Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Time to spay Poppy

Poppy is just about six months old and her adult canine teeth are just starting to appear - the time to spay her is here! I always advise people to wait until the adult canines have erupted before their puppy goes to surgery. Retained deciduous teeth, meaning that the baby and adult teeth are present at the same time, requires extraction of the baby teeth so the dog's bite does not become adversely affected. The removal of any remaining baby teeth must be done under anesthesia so it makes sense to do this at the same time as the spay/neuter surgery.

In my opinion spay/neuter is one of the top three essential things that should be done to give your pet a long, healthy life (as a side note the other two are proper vaccination and heartworm prevention). Therefore I thought I would re-post my article on why this is such an important procedure.
Spaying and neutering are routine surgeries, which remove a dog or cat’s reproductive organs. This single, simple act has numerous benefits for your pet’s health, yourself, and the millions of unwanted animals living in shelters.

As a general rule, if you do not plan on breeding your pet, he or she should be spayed or neutered by 6 months of age. It is common for some shelters to perform these surgeries on younger animals. Breeding correctly takes a lot of research and education both for the safety of your pet and to pass on desirable traits of the breed. If you are not dedicated to improving the genetics of your chosen breed and producing offspring that are healthier than their parents, then you should not breed your pet.

Female dogs and cats spayed before their first heat have less than a 1% chance of developing mammary cancer. If you spay them before their second heat you have a 92% chance of preventing mammary cancer. By spaying you completely remove the chance for an often life-threatening uterine infection called pyometra as well as uterine and ovarian cancers. Neutering a male dog or cat eliminates the risk of testicular cancer and significantly decreases the chance of prostatic disease and hernias which occur under the body’s influence of testosterone. Plus, a pet that is spayed or neutered is simply more pleasant to live with. Neutering your male dog decreases and may even eliminate such undesirable behavioral tendencies as aggression, urine marking, wandering and the dreaded humping. Male cats are less likely to spray if inside and fight or roam if they are allowed outside. Female dogs in heat are really messy – who wants that mess on their carpet or sofa? And anyone who has ever lived with an un-neutered male cat will recall the joys of damp carpets and the delicate aromas of cat pee wafting through the room.
If the reasons above do not move you, let us consider the tragic pet overpopulation problem in this country. The Humane Society of the Unites States estimates that 6-8 million dogs and cats enter a shelter every year. Of that number over half are euthanized, that is 4 million dogs and cats put to death every year. The average fertile female cat can produce about 12-18 kittens per year and female dog 12-20 puppies. Shelters and rescue groups work tirelessly to find homes for these pets but they just can’t keep up with the number of animals entering the shelters.

Spay and neuter today! Do it for your pet’s health, do it for yourself and do it for the millions of unwanted animals living in shelters.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sherman's over-active thyroid

Sherman is a ten-year-old kitty whose owners brought him in to see me for his annual exam. Overall, Sherman looked good, but I noticed that he had lost almost two pounds since last year and had developed a heart murmur. I asked his owners whether they had seen any changes in Sherman’s appetite. Was he eating more than usual? Did he always seem hungry? They assured me that Sherman’s appetite was unchanged.

Weight loss in a senior cat can mean many things, but given the new heart murmur I was strongly suspicious of hyperthyroidism. We submitted bloodwork, including urine and a thyroid test. Sherman’s bloodwork confirmed that he had an elevated thyroid level. This was most likely responsible for the weight loss and heart murmur.

The thyroid gland plays a key role in regulating the body’s metabolism and when enlarged it produces an increased amount of hormones which can then affect multiple organs. Symptoms include increased thirst, urination and appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. Cardiovascular side effects also occur: when a cat’s metabolism increases, the heart is stimulated to pump faster and more forcefully. This leads to thickening of the heart muscle, resulting in abnormal blood flow, which is heard as a murmur. High blood pressure - also known as hypertension - is another result of the cardiovascular changes that can occur. This can result in neurologic abnormalities, kidney disease and retinal detachment, which results in blindness.

