Lumps and Bumps

June 15th, 2014

Given the opportunity to examine an older dog, I’ll very likely find at least one or two cutaneous (within the skin) or subcutaneous (just beneath the skin surface) lumps and bumps. Such growths are common by-products of the aging process. In this regard, I liken them to the brown spots that appear on our skin as we get older.

The good news is that most cutaneous and subcutaneous canine tumors are benign. It’s that small population of malignant masses that keeps us on our toes. They are the reason it’s important to have your veterinarian inspect any newly discovered lumps and bumps your dog develops. The smaller a cancerous growth is at the time of treatment, in general, the better the outcome.

Pet your dog!

In terms of “lump and bump patrol,” your first order of business is to pet your dog. No doubt you and your best buddy already enjoy some doggie massage time. What I’m asking you to do is a more methodical petting session. Once a month, slowly and mindfully slide your fingers, palm sides down, along your dog’s body. Move systematically from stem to stern while inspecting for any new lumps or bumps.

Also, look and feel for changes in the size or appearance of those previously discovered. Any new findings should be addressed with your veterinarian who relies upon your help with this surveillance. Imagine your vet trying to find a tiny growth on a shaggy Sheepdog or Sheltie during the course of a single exam. Some lumps and bums are bound to be missed without your assistance.

When to see your veterinarian

Does finding a new growth mean that you must see your veterinarian right away? Not necessarily. Say that you’ve just spotted a new bump in your dog’s skin that is the size of a small pea. She is due for her annual physical examination in three months. Must you go rushing in this week with this new finding, or can it wait the three months? The answer depends on the behavior of this newly discovered growth.

My recommendation is that you continue to observe the new lump once a week. Examining it more frequently can make it difficult to accurately assess change. If the mass is growing, or otherwise changing in appearance, best to have it checked out sooner rather than later. If no changes are observed, waiting to address it at the time of the annual physical exam makes perfectly good sense.

In contrast, say that in the course of examining your best buddy you discover a prune sized, firm, subcutaneous growth that feels attached to her shoulder blade. Based on the larger size and deep attachment of this mass, better to have this one checked out right away. If in doubt, contact your veterinarian to figure out the best course of action. As with most things medical, better to be safe than sorry.

In advance of your veterinary visit, be sure to mark the location of any lumps or bumps requiring inspection. You can clip some hair over the site or mark the fur with a ribbon, hair band, or marking pen. Growths discovered at home when an animal is lying down in a relaxed, comfortable position have a habit of magically disappearing when the dog is upright and uptight in the exam room.

Fine needle aspirate for cytology

If a newly discovered growth is large enough, the usual first step your veterinarian will recommend is a fine needle aspirate for cytology. The purpose of this step is to attempt to noninvasively clarify the cell type within the mass, and whether it is benign or malignant.

Collection of a fine needle aspirate is a simple process that is easy on the dog and rarely requires any sort of sedation. Using a needle no larger than the size of a vaccination needle along with some gentle suction, your vet will remove a smattering of cells from the growth. These cells are then spit out onto a glass slide and evaluated under the microscope.

Some cytology interpretations are a slam-dunk, and can readily be interpreted by your family vet. Others require the eyeballs of a specialist- a clinical pathologist who works in a veterinary diagnostic laboratory. Remember, the goal of the cytology testing is to determine the underlying cell type, therefore whether the growth can be left alone or requires more attention. Fine needle aspirate cytology is often (but not always) definitive. If the results do not provide clarity, a surgical biopsy of the mass may be recommended.

If your veterinarian recommends surgical removal of a mass as the very first step (chooses to forego the fine needle aspirate), I encourage you to consider getting a second opinion. It is always disappointing and frustrating when a veterinarian foregoes cytology, proceeds with surgery, and the biopsy report reveals a malignancy with cancer cells extending beyond the margins of the tissue that was removed. In other words, cancer cells were clearly left behind. Had the veterinarian known in advance from the cytology report that the tumor was malignant, a different approach (much more aggressive surgery and/or radiation therapy) would have been undertaken, almost certainly resulting in a better outcome.

