs: gentle and responsive. They become very attached to their human families and are excellent with children. They are very affectionate and playful with a high degree of intelligence. These cheerful dogs are very sociable and will get along with everyone including people, dogs, cats and other pets. They are easy to obedience train and get along well with other dogs. This curious dog loves to sit up high on a chair to observe what isgoing on. It is very sensitive to the tone of your voice. Harsh words will only upset the dog and will achieve very little. The Havanese have a long reputation of being circus dogs, probably because it learnsquickly and enjoys doing things for people. Few tend to bark a lot, as they can be taught not to do this.

When Your Dog Has Abnormal Liver Enzymes

What's a veterinarian to do when a pet that appears to be happy and healthy has abnormal liver enzymes?

While the very purpose of testing the liver enzymes is early recognition of problems to provide opportunities for earlier and more meaningful intervention, the veterinary practitioner is challenged to determine if the abnormal result really does constitute a problem. Veterinary internists are often asked to consult about middle aged to older dogs that have moderately elevated serum levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALK, ALP, SAP), a commonly measured liver enzyme.

If pets appear otherwise well, it is exceedingly important to verify the abnormal result before pursuing it as a potential problem. In other words, the veterinarian will need to make sure that the abnormality shows up on re-tests and not just a fluke. Repeating the lab test in one to two weeks with ideal patient preparation is common. Once the abnormality is verified, the veterinarian can try to determine whether the patient's health is in danger.

While alkaline phosphatase is produced primarily in the liver, there are other tissue sources of the enzyme. In a healthy animal, the intestinal tract, the kidneys, placenta, and bone all produce variable amounts of ALP. The form of the enzyme differs with the tissue of origin and the life span varies accordingly. In the dog, the ALP produced in the placenta and kidneys circulates in the blood stream for only a few minutes, so it is rare to see significant elevations in the bloodstream.

Thus, the veterinarian may be concerned when there are such elevations. The form of alkaline phosphatase that is induced by corticosteroids, and those forms that occur secondary to liver disease or bone damage, circulate for about 72 hours. Elevations in the bone fraction of ALP are very common in puppies that have not yet reached skeletal maturity because of ongoing bone growth; such elevations also occur often in adults that have bone tumors or infection.

In most cases, the veterinarian is relying on the ALP tests to provide evidence about the health of the liver. However, the test offers little or no information about how well the liver is functioning -- that is, whether the liver is able to do its job of detoxifying the blood and metabolizing and excreting wastes and by products. Some confusion may arise because the medical community has traditionally referred to liver enzymes as LFTs or liver function tests, a term that pops up frequently on television medical dramas. But in dogs and cats, the liver enzymes correlate poorly with the liver's functional capability.

The magnitude of any increase in the ALP can, however, be suggestive of the extent of the liver damage. Generally, the higher the level of ALP, the greater the doctor's concern. But since many labs use different reference standards, it's common to discuss the liver values in terms of how many times normal they are. This allows veterinarians to compare values measured by different laboratories.

Any primary liver or gall bladder disease that disturbs the gross or microscopic circulation of bile will likely raise the serum ALP. Hepatitis or liver inflammation, cancer, cirrhosis, degenerative processes or toxic changes are commonly associated with elevations in ALP. Pancreatic disorders, gall stones, and other diseases of the biliary tree behave similarly. Frequently other liver enzymes will be elevated concurrently, such as alanine transferase (ALT) and gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT).

The reason why dogs that have abnormal liver enzymes usually appear to be in normal condition is that many liver diseases won't be apparent until liver function is disturbed or global changes occur. Dogs with important hepatobiliary disease can, then, appear healthy.

Processes or diseases outside the liver, such as diabetes mellitus or blood borne infection, frequently impact the liver, causing secondary or reactive changes in the liver tissues. Reactive hepatopathies can mimic primary liver disease and may mislead the veterinary diagnostician. Many patients with primary or secondary liver disease will have elevated levels of liver and corticosteroid-induced ALP. Comprehensive laboratory screening and x-rays are often needed to aid the veterinarian in discriminating between primary and secondary liver disease.

