Monday, November 14, 2011

How much should I feed him, Doc? Part One

One of the most frequent subjects I am asked about on a daily basis is feeding your pet. What, how much, when, etc. And by far, the MOST common problem I see in pets in my practice is obesity. I would venture to guess that 75% or more of the pets I see are above their ideal weight; it is not unusual to see both dogs and cats who weigh more than twice what they should. By contrast, I very rarely see pets who are too thin, and when I do it almost always indicates a medical problem.

Lets talk a little about cats first. Cats are true carnivores, or meat eaters. For many years, most of my clients have fed primarily dry cat food; I did too. However, in recent years we are finding that the dry foods are quite high in carbohydrates. Have you ever eaten a huge pasta dinner, felt so stuffed you had to unzip your pants, and yet woken up in the middle of the night with hunger pangs? That "carb crash" is similar to what happens to our cats fed high carb diets; the result being they eat more and more and get fatter and fatter. Feeding a predominantly canned diet has been shown to promote proper weight regulation; in addition, the increased water intake (most canned foods are 80% or so moisture) helps to maintain urinary tract health, which is important since lower urinary tract disease is one of the most common problems we see in our housecats. Obese cats are at much higher risk for diabetes, among other disease, and interestingly we are finding our diabetic kitties also are much better regulated on low carb diets.

With my current cats (Stevie, the clinic cat, who is prone to be chubby, and my two young cats who are two years old) I am now feeding predominantly canned food, though I do give a little dry in the mornings to keep them accustomed to it so that if I need to be gone overnight I can leave out dry food for them to have while I'm gone (although in practice, leaving a reasonable amount generally results in it all being eaten before I am out the door!). Since making this change Stevie is finally at an appropriate weight (though he will probably never lose his "paunch" unless we can convince him to do ab crunches!), my young cats are at an appropriate weight, and their coats look the best of any cats I have had. Best of all, the shedding is markedly less. On the down side, canned food is more expensive, messier, and smellier (but the expense may be offset by savings on medical care).

In an ideal world, cats are best "free fed", which means allowing them to nibble throughout the day. My cats would interpret this as "being allowed to nibble ALL day without stopping", so for chow hounds I recommend splitting the recommended feeding into a morning and evening portion. For maintainence, on most foods, about 1/2 cup per cat per day of dry or 1 5-6 oz can usually is a good starting point. You can always increase or decrease as needed depending on how your own pet maintains their weight on this amount. (Frequently the recommended feeding amounts on labels are WAY higher than what is needed to maintain an appropriate weight in both dogs and cats- I usually recommend looking at the bottom end of the range they give and subtracting 25% for a good starting point).

One thing to remember with cats is that, unlike dogs, there is never a place for fasting them when trying to get them to lose weight. When cats go without food for a period of time (and the fatter the cat, the shorter the time it takes for them to get into trouble- sometimes even less than a day in extreme cases), they begin to build up fatty deposits in the liver. This is called "hepatic lipidosis" and is an extremely frustrating disease in which the cats literally become unable to eat. It can be a primary problem or occur secondary to other disorders which make the cats stop eating in the first place. Once the cat starts eating again, the disease is generally reversible, but GETTING them eating again can be an incredibly difficult process, involving appetite stimulants, force feeding, and even placing feeding tubes. If your cat is not eating for more than a day, ESPECIALLY if it is a fat cat, that is an indication that you need to see a veterinarian.

Part 2 to follow later, when we will talk about dogs and how NOT to create a picky eater!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Industry and laziness

This past Memorial Day weekend I forgot until too late to enter the agility trial I had intended to go to; so for the first time in probably 20 years, I had a three day weekend with nowhere to go, nothing to do, no dog shows, no family obligations, nothing. It was WONDERFUL. I spent most of the weekend working in the yard, cleaning the training room in the basement, lugging my agility tunnels to the car wash to clean, and training the dogs.

Here are a couple of pictures of my project that I finally got done. Last summer I bought a fountain which has been sitting waiting for me to get to it; and even before that I had bought a kit called "poetry stones" which let you pour your own bricks and press words into them. I used them to make a brick for each of my pets who has died, with their names, dates, and titles for the dogs who had earned them. I wanted to make a little memorial garden, or really a memorial flower bed, with the fountain to double as a bird bath and hopefully backdrop for bird photos.

My dad had put the lattice up for me last summer, so I could plant more clematis which seems to love my backyard and will provide a good place for the birds to perch and hide. I had to put down weed blanket, try and level the area with sand, and put paver sand between the bricks, as well as put in a few plants. I planted two clematis which hopefully will take off and grow as well as the ones I put in last year; pickings were slim at the garden stores but I did find one coneflower and put some shasta daisies behind the fountain- hopefully they will grow tall enough to provide a backdrop there.

I put my little curled up kitty garden statue in the corner. I am not very happy with how the bricks turned out- they are not at all level and not very stable, so I may have to figure out a better way to redo them. But at least for now they are in. I need some more plants too, but I think I put it off a bit too long for this year. I did pick up some creeping phlox and a couple dianthus yesterday to add in.

All of my pets are represented, starting with my old dog Winky who I got when I was 3 and was with me until my freshman year of college. I will have to lug the kit out again and make stones for Harley to add in; though he was my parents' dog he deserves a place here as well. I did not include my many many wild critters from my years of wildlife rehab- that would have required a whole patio!

After I was finally finished, I took the pictures (mostly to send to my parents in FL so they could help me come up with what other types of plants to add) and was sitting relaxing in my chair listening to the fountain and watching the birds. I needed to go up and lug my agility tunnels down from the van through the backyard and put them back in the basement, but was struggling to find the motivation. The dogs got hot, so I had put them back inside. A pair of Carolina wrens had been very much in evidence all weekend, flying back and forth between the woods and the deck, and I thought they must have a nest under the deck but hadn't gotten around to looking for it. I see them around occasionally, but they are not usually such a constant presence. As I sat there trying to talk myself into finishing up my last chore, they really started to get annoyed by me and kept landing on the lattice, looking at me and scolding, then making their rounds again from deck to woods and back to deck again. So of course I put the zoom lens on the camera and took a few shots.