A second “bad news scenario” that can arise from forging ahead with surgery without benefit of fine needle aspirate cytology is failure to identify a cancerous growth that may have already spread elsewhere in the body. If the cytology reveals a malignancy, screening the rest of the body for metastasis (spread) is the logical next step. If metastasis is discovered, removal of the originally discovered mass is unlikely to provide any benefit. Rather, such surgery will only subject the patient (and the client’s pocketbook) to a needless procedure. Leaping into surgery to remove a mass without the benefit of cytology is risky business.

The importance of histopathology

If your veterinarian surgically removes a growth from your dog, do not, I repeat, do not let that tissue sample wind up in the vet clinic garbage can! A far better choice is to have the mass submitted to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory for histopathology (biopsy). There, a veterinary pathologist will evaluate paper-thin slices of the mass under the microscope to confirm the identity of the mass.

Even if a fine needle aspirate cytology indicated that the growth was benign, histopathology is warranted. On occasion, the pathologist discovers something quirky such as a malignant tumor within the center of one that is benign.

If histopathology is not affordable, ask your vet to place the growth that was removed in a small container of formalin (preservative) that you can take home for safekeeping. This way, should multiple masses begin growing at the surgery site or should your dog develop a tumor at another site, you will still be able to request histopathology on the original sample. Formalin is toxic stuff, so keep the container lid sealed tightly.

Lumps and bumps are a very normal part of the canine aging process. Teaming up with your veterinarian to assess them on a regular basis is the very best way to insure that they never create a health issue for your wonderful dog.

Does your dog have any cutaneous or subcutaneous masses? If so, have you had them evaluated by your veterinarian?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

A Summertime Safety Reminder

June 8th, 2014

Photo Credit: Shirley Zindler

Tuffy, a scruffy and adorably sweet little terrier arrived at my hospital in a state of collapse with profoundly labored breathing, purplish gums, and a temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (the normal body temperature for a dog is 100-102 degrees). Tuffy’s well-intentioned family let him accompany them on a brief outing and, while they were in the store for a mere ten minutes, Tuffy remained in the car. The outdoor temperature at the time was 82 degrees, and the temperature within the car quickly soared to well above 100 degrees. Tuffy is one of the lucky ones. He survived his episode of heatstroke without any lingering complications and has gone home to rejoin his grateful (and more knowledgeable) family. Most patients with heatstroke don’t fare nearly so well. I invite you to share Tuffy’s story with others with hopes of preventing a needless tragedy.

Dog Days of Summer

Some of us take “dog days of summer” literally- we want to go everywhere accompanied by our beloved canine companions! As tempting as this may be, keep in mind that when temperatures are soaring your dog’s well being is best served by staying home. Heat has the potential to be hazardous to your dog’s health.

Dogs are incapable of significant sweating- their only sweat glands are located on the undersides of their paws. The major mechanism by which dogs dissipate heat is by panting, but this cooling system is easily overwhelmed when the temperature climbs. Panting becomes even less effective in humid conditions or for dogs with underlying respiratory tract ailments (collapsing trachea, laryngeal paralysis, lung diseases). Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and others I lovingly refer to as “smoosh-faced” breeds readily overheat because of their unique upper respiratory tract anatomy.

What happens when dogs get too hot? The result is heatstroke, a life threatening condition. Symptoms of heatstroke tend to occur abruptly and can include increased heart rate, labored breathing, weakness, collapse, purplish gum color, and even seizures and coma. Of all the “summertime diseases” veterinarians dread heatstroke the most because we know that, even with aggressive therapy, many heatstroke victims will succumb to organ damage and death.

Most cases of canine heatstroke are a result of confinement in cars.  Perhaps the vehicle was parked in the shade, but the sun shifted, or a well-intentioned person thought that leaving the windows cracked or returning to the car quickly would be a safe bet.  Overactivity in the heat is another common cause of heatstroke. For some dogs the desire to chase the ball trumps all else, and the person throwing the ball doesn’t recognize when it’s time to quit.

