Of all the animals mankind interacts with on a regular basis, dogs have always seemed to be the most in tune with our emotional states. New research has attempted to examine why that might be, and scientists now believe they have evidence to show that dogs are incredibly adept at learning human facial cues. As it turns out, dogs really, really want their human companions to be happy, and may even share the reliance on the hormone oxytocin to promote social bonding with their two-legged caretakers.
MRIs can help us accept mental illness
As a psychiatrist, I find that one of the hardest parts of my job is telling parents and their children that they are not to blame for their illness.
Children with emotional and behavioral problems continue to suffer considerable stigma. Many in the medical community refer to them as “diagnostic and therapeutic orphans.” Unfortunately, for many, access to high-quality mental health care remains elusive.
An accurate diagnosis is the best way to tell whether or not someone will respond well to treatment, though that can be far more complicated than it sounds.
I have written three textbooks about using medication in children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral problems. I know that this is never a decision to take lightly.
But there’s reason for hope. While not medically able to diagnose any psychiatric condition, dramatic advances in brain imaging, genetics and other technologies are helping us objectively identify mental illness.
Knowing the signs of sadness
All of us experience occasional sadness and anxiety, but persistent problems may be a sign of a deeper issue. Ongoing issues with sleeping, eating, weight, school and pathologic self-doubt may be signs of depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Separating out normal behavior from problematic behavior can be challenging. Emotional and behavior problems can also vary with age. For example, depression in pre-adolescent children occurs equally in boys and girls. During adolescence, however, depression rates increase much more dramatically in girls than in boys.
It can be very hard for people to accept that they – or their family member – are not to blame for their mental illness. That’s partly because there are no current objective markers of psychiatric illness, making it difficult to pin down. Imagine diagnosing and treating cancer based on history alone. Inconceivable! But that is exactly what mental health professionals do every day. This can make it harder for parents and their children to accept that they don’t have control over the situation.
Most important of all is making sure your child is assessed by a licensed mental health professional experienced in diagnosing and treating children. This is particularly important when medications that affect the child’s brain are being considered.
Seeing the problem
Thanks to recent developments in genetics, neuroimaging and the science of mental health, it’s becoming easier to characterize patients. New technologies may also make it easier to predict who is more likely to respond to a particular treatment or experience side effects from medication.
Our laboratory has used brain MRI studies to help unlock the underlying anatomy, chemistry and physiology underlying OCD. This repetitive, ritualistic illness – while sometimes used among laypeople to describe someone who is uptight – is actually a serious and often devastating behavioral illness that can paralyze children and their families.
Through sophisticated, high-field brain imaging techniques – such as fMRI and magnetic resonance spectroscopy – that have become available recently, we can actually measure the child brain to see malfunctioning areas.
We have found, for example, that children 8 to 19 years old with OCD never get the “all clear signal” from a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. This signal is essential to feeling safe and secure. That’s why, for example, people with OCD may continue checking that the door is locked or repeatedly wash their hands. They have striking brain abnormalities that appear to normalize with effective treatment.
We have also begun a pilot study with a pair of identical twins. One has OCD and the other does not. We found brain abnormalities in the affected twin, but not in the unaffected twin. Further study is clearly warranted, but the results fit the pattern we have found in larger studies of children with OCD before and after treatment as compared to children without OCD.
Meanwhile, the field of psychiatry continues to grow. For example, new techniques may soon be able to identify children at increased genetic risk for psychiatric illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
New, more sophisticated brain imaging and genetics technology actually allows doctors and scientists to see what is going on in a child’s brain and genes. For example, by using MRI, our laboratory discovered that the brain chemical glutamate, which serves as the brain’s “light switch,” plays a critical role in childhood OCD.
What a scan means
When I show families their child’s MRI brain scans, they often tell me they are relieved and reassured to “be able to see it.”
Children with mental illness continue to face enormous stigma. Often when they are hospitalized, families are frightened that others may find out. They may hesitate to let schools, employers or coaches know about a child’s mental illness. They often fear that other parents will not want to let their children spend too much time with a child who has been labeled mentally ill. Terms like “psycho” or “going mental” remain part of our everyday language.