This is not the face of a pleased wren! How DARE I occupy his backyard- he obviously had important things to do and had not planned on company!

Suddenly I heard a tiny, higher pitched peep and it became apparent what the adult wrens had been distressed about. Apparently there WAS a nest under the deck, and number one son had decided it was time to strike out on his own. I looked down and there was fluffy, awkward looking baby wren perched on the lattice down near the ground.

By this time Papa and Mama Wren were fit to be tied. I can just see her nattering away at him: "Oh, you HAD to have the nest here. Right by the birdfeeder, you said. Right by the birdbath. Easy access to all the takeout we need. Too close to the house, I said. But noooo... you insisted no one is ever home here and it would be fine. So guess when they decided to be home! Next time you'll listen to me!".

Meanwhile, number one son has hopped over onto the deck steps and is looking at me very curiously, but not at all afraid. He is so close that I actually can't get him in focus with my zoom lens, and I am almost out of space on my CF card! But what are the odds that I would be sitting there with a camera in my hand in the first place?

Even a little out of focus, isn't he just the cutest thing ever? He looks like a little old man with his wild tufts on the top of his head.

I filled up my CF card and had to take a quick break to change it and the lens. NOW I could get sharper shots. Number one son made a brave attempt to fly and landed in the middle of the lily bed, hopping from plant to plant.

I couldn't believe my luck when he flew up and perched right in the middle of a full, bright red lily blossom. I love this shot! Sometimes laziness is rewarded- if I'd lugged my butt up and finished my chores, I would have missed the whole thing.

Here is the little gourd house where the nest was- my aunt painted it for me and I hung it under the deck thinking I would find a better place for it later. Summer before last it hosted a wren family and I never got around to moving it; if anyone used it last year I didn't see them. I had just looked in it a couple of weeks ago and didn't see anything, so didn't think it was in use.

If you look closely, you can see one of the three other babies still in the nest. The other three elected not to make their first flight that evening; but when I came home from work the next day the nest was empty. Good luck, little fledglings! Good thing you didn't come out while the dogs were lying under the deck- you would have landed right in front of their noses and I'm not sure about Cory but I know darn well Robbie would have pounced on you in an instant- he LOVES real feathers and fur. Stay safe from the other critters and I will keep the feeders full for you!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Veterinary medicine in an information age

This month marks the twenty-first year I have been a veterinarian, and August will be twenty years since I bought my practice and became a solo practitioner. The changes in the profession during that time have been amazing. In my class at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, the class of 1990, we were the first class where the women outnumbered the men-just barely. Now there has been a huge shift towards women in the profession. I remember going to visit colleges during my senior year of high school and the inevitable comment from faculty and advisers when they heard I would be a pre-vet major was "Oh, I hear they're starting to let lots of women in!". At the time I bought my practice, I believe there were two other female practice owners in Northern Ky. Guess that makes me a bit of a dinosaur!

And in more ways than one! When I was a high school student, we went to the NEW high school- Scott High, in Taylor Mill. We were the only group to go on the "five year plan"- we started as eighth graders so the seniors could stay and finish out their time at Dixie. One of the big exciting things about the new school was that it would be the first one to offer computer math. Now, I was definitely on the biology/science track so I didn't take it, but I still remember my friends carrying their cassette tapes that they wrote their programs on around! It was REALLY new technology when 5 inch floppies came along! During vet school, the school had one computer and the only time I remember using it was for some sort of self taught program in our respiratory physiology class. I did sometimes help out over the years at a business my family owned for a while, and spent a little time on one of the old original Apple computers that was in use there.

After graduation I went to work at a practice in Indianapolis and shortly after I arrived they computerized. At that time very few practices had computers, and those that did used them mostly for invoicing, but we went with a system called PSi where all of our medical records were computerized as well. I had NO computer experience, but did have a semester of typing in high school and ten years of piano lessons, so I got to be quite quick on the keyboard and figured my way around the program pretty easily.

When I bought my own practice the following year, I really missed our computer system and in late 1992 I purchased the same system for my own clinic. I had never owned a computer before and was excited when boxes and boxes of equipment came- all with strict instructions NOT to open them until the trainer arrived for three days of staff training. Yeah, right! I opened them up and managed to figure out how to set one up because I just couldn't wait to install a computer game I had bought called "Life and Death". (if you want a good laugh, click on the link for a short video to show you what this game looked like! It involved running tests on (human) patients, making a diagnosis, and taking them to surgery. The graphics were EXTREMELY crude-black, white, red and turquoise were the only colors, but it was a fun game. The only problem was, after I loaded it on the computer ALL of the clinic software vanished. Uh Oh. The night before the trainer arrived, I uninstalled the game, put everything back in the box, and feigned ignorance (ok, not a good plan, but it was a plan!). It took him half a day to figure out that somehow I had created a new partition on the hard drive (the game ran on DOS, while the computer system was Xenix based- which all was Greek to me). He did manage to get it fixed and up and running and I must have confessed my transgressions at some point, because he set up a separate DOS partition for me to run the game and a few other programs. At that time, we were using the old monochrome monitors with green type, there was ONE store in Northern KY that sold a little bit of software and computer supplies, but otherwise you had to drive to Comp USA up in Tricounty-45 minutes away, at least. Windows 3 or 3.1 had just hit the market and a lot of programs still used plain old DOS.

