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Dr. Becker and Dr. Dodds Talk About Titers.

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Dr. Becker and Dr. Dodds Talk About Titers.

How Long Will Your Pet’s Rabies Shot Last? You Might Be Surprised…

By Dr. Becker

Today I have a very special guest chatting with me via Skype, Dr. Jean Dodds. Dr. Dodds is an incredibly busy woman, and among her many undertakings is her involvement, along with Dr. Ron Schultz, in the Rabies Challenge Fund. The purpose of the fund is to determine the duration of immunity conveyed by rabies vaccines, with the goal of extending the required interval for rabies boosters to five and then to seven years.
Dr. Dodds has agreed to spend some time today discussing antibody titers with us. It’s a confusing topic. Not only are there different types of titers and different methods of titering, but the “when,” “how” and “why” of titering confuses not only pet owners, but veterinarians as well. So I asked Dr. Dodds to start by explaining what a titer actually is.

What, Exactly, Is an Antibody Titer?

Dr. Dodds replied that a titer is a blood sample from which the serum is analyzed to determine the level of antibodies present to an infectious agent like the distemper virus, parvo, hepatitis, and other diseases. When the blood serum antibody level is measured quantitatively, we are measuring a combination of the animal’s natural exposure to the infectious agent as well as vaccinations against it.
Next I asked Dr. Dodds to explain why some diseases are only acquired once (and thereafter, the animal has lifetime immunity), whereas other diseases pose an ongoing threat throughout an animal’s life.

“Sterile” (Lifetime) Immunity versus Short-lived Immunity

Dr. Dodds explained that certain diseases produce what we call “sterile immunity.” Those diseases include distemper, parvo, and hepatitis in dogs, and panleukopenia in cats. When an animal is exposed to these diseases and recovers, or is vaccinated properly against them, the animal becomes immunized. And we must keep in mind that immunization is the outcome of proper vaccination. The act of administering a vaccine doesn’t necessarily mean the animal has been immunized against the disease.
When an animal is properly vaccinated and becomes immunized, he receives sterile immunity, which is long lasting — a minimum of seven to nine years, to a maximum of lifetime immunity — as measured by titer tests. This means the pet cannot become infected, nor will he shed the virus should he be exposed. (Since the diseases of distemper, parvo, hepatitis and panleukopenia are everywhere, the risk of exposure is constant.)

But as Dr. Dodds goes on to explain, there are other vaccines that do not produce sterile immunity. Those are vaccines against Lyme disease, leptospirosis, bordetella, and other upper respiratory/kennel cough-type viruses, and even canine influenza. The vaccines against these diseases don’t last very long – typically seven months to a year. The antibody levels against these diseases, as measured by titer tests, fall off with each successive year.
But … does that mean the animal is not protected against the disease? According to Dr. Dodds, the answer to that question is unclear. There are antibody titer levels, and there are things called immune memory cells, which remain for a lifetime. Even with low titer values following vaccination, pets may still be protected for up to a year or even longer by immune memory cells if exposed to one of these diseases.

Dr. Dodds frames the question this way: “The problem, I guess, is how do you know when you do a titer against one of the shorter-lived agents in terms of duration of immunity … how do you know that the animal is really protected or not? You’re not going to challenge them [by deliberately exposing them to the virus or bacterium] to make that determination.”
Dr. Dodds says that it would seem, for those shorter-lived vaccines, if they’re needed at all – and that’s a very big IF – animals may need to be vaccinated more often, like every 18 months to two years. This is in contrast to the sterile immunity core vaccines for distemper, parvo, hepatitis and panleukopenia, which we should not have to administer after pets reach midlife, as long as they have measurable titer values.

In human terms, we could compare veterinary core vaccines to polio vaccines, and perhaps measles, mumps and rubella vaccines. These vaccines provide lifetime immunity, whereas a tetanus vaccine, which is a bacterin, may not last for a lifetime.