If you suspect your dog has or is on the verge of heatstroke, spend just a few minutes cooling him off with water from a hose or covering him with towels soaked in cool water. Then get to the closest veterinary hospital as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence- the earlier heatstroke is treated, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Heatstroke Prevention

Knowledge is power when it comes to preventing heatstroke. Here are some pointers to help keep your best buddy safe during the hot summer months:

- Never leave your dog inside the car on warm or hot days. A panting dog in an enclosed space quickly creates a muggy greenhouse environment that can quickly cause heatstroke. Even with the windows down, temperatures inside a car can rise to 120 degrees or more. If you happen upon a dog confined in a car on a hot day, find the owner of the vehicle or contact a police officer- whichever will most rapidly liberate the dog from danger. If the dog is clearly in trouble and help is not quickly forthcoming, it is appropriate to break a car window.

- Exercise your dog early in the morning or during evening hours to avoid the heat of the day.

- Allow for plenty of rest and water breaks during play activity and exercise. Your dog may not know his limits and will continue to enthusiastically chase the Frisbee even when his internal thermometer is getting ready to blow a fuse.

- Keep your dog indoors, ideally in air conditioning, on very hot days.

- If your dog is left outside, be sure he has plenty of shade and provide him with access to a sprinkler, wading pool, or sand pit soaked with water.

- If it’s necessary to transport your dog by airplane during the summer months, schedule your flight for nighttime or early morning. Check with the airlines to find out whether or not the cargo hold is temperature controlled.

Check out other ways to keep your dog safe this summer at The Dog Fence DIY Safety Round Up .

What will you do to keep your dog safe this summer?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Home Cooking for Your Dog

June 1st, 2014

Feeding dogs has come full circle. Back before the invention of canine convenience foods (kibble and canned products), a dog’s diet consisted primarily of table scraps left over from the human supper plate. The introduction of commercially processed foods changed all that. Not only were kibble and canned foods more convenient, they were formulated to provide complete and balanced nutrition. These features were appealing, particularly to people who were transitioning their dogs from the doghouse in the backyard to the sofa in the living room.

Fast-forward several decades to the current shift back to preparation of homemade diets for dogs. What’s the quibble with kibble? Increasingly, people are concerned about the effects of processed ingredients and the use of additives. Although there is a lack of scientific substantiation, it’s not uncommon to hear blame for a whole host of canine maladies placed on processed foods.

Some folks cook for their dogs as they would cook for themselves. The meals vary from day to day or week to week, and they typically contain a hodgepodge mixture of meats and veggies with or without vitamin/mineral supplementation. Others work from recipes found on line, in books, or obtained from a veterinarian with the notion that the end product will be nutritionally balanced.

Are homemade diets nutritionally balanced?

A study titled, “Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs” published in a 2013 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association documented significant nutritional imbalances in homemade diets. Two hundred recipes from 34 sources including veterinary textbooks, pet care books, and websites were evaluated. Most of the recipes were authored by veterinarians. All were assessed both qualitatively (specificity of ingredients and preparation instructions) and quantitatively (calculation of total energy, energy density, proportion of calories contributed by protein, fat and carbohydrates, and essential nutrient concentrations).

The study demonstrated that most of the recipes (92% to be exact) contained vague or incomplete instructions requiring the chef to make assumptions about the method of preparation or exact products used. Additionally, most of the recipes provided no information about caloric content or feeding instructions. Thirteen recipes called for the addition of garlic or onion, both of which can be associated with hemolytic anemia, a potentially life threatening disease in dogs.

Of the 200 recipes evaluated, only ten of them (5%) provided adequate concentrations of all essential nutrients based on NRC (National Research Council) and AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards. NRC and AAFCO set the standards for balanced nutrition in commercially prepared foods. Most of the home-prepared recipes (83.5%), including those that called for rotation of ingredients, had multiple nutritional deficiencies. The nutrients most commonly lacking were zinc, choline, copper, essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA), and calcium. Total fat concentrations were adequate in all but two of the recipes, likely reflecting human preferences and the desire for enhanced palatability (the more fat, the more yummy the diet is for the dog).

Some deficiencies were so severe that nutrient concentrations did not reach 50% of the recommended amounts. Additionally, nine recipes surpassed the safe upper limits for specific ingredients such as vitamin D and the fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

The use of published recipes for home-prepared dog food is an example of really good intentions gone awry. People wanting to feed their dogs in the healthiest way possible are unintentionally providing nutritionally unbalanced diets.