Around this time, the news was full of stories about the "information superhighway" and how it was going to revolutionize everything we did; but like most everyone I knew the whole concept made little sense to me and I could not visualize WHAT it would do, much less how it would work. One of the employees at that tiny little N KY computer store told me that you could get FREE internet access through Northern KY University and told me how to get set up, which I promptly did- free dial up access! I wasn't exactly sure WHAT to do once I had it, on my lovely little green and black monitor, but I had it! (and I had to shut the whole system down and restart it to open the DOS partition each time I wanted to use it as well!). Somehow I found out about email lists about obedience training and soon I was staying at the clinic until the wee hours of the morning reading posts from big time and little time trainers all across the country about various training issues. I learned a TON from those early lists. But soon I wanted more...people were starting to talk about "web pages" and my computer just didn't have the capability to look at those, so I ended up buying an ingenious little invention called "Web TV" that hooked up to my TV at home and allowed me to surf the internet on my giant old console TV from the comfort of my couch. Wow.

Before too much longer, I upgraded at work and was able to join Compuserve and make use of a new program started by the AVMA. NOAH, or the Network of Animal Health, was one of two veterinary computer networks that started about the same time. NOAH had various forums including those for canine and feline medicine and general chat, and was mostly populated by general practitioners. I was soon hooked and as a solo practitioner found being able to go to my colleagues, sometimes thousands of miles away, was invaluable. It was the beginning of a new era, and I read each and every post and learned a lot of information, both practical and academic.

Eventually NOAH was outdone by its competitor, VIN, the Veterinary Information Network, which I believe initially was started on AOL if I remember correctly but now is an independent entity. It is a privately owned enterprise started by Paul Pion, a boarded veterinary cardiologist and the man who discovered the link between taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy in cats- a disease I have never seen in my practice career thanks to his discovery which enabled the pet food industry to begin supplementing all cat food with taurine.

I have been a member of VIN since 1995. VIN is more formally organized than the old NOAH, with a separate "folder" or forum for just about any specialty you can imagine, as well as general chat, veterinary issues, humor, and even politics. Each specialty folder has its own staff of board certified consultants, which read and answer each post, usually within 24-48 hours. It is possible to post radiographs, photos, and videos. For a solo doc, the ability to get input on a case quickly is invaluable. Whether the consultants help to steer you towards a totally different course than what your first impression was ,or just comfort you with the input that they think you have covered all of the bases, it is a great relief at times not to have the feeling of going it alone. However, it's actually not even necessary to post your own case in many instances because you can often find the answer first by simply searching the board archives and the rest of the VIN resources.

In addition to the message boards, there is also a current drug formulary where I do almost all of my checking on drug doses and contraindications; an extensive searchable database that includes not only the board messages but many journals and conference proceedings, and a nifty little program called the Associate. How I wish I had had that when I was a new grad! The Associate allows you to plug in breed, clinical signs, and lab abnormalities and generate a list of possible diagnoses along with what percentage (and exactly which ones individually) of your symptoms fit the diagnosis, and then gives you a brief, thorough summary of that disease, how to diagnose it and treat it. This is a GREAT program to have when you feel like you're missing something, you have an oddball case that doesn't fit the profile, or your clinical signs and labwork are just not adding up. It helps to remind you to think of the less commonly seen diseases or those that you may not see in your area.

Vin has made me feel like I'm no longer flying solo; at times I have gotten input at 3 am on a case going bad from one of the best emergency clinicians in the country logging on during downtime hundreds of miles away. In an age of information explosion, there is no way to stay on top of every development in every field and be able to pull the best option for my patients straight from my head every time. However, with VIN and other technology, even if I don't know the answer, I can find it and find it more quickly, with less effort, and a more thorough result than ever before.

Despite all this technology, though, my BEST tools in practice are still my eyes, ears and hands. The art of a good physical exam and a knowledge of what "normal" is, both generally and for each individual patient, will never be made obsolete by progress. I still try to keep in mind what Dr. Cheryl Harris, one of our local, very skilled veterinary oncologists once told me;
"When I see "WNL" (abbreviation for "within normal limits") on the chart, I know that an awful lot of the time it stands for "We Never Looked". I try to keep that in mind and remember to do a good, thorough and thoughtful physical exam and history on each patient; after all, "garbage in, garbage out"- the technology is only as good as the information we feed it and our observation skills!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Cold Tail"

Meet Jasmine, one of our "frequent flyer" patients (luckily for mostly routine care!). Jazzy came in on Monday with a complaint that her tail seemed painful and was hanging somewhat limp and slightly tucked. The day before she had been on a three hour hike which included wading in some creeks, and when she arrived home she had a bath to get rid of the accumulation of mud (we had 12 INCHES of rain in April with more this past week- FINALLY we have strung together a few sunny days!). When I examined her, she was a little more subdued than usual. Her tail hung straight down for the first 4-5 inches with the remainder tucked slightly between her legs. She was painful when I manipulated the tail, especially at the base, and showed some sensitivity over the root of the tail as well. She has a history of some anal gland issues, so we checked those out and found no problems. She showed no abnormalities in gait and was more than willing to relieve us of a few cookies.

Jasmine was suffering from a malady known as "cold tail", "limber tail", "rudder tail", or "swimmers tail". I was never taught about this in school, but luckily years ago before my first case I read about it on VIN, the Veterinary Information Network- a computer network for veterinarians to discuss cases and get advice from specialists. This is definitely NOT a specialist type case- it's more the type that "Old Doc" can spot in the waiting room but might have the new grad scratching their head! (I guess it is somewhat of a bummer that I am far closer the the "old doc" than "new grad" category these days!). Most hunting dog trainers are quite familiar with this condition as well.

Jazzy's tail had a little more tone than most; in most cases the whole tail will hang limp or the first few inches will be held out straight behind with the rest of the tail hanging limp. The dog still can move it normally and has normal neurologic responses. Many of these dogs are extremely painful. It occurs almost exclusively in short haired sporting breeds, and the most common history is that they had heavy exercise which most likely involved swimming or bathing and/or cold, wet weather. I did find a couple reports (in labs, of course!) where it occurred the day after a prolonged party or family gathering, where the dog's tail never stopped wagging all day! Occasionally prolonged cage rest has been associated as well.