The history plays an equally important role, especially whether the pet is on any medications. Regular use of anticonvulsants, such as phenobarbital or recent administration of prednisone, dexamethasone or other corticosteroids may elevate the serum ALP to 20-30 times normal. This response is recognized in the majority of patients receiving such medications, but may occur subsequent to any medication as an unexplained or idiosyncratic reaction. Veterinarians will scrutinize the history for any signs suggesting hyperadrenocorticism, such as increased thirst and urination, panting, weight gain or diminished activity, and all results of excessive blood levels of corticosteroids.

Patients with early hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing's disease may have few signs of the disease, so special endocrine diagnostics may be ordered to aid in the investigation of ALP increases. Unfortunately, endocrine tests are well known for producing equivocal or gray test results. There is no single test that can verify or refute a diagnosis of Cushing's disease, so owners are encouraged early on to have patience with the diagnostic process.

When the veterinarian is satisfied that there are no important extrahepatic diseases and there is insufficient evidence of Cushing's disease, the focus returns to the liver. Abdominal x-rays give meaningful information about liver size and shape, but nothing about the liver's architecture. For this we rely on abdominal sonography. Ultrasound studies of the liver can locate focal lesions or detect diffuse changes throughout the organ. Gallstones, pancreatic changes, and other disturbances to bile flow may be confidently diagnosed with a careful ultrasound study. The test is not perfect, however, and cannot be used to rule out hepatitis or other infiltrative diseases. But if the liver is relatively normal in size, shape and architecture, can a liver biopsy be justified? The relative costs and risks of liver biopsy must be weighed for the individual patient. Detection of liver dysfunction with a noninvasive blood test such as a bile acid assay usually justifies the procedure.

Ultimately, however, some sampling of the liver is needed to document the microscopic changes and to rule out occult liver disease. Happy dogs with no clinical signs of illness are likely to have a cellular diagnosis of vacuolar hepatopathy. These changes are usually idiopathic or unexplained if there is no history of medication use and no evidence of Cushing's disease. Corticosteroid induced alkaline phosphatase is responsible for the increase in the blood levels of ALP; possibly, there is some chemical signal for the liver cells to change structurally, but the trigger is not known.

Vacuolar hepatopathy is not highly pathologic and does not appear to warrant any specific treatment or change in patient management. Special liver friendly diets are suggested by some veterinarians, but may not be needed if liver function remains normal over time. If liver function deteriorates, then it's likely that the patient has a different liver condition.

Occasionally, dogs will develop clinical signs and laboratory evidence of hyperadrenocorticism months to years later, so pet owners must be vigilant in their observation for signs of illness or abnormality if tests show abnormal liver enzymes. Appropriate diagnostics are likely to be repeated at that time. It may be, also, that some patients diagnosed with idiopathic vacuolar hepatopathy by needle biopsy have nodular hyperplasia, a degenerative process of the liver that does not pose an important health issue.

The good news is that a diagnosis of idiopathic vacuolar hepatopathy means your happy dog is probably really that: a happy, healthy dog. Unfortunately, verifying the good news and ruling out the other more serious conditions that raise alkaline phosphatase may be somewhat costly and require invasive diagnostics, such as liver biopsy.

The Unique Benefits of Pets

Most pet owners understand and enjoy the many benefits afforded by caring for a pet. However, there are unique health benefits that can be less obvious. For instance, pet owners tend to be healthier than non-owners. They tend to have lower blood pressure, a lower stress level, and they even show fewer signs of physical aches and pains. The simple act of patting your dog or cat appears to help reduce blood pressure and stress levels. The exercise dog owners get when playing, walking, or jogging with their pet also has health benefits. The companionship a pet provides can be extremely helpful in many circumstances. For senior citizens pet ownership is often a great way to provide needed companionship and is effective in easing loneliness. Also, the act of caring for an animal is thought to help seniors, as well as others, to feel good and to feel needed. The benefits of pet companionship are so evident that therapy pets are often used to provide companionship to people in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and for adults and children that have recently been through a traumatic event. These pets are often able to provide comfort in a way that other people simply aren’t able to. Whether in special circumstances or the common pet owner relationship, the human pet bond is unique and has clear benefits to pet and person alike.