The example I like to give is epilepsy. Epilepsy once had all the stigma that mental illness today has. In the Middle Ages, one was considered to be possessed by the devil. Then, more advanced thinking said that people with epilepsy were crazy. Who else would shake all over their body or urinate and defecate on themselves but a crazy person? Many patients with epilepsy were locked in lunatic asylums.
Then in 1924, psychiatrist Hans Berger discovered something called the electroencephalogram (EEG). This showed that epilepsy was caused by electrical abnormalities in the brain. The specific location of these abnormalities dictated not only the diagnosis but the appropriate treatment.
That is the goal of modern biological psychiatry: to unlock the mysteries of the brain’s chemistry, physiology and structure. This can help better diagnose and precisely treat childhood onset mental illness. Knowledge heals, informs and defeats ignorance and stigma every time.
Halloween Scares at the Vet Clinic: Don’t Let These Happen to You
Halloween is a time for clever costumes, sugary treats, and spooky fun. But these fall festivities can also present risks for pets. We spoke with our veterinary experts about Halloween-related pet mishaps they’ve encountered over the years. Don’t let one of these scary situations happen to you and your beloved companion.
Halloween Scares at the Vet Clinic
While out trick-or-treating at night, some families use glow sticks to keep themselves visible and safe. But if you leave these items laying around the house, your curious dog or cat might be tempted to chew on them. Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinary advisor for petMD, once received a call about a dog who got into a bag of glow sticks.
“The dog was drooling like crazy and obviously unhappy, on top of looking like an iridescent space alien,” Coates remembers. While the liquid inside of the glow stick tastes awful and can sometimes even make pets vomit, Coates assured her client that it is not actually toxic. “She offered her dog a handful of treats to help get rid of the taste, and he was soon back to normal.”
A glowing pet may be a scary sight to behold, but other Halloween mishaps can be life-threatening. One of the most common emergencies veterinarians see during Halloween involves dogs eating candy—especially chocolate. Chocolate can be toxic to both dogs and cats. Symptoms of chocolate toxicity may include vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and seizures.
“Several dogs get into the Halloween candy if it is left in their reach,” says Dr. Katie Grzyb, medical director at One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. “Chocolate can be toxic at certain amounts. Luckily, in many cases, if ingestion is caught early enough, the patient can be brought to their veterinarian and emesis (vomiting) can be induced. Some dogs may require hospitalization with fluids, charcoal, and monitoring for arrhythmias and/or neurologic signs.”
Halloween candies that contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener, can also be poisonous to pets. Pet parents should also be cautious of candy wrappers, which can cause gastrointestinal upset or intestinal blockages, if ingested.
Dr. Steven Friedenberg, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, recalls one instance where a smaller mixed-breed dog ate an entire bag of candy that was filled with all sorts of treats, ranging from chocolate bars to gummy worms. “We induced vomiting and were able to get many of the candy wrappers out of the dog’s stomach, but much of the chocolate had been absorbed already,” says Friedenberg, who specializes in emergency and critical care.
The dog needed to be hospitalized and put on medications to control elevated heart rate and blood pressure, he says, as well as receive sedatives for agitation associated with chocolate ingestion. “Fortunately, the dog did well, but it was an expensive stay for the owners.”
Dr. Christine Rutter, clinical assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, shares a similar tale of a dog who ate a medley of Halloween candy—but with a ghostly twist. “We induced vomiting and got the dog started on fluids and medications for overnight care, and I went to give the owner an update,” recalls Rutter, who specializes in emergency and critical care. “At the end of the interview, the owner stopped me and asked if there are any ghosts in the hospital. Puzzled, but playing along, I replied that I am unaware of ghosts in the hospital, and that I am in the hospital at all hours, so would have a good chance of seeing them if they existed.”
The owner was completely serious. She told Rutter that her big, friendly Pitbull was terrified of ghosts and cemeteries, and that she chose this 24-hour specialty hospital specifically because it didn’t have any Halloween decorations up. She believed that her canine companion got into the candy because he was overly stressed by the season. Rutter kept a straight face, and assured the owner she would do everything in her power to protect the dog.
“I dutifully passed on the message to the doctor who took over his care for the next shift,” Rutter says. “The dog ended up doing well and not having any unexpected encounters while in our care. Writing, ‘Keep away from Halloween decorations, cemeteries, and ghosts’ on a treatment sheet for a monster-sized, adorable, white meatball of a dog has been one of the highlights of my job.”