This wasn't the easiest thing to demonstrate in photos but hopefully you can get the idea. Sometimes the hair on the top of the tail will be raised; Jasmine did not demonstrate this symptom.

So what causes it? A study was actually done on several Pointers by Dr. Jan Steiss at Auburn and found that there was damage and inflammation in the coccygeal muscles (which connect the pelvis to the first few tail vertebrae). When swimming, these dogs use their tail as a rudder and in effect pushing against the water is similar to isometric exercises. Any exercise which emphasizes this "rudder" function of the tail has the potential to produce the problem. Most dogs will improve within a few days to a week, and anti-inflammatories can help to make them much more comfortable.

In Jazzy's case, she had had what sounded like a prior episode while vacationing in Florida and swimming in the ocean. Dogs who have one episode have a 50/50 chance of having future episodes. We sent her home on NSAIDs and expect her to make a full recovery in no time. Should she not recover as expected, we will look further for more serious issues but I 'm pretty confident that cold tail is our answer!

Here's a link to an article that gives a little more info if you are interested:

Kohinoor's Baby Boomer

April 21, 1998- May 10, 2011

Harley was my parents' Springer Spaniel; though my sister and I always thought of him as our dog too. When our old family cocker died unexpectedly, my dad lobbied for a bigger dog...when they decided on a Springer, I immediately thought of a dog that Levi and I used to compete with in obedience. Raven had her CH and UDX and was an absolute sweetheart; given that Springers sometimes have temperament issues I decided that if this was what Mom and Dad wanted that I had to convince them we needed a dog from this kennel. We tracked down Raven's breeder, who didn't have puppies at the time, but had bred her stud dog and put us in touch with the owner of the female, who had a large litter of puppies. The three of us drove down to Lexington to pick him out, and a short time later "Grisham" became Harley and came to live with my parents in their new house backing up to a lake- seemed like the perfect place for a sporting dog.

But despite the above picture, Harley was not impressed with the lake and other than a couple of falls into it he was content to stay on the shore. When my parents bought a place in Florida with their own pool, he ventured in a few times but quickly decided he was more of a sunbather instead.

Harley ended up having a sweet, loving temperament just as I had hoped. He was a lot more dog than we had anticipated- he grew to be quite a big boy! But my dad took him through obedience class and he ended up being very nicely trained, including some really snappy cute utility signals and a great "reverse" or run backwards command. I don't think Harley's head was particularly outstanding, but he had a fabulous body and I used to love to watch his beautiful floating trot with such reach and drive even as an old dog.

Harley didn't come to us until he was about three months old; by then he already outweighed both of my shelties, Andy and Levi, and did not particularly respect them after weeks of roughhousing with his littermates. Andy and Levi were not Harley fans until the days they died, though they tolerated him. But when Cory came along, Harley found out about karma and Cory pestered him in much the same way Harley had tormented his predecessors. They ended up being good buddies, though as Harley got older it was harder for him to deal with Cory's exuberance.

When he was less than a year old, Harley had his one and only "bad dog" episode...and it was a doozy. Both of my parents had had the flu and felt terrible. They called me and said Harley was vomiting as well and thought he had the same thing...with viral issues this usually isn't the case and when I took them over some medicine I was worried because he didn't look so good. The next morning he was still no better (though Mom and Dad were) and they brought him in for radiographs. Visible in his stomach were two pieces of metal that ended up being twisty ties; I decided to go in after them and it was lucky I did. In addition to those metal ties which showed up well on the x-rays, he also had eaten cellophane wrappers, plastic bottle caps, the finger of a glove, all kinds of stuff. Wound tight around them wrapping them into one giant hard wad were many individual strands of sissel rope. He had taken one of those stuffed toys with rope arms and legs and strand by strand pulled out and ate pieces of sissel. He survived that episode with no long term effects except that forever after he hated coming to the clinic!

Several years ago Harley started spending his winters and springs in Sanibel with my parents. He was content to visit the beach only occasionally, but he loved his walks with my dad and was constantly on the alert for lizards and iguanas- even more fun than the squirrels and bunnies at home.

Harley was diagnosed with Cushings disease in 2009, but he was the easiest Cushings dog to treat ever, with his lab values quickly normalizing and not even requiring long term medication. His symptoms had very sudden onset- massive increase in drinking and urinating (with accompanying secondary urinary tract infection), changes in his coat, and seeming to age almost overnight. Up until then he looked like a vigorous teenager. He still looked pretty good, but his hard shiny coat got a little softer and fuzzier, his vision was not what it had been, and his legs were not as strong as they once were though he still had that beautiful floating trot.

The picture above was taken at Christmas this year, Robbie's first Christmas and Harley's last.

Last Easter Harley and Cory had a great day playing in Mom and Dad's backyard. Harley still could romp and play and keep up, but boy did he pay with stiffness and soreness afterwards. He was really starting to show his age though he had looked like a teenager until he was 11 or so. The rest of these pictures were all taken that day. Just a couple of weeks later, back in Florida, Harley was not acting right one day and didn't seem to be breathing well. A visit to his Florida vet, Dr. Denise Kalliainen at Gulf Coast Veterinary Clinic in Fort Myers followed by an ultrasound at the specialty referral center showed a mass in his chest which appeared to be wrapped around the big vessels near the heart. An aspirate was unsuccessful in identifying exactly what type of cancer it was; but after talking with his oncologist it was obvious what our choices should be. It was unlikely to be a type of cancer that responded to chemotherapy and the next step would be surgery to attempt to remove as much of the tumor as possible; but it was unlikely given the location that they would be able to get it all. With an older dog with one major health issue already, putting him through such an invasive procedure with our best hope being of only gaining him a few weeks to months would have been counterproductive. We treated him symptomatically and hoped we would have a little more good time with him.