Why Intranasal Bordetella Vaccines Are Better Than the Injectable Form

Next I asked Dr. Dodds to talk about kennel cough (bordetella) vaccines. There is the injectable form and the intranasal form. An animal can receive one of these vaccines and immediately be infected with kennel cough.
Dr. Dodds answered that upper respiratory virus vaccines are not 100 percent effective, and in fact, she just received some information stating they are only about 70 percent effective. But there are home and commercial boarding facilities run by people who are really concerned about their own liability, even when the risk is minimal. Some insist on bordetella vaccines every six months. In those cases, the vaccine used should be intranasal.

I asked Dr. Dodds her opinion of the injectable bordetella vaccine. Does she ever recommend it? She replied that she would not, because the intranasal form contains interferon, which provides partial cross-protection against other upper respiratory viruses.
On a side note, the intranasal bordetella vaccine should never be given as an injectable, and the injectable form should never be administered as an intranasal vaccine. Dr. Dodds said recently a Rottweiler received a bordetella vaccine administered incorrectly and acquired acute hemolytic anemia.

Different Types of Titer Tests and the Potential for Conflicting Results

Back on the confusing topic of titers, I asked Dr. Dodds to discuss hemagglutination inhibition, or HAI, because it is a common method some labs use to run titer tests.
Dr. Dodds explained that HAI is the gold standard for measuring immunity to, for example, parvo. It’s the original technique that has been mostly replaced in today’s clinical labs with the more efficient enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) on serum. ELISA tests are quicker and there are very good ones available.

She goes on to say that the parallel to HAI is serum neutralization, SN. It’s considered the gold standard for the canine distemper virus. But again, ELISA tests have replaced SN in most labs because the process is cumbersome, and it is also more costly. The ELISA assays have recently been shown in a refereed paper to give equivalent results to HAI and SN.

I asked Dr. Dodds to discuss another technique called IFA, or immunofluorescence antibody technology. How does it fit into the titering picture? She answered that IFA is something she’s actually quite proud of because back in the late 1990s, she helped develop a similar test and published her findings. In 2000, Dr. Dodds and Dr. Lisa Twark published a very large study of about 1,500 animals, comparing HAI and SN with the new IFA test.

The IFA test measures immunity in much the same way tests detect presence of disease. But as Dr. Dodds explains, vaccine titer levels are typically much lower than disease levels. She likes the IFA test because it simulates what happens with a natural infection – determining how well an animal is protected using the same methodology.

At the major diagnostics lab that runs IFA tests, a “yes” answer to the question of whether an animal is protected actually means the animal is well protected. If a pet isn’t protected according to an IFA test, no question about it, you need to revaccinate except in the case of dogs that have experienced prior adverse vaccine reactions or non-responders – animals that are genetically non- or low-responders to vaccinations, as they simply will not acquire effective immunity to a certain disease no matter how many times they are vaccinated.

Regarding ELISA tests, in my own practice I’ve used them, and noted that some animals show no notable protection against distemper. But when I recheck them with the IFA test, they are protected. This is confusing, and I asked Dr. Dodds about it.

She responded that at her lab, Hemopet, they do their own in-house laboratory titer testing. And they use ELISA technology. If they get a negative on a test – and it’s almost always for distemper – they send it out for an IFA confirmation test. They then provide both sets of results to the animal’s veterinarian so he or she can use professional judgment and case history to decide whether or not to re-vaccinate.

Dr. Dodds explains that she’s not overly worried about a low distemper titer unless the pet is around wildlife. She does worry about parvo. If a parvo titer comes back negative on an ELISA and positive on an IFA, again, the results go to the animal’s vet so he or she can make the judgment call. But Dr. Dodds does discourage vets from delivering combination vaccines and recommends instead a single parvovirus vaccine booster. Single-agent vaccines are significantly less stressful to the body immunologically.

Maternal Immunity: What Is It? Why Is It Important? How Long Does it Last?

I asked Dr. Dodds to talk about situations in which there is potentially some lingering maternal antibody in a young pet, meaning the puppy or kitten is still protected, or partially so, by its mother’s antibodies.

