What You Need to Know About the Dog Flu Outbreak

Does your pup seem a bit under the weather?

A new strain of a canine respiratory virus, H3N2, has been found in more than 30 states, with more than 400 cases reported in Illinois (particularly around Chicago) and more than 1,000 across the Midwest, according to the New York State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University.

H3N2 is a new viral strain that originated from Asia, and is similar to canine influenza virus (CIV), which first appeared in 2004. Although there is a vaccine for CIV, there isn’t one for H3N2 yet (though it’s in the works), veterinarian Ernie Ward told Health.

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The outbreak is radiating outward, which is cause for concern for pet owners, Ward says. But “the main thing is that this shouldn’t instill fear in people, it should instill caution.” Humans cannot contract the virus, and it is not typically life-threatening for pets (most of the animals affected by this outbreak are dogs, but cats and ferrets can also get the virus.) But it can lead to pneumonia and other complications, which can be deadly.

Symptoms include high fever, loss of appetite, coughing, nasal discharge and lethargy. If your pet displays any “summer cold” symptoms, Ward advises that you first call your veterinarian instead of walking into his or her office so your dog can’t infect other pets in the event he’s carrying it.

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If you live in or around Chicago, where the heart of the current outbreak is, the best advice is to avoid too much dog-to-dog contact at public places like dog parks and the groomer.

Others should remain vigilant if they’re traveling with their pets. “If you see another dog, stay clear,” Ward advises. And if you are going to board your pet, “You really need to ask hard, probing questions.” The kennel you are considering should know about the outbreak, and be able to outline the steps they are taking to prevent your dog from getting sick.

Ward also recommends that you have your dog vaccinated for CIV, which can have similar  complications as H3N2.

As with human influenza, proper hygiene is essential to keeping the disease from spreading. “Wash your hands thoroughly when you handle your dog or other dogs,” so as not to contribute to the spread, Ward said. Giving your pup regular baths may also help.

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Are Cats or Dogs Better for Your Health?

Dogs are good for …1. Boosting your mood. More than 80 percent of new owners report feeling happier.

2. Making friends. British researchers found that owners who walk their dogs meet a lot of new people.

3. Losing weight. Dog walkers lose an average of 14 pounds in a year, a University of Missouri study says.

Cats are good for …1. Helping you chill. Most owners say their cats help them relax.

2. Protecting your heart. A recent study shows that cat owners are 40 percent less likely to die of a heart attack than those without cats.

3. Ditching asthma. Kids with cats may get an immunity boost, Columbia University researchers say.

Back to: How Have Pets Helped You Heal?

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Courtesy of Microchips, Inc.

By Anne Harding

THURSDAY, February 16, 2012 (Health.com) — It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie: A patient visits a doctor’s office and, after a brief surgical procedure, walks away with a microchip under her skin that delivers medication in precisely timed and measured doses.

That scenario doesn’t seem so futuristic anymore. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced today that they have successfully completed the first trial of a drug-releasing microchip in humans. The results were published on the website of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The pacemaker-sized microchip devices, which were implanted near the waistline of seven 60-something women in Denmark, worked as intended, releasing up to 19 daily doses of an osteoporosis drug that ordinarily requires injections. The implants proved safe, and tests revealed that they delivered the medication as effectively as once-a-day shots.

The devices won’t be ready for mainstream use for at least another four years. But the researchers say the technology will ultimately enable people who take injectable drugs for conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis to swap their needles for microchips. Other drugs that could potentially be delivered in this manner include chemotherapy, fertility hormones, and vaccines, they say.

Related links:

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“It’s almost like Star Trek, but now it’s coming to life,” says study coauthor Robert Langer, Jr., Sc.D., an institute professor at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, in Cambridge, Mass. Langer, a chemical engineer, came up with the idea for the drug-delivery device about 15 years ago, while watching a TV show on how microchips are made in the computer industry.

Langer and his colleagues at MIT worked on the idea throughout the 1990s, and published the first paper on their research in 1999. That same year, Langer cofounded a privately held company, MicroCHIPS, Inc., to license the technology from MIT and commercialize the device.

Here’s how it works: Microchips containing tiny reservoirs of concentrated, freeze-dried medication are secured to the surface of a titanium housing, which also contains a wireless transmitter that communicates with a small portable computer. A surgeon implants the device via a one-inch incision, in an outpatient procedure requiring local anesthesia only.