Harley surprised us all and made it out a year after his original diagnosis. His repeat chest films were pretty ugly, but he didn't seem to know it and his quality of life was pretty good all summer and into the fall. As winter came on, he developed some neurologic symptoms and I was pretty sure the cancer had spread. It became harder and harder for him to get up and down and maintain his balance.

So tonight we sat on the screened porch with Harley, overlooking his lake with the birds singing in the background, and let him move on. He had a great life and was well loved and he will be missed by his buddies Cory and Robbie (the obnoxious puppy he loved playing with, who would have guessed the old man would tolerate his behavior?) and his cat Spooky. I know his old buddy Boo the cat was waiting to greet him joyfully; Levi and Andy perhaps not so enthusiastically!

Rest well sweet Harley, you were a good dog and a great friend. I hope you enjoyed the dance.

Monday, May 9, 2011

How to make an emergency muzzle

One important lesson to remember is that ANY dog will bite if he is frightened or fearful enough. Here's a quick, easy way to muzzle a dog in an emergency; you can use any number of items from around the house including a thin leash or rope, pantyhose leg, even a cord from a window blind. Have a pair of scissors on hand so you can cut it away quickly in an emergency. Remember, a dog who is muzzled cannot pant to cool himself so watch for overheating, and never muzzle a dog who is at risk for vomiting as it puts him in danger of aspirating. However, if your dog is injured and you need to transport him to a vet, this video may just give you the information you need to enable you to get everyone there safely. It's also important to remember that if the dog is determined enough, he CAN bite you through the muzzle (especially if you are a novice at placing them), so NEVER trust the muzzle completely and keep your hands out of harm's way. It should give you the advantage in getting out of the way if the dog does decide to try and bite. Don't be afraid to tie the muzzle as tightly as you can- remember, this is generally going to be an emergency, we are worried about safety, not long term comfort, and if you didn't tie it considerably tighter than you probably were comfortable with, odds are the dog can get out of it. It won't be on long, a muzzle that's too loose is more dangerous than no muzzle at all as it gives you a false sense of security.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Top Dogs and Westminster

AKC recently published their statistics for the most popular breeds (by numbers registered) for the past year. For the 19th year in a row, Labrador Retrievers top the list. It's understandable why these dogs have remained popular for so long; they are hard to beat as an all around family dog. Labs tend to have a reasonably high pain tolerance (great for dogs around young kids- they're not going to mind if their tail gets pulled or their foot gets stepped on); they are smart enough to be trainable but not "doggy einsteins" that are hard to stay one step ahead of, and are reasonably wash and wear (though NOT low shed- I always laugh when my clients tell me they picked a Lab because they wanted a short haired dog that didn't shed. HAH! Short hair does NOT equal no shedding- it just means they shed every day of the year, instead of seasonal coat blows like some of the coated breeds).

Downsides to Labs for some people are that many of them during their younger years are very high energy; couple that with a "goofy" personality and some of them can be exhausting at times. Highly food motivated means you have a great training tool, but you will never be able to leave ANYTHING on your counters (I have had some clients whose Labs ate through cans and opened refrigerators). Young male retrievers are our number one dogs to have intestinal foreign bodies- these dogs put EVERYTHING in their mouths and this can sometimes cause problems, so be prepared to "Lab proof" your house for the next few years. Be sure to buy from breeders who screen their breeding stock for hip dysplasia by certifying them through OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals)- this ideally means that ALL, or nearly all, of the dogs in a 5 generation pedigree with have OFA numbers- one parent or grandparent with a certification and no info on the rest is not sufficient. This is not a guarantee of hip health, but it sure helps. Keeping these guys very lean is the other part of the equation- they are much less likely to develop hip problems as well as other problems if kept just a bit on the lean side; easier said than done as this breed tends to be "easy keepers" and gain weight just by looking at food! In our area of the country, we also see a high incidence of seasonal and food allergies in Labs.

Number 2 on the list was the German Shepherd. I find this a little surprising, as in our practice we see many more Labs, Goldens, Boxers, Yorkies, and Dachsies than GSDs (short for German Shepherd Dogs). There is good reason for this...a good GSD is a hard dog to beat, but also very hard to find. GSD have traditionally been bred and used for many practical working applications, often involving police and protection work as well as search and rescue. They are very well suited to this work. However, one of the things that makes a good guard dog is that they have a low threshold to stimulate an aggressive display- that is, it doesn't take much to make them fire off and show threatening barking and growling behavior. This is desirable in a guard dog. In a GOOD guard dog, there is a common sense element involved- the dog learns what is appropriate to react to and what is not, and the best of these dogs have an incredible sense of when something is wrong. However, in many dogs, the basis of this reaction is rooted in a fear response. When breeding stock is not evaluated and selected carefully, this response can get out of balance. The result is that we see a lot of fear aggression in GSD. Sadly, many of the GSD who come through my clinic that were bought as pets do not come from reputable, knowledgable breeders, and the unfortunate result of these circumstances is that I see poor temperaments more frequently than correct ones. In addition, we see quite a few major health issues in this breed. Orthopedic problems are extremely common, including hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, spinal issues, and juvenile bone/developmental diseases. We see a disease called degenerative myelopathy, which at first can look similar to hip dysplasia, but is actually a disease of the nerves rather than the bones. Unfortunately the current treatments for this problem are of limited effectiveness. Many of these deep chested dogs have a tendency to bloat, which can be life threatening.
That being said, a GOOD GSD can be one of the most versatile, talented working dogs around. However, be prepared to do your homework and spend some time looking; look at parents and as many other relatives as you can find and evaluate temperaments, and screening for health is an absolute must in these dogs. A good GSD is not cheap and is probably not advertised in your local newspaper.