Dr. Dodds first explains that maternal antibodies are what the mother imparts to her litter via the placenta during fetal development – this accounts for up to 10 to 15 percent – and the rest comes from the colostrum in her milk. When the pups or kittens nurse, they receive maternal antibodies. How long those will last depends on how high the mother’s antibody titer was while she was pregnant. Maternal antibodies are usually gone by the time a puppy or kitten is 16 weeks of age, but they start to drop off around 8 to 10 weeks. So there is a “window of vulnerability” between, say, 10 and 16 weeks when young animals are not completely protected.

Our solution for that is to vaccinate earlier, which temporarily suppresses the maternal immunity that is present. But, the animals become more vulnerable for those few days – from about 3 to 7 days – after a vaccination at 7 or 10 weeks, for example. At the same time, the maternal antibodies are waning. It’s not ideal to suppress the maternal antibodies via vaccination, but it’s also not prudent to wait until they’ve dropped off entirely. So it’s a bit of a catch-22.

That’s why it’s important that young pets not be out at dog parks or other locations where potentially infected animals could be. Puppies and kittens should be well immunized before they are allowed to venture out into the world.

Titering from three to four weeks after the last puppy or kitten shot is a good opportunity to determine if the vaccinations actually worked to immunize the animal. Dr. Dodds agrees but says titers shouldn’t be done before 16 weeks, because if you titer earlier, you can pick up some of that waning maternal immunity which will eventually be gone.

Rabies Vaccines and the Exciting Work of the Rabies Challenge Fund

Moving on to the rabies vaccine, depending on what state you live in, it may be approved for dogs as young as three or four months old. This particular vaccine is risky in terms of its reactivity, because it contains a potent amount of inactivated (killed) rabies virus plus strong adjuvants to help stimulate the immune response. Veterinarians often postpone the rabies vaccine until a pet is six months old to give the body more time to develop. I asked Dr. Dodds to talk about the duration of immunity of rabies vaccines, which are made from killed rabies virus.

Dr. Dodds explained that some people believe modified-live rabies vaccines are still in use, but they are not. Years ago, there was a modified-live rabies formula for cats, and it did occasionally mutate and produce rabies. But today there are no modified-live rabies vaccines in use.

However, the killed-virus rabies vaccine is extremely potent and should not be administered earlier than necessary. Even though rabies vaccine package labels say it can be given at 12 weeks, Dr. Dodds believes it should not be given before 16 weeks. Recently, California passed legislation to allow rabies vaccines at 12 weeks vs. 16 weeks, which caused a lot of controversy and will continue to do so.

As to the question of how long rabies vaccines last, according to titer tests, antibodies can remain in an animal’s blood for seven to nine years, and perhaps longer. But again, the question is: are those pets truly protected against the disease?

The Rabies Challenge Fund recently completed year five of its five and seven-year trials to determine how long the rabies vaccine lasts. They are into year six now. The animals used in the study are living in a kennel breeding facility environment.

According to antibody titers on the study animals, at year three after vaccination they all showed good immunity. At year four they showed measurable immunity, but by year 5, some of the animals no longer had measurable rabies titers. Dr. Dodds and Dr. Ron Schultz conducted something called a vaccinal challenge (rabies revaccination) that showed the animals all had immune memory cells that responded by producing good rabies antibody titers, even though some of the animals had titers below the 0.1 international units per milliliter level deemed by the CDC to be adequate to protect a person against rabies. So Dr. Dodds and Dr. Schultz believe that even five years post-vaccination, the animals in the study have maintained good immune memory to protect them against rabies should they be exposed.

What’s lovely about all this is that the animal body is still capable of mounting a response, from immune memory, to the virus. The body innately knows what to do.
Dr. Dodds wants to clarify that even though we know immune memory response was boosted in the animals in the study, it doesn’t mean the USDA or individual states will accept extending the length between rabies booster vaccinations. The Rabies Challenge Fund hasn’t reached that stage in the process yet. They are still developing data that, quite frankly, many people might not want to see published, and that data is being gathered from canine titers rather than trying to extrapolate data from human titer studies to canines.

How You Can Help

The Rabies Challenge Fund study is the first of its kind, and it takes a lot of money to do the work. It’s seven years of research, data collection, and publishing the results. That’s why Mercola Healthy Pets is partnering with the Rabies Challenge Fund to help raise the remainder of the funds needed to not only complete the study, but to insure the research is published in a manner that will benefit the most pets.