Each reservoir on the microchip holds a single dose of medication and is sealed by a thin metal membrane. When instructed by the computer, the implant sends an electrical current through a membrane and melts it, allowing body fluids to flow into the reservoir and the powdered drug to diffuse into the body. (The melted metal resolidifies on the chip and is not released.)

In the recently completed trial, the microchips were loaded with Forteo (teriparatide), a drug used to build bone mass in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. The study participants carried the implants for a total of 103 days, and received medication on 20 of those days. Overall, the devices successfully released 94% of the doses as planned.

One implant malfunctioned due to a faulty microchip circuit, but the researchers caught the problem thanks to the wireless transmitter, says Robert Farra, the president and CEO of MicroCHIPS.

“The on-board diagnostics allowed us to identify right away…that the drug could not be released,” Farra says. “There were no safety concerns to the patient and we decided not to include [her] in the study, as our study objective was on safety and efficacy.”

Next page: More research and fine-tuning needed

The study participants were reportedly untroubled by the device. “They found the implants pretty much acceptable,” Farra says. “They could not feel the device once it was implanted, and they all indicated they would be willing to repeat the procedure.”

The fact that several of the women said they forgot about the implant once their incision healed is a “good sign,” says John T. Watson, Ph.D., a professor of bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego. Watson adds, however, that the microchip system may not be for everyone.

The quality of life of people who take injectable medications “varies very broadly,” says Watson, who coauthored an editorial accompanying the study. “Some people say ‘I just don’t want an incision’—so they could opt out easily and elect another approach. On the other hand, there would be some people who would say ‘I want this’ because [they] want it to be forgettable, sort of like a pacemaker.”

More research and fine-tuning will be needed before the device can even be tested in full-fledged clinical trials, Watson says. The researchers need to establish that it’s durable and reliable, for instance.

Langer and his colleagues say their implants could be used for brief stretches of 30 to 90 days (to administer pain medication after an injury, say), or for periods of up to a year. “We think 365 doses is very manageable with the design that we’re working on,” says Farra, noting that MicroCHIPS is currently developing a one-year Forteo implant.

S. Louis Bridges, M.D., the director of clinical immunology and rheumatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in Alabama, says microchip devices could be a boon for people—such as rheumatoid arthritis patients—who require regular injections or intravenous infusions.

“Patients tend to do OK, but there are some that absolutely hate [injections],” Bridges says. Some patients complain that the medicine burns, and some experience so-called injection site reactions in which the surrounding skin becomes red and swollen, he explains.

Patient comfort and convenience aren’t the only potential benefits of microchips, Farra says. The automatic dosing ensures that people receive the medication exactly as prescribed, so doctors and patients don’t have to worry about skipped or inconsistent doses, he says.

Should Your Pooch Be a Therapy Dog? 3 Ways Pets Benefit Health

Every week, my dog, Murphy, and I visit a nearby rehabilitation home for elderly patients. Murphy is a certified therapy dog, so we work together as a team to bring a little happiness into these people’s lives. The hour we spend making visits is easily the highlight of my week.

As soon as Murphy and I walk into the senior home, I see people’s faces immediately light up– everyone from the residents to the staff, even visitors just passing by. A number of these people deal with chronic illnesses and not-so-fun health issues, so when Murphy visits with them (he either sits on the ground or I pick him up so he can be petted), their disposition instantly changes. It seems like the presence of a dog helps them forget the challenges that they are currently facing at least for a little while. I love seeing how much joy Murphy brings into these people’s days.

Therapy dogs and other pets can have a real impact on a patients’ health. Research shows they can help lower blood pressure as well as improve specific conditions, such depression and anxiety. Patients with cancer have even attributed a faster recovery thanks to a furry friend.

About six months ago, Murphy and I became a therapy dog team through a local non-profit organization called Dog B.O.N.E.S, who’s primary purpose is to train dogs for therapeutic purposes.  I wanted to get Murphy certified because he enjoys being around people so much. He loves everyone—young and old—and doesn’t mind crowds or unfamiliar places. He also loves being petted and socializing with people and other dogs. I always joke when we go to the dog park, he acts like the “pug mayor” and needs to meet everyone he sees. Basically, it was pretty obvious how much Murphy loves being around people, so I knew he’d make a great therapy dog.

