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Pinellas Animal Foundation

Question: Our daughter and grandchildren live in the North and love animals, especially their dog. We have beem mailing copies of your column to them. When we forget to do it, they complain.

We forgot to send the one about arthritis in dogs (their dog has arthritis). She loved the columns on fish and told her friends.

The report on mad cow disease was interesting. What causes cows to get the disease? Did the U.S. government quarantine thousands of cows in Texas early this year because they had it?

Answer: If your daughter has a computer and knows how to get on the Internet, she can read the articles you referred to (and others), i.e. "Dog's arthritis can be effectively treated," Nov. 11, 2000, and "U.S. agencies defend against mad cow disease," Jan. 20, 2001.

Go to the St. Petersburg Times Web site at http://www.sptimes.com and, in the archives search box at the top, type in "ask a veterinarian," then click on the story you want to read.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a complex, difficult, worrisome and evolving public health concern for scientists worldwide and the U.S. government.

Protein-rich supplement feeds derived from rendered carcasses of livestock (including sheep) containing infectious prions are believed to be responsible for British cattle developing BSE infection. A prion agent causes the disease called scrapie in sheep.

It is currently thought that the scrapie prion may have crossed the species barrier and changed into the BSE prion inside the bodies of cattle.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the government regulatory agency responsible for preventing U.S. animal feed producers from including potentially risky byproducts in animal feeds. It also enforces proper labeling of these feeds.

Although it is unlikely, there could be prions in U.S. cattle feeds containing ruminant tissues from sheep or cattle, which caused the FDA to ban such feeds in 1997.

Federal officials quarantined about 1,200 Texas cattle in January and prohibited their entrance into the human food chain when they learned that the animals had consumed feed containing prohibited meat and bone meal. Apparently, these animals did not have BSE.

If the disease ever occurred in this country, our multibillion-dollar beef cattle industry, restaurants serving beef, thousands of employees and untold numbers of related business interests could be adversely affected, as they have been in Britain, not to mention the public health threat to humans.

For further information, please consult the Web sites or call the government agencies listed in the last column on mad cow disease. The FDA's Web site is at http://www.fda.gov or call toll-free 1-888-463-6332.

Dr. Bruce Kaplan is a veterinarian editor/writer. Please send questions to Ask a Veterinarian, Pinellas Animal Foundation, P.O. Box 47771, St. Petersburg, FL 33743-7771. Because of the volume of mail, personal replies are not possible. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column.

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