Thursday, April 30, 2009

Protecting Poppy against Leptospirosis

Last week, Poppy and I went to puppy kindergarten for the first time! We are going back for our second class tonight. The most beneficial aspect of the class was exposing her to other puppies and people. It was interesting for me to listen to the advice the trainer had and I learned quite a bit.

We worked on handling, so the puppies would get used to someone looking at their paws, in their ears, around their tails, and exams in general. This training is especially helpful when you bring your puppy to the vet; it enables your veterinarian to perform a thorough physical exam. Poppy was of course an angel and behaved perfectly; apparently she is only a terror at home, when she races around chewing on everything in sight!

Last week I boostered Poppy with her distemper/parvo vaccine and started her Leptospirosis (Lepto) vaccine series. While the Lepto vaccine is not considered one of the core vaccines, I do recommend that all dogs receive it.

Lepto is a bacteria transmitted via the urine of an infected animal, most commonly wildlife such as rats, opossums and raccoons. These animals urinate in standing water or moist soil where the Lepto bacteria replicate and can live for quite some time. Your dog then comes along and either drinks the contaminated water or steps in the puddle, which allows the bacteria to enter the blood stream through a cut in the skin or through mucus membranes such as eyes, mouth, or nose. People can become infected with Lepto either through contaminated water or via contact with the urine of an infected animal.

Though Lepto can be treated with antibiotics, if the infection is not caught early enough it can permanently damage the kidneys and/or liver, resulting in organ failure. Clinical signs include non-specific flu-like symptoms such as fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. With aggressive therapy consisting of intravenous fluids and antibiotics, dogs usually recover. But in some cases, the disease is too advanced by the time we catch it and ends up being fatal.

Wondering if your dog should be vaccinated? Talk with your veterinarian. Dogs of any age can be given the Lepto vaccine. Bear in mind, that though the vaccination protects against the four most common strains of Lepto, a vaccinated pet can still be infected with one of the many other strains of the bacteria. And, as with all vaccines, there is the risk of a vaccine reaction, something you’ll want to discuss with your veterinarian as well.

I strongly recommend the Lepto vaccine for all my canine patients, and my own dogs are vaccinated, too. I frequently take my dogs to the park and trails in my neighborhood, and feel much more comfortable knowing that I’ve done everything I can to protect them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Curry the Corgi

It took just twelve hours for Curry, an 18-month-old Corgi, to go from perfectly healthy to being extremely lethargic and unable to stand on his own. His owners quickly brought him into Friendship, where it was up to the hospital’s emergency staff to figure out the reasons for Curry’s sudden illness.

According to his owners, Curry had been fine the previous night and ate dinner well. When they found vomit in his crate the next morning, they didn’t offer him food in order to allow his stomach time to settle down. He then vomited five more times throughout the morning and seemed very lethargic. After two hours, Curry wouldn’t get up, so his owners brought him immediately into Friendship.

When Curry arrived at the hospital, he was in shock and still unable to stand. We immediately placed an intravenous catheter and started fluids. Curry was unresponsive to any stimulation and his abdomen was tender and painful to the touch. His blood sugar and blood pressure were both very low. This combination of symptoms can indicate sepsis -- an overwhelming infection in the blood stream and tissues.

What puzzled me was how he went from being one hundred percent normal to critical in less than twelve hours. We administered medications to bring up Curry’s blood sugar and raise his blood pressure. Curry’s blood pressure was of special concern; since there was a chance his organs were not receiving enough blood to properly oxygenate them.

Soon Curry was able to sit up, but was still very weak and unable to stand. Bloodwork was our next step: We were looking for an increased white cell count or a metabolic cause to explain his condition. Another possibility was that Curry’s state was caused by something he had eaten: either a toy or a toxin. However, his owners are very attentive dog “parents” and hadn’t noticed him eating anything out of the ordinary.

Fortunately, Curry was now stable enough to have abdominal x-rays taken. These revealed that his entire small intestine was dilated with gas which could indicate an obstruction or decreased motility in his gastrointestinal tract from an unknown cause.

Though my initial concern had been neurologic disease, Curry had improved so much after the fluids that my suspicions now shifted to primary gastrointestinal disease. His owners and I discussed going to surgery immediately versus waiting to see how he responded to medical management. Because Curry was now sitting up and able to walk, (although pain medication had only slightly dulled his abdominal discomfort) we decided to hold off on surgery for the time being. He was admitted into the hospital while we waited for the bloodwork and to see how he responded. Thanks to Friendship’s in-house, state-of-the-art laboratory I would have these results back shortly.