Dr. Dodds explained that much of what she has just discussed with us here does not appear at RabiesChallengeFund.org because it could be considered prior publication, precluding their refereed publication (a publication that has been reviewed and examined by experts and scholars in the field of immunology and veterinary vaccines).
And of course research is still ongoing. They are in year six, and have year seven still to go. The project depends on grassroots gifts for funding the costs of conducting the requisite vaccine trials. Contributions to date have come mostly from kennel clubs and private individuals. None of the money collected by the Rabies Challenge Fund goes to Dr. Dodds, Dr. Schultz, Kris Christine, or others working on their behalf. No salaries or other overhead is involved with the exception of expenses for care of the study animals. Dr. Dodds’ staff at Hemopet administers the fund from their offices in Southern California, and all their time and resources are donated.

I want to extend my thanks to Dr. Dodds for talking with us today and for her work with the Rabies Challenge Fund. Thanks also to Dr. Ron Schultz and Kris Christine of the fund. Extending the length of time between rabies vaccinations, thereby reducing the total number of vaccines animals receive during their lifetime, will be a huge benefit to the health and well being of family pets across the globe. Gathering serial serum rabies titer data during the full course of the study also provides a new database to help veterinarians and dog licensing authorities assess exposure risk and levels of protection, especially for those dogs that cannot safely or should not receive a rabies booster.

Mercola Healthy Pets is proud to partner with the Rabies Challenge Fund to raise money to help improve the lives of animals. This week, for every $1 donated to the Rabies Challenge Fund by a Mercola Healthy Pets reader, we will donate $2, up to $30,000.

Seven Separation Anxiety Myths

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Seven Separation Anxiety Myths

By Nicole Wilde, CPDT-KA

Some “sep anx” dogs are exceptions to the rules.

As a canine behavior specialist, I’ve seen my share of dogs over the years who suffered from separation anxiety. The vast majority of my clients have been able to modify their dog’s distress when left alone, and I felt confident in my knowledge of the issue. Then my husband and I adopted a two-year-old Husky-mix from our local shelter, and everything changed.

When Nicole and her husband adopted Sierra, the shelter informed them she had been impounded four times previously. Once home, it soon became clear that this had probably been due to a combination of separation anxiety and being an accomplished escape artist.

Sierra didn’t exhibit the classic signs of separation anxiety, namely, destruction, urination and/or defecation, and vocalization. We’d leave her loose in the house alone and return to find everything intact, no mess, and no complaints from the neighbors about noise. I never would have suspected there was a problem except that when I was gone, even for short periods, I’d find her panting heavily. It wasn’t due to hot weather – we adopted her in late December – so I set up a video camera to monitor her activity.

Here’s what I discovered: Immediately after my departure, Sierra began pacing between the window where she could see my car pull out, and the French doors, where she could view it disappearing down the hill to the main road. The vocalizing that accompanied the pacing went from soft whimpering to a pronounced series of whines, and soon turned into barking. The barks became more urgent. Finally, she melted into a series of pitiful howls. Reviewing the footage tore at my heart. My girl was clearly suffering.

Donning my red cape, I instantly morphed from Dog Mom into Behavior Woman, able to solve tall canine conundrums in a single leap of logic. I used the same types of solutions that had worked for many of my clients, while simultaneously ensuring that Sierra was never left alone unless we were practicing our protocols.

But it soon became obvious that Sierra just hadn’t read the right books; she not only didn’t show typical symptoms, but she also didn’t respond to many of the things that normally worked. My red cape obviously needed some sprucing up.

Living with a dog who has separation issues is very different than giving someone else advice about doing so, and I soon developed deep empathy for owners. I also became a one-woman research and development team. I scoured the latest studies, read and re-read all the available literature, and tried out a variety of tools and techniques.

I eventually redesigned parts of my protocols, created outside-the-box tactics and, eventually, wrote a book about separation anxiety, Don’t Leave Me! Step by Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety (Phantom Publishing,  2011). Along the way, I discovered that some of the long-held, traditionally accepted truths about separation issues just aren’t valid, at least for some dogs.