We checked Sherman’s blood pressure, which fortunately was normal, and started him on a medication called methimazole that lowers the amount of hormones the thyroid produces. Our cardiologist, Dr. Braz-Ruivo, conducted an ultrasound to evaluate Sherman’s heart murmur. This was done to evaluate if any heart disease was present and make sure he didn’t need any additional medication to help his heart work more efficiently. Sherman responded very well to the thyroid medication and did not develop any underlying kidney disease, which often shows up after the thyroid is properly regulated.

Though Sherman’s owners chose to manage his hyperthyroidism with medication, another option was available: Radioactive iodine therapy is a procedure that attacks the overactive thyroid cells and produces permanent results. This is generally considered the gold standard of treatment for feline hyperthyroidism. It works very well but is expensive. Also, regardless of blood pressure, if any underlying kidney disease is present, the patient could develop chronic kidney disease once the thyroid is corrected.

It took a few adjustments to find the correct dose for his medication, but Sherman’s hyperthyroidism is now well regulated. We’ll keep an eye on his thyroid levels with bloodwork each time he comes in for his annual exam. During his last visit he was doing great and had gained back all the weight he initially lost.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The dangers of jogging with your dog

Now that summer is here, I have a crucial recommendation for dog owners: Please don’t run with your dog during hot, or even warm, weather. In my opinion the danger is just too great.

Consider this: as you are jogging in your shorts and lightweight t-shirt, your dog is wearing a fur coat and no sneakers. Humans cool their body temperatures by sweating, which we do over our entire body. Dogs, on the other hand, can only cool themselves by panting and heat loss through their paws. Warm weather means roasting-hot pavement, which eliminates a dog’s ability to lose heat through their paws, and can quickly contribute to heat stroke.

Heatstroke can be fatal - even with aggressive immediate treatment. Because your dog’s main concern is keeping up with you, she is not going to self-regulate and tell you when she is too hot to keep going. All too often, runners will only stop when their dogs actually collapse or refuse to go any further.

In fact, heatstroke is just one of the reasons to avoid running with your dog. Even when the weather is cooler, the constant jarring over long distances on hard surfaces is guaranteed to result in arthritis and chronic pain for your pet. Unlike humans dogs do not wear fancy running shoes to absorb the shock to their joints that occurs from pounding the pavement. If you must run with your dog, do it only in the cooler temperatures and never run for more than one mile at a time.

Clearly dogs need exercise during the summer, just like they do during the rest of the year. Healthy options include taking a walk in the woods, or heading to the dog park in the early morning or evening when it is cooler.

If heatstroke does occur seek veterinary care immediately. DO NOT submerge your dog in water or douse her with a hose--this will lower the body temperature too quickly. If you would like to start bringing down your dog’s temperature, wet her paws with cool (not cold) water and place a cool, damp towel over her. You can check her temperature with a rectal thermometer; anything over 104 should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

I realize this is a strongly worded post, but having a pet die of heat stroke is especially devastating because it can easily be prevented. So the next time you lace up your running shoes, please stop and consider if going for a run with you really is the best thing for your dog.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sam's GDV

Sam is a 10-year-old Doberman mix, who presented on emergency one night with a sudden onset of retching accompanied by a distended and painful abdomen. Abdominal x-rays confirmed our initial suspicion: Sam was suffering from a potentially fatal condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). To help prepare Sam for surgery, we immediately started him on intravenous fluids and pain medication.

More commonly known as “bloat,” GDV occurs primarily in large breed, deep-chested dogs such as Great Danes, standard poodles, Doberman pinschers, boxers and German shepherds. For reasons that remain unknown, the dog’s stomach fills with air and rotates, restricting blood flow to and from the abdomen. This lack of blood flow can quickly lead to shock, resulting in tissue death of abdominal organs. In addition, when the heart is deprived of blood, it cannot pump as effectively, and the heart muscle begins to die, causing cardiac arrhythmias.

