Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Pet for Every Kid


            Every kid should have a pet---a dog, a cat, heck, I don’t care, even a rat.  Just something.  Because nothing teaches a child more about responsibility, about life, and about death, than does a pet.  I was reminded of this several months ago when a nice lady named Sarah sent me a thank you note for a condolence card I had sent her family.

                          Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first condolence card I sent them.  The first followed the death of their beloved Golden Retriever, “Penny.”  The second was for a far greater tragedy, the loss of human family members in an accident just a few weeks later.
                        Penny, an elderly twelve year old, came to our office because of a lump her owners discovered.  The mass was about eight inches long, firm and smooth, lying along the bottom of her ribcage on the right side, hidden by the long hairs of the apron most Golden Retrievers wear.
                        I had hoped this growth might be a lipoma, a benign, fatty tumor common to many older dogs.  A needle aspirate would reveal fat globules, a good diagnosis, and a happy outcome.  Sadly, this wasn’t the case.
                        The syringe immediately filled with bright, red blood.  A feeling of dread came over me as I realized that what should have been a harmless swelling was probably my old nemesis, a hemangiosarcoma.  Hemangiosarcomas are very serious, malignant tumors of blood-bearing tissues.  They usually originate in the spleen, but can spread to the liver, heart, or even blood vessels under the skin.  Such was the case with Penny.
                        I discussed options with the family.  A referral to an oncologist could confirm the diagnosis and offer treatment.  Sometimes radical surgery and chemotherapy can buy these patients more time, although it may only be a few weeks.
                        The family decided to take Penny home and enjoy what time she had.  Before they left our office, I warned them of what Penny might endure.  A patient with a hemangiosarcoma often goes through bleeding episodes---these tumors actually bleed internally, and the dog will become very weak and pale.  The patient may die during this time, but sometimes will rally, only to go through several of these cycles over the next few days or weeks.
                        That night Penny had one of those “bleeds.”  Painful for her family to see her that way, the next day they came to the difficult decision to put her to sleep.
                        Surrounded by her family in the back of their van, I proceeded with the euthanasia.  The youngest son was knelt closest to me, and I could see the grief in his eyes as the solution entered Penny’s vein.  I don’t know if this was the young man’s first loss of something he loved, but I do know that he loved that dog.  He took the euthanasia hard, but he took it brave.  Braver than me.
                        As euthanasias go, this was a tough one.  It was impossible to separate the sad feelings for Penny from even sadder ones inside me.  A hemangiosarcoma killed my dog, “Chrissy,” and ended a 34 year relationship with my first family of Border Collies that began when I was six years old. 

                        Those dogs were my friends when I was young, saw me through my entire education, the deaths of my parents, and most of my marriage and career.  I witnessed some of them be born, watched some of them die, and somewhere along the way learned that you cannot have one without the other. 

                        A few weeks after Penny died, an unforeseen event struck the family.  In her note, Sarah wrote “Little did we know how our grieving Penny would in some way prepare us for the tragic deaths.”

                        I can’t help but think it is better for a child to experience death, and the emotions associated with it, first with a pet, than with Grandma or Grandpa…or worse.  To experience the feelings of death, such as denial, anger, and acceptance, is an invaluable teacher.  Not that a pet’s death will make subsequent deaths easier, but perhaps, at least, more understandable.

                        We all carry scars from life, but in spite of, and because of them, we carry on.  The death of a pet can teach a child that even though the sadness never completely goes away, the wounds do heal with time.
                        So get your kid a pet, and give them an education in life like no other.

By Dr. John H. Jones



Are You Hungry to Learn About Cat Behavior and Aggression?


                                If you love cats as much as I do, you may occasionally wonder why they  behave the way they do.   I, for one, am intrigued by their many personalities and behaviors that I witness at home and work. Because veterinarians are often asked to address cat behavior issues, I thought I would expound on a few of the more common ones.

                                Most know I have a reputation as the "Diet Doctor."  When I inform cat owners that "Tommy" is tubby, the frequent reply is that their cat is a tyrant when it comes to food.  Fat cats seeking food will literally control their "staff" with obnoxious vocalizations. Some cats tenderly paw their owner's faces or walk across their heads while they sleep, acting as alarm clocks to order up their breakfast.  Other cats will go so far as to wrap their front legs around their humans'  legs whenever they approach the cat's feeding station.

                                To address these annoying behaviors and perceived constant hunger, give your cat consistency in its feeding routine and stick to it! Remember that cats are "grazers." In the wild, they must hunt for food to survive. That survival is based on small, frequent meals of prey. To mimic this, feed your cat more than twice daily, and always at the same times of day.

                                Pre-measure an appropriate 24 hour allotment of food for your cat and divide it into three to five meals.  By giving your cat predictable meal times, it will feel more secure, and even meet you at the feeding station when its biologic tummy clock tells him it is appropriate. Be sure to plan a bedtime feeding for cats that bang on bedroom doors at night or act like morning alarm clocks.