Here are seven common myths, and why you shouldn’t take them at face value:

1. Dogs who have separation anxiety are always “Velcro” dogs. This is a term commonly used for dogs who stick close by your side, not wanting to be away from you even for a moment. It’s true that many dogs with separation issues follow their owners around the house. Some owners can’t shower in peace, while others can’t even use the bathroom without taking their dogs in with them. And a 2001 study (see “Resources,” next page)  by Gerard Flannigan and Nicholas Dodman did find that hyperattachment to the owner was significantly associated with separation anxiety. With all of that, it makes sense to believe that all dogs with separation issues must be Velcro dogs.

Sierra shattered that particular myth for me. A true predator at heart, she enjoys nothing better than lying on the ramp outside the back door and surveying her domain. The hills that surround our house are plentiful with lizards, mice, bunnies, and other assorted critters. Sierra is very patient and lightning fast, and more than once I’ve found her with a hapless lizard hanging out of her mouth. (I keep threatening to sign her up for Predators Anonymous, but so far my warnings haven’t been heeded.) Suffice it to say that following me around the house is pretty boring compared to watching over her Wild Kingdom, and she’d prefer to be outside; that is, as long as she knows I’m in the house. Once she hears the car pull away it’s game over, and the stress of separation kicks in.

Sierra’s not the only one. There are plenty of other dogs who, while they might not be strongly predatory, are just fine in or outside the house a long as they know someone is at home. So don’t jump to conclusions. If your dog follows you around like drama follows Lindsay Lohan, it could be separation anxiety, but it’s not necessarily the case. And if your dog doesn’t shadow your every move, that doesn’t mean separation issues can be ruled out, either.

2. Letting your dog sleep in your bed will cause separation anxiety. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard trainers advise owners not to allow their dogs to sleep with them, for fear the dog would become so bonded that being left alone would become unbearable. Nothing could be further from the truth. The above-referenced study also concluded that “activities such as allowing the dog on the owner’s bed . . . were not associated with separation anxiety.”

While it’s true that sleeping in the owner’s bed won’t cause separation anxiety, if your dog already suffers from the issue, all of that nighttime closeness won’t help. After all, the goal is for your dog to learn to feel relaxed when alone, and if he can’t even be physically separated from you overnight, how can he remain calm by himself during the day when you’re gone? Start by giving your dog an alternate sleeping space. Don’t worry; it can be right by your bed at first. Place a dog bed next to yours and gently coax your dog back into his own bed each time he tries to climb up into yours; or, if necessary, use a short leash to tether him in place nearby. You might eventually choose to have him sleep farther away or outside the room altogether, but getting him out of your bed is a good start.

3. If your dog has separation anxiety, he won’t eat while you’re gone. Think back to a situation where you were extremely worried or afraid. Chances are, a tasty pizza wasn’t the first thing on your mind. For many stressed-out dogs, the same mechanism is at work. But chewing provides stress relief for dogs, and in many cases, despite their stress, dogs will excavate stuffed Kongs, gnaw on chew bones, or work at food-dispensing toys. If you stuff a Kong or other food dispenser for your dog, place the item within easy reach and lay out a short trail of super yummy treats leading to it. This trail o’ treats is more likely to entice your dog to begin chewing than leaving the Kong lying there by itself.

Dogs who will eat, even in the throes of an anxiety attack, may benefit from the distraction of a food-filled toy. Freeze the food-filled Kongs for dogs who are accomplished at excavating them, to make them last even longer!

Some dogs are too wound up to stay in one place to chew. For those dogs, a food dispenser that can be batted around, such as the Molecuball or Kong Wobbler, is a better choice. These products allow the dog to expend that anxious energy in a more active way, and by providing that focus, may even prevent destruction.