Just as his owners were about to leave, Curry vomited a massive amount of fluid which immediately changed my mind about waiting. We quickly decided that he needed an abdominal exploratory surgery to determine what was going on.

Curry was immediately sent to surgery and while we were shaving his abdomen we discovered what was making him so sick. He had a large, firm swelling between the top of his inner thigh and his belly, an area known as the inguinal region. This was a clear sign of an inguinal hernia: a tear in the body wall, which had remained benign until a piece of intestine slipped through the hole and became trapped.

We do not know what caused the tear and there was no way for his owners to suspect this had happened until Curry started showing clinical signs. The danger occurs when the blood supply to that section of intestine is restricted and the tissue begins to die. If this condition had been left untreated for much longer, Curry would have died, so I was very happy that we had decided to be aggressive and go to surgery immediately.

Once in surgery we removed the dying piece of his small intestine from the one inch tear in his body wall. About four inches of intestine had turned black and would need to be removed. We cut out the diseased intestines and sewed the healthy tissue back together, in a procedure called a resection and anastamosis. To prevent this from happening again, we also closed the tear in Curry’s body wall.

Curry responded amazingly after his surgery and was able to go home two days later. His owners tell me that he is doing great and one would never know the ordeal he had suffered. He is lucky that his owners were so attentive to his behavior and brought him into the hospital immediately. Since Friendship is equipped to perform surgery at any time we were able to act quickly, saving his life. I always enjoy seeing Curry, his sister Lily and his wonderful owners whenever they visit the hospital.

Friendship News

This was an exciting, pet packed weekend for me. On Saturday night I attended the Washington Animal Rescue League's annual Rescue Me Gala. This festive cocktail party and silent auction is the League's largest fundraiser of the year. This event allows DC's animal lovers the chance to mingle with their dogs and celebrate this wonderful organization. Friendship is a major sponsor of WARL and we had a great group of doctors and staff present to represent the hospital. Pictured below is myself with fellow staff doctor Amanda McMurphy and Tanya Boris-Cass who manages the veterinary technician staff at the hospital.

On Sunday Poppy and I attended the BowWowPowWow in Adams Morgan. We spent the day answering questions at Friendship's booth and later gave a presentation on proper puppy care. Poppy had a great time meeting other dogs as well as their people. All in all a great weekend that yet again illustrates how much joy our dogs and cats bring into our lives.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More Basic Training for Poppy

I am taking Poppy to puppy kindergarten tonight and we are both looking forward to it. Even though she spends a lot of time playing with my other dogs Sparkle and Lilly it is extremely important for her to play with other puppies too. We have made a few trips to the park by my house and she has met some lovely puppy friends to romp with. After these trips where she is able to blow off some of her massive stores of puppy energy, she is a much better behaved dog at home. If you are going to take your puppy to classes or a dog park it is very important that you keep them up to date on vaccines and preventatives. While we have been waiting for puppy kindergarten to arrive Poppy and I continue to work on our commands. Come and sit are now old hat to her. To teach her to lie down I hold a piece of kibble with the palm of my hand facing the ground and swiftly lower it while saying “down”. As she sinks into a lying down position I immediately reward her and say “good Poppy”. With repetition she will follow the verbal command “down” combined with a downward motion of my hand.

Stay is one command Poppy has picked up very quickly. This is generally one of the more difficult commands for puppies to learn given they have the attention span of an insect. I start by asking her to sit, once she has done that I give the command “stay” and hold one finger up. One could also use a flat hand extended toward the nose but I thought this may confuse her with the sit and down hand commands. While she is sitting and not moving, I take one step away, for one second, maintaining eye contact at all time. If she stays where she is I quickly step towards her, bring the treat right to her nose and say “good stay”. I then ask her to stay for progressively longer periods of time and with more distance between us. If she makes a mistake and runs toward me, I calmly return to the previous time or distance and start over. Theoretically she should remain seated in the same place until I release her, no matter the time or distance.

Heel is the fifth essential basic command and not one I have started teaching Poppy quite yet. This is mostly because when I take all three dogs for a walk, Sparkle and Lilly are not well behaved either and I haven’t figured out how to teach Poppy not to follow the other two. The obvious answer is all three dogs should walk correctly on a leash, without pulling but I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon.

It is very important that your puppy learn the appropriate way to walk on a leash so they aren’t dragging you around and jumping all over everyone. I will take a moment to express my distaste for pinch collars, those metal, spiked things you see dogs pulling people around on. In my opinion, not only are these cruel but they really don’t work well. If your dog drags you around either visit a trainer or use a Gentle Leader Easy Walk Harness. Unlike the Gentle Leader Head Collar, which requires training for proper use, the harness works well almost instantly.

