Was interviewed on New Day Northwest, King 5 TV this morning and this evening I will give a talk and sign copes of Succeeding as a Student at the University of Washington Book Store, a fun full day! You can view the interview by going to http://www.king5.com, find the right hand column, scroll down to the book’s cover and click.

Thanks to all the nice people at King 5.


The Animal Poison Control Center was started prior to my arrival as Head of the then named Veterinary Biosciences department in the College of veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. After I took office the Center was taken over by the ASPCA and has grown and become more effective as a result. The service answered more than 167,000 calls in 2014 all involving exposure of animals to possible toxicants. Nearly 16% of those calls were about pets getting into medicines intended for human use, the seventh year in a row that this type of exposure was the most common.

Here are the most common pet toxins of 2014 as reported by the ASPCA:

  1. Human prescription medications. Especially dangerous are ADD/ADHD drugs.
  2. Over-the-counter medications including herbal and natural supplements as well as cough, cold and allergy medications. Many of these contain acetaminophen and/or pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. All are highly toxic to pets. Glucosamine joint supplements are often flavored and will appeal to some animals, particularly dogs. Overdose can result in diarrhea and occasionally in liver failure.
  3. Insecticides particularly insect bait stations can result in bowel obstructions from ingesting the plastic shell containing the bait.
  4. Household items including paints and cleaning products.
  5. Human foods. Dogs were usually the culprits getting into serious trouble by ingesting large quantities of onions, garlic, grapes, raisins and particularly a sugar substitute xylitol found in sugar-free gum and other products.
  6. Veterinary medications, particularly chewable medications are particularly attractive to some pets.
  7. Chocolate, discussed in a previous blog.
  8. Plants, a long list of plant poisons have been covered in this blog.
  9. Rodenticides, haven’t discussed these but toxicity is obvious.
  10. Lawn and garden products, these include fertilizers as well as weed killers, etc.

Other potential hazards include:

  1. Oxygen absorbers and silica gel packs often found in packages of pet treats, jerky and other edibles. These can result in iron poisoning.
  2. Toxic lily plants including the Tiger, Asiatic, Stargazer, Casablanca, Rubrum, Day, Japanese Show and Easter lilies. Some cats are attracted to these plants and a small amount can result in kidney failure. The Calla, Peace and Peruvian lilies are relatively non-toxic but can result in GI inflammation and upset. These were also described in a previous blog.
  3. For reasons unknown some cats are attracted to antidepressants such as Cymbalta and Effexor. Ingestion can result in severe neurological and cardiac toxicities.
  4. Cats are also more sensitive to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen. Don’t be tempted to treat your cat or dog with these agents.
  5. Glow sticks and glow jewelry contain dibutyl phthalate. If your cat’s mouth and/or skin are exposed from chewing on these objects it can result in a chemical burn.
  6. The leaves, fruit, seeds and bark of avocado trees, particularly those from Guatemala, commonly found in our supermarkets, can be toxic to birds, rabbits and horses resulting in respiratory distress, pulmonary congestion, pericarditis (inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart) and death from large doses. Dogs and cats seem to be much less sensitive to avocado toxicity.
  7. Raw bread dough made with live yeast when ingested, usually by dogs, can expand in the stomach resulting in gastric dilatation that can be life threatening.
  8. Ethanol poisoning, inebriation, was recently discussed along with hops poisoning.
  9. Grape and raisin poisoning has also been covered previously.
  10. Macadamia nuts are attractive to some dogs but are not usually fatal. After ingesting a sufficient quantity dogs may show weakness of the hind legs, demonstrate pain behavior, may show muscle tremors and/or develop a low-grade fever.
  11. Moldy foods can produce tremor genic mycotoxins. Since it’s not possible to determine whether a particular mold is producing these toxins the safest thing is not to empty that container from the back of the refrigerator into your dog’s dish. Cats will just turn up their nose and walk away. Also be on the lookout for garbage, road-kill, fallen fruit or nuts that could be moldy. Don’t let your dog get to them.