4. If your dog destroys things while you’re away, he must have separation anxiety. I once had an owner tell me that his dog was suffering from separation anxiety. When I asked how he knew, he said he’d discussed it with his veterinarian, who had put the dog on medication. I asked how the problem had been diagnosed. What were the symptoms? The dog, he informed me, had chewed a shoe while he was gone. I waited. And? Well…that was it. The dog had destroyed a shoe. The man had heard that dogs with separation anxiety chew things, had put two and two together, and had, with the veterinarian’s assistance, come to this conclusion. While it’s true that destructiveness is the number one symptom of separation anxiety, many dogs are destructive for other reasons, including boredom, under-stimulation, or not being completely trained.

In cases of true separation anxiety, destruction is often focused on the owner’s belongings, since the scent is comforting to the dog, or around doors and windows where the owner has left or can be seen leaving. Destruction of other items is possible, of course, but again, destructiveness in and of itself is not necessarily a sign of a separation issue. As with other clues, it must be factored in to the total case history.

5. Getting another dog will solve the problem. Oh, if only this one was always true! Whether getting a second dog will alleviate the anxiety of the first depends largely on whether the original dog’s distress stems from being separated from a particular person (what we typically think of as separation anxiety), or from simply not wanting to be left alone, which is more accurately called isolation distress. In the case of the latter, any warm body will do.

That’s good news, as the problem might be solved by the presence of a different person, another dog, or, in some cases, even a cat. So for a dog with isolation distress, getting another dog certainly could help; but there is always the chance that it won’t; and, in the worst-case scenario, you could end up with two dogs with separation issues!

Unless you were planning to add another dog to the family anyway, it’s better to do a bit of experimenting first. Consider fostering a dog for a rescue organization or borrowing a friend’s sturdy, non-anxious dog for a short time. That way, you’ll find out whether your dog is more relaxed with a buddy while you’re gone. (Just be careful to end the experiment if your dog makes the guest dog anxious.) Who knows, if it works out, you might even decide to adopt the foster dog permanently!

Destruction often occurs around the door where the owner has exited, or the window through which the dog can see the owners’ departure.

6. A dog with separation anxiety should never be left in a crate when alone. This one is another partial myth. There are dogs who, if left crated, will frantically try to escape, and may injure themselves in the process. Others will chew themselves to the point of self-mutilation. Clearly, for those dogs, crating is not a good option. But for a dog who is comfortable in her crate, who sleeps in it at night, and doesn’t mind being contained there for brief periods during the day, the crate might just be a saving grace. Many dogs will settle down more quickly when crated, particularly if the crate lends a feeling of being safely enclosed. For that reason among others, I prefer the plastic snap-together type crates to the wire ones.

7. If your dog has separation anxiety, it’s best to ignore him while you’re at home. This one was probably an extrapolation of the traditional advice to ignore your dog for 10 minutes before leaving the house, and for 10 minutes after returning. The logic goes that the less difference in emotional peaks and valleys between when you’re at home and when you’re gone, the easier it will be for the dog. But I didn’t get a dog to ignore him, and I bet you didn’t either. Besides, imagine that your significant other suddenly began to ignore you. Wouldn’t you wonder what you’d done wrong? Would you not become anxious and stressed even if you weren’t to begin with? Dogs are masters of observation and believe me, if you suddenly start to ignore your dog, chances are you’ll cause more anxiety, not less. It is true that you shouldn’t make a huge fuss over your comings and goings, but keeping things on an even keel emotionally is the key.

Treat the individual
If your dog has separation anxiety, keep these myths in mind. While some might hold true, others just might not. Closely observing your dog’s behavior and evaluating it on an individual basis will allow your treatment plan to be that much more successful.

Nicole Wilde, CPDT-KA, is the author of nine books, lectures worldwide on canine behavior, is an “Ask the Expert” columnist for Modern Dog magazine, and co-stars in the DVD “Train Your Dog: The Positive Gentle Method.” Nicole runs Gentle Guidance Dog Training in southern California, and donates her time photographing rescue dogs to improve their chances of adoption.

 

What to Expect at your Pet’s Nose?

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What to Expect at your Pet’s Nose?

There’s been a myth floating around for years about what it means if your dog’s or cat’s nose is warm instead of cool, or dry instead of moist.
A warm dry nose by itself doesn’t mean your pet is sick or has a fever.
In fact, your dog or cat’s nose can be moist and cool one moment, and dry and warm the next, and it doesn’t mean that he’s sick.
It’s all perfectly normal.