St. Louis Critter Sitters
Recipe Corner

Wheatless Tuna Biscuits

  • 1 cup         Yellow cornmeal *
  • 1 cup         Oatmeal
  • ¼ tsp.        Baking powder
  • ½ tsp.        Garlic Powder
  • 1 sm. can   Tuna in oil, undrained
  • 1/3 cup       Water


Preheat oven to 350 ° F (180 ° C).

Grind oatmeal in processor to make coarse flour. Set aside in small bowl.

In food processor, combine tuna with the oil, and water then add all the rest of the ingredients.
Pulse till mixture forms a ball, Pulse to knead for 2-3 minutes.

Knead on floured surface till it forms a soft ball of dough.

Roll out to a 1/8"-1/4" thickness. Cut into shapes.
Bake on lightly greased cookie sheet , at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Cool completely.

*Note: or 1 1/4 cup corn flour

Health at Home

Finding Your Dream Dog:
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions! Plan a brainstorming session with your friends and family to set some guidelines on critical characteristics for your future dog. Do you want a mixed breed or purebred? What do you want your dream dog's size, grooming requirements, exercise needs, behavior, temperament and attitude to be? Don't forget to consider age; sometimes a puppy is not best for every family and an older dog would make a better companion. These are some of the many items you should discuss before you visit a shelter or see that litter of pups.

Caring for the Pup:

To crate or not to crate, that is the question. You will need to consider many issues, including crating, before your new best friend arrives home. Many pet owners recommend using a crate, which acts as a den for your puppy's very own, and a new puppy parent can find a variety of literature about crate training. Crates can help de-stress your pup by providing a quiet place to relax and decompress through all stages of life.

Be prepared….puppies are like small children – they get into everything! The easiest way for your new friend to investigate its new home is with its mouth. Foreign objects can cause a lot of damage if swallowed so to keep your puppy safe, look around your home. Preventing destructive chewing and dangerous swallowing is easier than watching over your puppy every second. What objects could be put out of the way of a curious puppy? Are there rooms better left untouched by your puppy? Install a baby gate or keep the doors to those rooms closed.

Hide Those Easter Baskets!
Like most pet owners, you probably know by now that chocolate is toxic to dogs. You would never share chocolate bunnies with your dog. Since Easter is this month, be sure to remind everyone in your family of the danger and ask them to take extra precautions to keep Easter candy out of your dog’s reach. Don’t allow small children to have chocolate candy when the dog is nearby. Remind guests not to share Easter goodies with your friendly little pup, no matter how cute she looks when she begs.

If your dog has the house to himself when you’re away, make sure everyone’s Easter baskets are up high or in a room behind closed doors, where your dog could not possibly reach them. Big dogs might not be able to resist the temptation of a counter full of chocolate candy. Small dogs, which are at highest risk, can climb on a chair to reach a table full of candy or pull on a tablecloth to bring the candy to the floor.

Chocolate toxicity is among the 20 most common poisonings reported by the National Animal Poison Control Center. It’s more common at Easter, Halloween and Christmas when chocolates and candies are sometimes all around the house in open candy dishes, treat bags, baskets, gift bags and shopping bags.