Veterinary nutritionists

I am fully supportive of home cooking for your dogs, but discourage doing so without professional guidance. Unfortunately, this guidance likely needs to come from someone other than your family vet. The sad fact of the matter is that most veterinarians (myself included) don’t have the know-how to formulate a made-from-scratch balanced and complete canine diet. For this reason I encourage consultation with a veterinarian who specializes in nutrition. Such specialists can be found via the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. For a one-time consultation fee, veterinary nutritionists provide their services over the phone or via email (no need for an office visit). Not only do they formulate diets for healthy digs, they also craft homemade recipes for those with special dietary needs because of an underlying chronic disease process.

Some folks are skeptical about veterinary nutritionists based on the belief that they are simply pawns of the processed pet food industry. My reaction to this is, so what if they have some bias about dog food? The way around this is to let your own bias be known loud and clear. Do you want a grain-free diet, or one that avoids red meat, or one that uses game meat as the primary protein source? If so, specify up front where you draw your line in the sand. The nutritionist should be able to build a balanced and complete diet for your dog around your preferences.

The alternative to working with a veterinary nutritionist is to feed a home-prepared diet that likely contains too little or too much of key ingredients. Do all dogs on unbalanced diets fail to thrive? Absolutely not, but given the opportunity to feed your dog a diet that is balanced and complete, why would you choose otherwise?

If you care to learn more about the home-prepared diet study cited above, I invite you read an interview conducted with one of the researchers, Dr. Jennifer Larsen.

Do you feed your dog a homemade diet? How do you feel about the results of the study cited above?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Got a Fever?

May 25th, 2014

Just like us, dogs and cats can spike fevers in response to infectious diseases, inflammatory disorders, and heatstroke. How can you tell if your pet’s temperature is on the rise? The notion that a hot, dry nose is a sure sign is simply an old wives’ tale. The only accurate way to know if you have a hot dog or a feverish feline on your hands is with use of a thermometer.

Digital thermometers made for humans work just fine for pets as long as they can be inserted rectally. While it would be so much easier to obtain a temperature measurement from the skin, ear, or armpit, such readings are inaccurate in dogs and cats. If you have an old-fashioned mercury-filled glass thermometer, I discourage you from using it. Should it break, the mercury exposure could be hazardous. Contact your state’s waste management program to determine how to safely discard this relic.

Ready to take your pet’s temperature? Begin by taking a deep breath (the calmer you are, the more relaxed your best buddy will be). Apply Vaseline or lubricating jelly to the tip of the thermometer and insert it within the rectum to a depth of ½ to one inch. Cats, in particular, can pucker tightly. Success depends on gentle clockwise/counterclockwise rotation in conjunction with steady forward pressure. Dogs have much less “pucker power” so insertion of the thermometer tends to be easier.

Be careful not to inadvertently yank your pet’s tail upwards while concentrating on thermometer placement, lest you cause discomfort. Whether working with a cat or dog, enlist an assistant to help reduce the wiggle factor. The helper should place one hand under the belly to prevent sitting down- a natural response to insertion of the thermometer. For kitties, grasping hold of the scruff (nape of the neck) works best. After the thermometer has been placed, a digital readout of numbers will occur followed by an auditory beep indicating success. If the reading is greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, your pet has a fever (normal range for dogs and cats is 100-102 degrees).

A whole host of different inflammatory and infectious diseases can cause a fever. So, it is reasonable to take your pet’s temperature whenever you observe a new symptom. Those most commonly associated with a fever are sluggish behavior and loss of appetite. Your pet may or may not feel warm to the touch.

If your Fluffy or Fido has a fever, the best thing to do is contact your family veterinary clinic or a local emergency hospital to determine the best course of action. Do not administer aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol). These medications can cause serious side effects in pets. Likewise, resist the temptation to douse your warm dog or cat in cold water or alcohol. Not only will this cause significant discomfort (think of how chilled you feel while in the throes of a fever), your pet’s internal thermostat will simply go into overdrive to restore the fever. The exception to this rule is if your pet is suffering from heatstroke. In this situation, cooling with water is strongly recommended.

Lastly, I’d like to address a pet peeve of mine (pun intended). If the thermometer reading is elevated, please do not say, “My dog (cat) has a temperature.” Of course, your pet has a temperature, as does every living, breathing animal! The more accurate description is, “My dog (cat) has a fever.” There! Thank you for indulging me!