Now if your pet has other symptoms, like for instance loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea, lethargy, or other obvious signs of illness, then a dry, warm nose goes along with those other symptoms of systemic illness.
The time for a second look is if your pet’s nose is changing texture.
For example, if it becomes flaky or crusty or you notice a change in the color.

If the nose is not only dry but the skin is also cracking, or if it’s getting lighter in color … if you can see scabs, open sores, non-healing cracks or fissures, or other types of skin irritation … those are all things that you’ll want your veterinarian to take a look at.

Your Pet’s Nose Can Change Color for a Variety of Reasons

The color of your pet’s nose can be black, pink (a pink nose is also called a Dudley nose), liver colored, or the same color as your dog’s or cat’s fur. Nose color is determined by genetics.
Some noses fade during the colder months and return to their normal color during the summer months. This is a condition known as ‘snow nose’ or ‘winter nose.’

Certain breeds have noses that go from black to brown or pink as the dog ages. This is thought to be a result of the breakdown of tyrosinase, which is an enzyme that produces pigment. Since tyrosinase is also temperature-sensitive and works more efficiently in warmer weather, this could also explain the ‘winter nose’ color some dogs get when the weather gets cold.

If you happen to have an orange or calico kitty, you might notice that black spots appear on the nose and lips as your pet gets older. This is a totally normal change veterinarians call lentigo simplex, and it’s no cause for concern.

Lentigo Simplex

Sometimes the nose will go lighter when the pet is sick and return to a darker color once health is restored. If a pet gets a scrape or other abrasion to the nose, often the nose skin will turn pink as the healing process is occurring, and then the darker natural color will appear as the scab wears away.

Contact dermatitis can also cause your dog or cat to lose pigment on the nose. Some pets have sensitivity to plastic food and water bowls, and continued exposure can cause the nose to lighten in color. Sometimes the lips will also become inflamed.

I recommend you use stainless steel food and water bowls, because aside from the potential for plastic hypersensitivities, plastics wear down over time, and the material in plastic bowls can leach into your pet’s food and water.

The immune disease called vitiligo can also turn a dog’s nose pink, but there are usually other signs of this disorder occurring at the same time, like your dog can have white hairs or entire patches of white hair all over her body.

With vitiligo, the immune system attacks the pigment-containing cells of the body that are responsible for color. Certain breeds seem more likely to develop vitiligo than others including Dobermans, German shepherds, Rottweilers, and Dachshunds.

Caring for Your Pet’s Pink Nose

Whether your dog’s nose is naturally pink or has turned pink either temporarily or permanently, you’ll need to protect him from sunburn during the summer. You can apply a safe sunscreen when your dog will be out in the sun. It is important that you cover up pink noses during hot summer months.

There is a technique and actually a permanent solution to a pink nose some pet owners have opted for, but I don’t recommend it.

Some veterinarians will suggest that you have your dog’s nose tattooed black. I think this should be done only if your dog lives outdoors full time (which I absolutely don’t recommend) and can’t avoid contact with direct sunlight. Otherwise, this is an unnecessary procedure and must be done under anesthesia.

Signs of a Nose Problem

If you notice a nasal discharge, swelling, an unpleasant smell from your dog’s nose or the area around it, or if your pet seems to be having trouble breathing, it’s time to call the vet.

These signs can point to a foreign object or a foreign body, an infection, or even a nasal tumor. If your pet’s nose has a discharge from just one nostril, there could be a foreign body stuck up in there.

Other signs of an irritant, a foreign object, or a tumor in the nose include sneezing, pawing at the nose, or nosebleeds. Nasal polyps or tumors will often coincide with a bloody discharge or mucus from the nose.
You might also notice your pet’s breathing is noisier than normal, and you can sometimes see a bulge or a lump on one side of the face or nose.