In the number 3 spot is the Yorkshire Terrier. These are one of the most common breeds we see at our practice, and in recent years the toy breeds have been outstripping the Labs and Goldens in our new puppy population. There are lots of reasons for this, varying from the ease of keeping a smaller dog compared to a large one, to the popularization of dogs as accessories by celebrities such as Paris Hilton. Yorkies can make nice pets, though we typically recommend them for households without children (or at least, with older children, say junior high and up). They are small enough that they are just not hardy enough to tolerate the handling that most kids will give a pet, and we see many, many injuries secondary to accidents such as being stepped on or dropped. Common health issues include retained deciduous (baby) teeth which must be removed, frequent dental and gingival issues which may require more attention than average, and luxating patellas (kneecaps) which can result in arthritic changes and, in severe cases, require surgical repair. Their low shed coat is an advantage, but does require regular grooming appointments. Temperament can vary in these little guys; but MANY of the problems I see are created by the owner. These are dogs, not Gucci purses. They need to be treated like dogs. They have feet which actually function and do not need to be carried everywhere (though for their safety using a carrier when traveling or taking them places where larger dogs are present is wise). Biting and growling during grooming or nail trims are no more appropriate in a Yorkie than a Rottweiler, but the Yorkie owners are much more likely to tolerate it or think it's cute. IT'S NOT; and failure to teach these dogs everyday doggie basic manners such as tolerating restraint can significantly impact on the length and quality of their life. I am much more likely to have a Yorkie owner whose dog will not allow them to medicate their ears or trim their nails than the giant breed owners. It is very hard for us to help them when they have medical problems if the owners cannot touch any part of their body that they don't like, etc. So remember, basic obedience training and manners are JUST as important for these dogs as the big guys! And let them stand on their own four feet and face the world- clutching them to your breast and protecting them from every possible or imagined fear only results in an unhappy, neurotic dog. Confidence and mental stability are a gift and your pet will be much happier if you allow them to function normally and independently.

Dog #4- the Golden Retriever. Similar in many ways to the Lab, the Golden tends to be mentally a little softer, a little more motivated to work to please their owner, and a little smarter. They also can have the same high energy level which can be difficult to live with in their younger years. Goldens (and GSD) are a little more prone than Labs to some of the obsessive/compulsive issues such as lick granulomas (chronically licking an area until it becomes thickened and inflamed). They have similar issues with hips and allergies; chronic ear problems are a frequent complaint in both types of retriever and often have underlying allergy as the root of the problem. Sadly, we also see a high incidence of cancer in this breed, with lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma being all too frequent (Labs and GSD are our other two breeds we see hemangiosarc in very commonly, however, and I see a pretty good number in mixed breeds as well). Goldens are one of my favorite recommendations for family dogs. They are the favorite of competitive obedience trainers as they are so willing, bright, and driven to work. Of course, these things can all backfire in a dog who is not kept mentally stimulated! To me they have just a little sweetness of temperament that is often lacking in the harder headed Lab.
#5-The Beagle- another great family dog that can do very well with kids. Beagles are a nice managable size; the "offical" standard calls for two sizes, 13 inch tall or 15 inch tall; we see the beagles sold as pets range from the tiny end at under 15 lbs, all the way up to the giant economy size occasionally approaching 60 lbs, but most typically end up in the 20-25 lb range (or at least, SHOULD- this is a breed that gains weight easily so we often see them weighing much more than is ideal!). Beagles tend to be hardy and generally healthy dogs. Their short coats are low care (but again, not really low shed!). One big drawback is their big voice- these dogs were bred as hunting dogs, and they tend to bay while on the hunt. A bored beagle will bay A LOT. Due to their voice, they are not always the best choice for condo or apartment living. Beagles are a bit independent and, once the nose gets to the ground, all other brain functions shut off, so they are not a breed to be trusted off leash without a LOT (that means, probably years) of training. They tend to be very tolerant of children, particularly the females, and are often a good choice for young families.
The number 6 dog is the Boxer, a breed that is very popular in our practice. Boxers have great appeal and charming personalities; almost all boxers I have met will turn themselves inside out wiggling with pleasure to meet you. They tend to be high energy as young dogs, but frequently morph into couch potatoes in middle age. Boxers have a great sense of humor and will make you smile. Like most large breeds, check for hip clearances; but the major issues in this breed are heart problems (we see several congenital heart defects with some regularity, but most concerning is a tendency to develop cardiomyopathy, a disease which is frequently not symptomatic until the sudden death of the dog). Boxers are also prone to several types of cancer, with the most concerning being a high rate of brain tumors. Despite this, this is a nice breed and a good choice for many families.

Bulldogs have made the number 7 position on the list. I think this calls for all veterinarians to designate a national holiday; because this could be a great practice builder! I always joke with my clients who buy bulldogs that they obviously did not think they were spending enough at the vet. Bulldogs have the advantage of a great and loving personality; I have only met a very few who had temperament problems. Their face is hard to resist and the reason that many people fall in love with them. However, I could write a whole series of books, much less a blog post, on the wide variety of health problems that plague this breed. It is not unrealistic to advise people that their annual expenses for medical care for this breed could easily be a couple of thousand a year or more, and that's just for the typical, expected bulldog problems- nothing unusual. Sadly, this is one of the cases where the breed standard is not compatible with health. (luckily, in most breeds this is not true). Bulldogs have been bred for extreme physical features which we find appealing, but ultimately are mutations that carry a physical toll. Their short faces, prominent eyes, and skin folds make them prone to eye injury and a problem called entropion which is when the eyelids roll inwards and rub on the corneas (this usually requires surgical correction, in some cases MULTIPLE corrections through the life of the dog). Breathing problems abound, soft palates are often long and obstruct the trachea (this can need surgical correction as well). Heavy skin folds compounded with a tendency towards allergies result in chronic issues with dermatitis and skin odor, and we see demodectic mange commonly in these dogs as well. I sadly have to say I have never radiographed a bulldog who did NOT have hip dysplasia, and frequently other joint issues as well. Bulldogs generally cannot breed without artificial insemination and almost all need to be delivered by C section. We also see many congential heart problems in this breed....I could go on, but you get the picture.
Bulldog lovers don't mind the snoring, skin odor, and vet bills, and we can see why because almost without exception these are sweet, sweet dogs. However, this is one of those cases where I really feel our breeders must work to moderate the standard to make their dogs' quality of life better. I honestly do not see them remaining on the top ten list for long, particularly in this economy.
#8 is a breed we are seeing a lot of in our practice, the Dachshund. Dachsies come in three varieties- smooth, long haired, and wire haired- as well as standard and miniature sizes. Most people think of the smooth, miniature version. One thing I have noticed about Dachshunds is that their owners tend to have more than one and have many generations of them- they are very loyal to the breed! Dachsies are often a good choice for empty nesters and older folks; they are not always the best with children. My experience is the long haired variety have a significantly mellower temperament. With their long back, weight control is a must and we see many back issues. Dachsies also have a higher than average incidence for endocrine problems such as diabetes and cushings disease. They can be great dogs for condo or apartment living (although some of them can be barky, especially if kept in multiples).