As always if your pet is showing any kind of suspected toxicosis get it to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Seattle author David R. Gross practiced veterinary medicine for ten years.   He returned to school and earned his PhD in cardiovascular physiology then he taught and did research in that field for more than three decades. After retiring, he and his beloved wife Rosalie looked forward to traveling, writing, and focusing on social action causes together. In Travels with Charlize: In Search of Living Alone, Dr. Gross tells a gentle and open story of recovery after the death of his wife of fifty-two years. He must go forward and face a new future, but that road carries rough spots. Memories spring up to hold him back. Revisiting friends reminds him of who no longer accompanies him. Home, to which he must return, still stores a profusion of painful memories. It is the presence of Charlize, his newly adopted rescue dog, that keeps Gross steady and willing to see a brighter tomorrow around the bend. Based on a compilation of chronicles from his popular blog, this compelling and enchanting book hit the shelves in February.

The dog loving couple had talked about getting a new pet, but with Rosalie’s diagnosis of lung cancer, those plans were put on hold. After she succumbed to illness in 2013, David adopted Charlize, a German shepherd rescue dog with problems of her own. He bought a travel trailer, closed his house and the duo started their travels. The two troubled souls embarked on a yearlong journey visiting parks and vistas, rain forests and deserts, family and old friends, to discover how to accept and craft a new life with each other’s help.

Travels with Charlize is available from any independent bookstore, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble. The Kindle e-book edition is currently available as are versions for Kobo and Nook. Dr. David Gross has published over ninety papers in refereed scientific journals and over a hundred abstracts in proceedings of scientific meetings. He co-edited three multi-authored textbooks and his single author text, Animal Models in Cardiovascular Research, can be found in most medical libraries. Since retirement, Dr. Gross has been busy writing both fiction and non-fiction. His published books include Manhunt (historical fiction), Animals Don’t Blush (a memoir of his first year in veterinary practice) and the soon-to-be rereleased, Succeeding As A Student (a self-help guide to efficient and effective studying, learning and test taking).


Ingesting hops can be highly toxic to susceptible dogs. Hops can act as an inciting cause or trigger for malignant hyperthermia but it seems the animal must have a genetic pre-disposition for this to occur.


Scientific Name: Humulus lupulus, Family: Cannabidaceae

Malignant hyperthermia, an uncontrolled increase in body temperature, is a rare life-threatening condition usually triggered by exposure to general anesthetic agents, most commonly volatile anesthetics, in certain genetically susceptible humans, pigs and horses. Caffeine can also act as a “trigger”. Hops have been shown to trigger the reaction in susceptible dogs and cats. The triggers can induce a drastic and uncontrolled increase in oxidative metabolism, the utilization of oxygen, in skeletal muscle. This overwhelms the body’s ability to regulate body temperature. The result is high fever leading to circulatory collapse and death if not immediately treated.

The susceptibility to malignant hyperthermia is often inherited as an autosomal dominant disorder, for which there are at least 6 genetic sites of interest. In 50–70% of cases, the propensity for malignant hyperthermia is due to a mutation of the ryanodine receptor located on the sarcoplasmic reticulum of skeletal muscle cells where calcium ions are stored. The ryanodine receptor acts to open calcium ion channels that allows the ion to enter the skeletal muscle cells and initiate contraction. Malignant hyperthermia results when the normal processes of entry and subsequent removal of calcium ions from the muscle cells are interfered with. The process of sequestering excess calcium ion within the cell consumes large amounts of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the main cellular energy carrier, and results in the generation of the excessive heat (hyperthermia) that is the hallmark of the disease. The muscle cell is damaged by the depletion of ATP and possibly the high temperatures and cellular constituents “leak” into the circulation.

The other major known causative gene for malignant hyperthermia is the protein encoding a different type of calcium channel. There are two known mutations in this protein. When these mutant channels are expressed in human embryonic kidney cells, the resulting channels are five times more sensitive to activation by caffeine (and presumably volatile anesthetic agents and hops). Other mutations causing malignant hyperthermia have been discovered but. in most cases. the relevant genes remain to be identified.

Research into malignant hyperthermia was limited until the discovery of “porcine stress syndrome” in Danish Landrace and other breeds of pigs. This “awake triggering” was not observed in humans and cast doubt on the value of the animal model. However susceptible humans were discovered to develop malignant hyperthermia the “awake trigger” in stressful situations. This supported the use of the pig model for research.