Diseases Affecting the Nose

Pemphigus complex is a group of very serious autoimmune skin diseases that affects both dogs and cats. There are two main types: pemphigus foliaceus and pemphigus erythematosus. Both start with patches of red skin on the face, including the nose and ears. The foliaceus variety often spreads to other parts of the body, including the feet, central body, core, and paws.
Pemphigus erythematosus involves only the face, head, and footpads. The red patches rapidly turn into blisters, and then pustules, which can become crusty and cause the hair to stick to them. They look like oozing, crusty sores. Areas of skin depigmentation are also seen with both of these disease processes.

There is a third type of pemphigus called pemphigus vulgaris, which is rare. Blisters and ulcers can form on the lips, nostrils, and eyelids with this particular disorder and it can also involve the nail beds, which can cause the nails to fall out.

Discoid lupus erythematosus is another autoimmune disease that can occur in dogs, but doesn’t happen in cats. It’s more common in certain breeds including Collies, German shepherds, Huskies, Shetland sheepdogs, and Brittany spaniels. It is thought to be a milder version of the systemic form of lupus, and limits itself only to the face. First the nose loses pigmentation, and then often it develops cracks and sores, non-healing fissures, as well as some crusting.

Lupus

Another type of nose disorder is called zinc-responsive dermatosis. It’s caused by a zinc deficiency and is prevalent in Huskies, Doberman pinschers, Great Danes, and Alaskan malamutes.

In zinc-responsive dermatosis, the dog’s hair thins and a scaly, crusty rash can develop on the face that is most obvious on the nose, around the eyes, even in the ears, and around the mouth. Crusting also appears on the elbows and hocks in some dogs. These areas can become callused and crack easily. It’s important to make sure your dog has a confirmed case of zinc-responsive dermatosis before you discuss supplementing zinc with your vet. Zinc toxicosis is actually more prevalent than zinc-responsive dermatosis due to pet owners over-supplementing with zinc, incorrectly assuming their dog has a deficiency.

Other nutritional deficiencies can also cause changes in nose tissue, especially omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, which can cause the nose tissue to become thickened and dry.

Omega-3 fatty acids are sensitive to heat and light, and their potency decreases over time when food is stored. It’s no wonder that most pets consuming dry, kibbled food end up with essential fatty acid deficiencies.
Nasal solar dermatitis, also known as Collie nose, is a condition seen most often in sunny areas of the U.S. It primarily affects herding breeds including Collies, Aussies, and Shelties. With exposure to sunlight, the skin between the nose and muzzle first becomes quite irritated looking, the hair falls out, then the skin begins to ooze and crust over.

If the condition is allowed to continue with repeated sun exposure, the skin actually breaks down. And in serious cases, the nose can become just a big, giant, non-healing wound that’s incredibly painful. Certainly, skin cancer has been known to develop out of advanced cases of this particular disease.

There are other systemic conditions which can affect the health of your dog’s nose. The most common is hypothyroidism, which leads to a thickening of the nose and a leathery appearance.

Keeping an Eye on Your Pet’s Nose

Checking your dog or cat’s nose should be a normal part of your at-home wellness exam. Getting acquainted with the look and shape of your pet’s nose when it’s healthy is important, because then you’ll be able to determine when a problem pops up and it becomes unhealthy.

You need to look for any unusual signs like nasal discharge, especially and certainly if it goes from clear to mucus-y or bloody. You also need to stay alert for excessive dryness, crusting, or loss of pigmentation.
I also recommend you watch the nose as your pet breathes. Dogs and cats are nose breathers when at rest. If the nostrils flare more than normal, your pet could be having a breathing problem.

If you notice anything unusual about your pet’s nose, especially if you are seeing other signs of illness, I certainly recommend you make an appointment with your veterinarian.

As some of you know, topical ointments applied to the nose are often totally useless, because they become oral supplements in a matter of seconds to minutes in most dogs and cats.

The only supplement I recommend applying to your pet’s nose while you’re waiting for your vet appointment is natural vitamin E. You can actually poke a vitamin E capsule to open it, squeeze out the contents, and apply it to your pet’s nose until you can be seen by your vet.

Other creams and salves can be fairly irritating to your pet’s nose, so I don’t recommend you apply other products unless you have specifically been told to do so by your veterinarian.