Rounding out the top ten we have the Poodle at #9 and the Shih Tzu at #10. Poodles come in three sizes- toy, mini and standard- ranging from the tiny toys who may only weigh 5 lbs up to the standard who can be quite tall- as tall or taller than some of our retrievers, though significantly lighter in bone and weight. Poodles are very, very bright dogs, though they often can be a little independent and frequently can outmaneuver their owners! In general, many of my poodle patients are very hardy and healthy, though we can see some health issues. I tend to see more serious issues more frequently in the standards, including occasional endocrine and autoimmune problems. The smaller versions can be more prone to diabetes and other endocrine disorders, and frequently develop heart problems in old age, but overall many of these dogs are fairly healthy. They do require frequent grooming, but on the plus side don't generally shed when groomed appropriately and are low dander so often tolerated well by folks with allergies. Shih Tzu are one of my favorite recommendations for families looking for a small dog. They are one of the hardier, sturdier dogs in the toy group. Shih Tzu are not brain surgeons, but they tend to have sweet, forgiving personalities and are quite easy to live with. Like the poodle, they will require regular grooming and you will almost never see a pet kept with the full show coat you see in pictures- it is far too hard to maintain. Kept in the typical pet cut, their shedding is minimal and they are another good choice for the allergy prone. I tend to see eye and skin problems in this breed, and yeast dermatitis secondary to allergies is a common complaint. If you are looking for a lapdog without the shrill bark that many of the toy breeds have (Shih Tzu have more of a hoarse throaty gurgle and they aren't prone to doing lots of it), with a bit of a mellower temperament than the typical Yorkie or Chihuahua, this might be the dog for you.
(As an aside- the dogs pictured above are friends from our training group or patients. I am happy to say that ALL of them embody the best of the temperaments of their breeds- which is probably how I ended up with each of their pictures- their personalities are as cute as their appearance, so they have all been memorable!).
When talking about the pros and cons of the various breeds, it is inevitable that the health problems of each come up. Without going into too much detail (that's another whole series of posts), I just want to point out that I see ALL of the conditions mentioned above in mixed breed dogs as well. For example, I would estimate that the proportion of my allergic patients who are mixed breeds is similar to their overall proportion in my practice. I can frequently predict what diseases a mix may be prone to by guessing what breeds are in the mix; but by virtue of being mixes they are NOT conferred any particular protection. "Hybrid Vigor" is touted a lot as being a big advantage in mixed breed dogs. The thing no one tells you is that some traits are greatly affected by hybrid vigor, and others are highly heritable (that is, depend on the traits of the parents). Things that improve with increase hybrid vigor tend to be things that involve ease of reproduction (bigger litters, ease in getting pregnant, increased survival of puppies, etc) and faster, larger growth. This explains why the neighbor's mix gets out, gets bred once, and has a litter of 10 pups, while the Westminster champion has might have a litter of 2 with ovulation timing! For most pet owners, the reproductive advantages are a non issue and the growth rate effects may or may not be desirable. There are some other issues with immune system involvement that are a little more complex, but in my experience it is primarily the very tightly inbred individual that has significant issues related to this. "Inbreeding", or, the non-word "Overbreeding", is often touted as the reason many purebreds have problems. What is really funny, is that the people touting this generally have no idea how to read a pedigree and often have as their example a typical pet store quality pup, who is so outcrossed that it is suspect as to whether or not they are truly purebred. To shorten this up, for now, suffice it to say that your BEST shot at health is choosing a puppy from stock that has had appropriate health screening and selection for normal parents and grandparents. I see allergies, hip dysplasia, and cancer as frequently in my mixed breed patients as I do in my purebred patients. I simply have an easier time PREDICTING in the purebreds which problems may (or may NOT!) be an issue, whereas with mixed breeds it's more of a crap shoot. We'll delve into that in more detail in another post someday.
On a related note, this coming Mon and Tues Feb 14/15 Westminster Dog Show will be broadcast on USA (switching from USA to CNBC for the last two hours on Mon). It's always entertaining to watch and see the incredible variety of breeds, and is one starting point for "shopping" for what your next dog might be. However, REMEMBER that looks are only what get your attention- make sure you chose a dog whose characteristics fit your lifestyle and who has the appropriate health screening, not just an impulse buy based on appearance! Have a good time watching!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas! Hope things are calm and enjoyable at your house. I am way behind on Christmas this year. I am so far behind, in fact, that I started this post in mid December and am just now coming back to it in early February! But I figured, what the heck; most of the tips are still valid, plus I had already loaded the pictures of Christmas past and pets gone ahead (except for my puppy Robbie's Christmas Elf shot) and I didn't want to wait till next year to use them. I'm sure no one who knows me will be surprised that, as I write this, I still have wreaths on my windows and stockings on my fireplace mantle! At any rate , read on, use what you can now and remember for next year!