Pig farmers began to expose piglets to halothane. Those that died were malignant hyperthermia-susceptible, thus saving the farmer the expense of raising a pig whose meat was not marketable. This also reduced the use of breeding stock with the genes. The condition in swine was also found to be due to a defect in ryanodine receptors. The causative mutation in humans was only discovered after similar mutations had been described in pigs. Another argument for the use of animal models in research. Sorry, that was my career for thirty-six years and I still have to climb onto the soap box from time to time.

A causative mutated ryanodine receptor gene has been identified in Quarter Horses and other breeds and is inherited as an autosomal dominant. It can be triggered by overwork, anesthesia, or stress. In dogs the susceptibility seems to be autosomal recessive.

A malignant hyperthermia mouse model has been developed using molecular biology techniques. These mice display signs similar to those in susceptible animals when exposed to halothane as a trigger. This model was used to demonstrate that the injection of dantrolene, a muscle relaxant, reversed the response to the halothane in these mice and in humans. The current treatment of choice is the intravenous administration of dantrolene, discontinuation of triggering agents, and supportive therapy directed at correcting hyperthermia, acidosis, and organ dysfunction. Treatment must be instituted rapidly on clinical suspicion of the onset of malignant hyperthermia. After the widespread introduction of treatment with dantrolene, the mortality of malignant hyperthermia fell from 80% in the 1960s to less than 5%. However, the clinical use of dantrolene has been limited by its low solubility in water. This means it must be dissolved in large volumes of fluids complicating clinical management. Azumolene is 30 times more water-soluble than dantrolene and also works to decrease the release of intracellular calcium by its action on the ryanodine receptor. In susceptible pigs it was just as potent as dantrolene. However it has not yet been approved for use in humans. Hopefully those clinical trials are in progress. Research in mouse models continues in efforts to more completely describe the genetic mechanisms that trigger this condition.

So we know that hops can be poisonous to at least some breeds of dogs and also sometimes to cats. The cones are the culprit when enough of them are eaten. The initial symptoms are restlessness, panting, abdominal pain and vomiting. In serious cases, symptoms progress into seizures, rapid heart rate and life-threatening high body temperature. Greyhounds seem to be the most susceptible breed but also susceptible are golden retrievers, St. Bernards, Dobermans, border collies and English springer spaniels. Hops grown by aficionados pose a threat when the mature cones are low enough for the animal to reach or drop to the ground. With home-brewing becoming more popular we could see an increase in hops poisoning. A potentially bigger threat than hops plants is dogs getting into bags of stored hops or spent, dumped hops sediment.

Dogs are far more sensitive to ethanol than humans. Even ingesting a small amount of a product containing alcohol can cause significant intoxication. No matter how popular beer drinking dogs are on U-Tube hops poisoning is probably not a threat but intoxication from the alcohol is. Alcohol intoxication results in vomiting, loss of coordination, disorientation and stupor. Sound familiar? In severe cases, coma, seizures and death may occur. Dogs showing mild signs of alcohol intoxication should be closely monitored, and dogs that are so inebriated that they can’t stand up must be taken to your veterinarian.


Ernest Hemingway in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”

It is early May, after a spring snow storm, Roberto and Maria are together in Roberto’s sleeping bag, outside, in the mountains of Spain.

“Then they were together so that the hand on the watch moved, unseen now, they knew that nothing could ever happen to the one that did not happen to the other, that no other thing could happen more than this; this this was all and always; this was what had been and now and whatever was to come. This, that they were not to have, they were having. They were having now and before and always and now and now and now. Oh, now, now, now, the only now, and above all now, and there is no other now but thou now and now is the prophet. Now and forever now. Come now, now, for there is no now but now. Yes, now. Now, please now, only now, not anything else only this now, and where are you and where am I and where is the other one, and not why, not ever why, only this now; and on and always please then always now, always now, for now always one now; one only one, there is no other one but one now, one, going now, rising now, sailing now, leaving now, wheeling now, soaring now, away now, all the way now, all of all the way now; one and one is one softly, is one longingly, is one kindly, is one happily, is one in goodness, is one to cherish, is one now on earth with elbows against the cut and slept on branches of the pine tree with the smell of the pine boughs and the night; to earth conclusively now, and with the morning of the day to come. Then he said, for the other was only in his head and he had said nothing, ‘Oh, Maria, I love thee and I thank thee for this.’”