Chocolate contains theobromine, a stimulant related to caffeine, that’s harmless to us but toxic to dogs. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea, restlessness and hyperactivity, excessive thirst and increased urination, a rapid heart rate and excessive panting. Larger amounts can be fatal.
Small dogs have a much higher mortality risk after consuming chocolate than large dogs. One small chocolate rabbit might have little or no affect on a German Shepherd, but the same amount of chocolate could kill a Chihuahua. The severity depends on the dog’s weight, the type of chocolate and the amount of chocolate consumed. Milk chocolate is harmful, but unsweetened baking chocolate has six to nine times as much theobromine as milk chocolate. Milk chocolate contains 44 mg theobromine per ounce. Semi-sweet chocolate has 150 mg per ounce, and baking chocolate has 390 mg per ounce. The toxic amount of theobromine is about 50 mg. per pound of a dog's body weight.

  • For milk chocolate, about 1 ounce per 1 pound of a dog's body weight can be lethal.
  • For semi-sweet chocolate.... the chocolate in semi-sweet or dark chocolate candy bars and Easter candy, the chocolate coating in a box of "dark chocolates", or the chocolate in semi-sweet morsels or chocolate chips... about 1/3 ounce per 1 pound of a dog's body weight can be lethal.
  • For the dark unsweetened chocolate used in baking, about 1/10 ounce per 1 pound of a dog's body weight can be lethal.
  • That means that for a 10 pound dog, about 10 ounces of milk chocolate, 3 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, or just one ounce of baking chocolate could be lethal.

If you think your dog may have found and eaten a harmful amount of chocolate, call your veterinarian or take your dog to an emergency animal hospital immediately! Symptoms will usually begin within two hours but sometimes it could also take as long as 24 hours. Delaying treatment could be a fatal mistake. In addition to those symptoms mentioned above - restlessness, hyperactivity, vomiting and diarrhea, excessive thirst, increased urination, a rapid heart rate and excessive panting, more advanced symptoms can include muscle tremors, stiffness, seizures, Cardiac arrhythmia and coma.

Emergency care will vary depending upon the elapsed time since the ingestion. It will also be important to know the kind and quantity of chocolate that was consumed, if possible. Treatment might include induced vomiting and administration of activated charcoal to reduce the absorption of chocolate. It might also include IV fluids, medication to prevent shock, anti-seizure medications and/or cardiac medications to stabilize the heartbeat.

Home Alone

It is important for pet owners to prepare for when they will be away from home for any length of time. The first step is to recognize the level of care and attention your pet will need when left alone. Some dogs, particularly high energy dogs, are notorious for causing problems when alone. They are often prone to separation anxiety; and may have difficulty even handling their owner spending the day at work. In contrast, some cats are unfazed when their owner spends a night away from home. However, some needs are common to all pets and need to be addressed.

In looking after your pets’ basic needs clearly they will need food and water and access to either a litter box or outdoor area on a regular basis. If you are away long enough that any of these needs can’t be met then seek assistance for your pet’s care. While cat owners have more leeway than dog owners, it is not a good idea to leave a cat alone more than a day or two maximum. For both dog and cat owners, pet sitters such as Critter Sitters can be an excellent option. This allows a pet to stay in surroundings that they are comfortable while providing them with the regular care and attention that they need. They can also be a good option for people who work long hours and have a high energy dog or pet with specific needs. Similarly dog walkers can be quite helpful too. This can help your pet release energy, receive some much desired attention and reduce the risk of problematic behaviors such as barking, chewing or digging that is typical of dogs with separation anxiety.

Besides the basic care considerations there are some things that can be done to help pets adjust when you are away. Most pets will miss their owners. If a pet is staying at a kennel or place other than home let them have favorite items with them such as toys or beds as this also can provide extra comfort. Familiarizing your pet with the people taking care of them prior to leaving can also help them feel more at ease. Choosing who will provide your pet’s care is of the utmost importance. Check references and look into the type and quality of care that your pet will receive. Make sure any one who cares for your pet has full information about your pet, and how to contact you and your vet. While pets handle being alone differently, good care can make a world of difference in how they adjust to their time alone.

"The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That is the essence of humanity."
...George Bernard Shaw