With all the hectic activity at Christmas, it's easy for our pets to get lost in the shuffle. Already we are seeing some of our common "Christmas cases". Remember, it is important to make your house as safe and "pet proof" as possible. If you had a two year old, you wouldn't wait to see if they were going to fall down the steps before you bought a baby gate, would you? NO! Not only would you invest in baby gates, but you probably would get electrical outlet covers, make sure book cases were secure so they can't be pulled over, place hot pots far back out of reach on the stove, etc. It's no different with pets, especially puppies and kittens under a year of age. Take a long hard look at your home (especially now with all the holiday decorations in place) and take steps to prevent problems before they occur.

Since I have a six month old puppy and two 18 month old "kittens", I have taken the easy way out this year and skipped a Christmas tree- since I'm not hosting any formal Christmas get togethers it seemed easier. However, you don't have to forgo a tree, just use some common sense. Make sure electrical cords and extensions are placed safely so that they can't be reached for chewing or tugging (and pulling over trees!). If you have a puppy going through that intense chewy period, you may want to use something to protect the cords. Ikea sells cord protectors, I'm not sure if they are commercially available elsewhere but quick and easy alternatives are shower curtain rod covers (for smaller less aggressive chewers) or running the cords through lengths of PVC which can then be tucked under the couch or along a baseboard.

Cats find strings and ribbons irresistable; particularly kittens. "Icicles" on the trees have fallen out of vogue, but in case you are tempted and have cats, skip them! Be cautious with tinsel though this does not seem quite as appealing. Ribbons on gifts, particularly the skinny ribbon you curl with scissors, can be tempting; either put gifts out of reach or consider using stick on bows instead if you have a playful kitty. And don't forget the strings on balloons- as the balloon loses it's helium and starts to sink, the string can come into reach for the cat. In everyday, non-holiday life, thread (with or without needles) is quite appealing- the cats bat the spools around and as the thread unravels they end up swallowing some. Hair bands and scrunchies are another irresistable item with similar consequences. Why are strings such a problem? As the cats play with them, they often swallow an end- and then more, and more...sometimes and end ends up wrapped around the tongue with the rest in the stomach, sometimes there is just a wad in the stomach. As the string starts to pass through the intestine, frequently part of it will "hang up" somewhere- often the part wrapped around the tongue or the other, wadded up end in the stomach. As the intestines contract and push part of the string through, if an end is caught the string makes the intestines start to bunch up, like curtains on a rod. This can cause an obstruction so nothing else can pass; and in some cases the string starts to saw through the intestinal walls resulting in leakage of the contents into the abdomen and setting up a peritonitis. String foreign bodies are very common and VERY serious; they can easily be fatal. Many of the cases we see could have been prevented if the owners were aware of the problem and took steps to limit the cat's access. My own cats are OBSESSED with my hair bands; so the rule at my house is a)only one at a time "out" and in use- any extras are stowed safely in a drawer b) band is NEVER left on a counter or table- it goes from my hair to wrapped around the handle of my brush, and back to my hair again. It takes my cats about 30 seconds (not exaggerating!) to hone in on it if I should forget and leave it on my nightstand. I have to admit my pets have trained me to be a MUCH better housekeeper than I was a few years ago!

Be careful with any gifts wrapped by someone else and brought to put under your tree until Christmas! Don't hesitate to ask if there is anything in them that might be edible or even SMELL like it might be edible. It is a pretty common occurrence for us to have dogs brought in who have eaten packages containing candy or cookies, sometimes unbeknownst to their owner. And their definition of edible is pretty relaxed- I remember years ago when big candles scented like various cakes were very popular and someone had wrapped one and given it to my mother. She put it under the tree to open later; however, our cocker had other ideas. She was sure that the package contained a REAL double chocolate cake, unwrapped it, and ate a pretty good amount of the candle that was as big as her head! Luckily it did no real damage (though I no longer remember, I suspect she probably had a pretty good case of diarrhea for a while though!). Also remember if you buy and wrap treats or chews for your pets for Christmas, DON'T put these under the tree- stow them in the pantry until time to open them!
Also remember if you have overnight guests for the holidays, make sure to check with them about anything edible (or edible smelling, like toothpaste) they might have in their suitcases, and ask them to keep any medications either in their purse (stowed appriately in a closet) or in a cabinet out of reach of children and pets. Another place where I speak from experience!

Finally, not a warning but a funny family story that has reached legendary proportions at our house. Years ago, we had a cat named Ziggy and for Christmas we bought him a toy that was common at the time; it was a little plastic "punching bag" shaped toy. The top of the punching bag unscrewed so that you could fill it with fresh catnip, and the other end had a suction cup so you could attach the punching bag to the floor or the wall. We wrapped it and put it under the tree. I was in college and my sister probably in high school at the time. One Sunday just before Christmas we were upstairs getting ready for church when I heard my mother WAIL from the living room "Thom (my dad), there's MARIJUANA under the Christmas tree!". My sister and I fell over laughing; we didn't know what she had found, but we were pretty sure it wasn't pot! As it turned out, the cat toy had a little zip lock baggie of catnip that came with it to fill the bag; Ziggy apparently had smelled it and decided to unwrap it in the night and have a little pre-Christmas celebration. My mom, not being the most hip and happening chick around, found the baggie with the green "herbs" the next morning and made her own conclusions...25 years later, thinking about it can still make me laugh till I cry!
Hope you all had a great holiday and that you are ahead of me in taking care of the aftermath! Just think how far ahead I am of the game- you can consider this post my contribution for Christmas 2011!

Pictured in this blog, and always missed especially at Christmas time, shelties Andy and Levi, cat Grouch, and cocker own Christmas angels.