In order to become a certified therapy dog team, I enrolled Murphy and I in a three-session course called “Introduction to Becoming a Therapy Dog Team Workshop” with Dog B.O.N.E.S. The training program prepared us for visits as a therapy dog team. I learned how to act as a therapy dog handler, which included how to walk with Murphy on a shorter leash and what is allowed when working with an animal in public spaces. I also learned what to expect during our visits and exposed Murphy to environments similar to those that we might encounter together.

The little furball passed the course with flying colors!

Once we were certified, Dog B.O.N.E.S helped coordinate a weekly placement for Murphy and I to make our visits. Dog B.O.N.E.S., like many therapy dog organizations, maintains relationships with hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities where therapy teams are wanted. Therapy dog teams can have scheduled visits like the one Murphy and I have each week or volunteer their services as time permits.

If you’d like to find a therapy dog organization like  Dog B.O.N.E.S. in your area, try a simple web search or contact your local ASPCA for details.

Read Tina’s daily food and fitness blog, Carrots ‘N’ Cake.

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5 Ways to Keep Your Pet From Being Bored When You're at Work

You would think that someone like me, with a full-time job, and two kids, plus bills to pay and dinners to make, would have bigger things to worry about than whether my cat is bored. And yet, I find myself often thinking about Luna (a tabby) and wondering if I am depriving her of a full life by leaving her alone in the apartment all day when the rest of us are at school or at work.

My family scoffs. “She’s fine,” says my daughter, pointing out that Luna spends hours looking out the window at the traffic seven stories below. “She’s too dumb to know she has no life,” says my son, a true cynic at age 20.

But experts say my concern is not misplaced. I spoke with Paul Mann who is founder and CEO of Fetch! Pet care, a nationwide pet sitting service, who confirmed that both cats and dogs suffer from boredom issues, although dogs, with their more “social” brains, are particularly vulnerable. Here are his tips for keeping your pet happy even with long stretches of “alone time.”

Just before you leave, exercise your pet. Take your dog on a brisk walk, or play a game of fetch. With a cat, get out the laser pointer for a quick chase through your home. By tiring out your pet, you set them up to rest while you are gone.

Have someone stop by in the middle of the day. A professional dog walker is ideal, but even a neighbor who may enjoy interacting with your furry friend can be a valuable source of socialization and exercise.

Leave out your dog or cat’s favorite toys. You could insert a treat inside a toy to provide a mental challenge. Dogs may also enjoy one of the puzzle game food dispensers on the market that encourage natural foraging behavior. For cats consider a scampering self-correcting mouse. (I like the look of the FroliCat Pounce Interactive Pet Toy.)

Turn on Animal Planet, or use a web-connected device so your pet can hear or see you during the day.

Consider finding furry friend for your pet. Many dogs and cats play well together. A common solution is to adopt a second pet as a companion for the first, but if that isn’t a viable solution, arrange playdates. Perhaps you have a friend or family member’s pet over one day, and alternate so the other person takes your pet on other days. Of course it takes time to see if your pet will react well to this. Do some test runs before leaving two animals home alone for long periods.

“Reversing a pet’s state of loneliness can have tremendous and immediate benefits for the animal and the household at large,” says Mann. That sounds right. And it will make me less anxious about Luna, which has got to be a good thing!

Clare McHugh is the Editor of Health.

Grumpy Cat Lifetime Movie? Best. News. Ever.

A Holly Jolly Christmas? Don’t count on it.

Not content with merely being a successful recording artist, a commercial spokeskitty and a beloved American pop culture icon, Grumpy Cat is about to add another credit to her growing IMDb page: star of her very own holiday special, a live-action Lifetime Original Movie, called “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.” Supplying the voice for the cantankerous feline: Aubrey Plaza (aka bitchy-resting-face sufferer April Ludgate on NBC’s Parks and Recreation).

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The premise here: Grumpy Cat (whose real name is Tardar Sauce) plays a shopping mall pet store resident who never gets adopted (you know—that pissed-off puss and all), until a little girl, who can actually hear Grumpy’s voice, decides to rescue the penned-in tabby on Christmas Eve, after the mall closes. Hijinks ensue, and despite the flick’s gloomy title, we’re guessing a pretty wonderful holiday is had by all.

The movie is scheduled to air November 29thGrumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, and we are so there.

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Is Your Dog A Pessimist?

