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Friday, October 31, 2008

No Bones About It

Mary asks a good question...

If I have barbecue, is it safe to allow my dog to eat the bones afterward?

The quick answer is "nope, definitely not". Here's the long answer. Bones in general are not good for dogs. Yes, that may be a surprise to many people, as it's the traditional thing we give dogs and you can even buy them in pet stores. But just because it's "always been done" or "my parents did it" doesn't mean it's right. It was common for many centuries for doctors to bleed their patients, believing that doing so helped fix any imbalances in their bodies. This was the height of medical knowledge, yet it resulted in some people's death (including George Washington), and never really helped. Fifty years ago scientists just described the structure of DNA. Current medical knowledge is always changing.

There are a number of bad things about bones in general and barbecue in specific. Bones have a chance of splintering, which can cause severe irritation to the stomach and intestines when swallowed. Many types of bones are harder than teeth, and it's possible to fracture teeth while chewing on bones (I've seen it happen many times). I've also seen situations where small pieces of bone have mixed with a dog's feces, creating a sort of cement-like substance that has caused constipation and even intestinal impaction. Yes, dogs like bones, and yes, chewing on hard substances like this will help keep tartar off teeth. However, I believe that the risks far outweigh the benefits.

Barbecue is very bad for dogs. It is rich and fatty, which can at a minimum cause diarrhea, vomiting, or even just an upset GI tract. In more severe situations (usually when a lot of fatty food is eaten, or the dog is small) it can cause an inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can be life-threatening, and often requires hospitalizaiton and intense treatment. No, it's not going to happen every time, and I know there are plenty of people who will read this and think of plenty of times their dog has eaten things like this and been fine. I can't really argue with that. But as a doctor I have seen many, many situations where it hasn't been fine, and the pet has needed medication or hospitalization. Is it worth it to you to risk it in your pet?

Lastly, please remember that dogs don't have any innate sense or instinct for what is best for them. They're like a 3 year-old child, and react to merely what makes them happy. When it comes to food, they simply like what tastes best, not what's healthiest for them. I'm sure you wouldn't let your toddler go into the kitchen and eat whatever they wanted. Have the same attitude towards your dog.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fat Cats (and Dogs)

Obesity is a major problem among Americans, and is often called an epidemic. So it shouldn't be a surprise that there is a similar problem among American pets. And like in the human owners, this is a problem that is usually completely preventable and cureable, though it takes effort. So here are a few hints and tips in how to recognize obesity and how to manage it.

First, let's address how to tell if your furry friend is carrying a few extra pounds. There are three characteristics that I look for when I'm examining a pet, and it holds true whether I'm looking at a dog or a cat. The ribs should not be visible, but when running your fingertips lightly over the chest, you should be able to feel each rib individually. The chest should be the widest part of the body. As you move from the ribcage to the hips, there should be a slight but noticable narrowing, making a "waist". If you look at your pet from the side, the chest should be the lowest part of the body, and as you move your hand towards the hips, it should move upwards into the abdomen (what is called an "abdominal tuck"). If you can't feel the ribs or if there is a straight line from the chest to the hips, then your pet is overweight. Now the exception is in many cats. It's common that after being spayed or neutered a cat will develop an accumulation of fat under the skin of their abdomen, even if they are nto overweight. However, the other characteristics should apply, even if this fat pad eliminates the abdominal tuck.

Realize that if your pet is overweight, there can be many health consequences. In cats, obesity increases the risk for diabetes, liver disease, skin problems, and arthritis. In dogs, you have a much higher risk of arthritis and other joint disease. Pets don't get the same kinds of heart disease, clogged arteries, or increased cholesterol like overweight humans, but there are still potentially severe health consequences.

So what can you do if your dog or cat needs to loose a few pounds? Like in humans, the best success is a combination of diet and exercise. DO NOT "free feed" your pets. That's a common practice with cat owners, where they will often leave the food bowl full. I have yet to see this not turn into a weight problem when there are multiple cats present. You will need to provide measured meals (get a measuring cup and feed a specific amount) at regularly scheduled intervals. And you will need to feed your pets separately. I'll be a bit blunt and direct here and say that if anyone says they can't feed pets individually, they are simply being lazy. You can get separate bowls for each pet, put a measured amount in each bowl, and monitor their eating. If they get into each other's food, put them in separate rooms. And nobody can tell me that they "can't" do this. It's always a matter of peole not wanting to make the effort. At one point I had three cats, each on a different food. It took me an extra 5 minutes per day to feed them separately. Not that hard.

Be very careful with treats! You will be surprised how many calories a dog treat or biscuit can add, especially in small pets. Even a little bit can make a huge difference.

In many cases you will need to feed a special diet food recommended by your vet. Yes, these are more expensive. But if your vet says it's necessary, then please do it. In cases like this it's not simply a method of providing nutrition, but a medical therapy for a health problem. I know people who will spend $60 per month on pills for their pet, but think it's too expensive to buy a $50 bag of food.

Also try to increase the activity level of your pet. For dogs, that can mean walking, playing, and so on. Cats are harder to exercise, but you can use a laser pointer, dangling cat toy, or even toss the pieces of food and have the cat chase after them.