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Canine Car Sickness

May 18th, 2014

For some dogs, the car feels like a second home. Not only do they delight in going for rides, they love just hanging out in their car any chance they get. This is not the case for dogs who experience motion sickness. These poor pups dread car travel regardless of the destination.

Vomiting is, of course, the tell-tale sign of motion sickness. More subtle evidence that your best buddy is feeling queasy may include lip licking, heavy drooling, anxiety, and/or subdued behavior.

Car sickness or motion sickness is super common amongst puppies, and may be associated with immaturity of the inner ear apparatus that regulates equilibrium and balance. While many dogs outgrow this problem, others continue to experience motion sickness throughout their lives. For some, this may become a conditioned response- the dog learns to associate car travel with nausea.

Although motion sickness does not have any long-lasting health consequences, it is certainly a major drag for the poor dog and the poor human who must clean up the mess. If your dog experiences motion sickness I encourage you to take advantage of the following suggestions with hopes that your car rides together will become far more peaceful and enjoyable.

Tips for decreasing your dog’s motion sickness

- Allow your dog to spend good quality time in your car with the engine turned off. Spend these driveway moments with a peaceful, calm mindset and provide lots of positive reinforcement.

- Graduate from the step above to sitting in a parked car with the engine running and lots of positive reinforcement. Next comes very short road trips- no more than a trip around the block. Gradually build up car travel time, ideally winding up at destinations your dog considers desirable.

- Travel when your dog has an empty stomach (no food for 4-6 hours). This means skipping a meal or timing your travel according to your dog’s feeding schedule.

- While driving, confine your dog using a crate or a seat belt setup designed specifically for dogs. Less movement will lessen the likelihood of nausea. It is thought that facing forward may help prevent motion sickness. If using a crate, cover it in a fashion that prevents your dog from looking out other than in a forward direction.

- Try a different car. Here I am giving you a reason to go out and buy that new car you’ve had your eye on! Can you imagine the auto dealer’s reaction to taking your car sick dog going along on test rides? In all seriousness, if you do have access to more than one vehicle, see if one produces a more favorable response for your dog than the other. I can attest to the fact that I am much more prone to motion sickness in some cars than in others.

- Keep the car cool by cracking windows and/or using air conditioning. I am not an advocate of allowing your dog to travel with head hanging out the window. There is too much potential for bodily harm, particularly those precious corneas.

- Ask your veterinarian for a prescription for Cerenia (maropitant citrate), a drug that was developed specifically for the prevention of motion sickness in dogs. It is safe and effective and doesn’t cause drowsiness. Cerenia comes in a tablet form that is administered orally once daily. It works best when given two hours prior to travel.

- Over the counter medications developed for people with motion sickness are not as effective for dogs as is Cerenia. Additionally, most cause significant drowsiness. Do not use these products without first checking in with your veterinarian.

- Ginger may reduce motion sickness for some dogs. Some people believe that feeding a ginger snap or two to their dog before travel does the trick.

- Aromatherapy with lavender has been shown to significantly reduce car ride-induced anxiety in dogs. While not proven to lessen canine motion sickness (to my knowledge, this has not been studied), the reduction in anxiety may prove beneficial. Unless you detest the smell of lavender, this is certainly worth a try.

Has your dog experienced motion sickness? If so, what have you tried and how has it worked?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Puppies and Auction Fundraisers: Not a Good Mix

May 11th, 2014

Last week, I told you about Jesuit High School’s annual auction featuring a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. This fundraising idea caused such a brouhaha that the event coordinators reluctantly opted to drop the pup from the list of auctioned items.

I asked you to tell me how you feel about this issue, and what a response I received. Your comments were thoughtful, insightful, and adamantly opposed to the idea of auctioning off puppies! I couldn’t agree with you more.

Impulse buying

The notion of placing a live animal in a new home based on an impulse decision makes me squeamish to the core. When my children were younger, I was invariably the lone parent protesting at community fairs and school fundraising events where goldfish and hermit crabs were given to children as prizes. Whether or not to accept responsibility for the physical and emotional well being of an animal (be it a puppy or a goldfish or a hermit crab) should be a decision based on significant thought and consideration. When it comes to animal adoptions, impulse decisions tend to create unhappy endings.