I will post next week on how puppy kindergarten went as well information on the infectious disease Leptospirosis and why most dogs should be vaccinated for it. Poppy and I will be speaking on proper puppy care at this Sunday’s BowWowPowWow and answering questions at the Friendship Hospital for Animals booth. Visit the event to say hello and learn more great tips on the best way to care for your dog.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spring Kittens

I have been focusing on puppy care for the past few weeks and I wanted to be sure I didn’t neglect the kitty owners. Spring is kitten season and the shelters will be soon overflowing with these tiny little balls of fur. At Friendship we offer a Kitten Plan that is similar to the Puppy Plan I am doing with Poppy. This includes all wellness kitten visits, fecal testing, deworming, core vaccinations and ten percent off the spay or neuter.

The core vaccines for cats are rabies and feline distemper. I often hear people say that their cat does not need to be vaccinated for rabies since they do not go outside. First this is against the law, all cats and dogs must be vaccinated for rabies. What owners don’t usually think of is there are numerous scenarios where your cat could be considered a rabies suspect and be euthanized against your will.

Picture this: Mittens an unvaccinated, indoor cat darts out the back door and returns home a few hours later with a bite wound from an unknown animal. The wound needs medical attention so Mittens’ owner brings her to the veterinarian. She is extremely painful and scared; in an effort to protect herself she bites one of the veterinary technicians while she is being treated. While the odds are she does not have rabies, since this disease is one hundred percent fatal the person who was bitten has the legal right to have Mittens put to sleep for rabies testing. This horrid situation could have been completely avoided with a simple vaccine.

The second core vaccine for cats is feline distemper. This combination vaccine protects against common viruses that cause upper respiratory and gastrointestinal disease in cats. Also available is the feline leukemia vaccine which is usually recommended in cats that are going to go outside. On that note I ask that you please do not let your cats outside. On average indoor cats live to twelve to fifteen years, the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is two years. There are countless dangers such as cars, chemical toxins, poisonous plants, infectious diseases, and fighting with other cats or wild animals. If you are worried that your cat will be bored inside please visit the Indoor Cat Initiative website for tips on how to enrich your indoor kitty’s life.

All cat owners should also apply a topical product such as Advantage Multi or Revolution to protect your cat against heartworm disease, fleas and ticks. Even if you keep your kitty safely inside they are still exposed to these pesky insects and need protection just as much as dogs do. Kittens are incredibly cute and always entertaining to watch as they race around your house. Follow these simple guidelines to get your new kitten off on a healthy paw.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Basic Training for Poppy

Poppy is turning into quite a handful and like all puppies I have to keep a constant eye on her; she is just busy all the time. The other day I sat down to work at my computer and realized I suddenly couldn’t send emails. Without my even noticing she had chewed the power cord for my modem. Thankfully she wasn’t hurt but this just illustrates how closely I need to watch her. One thing that can help keep her mind engaged is to start teaching her some basic commands which will help her become a well mannered adult dog.

It's a little embarrassing to admit, but I haven't yet signed Poppy up for a puppy class, even though I know that all the experts agree this is the single most important thing you can do for your new puppy. These classes have two benefits: to teach basic commands, and to socialize your puppy. I am going to sign her up soon; I just haven’t had the time lately.

For now, I'm taking care of the socializing by bringing Poppy to work with me each day. This allows her to meet all kinds of new people and gain exposure to different situations. A puppy that spends all its time with just a handful of people and only goes out in the back yard soon becomes fearful of new experiences.

Basic obedience training is also key: You want to start training before your puppy learns any bad behavior that will be more difficult to correct later on. So though we haven't yet made it to puppy class, I have started teaching her the five basic commands every dog should know: come, sit, lie-down, stay, heel."

The first two are by far the easiest and Poppy (being a puppy genius) mastered these in a few minutes. Training does require constant reinforcement as come and sit are the building blocks for more advanced commands. We use a piece of her puppy kibble as a training reward and every time she does something correctly she instantly gets a “good Poppy” along with the kibble. Over time I will reduce the frequency of food rewards and only give her a verbal praise.

In addition to a verbal command I always use a hand signal since a double signal is more effective. To teach her to come when I call her name I stand a few feet away from her with the treat, wave my hand and say “Poppy, come”. The minute she gets to me I praise her, give her the treat and a pat on the head. For the sit command I take the treat, put it in front of her nose and slowly move my hand over her head. This will cause her head to go up and rear end to plop down. The second her furry butt hits the ground I say “sit” and give her the treat.