Quick, what comes to mind when you think of a dog? Chances are you picture a big old grin, tongue hanging out, and a cheerful wag of the tail. But not every pup may fit that happy-go-lucky stereotype. A new study out of the University of Sydney found that some dogs are more inclined to see their water bowls as half empty, so to speak.

To test whether the dogs were optimists or pessimists, researchers played two distinct sounds for the dogs, and taught them to associate one tone with a reward of milk, and another with plain old water.

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Then, researchers played ambiguous tones that matched neither of the previous two sounds, to see how the dogs would react. If a dog responded to the vague tone, researchers considered it optimistic, that it expects good things to happen. Some dogs were even classified as extremely optimistic, responding to sounds that were close to the tone played before the water was offered. A pessimist pup, however, wouldn’t react to the ambiguous tones.

Think your dog is a cynic? Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with that, researchers say. Here’s why:

He could make for a great service dog.

Researchers hope this study can better distinguish which dogs will do better in certain service rolls—they’ve found that a pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be a better fit as a guide dog, while an optimistic, persistent dog would do well detecting explosives or drugs.

He’s still happy.

A pessimistic dog doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a grump. Sure, he’s more of a cautious pooch, but he’s probably more content with the ordinary, researchers say—and won’t need too much excitement to make him happy.

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He just needs a little encouragement.

Researchers found that pessimistic dogs appeared to be much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs, so they may need a to take baby steps when trying something new. “To get your dog to expand its world, you’re going to want to do small things more often,” says Justin Silver, dog trainer in New York City and author of the new book Language of Dogs. For example, if you hope to take your dog on a hiking trip, try to go for a mini hike every week leading up to it, extending it by just a few minutes each time. When the day of your big hike arrives, your dog will feel more in his comfort zone and safer by your side.

Proof That Cats Are Two

Any cat lover will tell you that even though their furry friend doesn’t care too much about pleasing the likes of her human companions, she can be sweet when she wants to be. Meanwhile those on team dog go as far as insisting cats are untrustworthy, even flat-out wild. Well, a new study suggests they’re both partly right.

To reach their findings, researchers analyzed the genome of an Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon and compared it to that of humans, dogs, cows and other cat species like tigers and birman, another breed of domestic cat.

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While they found (unsurprisingly) that domestic cats have retained most of the same genetic traits as their wild ancestors—hence your kitty’s persistent hunting despite a full bowl of kibble—researchers also made note of a few changes to the genes associated with brain regions involved in reward and pleasure, which were likely caused by human influence. The theory is that humans first started keeping cats to get rid of pests around 9,000 years ago, which lead humans to selectively breed the most docile, friendly cats (i.e. the ones who responded the most to food rewards and petting). This lead to changes seen in the brains of today’s cats, which makes them not only unafraid of humans but interested in a good scratch behind the ear every now and then.

Part of the reason cats have made less genetic progress than say dogs, is that humans didn’t really start breeding cats in earnest until a little over 200 years ago, and to this day interbreeding between tamed and wild cat species continues, lead study author Wes Warren, PhD, explained to the Los Angeles Times.

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This may not explain why your cat insists on knocking things over or why she keeps pointing his rear end at your face, but it certainly sheds some light on other behaviors—namely, why your cat can be a vicious killer one minute, and a sweet little angel the next.

Should You Leave the TV or Radio on for Your Pets?

Many pet owners will tell you their bundle of fur is like family. So there’s no shame in feeling just a little guilty when you have to leave yours behind, whether it be for a quick errand or night on the town. (The adorable drooping face and sad eyes don’t make it any easier.)

You might be tempted to try an age-old trick: turning on the radio or TV to keep your furry friend company. Turns out, though, neither may produce sounds he’ll actually enjoy. Cats, for instance, just aren’t that into human music (the classical kind at least), according to new research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study, recently published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, compared how 47 felines responded to two different types of music at home, the first being classical melodies from the human world and the second dubbed “cat music.” That would be music composed specifically to appeal to cats using a particular pitch and tempo.

“Their normal communication is at a much higher frequency range than humans,” says Charles Snowdown, PhD, the study’s lead author and professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. So the study’s two “cat songs,” created by University of Maryland composer David Teie, are an octave higher than regular human speech or singing voices, Snowdon says. Plus, the songs were formatted to match tempos cats might enjoy, such as purring and the sucking noises made during nursing.