                                Besides food-seeking felines, cat owners  express concern about cat aggression  that can take on three forms.  The first, "misguided aggression,"  occurs when some event stresses a cat. That cat then immediately turns on whatever or whoever is closest, instead of the actual target or source of the stress.  For example, if your cat sees a stray cat outside your window while a fellow housecat is sitting next to him, that housemate may find itself the victim of a sudden attack.  This misguided aggression may then be repeated between those two cats from that point forward.

                                Next is "inter-cat aggression."  This form of aggression is more typical when a new cat is introduced into the household and, either the new cat tries to take over by picking on submissive cats in the home, or pre-existing cats may choose to attack the "newbie." Both misguided and inter-cat aggression can be difficult to impossible to eliminate so you should seek your veterinarian's advice on management of these potentially dangerous situations.

                                Methods to manage these aggressive behaviors may include drug therapy for the aggressor, including fluoxetine (generic Prozac), clomipramine and amitriptyline.  Your veterinarian may suggest that you have the cats do pleasant things together such as dine in the same room at a distance, then gradually decrease the space between the two cats at meal times.  Artificial pheromones (aerosolized cat chemicals) distributed via diffusers, wipes and sprays may be used as well in the environment and on the cats  to create a calming response similar to lavender for humans.

                                Please note these two forms of aggression may not ever be entirely eliminated. Sometimes one cat will need to be re-homed or the cats may need to live separately at all times within the home to keep the peace.

                                The third form of feline aggression occurs when family cats stalk and "sneak attack" their humans.  This behavior stems from a strong , instinctual prey drive... and boredom. Cat owners describe these cats as lying in waiting in concealed places, then pouncing on family members' legs as they pass by.  Some of these cats latch on with teeth as well as toenails, resulting in great bodily harm to their loved ones.

                                Cats carrying out this form of aggression need jobs, indoors or outside.  I recommend hiding their food and toys to make them hunt for a living when indoors. Because this situation is potentially very dangerous to people, spending at least some time outdoors to exercise and release  aggression, would help these cats tremendously.

                              These are only a few cat behaviors that veterinarians are asked to address. Many more exist, including over-grooming and inappropriate eliminations (a problem that warrants an entire column of its own!).  Don't let your cat's behavior ruin quality of life for you or fellow housecats. Seek your veterinarian's advice! The sooner these behaviors are diagnosed and treated, the more likely they are to be resolved.
By Dr. Bonnie Jones

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Coping With Epilepsy Is Heartbreaking for This Veterinarian


                        Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of witnessing your pet having a seizure?  If so, you know how distressing it can be.  As owners of an epileptic Border Collie, my husband and I empathize with pet owners who face this common emergency. 

                        A seizure may be described as an abnormal electrical pattern in the brain that results in a loss of consciousness, collapse, urinary and/or fecal incontinence, uncontrollable muscle contractions, and excessive salivation.  Seizures are categorized as “grand mal” (generalized seizure associated with collapse) or “focal” (minor seizure associated with minimal activity such as lifting one leg and staring blankly).  When a pet has recurring seizures, it is diagnosed as “epileptic.”

                        Veterinarians are frequently consulted by upset owners observing their pet’s first seizure.  While this is very frightening to watch, it usually is not an urgent emergency.  Typically, by time the pet owner makes the phone call for help, the pet is already recovering from the seizure.  Upon arrival at the veterinary office, the pet will act and appear normal. 

                        Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and blood tests to rule out metabolic problems such as calcium or blood sugar disturbances.  These tests are likely to be normal, but are necessary for making the diagnosis. Seizures can also be caused by poisons (strychnine or antifreeze), head trauma, and infections, but the cause of the majority of seizures is unknown (“idiopathic epilepsy”).

                        Each seizure consists of three stages.  The first stage is called the “aura” because the pet senses something is amiss, acts restless or needy, salivates, vocalizes or demonstrates unusual behavior. Next is the actual seizure event or “ictus” which generally lasts less than five minutes (but will seem like an eternity!).  The final stage is the “post-ictus” or recovery phase when the pet will act disoriented, restless, drunk, blind, and sometimes vicious.  This period is usually five to 15 minutes long. 

                        What should you do when your pet seizes?  First, and foremost, remain calm.  Do not put your fingers in your pet’s mouth.  You may be severely bitten.  Cradle or cushion your pet’s head to prevent head injury.  Speak slowly and soothingly to your pet during and after the seizure to minimize stress.

                      If your pet is on furniture, carefully move it to the floor and prevent it from thrashing against hard objects.  You may use a large towel or blanket to protect your pet from injury while it is seizing.  Epileptic pets are likely to urinate, defecate, vomit or slobber profusely so have a towel handy and move the pet to an area that cleans up readily (linoleum, bathroom, outdoors).

                          Anti-convulsant medication will be prescribed for your pet if it seizes at least once a month, has clusters (greater than one seizure weekly) every six weeks, or experiences a single, long (more than 10 minutes), violent seizure. Phenobarbital is the most commonly prescribed drug to treat epilepsy due to its reliable response and comparatively low toxicity and side effects. 