I spend time working with Poppy every day and incorporate the training methods into daily activities. For example, before she gets her dinner she must sit, wait for me to place it down and then call her. Before I put her leash on she must sit calmly and allow me to attach the leash before we go anywhere. Performing activities such as these shows her how to behave appropriately and not act like a wild thing. This is something Poppy and I work hard on and while she is very bright we have setbacks and I have to constantly remember to take time to teach her correctly. Next week we will cover the remaining three basic commands for a well behaved puppy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


With the warm weather just around the corner now is the time to be vigilant in using monthly heartworm, flea and tick prevention for your pets. I recommend that owners use these once monthly medications year round but with spring here those mosquitoes, fleas and ticks are just waiting to emerge and attack our dogs and cats.

Everyone knows how annoying those relentless mosquitoes are when you are trying to enjoy your yard or back porch. But these pests are more than just irritating – they can endanger your pet’s health by transmitting heartworm disease. Heartworm disease is a parasitic infection transmitted when an infected mosquito bites your dog or cat.

Monthly heartworm prevention is essential year round for both dogs and cats, even indoor kitties. There is NO treatment for heartworm in cats, and sudden death is a common result of heartworm infections. While it’s true that infected dogs can be treated, the treatment itself is very dangerous—and can even be fatal. Left untreated, heartworm disease will kill a dog.

Protecting your dogs and cats against fleas and ticks is important as well. Tick borne infections such as Lyme disease, Erlichia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are transmitted when an infected tick bites your dog. As you can see in the picture to the right, the deer tick that is responsible for transmitting Lyme disease is tiny and may be difficult to find on your dog. The best way to ward these infections off is with topical flea and tick preventatives like Frontline, Advantix, Revolution, or Advantage Multi. In a temperate climate like ours, these should be applied once a month, every month.

Although a Lyme disease vaccination is available, we do not recommend using it because there is no concrete evidence that it prevents the disease. Plus, some specialists believe that vaccinating an infected dog can make the disease worse.

Fleas can be extremely itching and irritating to both you and your pets. Some animals are allergic to fleas and one bite can lead to a significant skin infection. Once a flea infestation invades your home it can be very difficult to clear it out. The best bet is to prevent that from happening by applying the same topical medications that protect against ticks.

Luckily, prevention is easy: just a pill and a topical medication once a month. If only everything were that simple.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Housetraining Poppy

I have named my new puppy Poppy and she is the most wonderful little sweetheart. It has been eight years since I have had a puppy and I had forgotten just how much work it is. I am lucky in that I can bring her to work with me and while there she is constantly being loved on by everyone in the hospital.

I am crate training Poppy, which I recommend to all dog owners. When Poppy is not in her crate I have to watch her at all times. It is amazing how busy she is: constantly exploring, chewing and trying to play with my other dogs (who most of the time are happy to play along). I also need to be vigilant about looking for signs that she has to go to the bathroom so she can progress with her housetraining.

Crate training is a crucial first step to housetraining. I am teaching Poppy to view the crate as her sanctuary, her very own place to be when she wants to get away. My first step was to choose the right size crate: large enough so she can stand up and move around but not too large so she can lie down in one spot and eliminate in the other. Right now Poppy still isn’t sure she likes the crate, but I’m working on changing her attitude by giving her a stuffed Kong—her very favorite treat—each time she goes in her crate. Since this is the only time she gets a Kong, I am confident that she will soon look forward to spending time in her crate.

Just like I advise all the dog owners I see at the hospital, I never, ever put Poppy in the crate as punishment. Instead, I use it more as a playpen to keep her safe when I’m not able to constantly watch her.

One of my most important jobs right now is to establish a schedule so Poppy can start to plan when she is going to go to the bathroom. This is a difficult concept for a very young puppy like Poppy, but by four to six months of age she should start to understand. Because puppies need to go to the bathroom at least every 2-4 hours I never leave Poppy in the crate for any longer than this. Starting out with a set schedule will also help decrease the frequency of “accidents” because I will be able to anticipate when Poppy will need to go outside.

Each time before I put Poppy in the crate and immediately when I let her out, I take her outside so she can go to the bathroom. Instinctively most dogs will not urinate or defecate in the same space they sleep in, thus she should “hold it” while in the crate. When Poppy goes to the bathroom outside I lavish her with praise—as if this was the best thing in the world she could possibly have done! This seems to be enough for Poppy, but for some dog owners using a small treat as a reward works well too.

