Friday, May 7, 2010

The Healing Power of Dogs

It hasn't been a good week. Whether it was food poisoning, some new medicine I started, or just a bug I caught, I spent all of Wednesday night and half of Thursday throwing up. I only mention this to get to what I actually want to say -- how healing having a dog nearby can be.
As I was traveling from bed to bathroom all night long, I kept seeing my dog. He would either look up from his bed in my bedroom of poke his head in the door of the bathroom, but he would be a presence. It was comforting not to be alone, even though I don't really expect him to be Lassie and go for help if I collapse on the floor.
But the real effect came on Thursday, when I was still ill, but a little better. First, before I even got out of bed, Teddy came into the bedroom to have the morning play ritual with Nestle. They both lie down and jaw wrestle, with lots of sound. I couldn't even see them, huddled as I was under three layers of blankets, but I could hear them, and it was definitely a pick-me-up.
Later that day, as I was lying on the couch rather than in bed, the dogs came over now and then to give me a lick or just stand nearby. And Teddy did his "I saw something insanely exciting out the front window" act -- he sees our feral cats out the front window and takes off on a high-speed lap around the house while he tries to decide if it's better to stay at the window, where he can see the cat, or go out the dog door, which gets him outside but in the back of the house rather than the front. I couldn't laugh because all my diaphragm muscles hurt too much, but it definitely made me smile.
It's good to have dogs around when you are really in need of a little relief.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Emerging Diseases in Dogs

Here is one you may not have heard about unless you happen to live in my neck of the woods.
We started hearing about the appearance on Vancouver Island of the tropical fungus Cryptococcus gattii in the late 1990s. Though several people had become sickened, some animals, including dogs, had actually died.
The topic has popped up from time to time since then, and our local Peninsula College applied for a grant to study Cryptococcus gattii in its natural environment, but they were not selected to receive the monies.
However, now we get a report that the spore-forming fungus is not only appearing in Washington and Oregon, it has mutated into a more lethal strain as it has traveled. As its primary habitat is Douglas fir and western hemlock -- trees in which we are awash -- it is apparently finding hospitable conditions.
In Canada 218 people are known to have been infected, and slightly less than 9 percent have died. In the U.S., there have only been 21 confirmed cases, but 5 of those have proven lethal. There are no statistics available for animals other than humans infected, but the early reports from Vancouver Island mentioned dogs and llamas that had contracted the fungus.
Symptoms are said to be like pneumonia, but if left untreated, worsening slowly over time . . . shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fever, headache. The fungus travels in sports, and when they are inhaled they colonize the lungs and then spread throughout the body. Treatment involves IV antifungal medications for roughly two months, followed by other medications.
The infection can easily be missed or mistaken for something else, so knowing that it is now occurring in Washington, Oregon, and California, should be a heads-up to residents, both for themselves and for their animals. There is no direct person to person or animal to animal transmission. Instead, the fungus spores are blown by the wind or carried on shoes or car tires.