                        Your veterinarian will monitor your pet’s Phenobarbital blood level regularly to assure that your pet is receiving the proper dose.  Timely and proper administration of anticonvulsant medications is a must as epileptic patients become dependent on these drugs to control their seizures. Missed or late doses can result in break-through seizures.  Since epilepsy is treatable, but not curable, the goal of treatment is to lessen the severity and frequency of seizures.

                        Owners of epileptic pets should maintain a diary that notes stressful activities preceding seizures, the pet’s activity at the time of onset, date and duration, and any medication administered in response to the seizure.  You should notify your veterinarian when your pet seizes so testing or anti-convulsant dose adjustments may be discussed.

                        Certain dog breeds such as Border Collies, German Shepherds, Poodles, Beagles, and Dachsunds are more likely to be epileptic due to the genetic nature of the disease.  Genetic epilepsy is diagnosed when seizures are recurrent and begin between two and five years of age.  On the contrary, pets that begin to seizure in their senior period are likely to be diagnosed with a metabolic disorder or brain tumor. 

                        Pets diagnosed with genetic epilepsy should never be bred and a concerted effort should be made to sterilize all carriers of genetic epilepsy.  As the owner of a yet to be controlled epileptic dog, I feel very strongly about not having others experience the heartbreak and imprisonment associated with ownership of a pet with this disease.  I state this with heartfelt determination as my dog, Robbie, has just had her fifth seizure in the last 24 hours as I am writing this column.

By Dr. Bonnie Jones

Myths and Tails By Dorothy Miner

As long as humans and canines have lived together there have been myths, legends, and old wives’ tales about dogs.  Some are silly, some are scary, and many of them are just plain untrue.   A few that persist to this day should be put to rest.  Here are some of those:  

Don’t start obedience training a dog before 6 months because it will “break his spirit.”  This myth came about because early “old school” training could be very hard on dogs.  Most early training methods involved the use of choke or pinch collars and a lot of yanking on the leash.  Thankfully, training has evolved over the years as we understand more about how dogs learn.  Early puppy training done in a positive fashion and paired with socialization results in happy, confident adult dogs.   And there is a volume of proof that positive training of adult dogs, with a bare minimum of force, is extremely effective.  There’s no need for “broken spirits.”
A dog trained with food will only work if food is present, and will not be working to please his master.  Another version:  A dog trained with food will not respect his owner’s authority.   This is pure hooey.  A studied use of treats as reinforcement makes it easier for the dog to learn, and makes the learning process fun and rewarding.  A good trainer knows when and how to start cutting back on the goodies so that the dog will work with or without treats.  The bond of love and trust is what will make your dog respect you. 

A Wagging tail means happy dog.  This one isn’t true, and it can be dangerous.  Dogs wag their tails for many reasons.  A wagging tail usually means a happy dog, but it can also be a warning.  It’s dangerous to assume that every tail-wagging dog is safe to pet.  Unless you are able to interpret a dog’s body language, it’s best to be cautious.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Also not true.  Training an older dog may take a bit longer if long-term habits have to be changed, but an older dog can learn very well.  One of my favorite TV shows, Mythbusters, did a segment on this.  They trained a pair of senior Malamutes to do a few behaviors that they did not already know and the dogs learned well and quickly. 
Tug of war will make a dog mean.  Not really.  Tug of war can be a great bonding game and stress-buster for many dogs.  I still don’t advise it for dogs who have exhibited aggression towards their owners, though. 

It’s best to let a female dog have a litter before having her spayed.   Again, not true.  Having puppies is not essential for a female dog’s health and well-being.  Actually, spaying at the appropriate age will prevent or lessen the chances for several serious health problems.  A good reason for spaying is that there are way too many puppies and dogs who will die in shelters or on the streets because there aren’t enough homes for all of them.
Neutering will make a male dog wimpy and less protective.  This is another myth that can be put to rest.  A male dog neutered at an appropriate age will still be a good protector, assuming he’s of a breed or mix that has a protective nature. 
Spaying/Neutering will make a dog fat.  No.  Overfeeding and under-exercising will make your dog fat.  True, a neutered male may need fewer calories than an intact one because he’s not running the streets looking for love, and a spayed female will not need all the extra food required for a nursing mother.   But as long as we control the food intake and provide the necessary exercise, they don’t have to be fat.   

Other myths are fun and harmless.  For instance:  Myth has it that Shih Tzus are incarnations of mischievous household gods, or that they carry the souls of ancient lamas on their search for Nirvana.  It is also said that Pembroke Welsh Corgis used to be harnessed by Welsh fairies to pull their tiny carriages, and that’s why to this day they carry the harness markings on their shoulders.  Other tales are a bit darker, such as the belief that the appearance of a white dog means that someone is about to die. 
But other old myths should just be filed away under “Dumb Things We Used to Believe.” 

Dorothy Miner is a long-time dog obedience and tracking instructor, judge of canine events, and author.  She teaches weekly classes for the Allen Correctional Institution’s PETS Program and provides training and consultation under the banner of “Sidekicks” and “Training for Dogs and Their People.”