At three-thirty in the afternoon we started looking for an RV park. We passed several that were not worth turning around to go back to before stopping at a grocery store in Gualala, CA. I purchased some fresh vegetables for dinner and the checkout lady told me how to find the California State Salt Point campground. At the gate was a friendly park ranger who was talking to a young couple. I stopped and he told me to just pick a spot and then return and fill out an envelope from one of those in a box at the gate. Put five bucks in the envelope and I would be registered. I drove through the entire campground where all the spaces were empty. Too many choices.

I returned to the gate and stopped without getting out of Old Blue. The ranger turned from the young couple he was still talking to.

“You decided not to stay?”

“Nope,” I answered “couldn’t find an empty spot.”

He looked at me incredulously until I smiled, and then he laughed politely at my lame joke. I climbed out of Old Blue, retrieved an envelope and made the loop again. I consulted with Charlize and we picked a spot, filled out the envelope, put my five bucks in and walked back to the gate to deposit the envelope. The ranger and the young couple were gone.

Charlize found something to interest her.



Wilma the Cat

Sidney, Montana, the summer of 1960. Ike Williams and Jon Wilkins were partners, the owners of Williams & Wilkins Blacksmiths and Mechanics. Their shop was large, chaotic and dirty. It occupied the entire frontage of their property hiding their small, immaculate, frame house. The shop and their considerable skills shielded them from the necessity of acknowledging their relationship, something the community had no real need or desire to hear or talk about. The partners were able to repair and, if necessary, fabricate parts for any type of motorized or pulled agricultural implement. That was what the community considered important. They had lived and worked together in Sidney for twenty-five years before my new bride and I arrived. I was a recent graduate and new associate veterinarian in the only veterinary practice within a fifty-mile radius.

Like an old married couple Ike and Jon finished each other’s thoughts, knew how to avoid conflict, were comfortable in their own skins, and with each other. All necessary accommodations had been made.

They both loved cats. I was never able to determine exactly, or even approximately, how many cats they had. There were shop cats, outside cats and house cats, all well cared for.

From time to time one or both of them would bring in a house or shop male for castration or a female to be spayed. All received annual vaccinations. I guess they had a method for deciding which cats would occupy which spaces. The outside cats were free to reproduce but each new litter of kittens was brought in for vaccinations and caring homes were found for them.

They were both sitting in the waiting room when I returned from doing rectal exams on twenty-five head of half-wild range cattle to check for pregnancy. I rubbed my sore left arm as I greeted them.

“Mr. Williams, Mr. Wilkins, what have you got for me today?”

They stood up as if joined at the hip. Wilkins held a huge tabby in his arms. The cat was whimpering obviously hurting.

“This is Wilma, she’s a house cat. Old Doc spayed her for us several years ago and she’s had all her shots every year. Today when we came in for lunch we found her, crying in pain. She’s paralyzed.”

As he talked tears welled up in Wilkins’ eyes. Ike put his arm over his partner’s shoulders.

“It will be OK Jon. Young Doc is good everyone says so. He’ll take care of Wilma for us, won’t you Doc?”

I held out my hands.

“Here, let me take her. Let’s go into the exam room and see what we can figure out.”

Wilma was too soft, too fat, and too lazy. Both hind limbs were flaccid. She meowed louder with Jon no longer holding her. She was also hyperventilating. I examined her carefully, noting that the white nails on her hind paws were tinged blue and the paws were cold to the touch. I was unable to palpate a pulse in either femoral artery.

“This is not good,” I told them. “I’m pretty certain she has what we call a saddle thrombus. It’s a blood clot blocking the two main arteries to her legs. I’ve never seen a case but I remember the description from vet school. All the signs are there. She is paralyzed in the hind legs, in obvious pain and there is no blood circulating to her hind legs.”