When I opened Sam’s abdomen his stomach was severely distended and twisted. My first step was to check the condition of the stomach tissue, to see if it had started to die which would require resection. Sam was lucky: his stomach tissue still appeared healthy. I quickly reached in and de-rotated the stomach back into its appropriate position.

Next, I assessed Sam’s spleen. Since it is closely attached to the stomach, the spleen can rotate along with stomach and often must be removed. Once again, luck was on our side: while initially Sam’s spleen was enlarged and an angry purple color, it returned to a normal size and color just a few minutes after his stomach was repositioned. Sam’s other abdominal organs were healthy in appearance.

After correcting the positioning of the stomach and emptying it of all the trapped gas and fluid, I performed a gastropexy. This procedure literally attaches the stomach to the body wall within the abdomen and thus prevents the stomach from twisting. After surgery Sam was started on a constant rate infusion of pain medication and was hooked up to an ECG so we could monitor him for any cardiac arrhythmias. Sam recovered quickly from surgery and was sent home two days later to his very happy owners.

Anyone with a large-breed dog should be aware of GDV and watch their dog carefully for non-productive retching and abdominal distension. These signs can also be accompanied by hyper-salivation, restlessness, inability to stand and depression. A GDV or bloat is one of the few true surgical emergencies. It is essential to get treatment for your dog as quickly as possible is essential. Lucky for Sam, his owners knew what to look for and acted immediately.
This is Sam with his buddy Murray who was also very relieved to have him home.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The best three things you can do for your puppy

The past few months with Poppy have taught me so much about raising a puppy, I now feel able to advise my clients better than ever. As with all puppies, Poppy’s education is a work in progress: teaching her to be a well behaved dog will continue long into her adulthood and requires much patience.

I wanted to sum up what I feel are the three most important take-home messages from my series on puppy tips with Poppy.

1. Bring your new puppy to the veterinarian right away – All puppies should come with a health record of vaccines and de-worming medications administered by the breeder or shelter. On your first puppy visit be sure to bring this paperwork, so you and your veterinarian can discuss and plan out an appropriate vaccine schedule. In addition, a poo sample is helpful so your veterinarian can make sure your puppy didn’t bring home any unwanted friends (internal parasites) with him. At this first visit you can get your puppy started on preventatives for heartworm, fleas and ticks.

2. Take your puppy to basic training class – All veterinary behaviorists agree that early socialization is a crucial step in creating a happy and well-adjusted dog. Exposure to other puppies, new people and places can help prevent your puppy from being fearful and socially awkward. Puppies need to be taught how you want them to behave; a training class will give you proper guidance on how to achieve this. An added benefit: letting your youngster run around and play with other puppies is a great way to work off some of that crazy puppy energy!

3. Spay or neuter your puppy – I cannot stress the importance of this enough. In my opinion, spaying or neutering is the single best thing you can do, not only for your own dog but for the millions of homeless animals living in shelters. Along with eliminating the chances for many types of cancer developing, spaying and neutering can prevent many behavior issues. I have said it before and I will say it again: female dogs in heat are messy and it is always embarrassing to have your male dog humping someone’s leg.

I hate to disappoint anyone who was looking forward to watching me and Poppy on Fox 5 tomorrow but they cancelled, apparently the switch from analog to digital television is more important than Poppy or my opinions on puppy care…clearly they have their priorities wrong.

I will continue to post frequent pictures of Poppy for those who want to follow how she is doing. Check back next Tuesday, when I’ll be back with a story about a Doberman mix named Sam and how his life was saved by a surgical procedure called a gastropexy.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I apologize that I have missed a few posts the last two weeks. The animals and I have been taking a quick summer vacation and getting a few things done around the house. Please check back in next Thursday for the best three things you can to do to have a happy, healthy puppy. Poppy and I will then be appearing the next day to discuss these tips on DC's Fox 5 mid-day show, we hope you will tune in and I am really hoping that Poppy behaves herself!