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Snowdon and his former student, Megan Savage, played four sets of sounds for the cats, including two classical songs and two cat songs. The pair found that the kitties showed more positive behavior (like purring and rubbing against the speaker) when listening to the music created for them versus the human music. And they reacted to the cat music about a minute sooner, too.

Though the researchers aren’t exactly certain how cats might respond to other musical genres like rock or country, one thing is clear. “From the cats’ perspective, they really don’t care about classical music,” Snowdon says.

And what about dogs’ preferences? Those would be much trickier to pinpoint.

“We chose cats [for the study] in part because they are fairly homogenous in body size,” Snowdon says. “Dogs range in size and voice, so we’re not sure whether there would be a universal music created for them or whether it would be different for each breed.” (Small doggies make noises that sound very different than big ones.)

Still, entertainment isn’t a total wash for pets. Some dogs with separation anxiety may respond well to radio music or TV noise if used as a safety cue. “The whole idea is to get them to like something that doesn’t remind them of you,” says Jeff Werber, a licensed veterinarian and founder of Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles.

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To spot separation anxiety in your pooch, look for behavior problems such as destructive chewing, howling, or urinating without cause. Then, start by training Fido to associate the radio or TV with positive things, such as a treat or praise (you can also use a word or action as a safety cue, he says). “Now the dog is getting rewarded for listening to music and it’s taking attention away from you,” Werber says. The more you do that, eventually your lonesome pup will learn to keep his cool when you’re gone. Before you go, be sure to hide anything he could link back to you, like a toy you often play catch with, then turn on the radio or TV.

This trick is especially great if your dog already likes sitting in front of the tube (dogs CAN see what’s on the screen, according to Werber), but it’s not guaranteed to win over every furball. In that case, you could try investing in soothing tunes for canines, like the Through a Dog’s Ear music series, he says. You could also set out a toy with hidden pockets for treats to keep your animal busy, Werber suggests.

Cats, on the other hand, may not need a safety cue to feel better about being alone. “Cats have more natural instincts that allow them to find ways to take care of themselves,” Werber says.

That said, there are still little things you can do to keep your cat distracted and happy, Werber says, such as setting out a maze of treats or buying a diffuser like Feliway ($25; amazon.com) which sprays natural pheromones in the air to reduce your cat’s stress levels. Lucky for your feline, the cat music used in Snowdon’s study is also available to purchase ($1.29 per song) through the composer’s website MusicForCats.com. So even kitties can have their own jam session while you’re out.

The important thing to remember is that human music may not always be the answer to help your pet feel better when you’re away. “To assume that just putting on a classical music station will calm your animal may not be the case,” Snowdon says. “We know very little about what animals really like, and we hope people start thinking more carefully about that.”

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Having a Dog Makes You Sexier, Study Says

Calling all single ladies (and fellas): if you’re looking to score a date, your furry friend may be the perfect wingman.

That’s right, pets are not only proven to make you happier and healthier, but a recent study shows they may also boost your sex appeal.

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To get these results, researchers randomly recruited 1,210 single pet-owners (61% women and 39% men) who were registered on Match.com. The participants completed a questionnaire that asked how pets influence their dating life. One major result: 35% of women and 26% of men said they were more attracted to someone if they owned a pet.

The study also revealed that guys are anything but clueless to their pet’s appeal. The lead researcher stated dogs are often used as “social tools” in the dating world, and men in the study were more likely to use their pet to score a date.

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These findings may not come as a huge surprise (after all, how cute is it when a guy has an adorable pup by his side?). But the role of pets is even more important than we may have previously realized. In fact, the study even found women were less likely to date someone who simply didn’t like pets. Whether a pet-friendly man makes him appear a more promising caretaker or he simply seems more attractive when paired with an animal companion, there’s no denying a pet’s romantic influence.

But not all pets are created equal. According to the study, bigger may actually be better (when it comes to attracting a guy with a pet, at least.) About 28% of men said if their date’s pet could fit in her purse, they’d be majorly turned-off.

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So which pet is considered the sexiest? A whopping 83% of women said dogs were the hottest pet a guy could own (sorry, cat lovers). However, considering 72% of the participants were dog owners, some more research might be necessary to determine if, say, a hamster could help your love life.

But for now, to improve your dating game, you may want to say hello to a new canine friend.