If you’ve attended fundraising auctions you’ve no doubt witnessed plenty of impulse buying, perhaps some under the influence of alcohol (the more alcohol served, the higher the bids). How could this possibly be a reasonable way for a pup to land in a stable and permanent situation? What lessons are the adults involved role modeling for their children?

Veterinarian, Dr. Leslie Ann Jones denounced impulse buying in her comments:

We have a local organization that has done this (against my recommendations) for the past four years. “But it is our biggest draw and they expect us to do it. It makes the most money!” This year, the winning bidder took the puppy home and the puppy wasn’t wanted by the entire family. There were extensive medical bills required shortly after the puppy was “won” and the entire situation exemplifies why the bringing of a puppy into a home is a family decision and should not be undertaken during the excitement of a bidding war.

Who provides the puppy?

Like many of you, I’m left wondering where pups who wind up as auction items come from. It is difficult to imagine a responsible/reputable breeder going along with this scheme. They wouldn’t be keen on forfeiting their right to screen prospective adopters. Some of you conjectured that puppy mills are the source. I cannot confirm this, but do feel confident that the breeders involved are either clueless or are motivated more by dollar signs than the welfare of their puppies.

Reader, Jo Ann Weise concurred with these sentiments:

As a breeder of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, I am appalled that any breeder would offer one of their puppies for another organization to “raffle” off. No one places my puppies in their new homes but me. As a reputable breeder, our ultimate responsibility is to place our puppies in homes where they have the absolute best chance for a happy and healthy life. A reputable breeder would never, under any circumstances, allow their puppies to be raffled off like a “thing”.

Legalities and ethical considerations

Is it considered legal and/or ethical to auction puppies? I was unable to find a clear answer regarding the legality of this practice. Whether or not auctioning pups is ethical is subject to debate. My kids attended public schools where fundraising for basic supplies was always a necessity. I can understand why concerned parents and officials at financially strapped schools might convince themselves it is ethically sound to generate $4,000-$5,000 via the quick and easy sale of a puppy. I suspect that such folks would be amenable to some ethical realignment if approached in a respectful fashion with a differing perspective. Reader, Sharon Montville had this to say about the ethics of auctioning puppies:

 Most parent breed clubs – including the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA) have a Code of Ethics which states that breeders will not allow their pups to be auctioned. So why is this?

1.  It is not guaranteed – unless the auction is rigged – that the puppy will go to the intended home. The puppy will go to the “highest bidder.”

2.  Letting a pup go to the “highest bidder” promotes the concept that all it takes to be a responsible owner is the ability to pay the purchase price of the puppy. This is wrong.

3.  People bidding on a puppy when they have not necessarily met with the breeder, researched the health clearances of the parents, etc. promotes the concept that is okay to pay as much – or possibly more – for a less responsibly bred puppy than for a responsibly bred pup. Since it is against the BMDCA Code of Conduct to auction a pup, it is highly unlikely that this particular pup was bred by a responsible breeder.

 For the record……

Many of you were bothered by the comments made by Jesuit High School spokesperson Erika Tuenge. This portion of her statement was particularly offensive to me:

Jesuit High School has always carefully and thoughtfully considered the choice of breeds and placement of puppies in its annual auction and has provided suitable loving environments for each dog which is placed in the homes of Jesuit families.

Does Ms. Tuenge mean to imply that any Jesuit home is a good home? Give me a break! Besides, how can the auction committee ensure that the pup winds up in a Jesuit home? What’s to prevent a Jew like me, perhaps invited as a family guest, from attending the auction and placing the winning bid? Would my religious persuasion have been checked at the door? Would I have been instructed to bid on anything but the puppy? I don’t know if Ms. Tuenge’s statement accurately represents Jesuit High School’s sentiments. If so, shame on Jesuit High School. If not, I recommend a crash course for Ms. Tuenge in political correctness.

The auction at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon is not an isolated event. Fundraising with puppies happens round the country in a variety of venues. The only way to make it stop involves respectful, educational dialogue initiated by people like you and me. I encourage you to make this happen.