Help With Flying With Your Service Dog
This is very, very important for all clients to understand regarding Airline Assistance requests. I (Laurie, CEO) get a LOT of requests for help with Airline Travel, which is very important because I make sure that the airlines know that each client is flying with a Service Dog, and I know to emphasize with the more “stringent” airlines that SD’s that help people with psychiatric disabilities are called in by me as MEDICAL ALERT SERVICE DOGS. This is truth, because the ADA no longer even uses the term “psychiatric Service Dog” – they have been put in the same category as ALL Service Dogs, because psychiatric disabilities are literally medical conditions affecting the brain. I have to reiterate to many airlines that it is NOT an emotional support animal, because if they ask what the SD is for, if I say ANYTHING that resembles something psychiatric, they often don’t follow the ADA laws and they will immediately classify it as an ESA: requiring extensive paperwork, a fee, etc. I have learned very well how to work with the more difficult airlines, such as American. I reiterate to them that once they have listed the SD, they REPEAT back to me that the handler is not required to show ANY paperwork – simply that the SD is vested and has proof of rabies. I then verify with the airlines that the handler and SD team will be guided into the Priority TSA screening line, and get priority boarding. I have been working for years with Congress and to revise the Air Carrier Access Act so that Service Dog handlers who have psychiatric disabilities are treated no less respectfully as clients who have other disabilities. It is a long work in progress.
The ONE thing I cannot do for sure is this: if the handler making the reservation does NOT book the bulkhead seats, the only thing I can do is ASK the Special Assistance department if the seats can be changed. That is something I cannot guarantee. So, PLEASE, when you make your reservations, say that you are flying with a Medical Alert Service Dog, and try your best to book the bulkheads, especially with larger dogs. I will always still ensure that the process is as seamless as possible for all of you, will receive confirmation calls from the airlines 48 hours and 24 hours in advance to re-confirm, and will gladly walk each client/SD team through the entire process; but as much as I will try, I cannot guarantee that the airline will automatically give each client the bulkhead. And remember – after I call, and you are at the check-in desk, they might ask you the only two questions that they can ask. 1) Is this a Service Dog and 2) What tasks does this dog perform? ALL you have to say is 1) Yes and 2) He is a Medical Alert Service Dog OR My Service Dog helps me with my daily functioning. Travel requests require a lot of time for me on the phone with both the reservation departments and the Special Assistance departments, but I will always follow-through with this. Thank you!
Just to emphasize the importance of flea prevention for your Service Dogs. Please do not trust anything but the veterinarian-recommended brands. The types that you can buy at stores that sell generic brands such as Haartz, etc., are NOT as effective. All SDs must be on veterinarian recommended flea/tick/parasite control AND heartworm medicine every single month.
Public health officials in two northern Arizona counties have issued warnings that fleas in the area tested positive for plague.
“Successive Approximation”, or “Shaping”, is a highly useful and proven technique to train your Service Dog for any tasks. Well worth reading!
Pet ownership represents a large emotional – and financial – commitment. Whether you buy from a pet store or a breeder, adopt an animal from a shelter, or take in a stray, initial costs are just the beginning of the story.
This guide for the folks at thesimpledollar.com examines the different costs associated with pet ownership and helps you know what to expect, how to plan for these expenses, and potential ways to reduce the financial burden of pet ownership.
Source: Does Your Pet Have a Fever?
So freaking simple. So amazing. This is how it all works.
Like many great scientific advances, Pavlovian conditioning (aka classical conditioning) was discovered accidentally.
During the 1890s Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed, when he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever he entered the room, even when he was not bringing them food. At first this was something of a nuisance (not to mention messy!).
Read more at Pavlov’s Dogs | Simply Psychology
PLEASE remember to protect your Service Dog’s paws in the upcoming heat (and when there is extreme cold). This product is absolutely wonderful. Instead of trying to get your dog to wear booties, which can be cumbersome, just apply a thin coating of the Musher’s Secret to their paws and let it sit for about 5 minutes. It forms a protective barrier on the dog’s paws that truly works. It can be purchased here, on Amazon, at Walmart, etc.