Like a good vet, I spent much of Sunday reading my scientific veterinary journals. True, I love the fluff bits and typically devour these first. If cartoons were included I’d likely read these, too, before moving on to the stiff bits of scientific rigor we’re expected to consume on a regular basis if we’re to be “all that we can be,” as it were.

Though I typically read it first, this past issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Association (JAVMA, April 1st 2008) was a tad boring, I’m afraid. No April Fool’s jokes, unless you count the following small animal medicine publication:

“Esophageal foreign body obstruction caused by a dental chew treat in 31 dogs (2000-2006).” Submitted by two internists out of Virginia-Maryland’s vet school, Virginia Tech and Oradell Animal Hospital, it details one of the worst manifestations of dental chew blockage. Namely, getting stuck in the esophagus.

The esophagus is a singular organ. As in, you’ve got only one. And it’s vital. Pets don’t do well without them—nor do we, for that matter. When things get stuck in there the symptoms can be less obvious than you’d think. Though they may vomit and salivate, some dogs just get depressed. And all those abdominal X-rays for the most obvious ones? They won’t help. You’ve got to look for this problem in the chest where the esophagus lives.

By the time some of these cases were identified (the study focuses on 31 reported cases treated from 19 different hospitals/institutions), they were pretty bad off. 25% died, despite care.

Most of the chews were lodged in the esophagus at the level of the heart base or the diaphragm, making retrieval with an endoscope hard to accomplish, apparently. Consequently, most had to be pushed into the stomach then retrieved.

Six dogs’ chests had to be opened to facilitate removal. (Ouch!) 87% had moderate or severe esophageal lesions as a result. In the dogs that survived, six ended up with strictures in their esophagi. (Not a good thing for future GI function.)

The upshot: Though the manufacturer reported sales of 300,000 dental chews for 2005, only 31 cases ended up in facilities that reported treating dogs for esophageal obstructions between 2001 and 2006. That’s pretty limited. But it’s nonetheless important for us to know. Otherwise why would the JAVMA publish this retrospective study at all?

The April Fool’s joke (I know you were wondering when I would get back to that) I believe was in failing to mention the manufacturer’s name or the name of the product that occasioned the obstructions.

Why would the paper describe the product to a T (“A chlorophyll-containing, toothbrush-shaped, injection-molded dental chew treat is manufactured for dogs.”) then fail to include the name of the damn thing? I couldn’t find it anywhere in the paper. Nowhere. Not in the references, even (though I admit to failing to source those papers myself and scour their contents, too).

Did they assume we already knew what they were talking about? If so then what’s the harm in mentioning the name of the product? Is this a scientific journal thing? Yet I can’t recall not reading the names of products in other journals—for JAVMA no ready example springs to mind, but that’s odd, isn’t it?

If the purpose of a scholarly article like this is to raise our awareness level on the morbidity and mortality associated with a product so that we can diagnose and treat it better then why limit our information to the inane description above?

If JAVMA is hoping to evade libel claims in failing to print product names, not only is it displaying a lack of courage, it’s failing in its responsibility to adequately protect the lives of animals our profession pledges to serve while doing nothing to thwart criticism of the vet industry’s coziness with pet product manufacturers.

But, then again, maybe it’s just a misguided April Fool’s joke.

OK so let's make up for the lapse: Greenies Greenies Greenies Greelies Greenies Greenies Greenies Greenies Greenies....

P.S. And, no, before you ask... I have nothing against Greenies, per se. If your dog eats treats whole it's common sense that chews like this are not for him. Moreover, Greenies has changed its formula to make it more digestible. But I'm not sure that would help in the case of an esophageal foreign body. I'll ask my surgeon consultant about this ASAP.

P.P.S. OK, the April Fool's joke is on me. My industrious vet surgeon consultant just called to inform me of the need for an errata notice here. There is a teeny superscript in the paper which refers back to a line in the references mentioning the product's name and manufacturer. Maybe I do need that Lasik after all...;-)