Are you aware of an organization in your community that includes puppies in their fundraising auctions?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

Fundraising With Puppies: A Smart or a Stupid Idea?

May 4th, 2014

A friend recently brought a story to my attention concerning Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon. The school held their annual fundraising auction earlier this month. Left to their own devices, one of their big-ticket auction items would have been a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. Auctioning puppies (last year a Labradoodle) has proven to be popular and lucrative. This year, in response to public outrage, Jesuit High School officials removed the Berner pup from the list of auction items. I suspect there were voices of protest in years past, but they likely paled in comparison to what Jesuit High School squared off with this time around. Leave it to those Bernese Mountain Dog lovers- they are one well organized, focused, and unified bunch of people.

After “throwing in the towel” on this controversial matter, Jesuit High School Communications Director Erika Tuenge stated:

Jesuit High School has always carefully and thoughtfully considered the choice of breeds and placement of puppies in its annual auction and has provided suitable loving environments for each dog which is placed in the homes of Jesuit families. Certain animal rights protesters, who apparently do not believe a suitable home for a dog can ever be found at an auction event, have criticized JHS for its plan to auction a puppy at an upcoming school auction. We adamantly disagree with the opinions of these protesters (and the means by which they chose to express these opinions), but out of concern for the Jesuit community and the privacy of the responsible dog owners and reputable breeders it has worked with in years past, the school has decided not to include a puppy in this year’s auction, an event which supports need-based financial aid and other vital programs benefiting Jesuit students and families.

Before I weigh in on this topic, I would love to hear what you have to say. Do you agree or disagree with Jesuit High School’s position (by the way, there are plenty of other organizations who auction puppies at their fundraising events)? Please fill me in on your thoughts and I will reciprocate in my next blog post.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

April 27th, 2014

In the world of human medicine it’s estimated that 80% of the maladies that prompt physician visits would completely resolve on their own with simple “benign neglect.” In other words, time is all that is needed for a cure. Does this mean that 80% of people are jumping the gun by scheduling a doctor visit? Not at all, because the physician is the one trained to discriminate which 20 percent or so need more than “watchful waiting.”

I suspect that the percentages mentioned above may be comparable in the world of veterinary medicine. Nonetheless, many vets are intent on prescribing, and many of their clients are intent on receiving unnecessary medication for situations in which watchful waiting would suffice. There seems to be a desire to give an injection and/or send home some pills, perhaps to placate the prevailing perception that clients who leave empty-handed will feel underserved.

A classic example of this “gotta do something” philosophy is the dog or cat presented for a couple days’ worth of diarrhea. The patient is completely normal otherwise, and a stool sample check is negative for parasites. In this situation it would be absolutely appropriate to recommend a bland diet, some watchful waiting, and a followup phone call or email with a progress report in two to three days. Instead, the client is often sent home with instruction to treat the diarrhea with prescribed medication(s), more often than not an antibiotic. Please know that cases of canine or feline diarrhea caused by bacterial infection (salmonella, campylobacter, clostridium) are rare at best!

Guess what the number one side effect of most antibiotics happens to be? Diarrhea! (Can you sense that I am cringing as a type this?) Antibiotics are capable of disrupting normal bacterial populations within the intestinal tract which can then turn a simple case of self-resolving diarrhea into an ongoing nightmare. Antibiotics are not unique. Each and every drug a veterinarian can prescribe has the potential to cause adverse side effects. Giving medication when watchful waiting is all that is necessary defies logic as well as the important, universal, medical mantra that states, “First do no harm.”

If my clients absolutely, positively can’t stand the thought of doing nothing, I keep them busy doing something that has zero potential to negatively impact my patient. In the case of diarrhea, this can include preparing a homemade diet, keeping a written log of bowel movements, walking the dog six times daily to observe stool samples, or disinfecting the litter box twice daily. Heck, I’ve even had clients who measure and weigh their pet’s bowel movements- their idea, not mine!

This blog post is my way of encouraging you to be okay with watchful waiting (aka, benign neglect) when this is what the situation calls for. Understand the logic behind any medication your veterinarian prescribes, and avoid pressuring your vet to prescribe “something” for the sake of helping you feel more secure and comfortable. Time is a wonderful cure-all for many maladies.