“Is there something you can do to fix her?” asked Ike.

“Well, theoretically I could operate and remove the clot. However, I’ve never done anything even remotely like that before, never actually opened an artery on purpose then tried to suture it closed afterwards. I don’t think we even have any suture material small enough to do that kind of thing. Also we have no idea what causes this and it could come right back. I’m sorry. I hate to say this. My job is to help animals not kill them. In this case I think the best thing I can do to help Wilma is to put her out of her misery.”

They were devastated.

“Are you sure you don’t want to even try?” pleaded Jon. “Cost is not a problem you know. We’ll pay whatever it costs,” he looked to his partner for confirmation. Ike nodded his agreement.

“OK, I’m willing to try anything, but I have to make certain you know this could be a disaster. I’ve never even seen anything like this done. First let me look to see if we have any suture material small enough to close an artery.”

I was apprehensive as I searched through the cabinet of surgical supplies. I found one packet of 4-0 silk, with needle attached. It looked to be several years old. I had no idea where it came from or for what my boss intended for it when he bought it. I came back into the exam room and held up the packet.

“This might work, but it’s old and I’ll need to sterilize it again, I have no idea how long it’s been around, the package says it expired two years ago. You guys are certain you want me to try this? I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’ll have to dissect down to the end of the aorta, that’s the main artery coming from the heart, where it branches to supply blood to both hind legs and the tail. Then I have to find the blockage, try to put a tourniquet around the artery above the obstruction, open the artery, remove the clot and suture the artery closed. Chances are very good Wilma will bleed to death while I’m fumbling around.”

“But she’ll be anesthetized, right Doc? She won’t feel anything? Ike asked.

“That’s correct,” I said. “As soon as I anesthetize her she’ll feel no more pain, until and unless we remove the clot and get everything repaired and let her wake up again. She could still be in a lot of pain after I’m done with the surgery, I don’t know.”

“But you can give her something for post-operative pain, right?” Jon pleaded.

“Sure, sure, we can treat post-op pain.”

“OK Doc. Go for it. Is it OK if we wait here? We already put a sign on the shop door saying we wouldn’t be back until tomorrow.”

“Sure, you’re welcome to wait here. It will take me some time to put a surgical pack together to sterilize with the suture material. I have to think about what I might need by way of instruments. I know we don’t have any specialized vascular surgical instruments or suction so I’ll have to improvise. I’ll let you know before I get started. Let me give her just a touch of tranquilizer to see if we can make her more comfortable. I’m afraid to give her anything like a full dose because her heart rate is so fast. The tranquilizer will slow her heart rate and the high heart rate may be the only thing keeping her alive.”

I got Wilma anesthetized, hooked up an intravenous drip, opened up her abdomen, packed off her abdominal organs and found the distal aorta. When I tried to dissect around the aorta I managed to break off some small branches and the abdomen quickly filled with arterial blood. The turkey baster I added to the pack was not an adequate suction device and Wilma bled out in short order. It was the unmitigated disaster I had feared.

Today we know that saddle thrombus is almost always associated with a disease called dilated cardiomyopathy. This is a condition, probably with genetic predisposition, that is uncommon but not rare in cats. The heart is enlarged and dilated and it doesn’t function properly. Normally blood is always moving inside the heart. This constant motion of the blood, even when the heart is resting between beats, helps prevent clots from forming. Because the heart is dilated and unable to beat strong enough areas of flow stasis develop within the heart chambers. Areas of flow stasis allow clots to develop. When the clot becomes large enough it is eventually washed out of the heart. It flows downstream until it lodges at a location too small for the size of the clot, usually at the terminal trifurcation of the aorta. Modern veterinary surgeons can deal with this, providing the underlying heart disease is treatable. Today, if diagnosed early enough and if the underlying heart disease is controlled, many of these animals can be saved and will go on to live a reasonably normal life. In 1960 my saving Wilma would have been a miracle.

Ike and Jon understood and were even appreciative that I tried.

I felt guilty and depressed, never acclimated to losing an animal, especially through my own clumsiness.

Excerpt from “Animals Don’t Blush”


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