It took only a few days for me to figure out the signs that Poppy needs to go outside. Now, when she plays in the house, I keep a sharp eye out for these signs which include stopping play abruptly to sniff around or heading off in the house by herself. As soon as I notice this I take her outside before she has an accident in the house. And each time she goes outside, I tell her she is the best girl ever!

If an accident does occur, I NEVER punish Poppy by striking her or “rubbing her nose” in the mess. I know that this would accomplish nothing other than making her scared of her environment and me. Instead, I simply clean up the accident with an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle or Anti-Icky Poo and remind myself to keep a better eye on Poppy next time.

As with all dog training, housetraining works best with positive reinforcement, plenty of patience, lots of time and consistency. I know that Poppy only wants to please me, so I give her guidance and love which will only strengthen the bond between us. She is also a puppy genius; she learned to sit in no time at all. Please check back in next week for tips on training your puppy.

Housetraining can be a challenge. If you have questions, or want advice about the best ways to proceed, speak to your veterinarian. Working together, you’ll be able to find the solution that best fits your pet and your lifestyle.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Friendship the Dog

Friendship Hospital for Animals is sponsoring a dog through the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI). This organization works with countries to establish affordable and sustainable programs to rid their land of the scourge of landmines. Did you know that an estimated 80 million landmines are still buried worldwide?

One of their programs, the K9 Demining Corps Campaign, trains dogs to sniff out mines, which is faster and more effective than using a manual deminer. The dogs learn to detect explosive odors commonly found in landmines, and to alert their human handlers to the presence of a landmine by sitting still. Once the dogs are trained, MLI places them with a trainer native to the country where the demining will occur so that they may clear their own land.

Friendship Hospital is sponsoring a male German shepherd named Friendship. Born on May 4, 2007, Friendship was trained in San Antonio, Texas and was set to be deployed to Afghanistan in mid-March. We are proud of our involvement with this wonderful organization and hope you will visit their website to learn more.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Welcome Puppy!

I was browsing through last week and was amazed to find a litter of puppies that looked exactly like Westin did when she was a baby. They were being fostered by Rescue Angels out of northern Virginia. I am a big proponent of adopting an animal from a shelter or rescue group, so this was a perfect fit.

I went to meet the puppies and fell in love with one of the blond females of the litter. She is eight weeks old and a tiny, yellow fluffball. I know she will not replace Westin, but she can help fill the void I feel from Westin’s loss. I haven’t settled on a name yet, because I am waiting to get to know her better.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss proper veterinary care for your new puppy. This week, I will bring my new puppy to the hospital and start the Puppy Plan we offer at Friendship. Included in this plan are all of her puppy wellness visits, deworming, fecal flotations, and core vaccines. In addition, she will get 10% off of her spay, a name tag (once I decide on her name!) and the first month of heartworm prevention free.

It is critical to get puppies started on a vaccination protocol to help protect them against potentially fatal diseases. At Friendship we consider core vaccines to be the combination distemper/parvo/hepatitis vaccine (DHP), the Bordetella vaccine and, of course, the rabies vaccine. While it is not considered a core vaccine, I also recommend that my clients vaccinate against Leptospirosis which is a bacteria transmitted by rodent urine.

Monitor your puppy carefully for 12 to 24 hours after vaccination, because there’s a chance that a vaccine reaction may develop. Clinical signs to watch for are facial swelling, hives, extreme lethargy, profuse vomiting, or diarrhea. If you notice any of these signs you should seek veterinary care immediately. It is normal for your puppy to be sleepy after the vaccinations and a small bump may develop at the vaccine site. While the potential side effects of vaccinations may sound scary, bear in mind that these are rare, and that the benefit of protection to your puppy far outweighs any risk.

You must also be sure to test your puppy’s poo for internal parasites. Most puppies will have roundworms at some point, since these are transmitted by their mom. Keep in mind that roundworms are transmissible to people, so be sure to wash your hands after playing with your puppy. Regardless of what the fecal test tells us, I will always give an oral de-worming medication to all puppies during their exams.

Last but not least comes the essential step of starting your puppy on heartworm prevention plus flea and tick prevention. These medications should be given once a month, all year long for the rest of your dog’s life. Heartworm disease can be fatal, as I mentioned in an earlier post. The flea and tick prevention keeps these nasty bugs out of your house and helps prevent tick-born diseases such as Lyme disease.

Bringing a puppy into your home is a joyous event but one that comes with a lot of responsibility. At Friendship we work with you to get your puppy’s new life started out on the right paw. I am thrilled with my new pal, she could not be any sweeter. Please check back in weekly for status updates and more key tips for having a happy and healthy puppy.