Have you or your pet ever had a medical issue that benefited from watchful waiting?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Medical Questions to Ask a Prospective Pet Sitter

April 20th, 2014

If you’re like me, the most stressful part of preparing to go out of town is feeling reassured that the animals left behind will be well cared for. I prefer to have my menagerie cared for in their own surroundings by a professional pet sitter, or at the pet sitter’s home (emphasis here on “home” rather than “kennel”).

Finding a responsible, capable, attentive, and loving pet sitter requires some research. An interview is a must, and I encourage you to use the list of questions provided by Pet Sitters International as a resource for questions regarding the individual’s work ethic, character, and experience.

It’s also important to assess the prospective pet sitter’s knowledge about pet health issues. My experience has been that many dogs and cats wait to get sick until their human family members are out of town. When this happens, the pet sitter’s medical expertise can make a big difference in the animal’s health outcome.

Here is a list of health-related questions you can ask during the interview process.

Questions

1. Does the pet sitter have experience administering medications? If so, what type? Be sure to ask specific questions that pertain to your individual pet. Having successfully administered oral medication to a dog in no way promises success giving oral medication to even the most docile of felines. Those of you with kitties know exactly what I’m talking about! What if your pet becomes sick and requires administration of subcutaneous fluids (fluids injected under the skin for purposes of hydration)? How about eye or ear medication? Is the individual adept at providing these sorts of therapies?

2. In the mind of the pet sitter, what sorts of symptoms warrant medical intervention? What symptoms constitute an emergency? Ask him or her to describe such scenarios and provide examples of medical issues that have arisen with animals under their care. Challenge your potential pet sitters with the questions I posed to you a few weeks ago in the blog post titled, “What Would You Do?”. Their answers may nix or seal the deal.

3. What would the pet sitter do if your pet becomes sick after hours? You will ideally be providing your chosen pet sitter with a list of preferred veterinary hospitals, but ask this question in advance of doing so in order to get a sense of the prospective pet sitter’s way of thinking about this situation. By the way, when leaving your animals with a pet sitter, I invite you to use the form called “Your Pet’s Emergency Contact Information”.

4. What would the pet sitter do if you cannot be reached during a medical emergency? Would he or she proceed with everything necessary or choose to wait until you can be reached? Once you do hire a pet sitter, be sure to provide them with a completed “Contingency Plan” specifying what should happen in the event that you cannot be reached during an emergency.

5. Is the pet sitter knowledgeable about the medical condition(s) your pet has? Is he or she familiar with the characteristic symptoms and how to respond to them?

6. If your pet becomes sick and requires more time and care than originally agreed upon, will the pet sitter be able to accommodate this?

Can you think of any other health-related questions to ask a prospective pet sitter? Has your pet ever become sick when you were out of town? How did things turn out?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Anesthesiology Etiquette

April 13th, 2014

I’m recovering from surgery to repair a torn ligament in my thumb, sustained while building horse pasture fencing. One-handed word processing is not my forte, so this will be a much shorter blog post than the usual.

I am a veteran of surgical procedures (a wee bit accident-prone I am), and as a veterinarian, I know all too well the kinds of things that can go wrong with general anesthesia. Therefore, I’m always somewhat on edge during the three minute or so encounter I’m allowed with the anesthesiologist moments before he or she takes my life into their hands.

Imagine my reaction when the anesthesiologist assigned to my thumb surgery came waltzing into the room and cheerfully announced, “Hello. I’m Dr. Smith and I am the one who will be putting you to sleep today.” My husband, also a veterinarian, and I exchanged amused glances, and then began giggling. We tactfully explained to Dr. Smith why his choice of words affected us as they did. Truthfully, I think his statement would be off-putting to any animal lover, not just veterinarians. Wouldn’t you agree? Dr. Smith blushed profusely and apologized, stating that he wished he’d known my profession before coming into the room. He did do a bang up job with my anesthesia- I woke up comfy and nausea-free. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

This story reminds me of another one of my pre-op chats with an anesthesiologist a few years back. He asked what I did for a living. After hearing my response, he said, “That’s so cool! That’s what I always wanted to do, but I couldn’t get into vet school.” Not the reassurance I was looking for!

Have you ever had this kind of “interesting” conversation with an anesthesiologist?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.