If you have a dog and have tried everything your vet has recommended, and followed a plan to a "T", but your pup still has a weight issue, there is still hope. There is a new medication, Slentrol, available by prescription that can cause weight reduction in dogs. This is a pretty strong medication, so it isn't used unless all other attempts have failed. Sorry, kitty-owners, this is currently for dogs only.

Though it may take a lot of work, getting your pet to a healthy weight is worth it. Studies have shown that overweight pets live shorter lives and have more health problems than pets kept at a normal weight. So get those jogging pants on and talk to your vet about your pet's weight! You have the ability to determine whether your pet is svelte or a fatty!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Time To Get Exotic

Most people in the US have dogs and cats as pets. But there are rapidly increasing numbers of so-called "exotic" pets. Exotics pets include pretty much anything you can have in a standard home besides the canines and felines. These animals could be lizards, snakes, hamsters, rabbits, ferrets, frogs, turtles, fish, hedgehogs, and many others. These pets can be very interesting and rewarding, but are much different than having a traditional pet. They require special care and housing requirements, and many people get these animals on impulse without properly researching them. It's estimated that 80-90% of health problems in exotic pets are related to husbandry (housing and diet). That means that the majority of illnesses in exotics are very preventable.

Now, going into the ins-and-outs of disease in every kind of species is pretty much impossible. What I'm going to try and do is give a few quick pointers if you have one of these pets or are considering getting one.

The first and foremost recommendation is to research the species carefully. Buy or rent a book on their housing and care. Many people don't know or realize the specialized conditions under which these pets need to be kept, or what they will be like as adults. For example, did you know that a major cause of disease in green iguanas is improper lighting and calcium metabolism? Or that full-grown iguanas can be over five feet long? These are the kinds of things you want to know ahead of time.

Second, call around and find a vet who has the knowledge and experience to care for the species. Even though we receive some basic education in most species, proper medical care and surgery of these pets requires more than the basics covered in veterinary school. And not every vet even wants to see exotics. Ask many questions about your vet's qualifications and experience, and what they are equipped to handle. In my own case, I can do many basic avian diagnostics and procedures, but do not feel comfortable doing major surgeries on birds, especially large and expensive ones.

Lastly, be prepared for the responsibility. It's easy to find boarding for dogs and cats, but exotic pets are more difficult. Who will take care of your pet when you go on vacation? Some pets, such as birds, can live for many decades, and can rival a human's lifespan. What will happen to your pet if it outlives you? The newness of the pet can fade away as the long-term care becomes more difficult. Do you really want this pet for it's whole life?

Having an exotic pet can be extremely fun and rewarding, but only if you're prepared for it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vote or Don't Complain

Here in Georgia, like may places nowadays, we are able to vote before the official date. I did that today. I think way too many people in our country take voting for granted, which is why the numbers are so low. And I'm not sure that I completely understand it. I've voted in every major election since I turned 18, and have found it even more important to do so as I get older (now *shudder* twenty years later).

Going along with yesterday's post, it's so important for everyone to be involved in this process. Like my parents taught me, if you don't vote, you don't have any right to complain. What I'm really worried about in this election is that many people will vote, but will do so for emotional reasons rather than looking at the issues. When I was preparing to vote, I got a copy of the ballot online, and looked at all of the races. I then went to the website of every candidate I could find and looked at their stances on various issues. Many places also have sites where you can compare candidates' answers to the same question, and I encourage you to find those out. My point is that I didn't just vote down a party line, and didn't just vote for or against the incumbent candidate. Whether or not you agree with my choices, I actually spent the time trying to learn what each candidate stood for, and whether or not I agreed with their stances. THAT is how you're supposed to vote. And that's why I voted for a mixture of incumbents and newcomers, and had three different parties represented on my ballot.

This is a historic election for numerous reasons. We might elect the first black president or the first female vice-president. We may give the presidency and both houses of Congress to a single party. Whatever choices we make will guide our country for years, if not decades. And those choices are OURS to make, not the politicians'. So make those choices wisely, folks. Take the time to go beyond the ads and sound bites and really delve into what the candidates want to do and HOW they want to do it. But above all, get out there and exercise your right to vote. Not everyone in the world gets that privilege.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Taxing Issue

My family has discovered a bit of a problem with our current American government's system of taxing. Earlier this year I was teaching at a local college, and my wife was working as a bank teller. With our combined income we were making considerably less than when I was a practicing veterinarian. However, we still managed to make ends meet by scrimping and saving every penny. For a number of reasons, I left teaching to go back to practicing medicine and my wife quit work to stay home with the kids. In doing this, our household income jumped by around $10,000 annually. Pretty good, right? Obviously we're doing much better, right? Well, wish I could say that was true. Actually, we're bringing home (net income) about $500 less than when our gross income was lower! Now how in the heck can that be right? I make a lot more money, yet our take-home pay goes down!

It comes down to two factors....taxes and insurance. Previously, I was working for the state university system, so my health insurance was really good and really inexpensive. Now that I'm with a private (though very large) practice, my insurance costs more. Secondly, we are now in a higher tax bracket, and therefore pay more in taxes. And we're not high enough in that new bracket for the higher pay to offset the taxes. How is that right and fair? To us, that shows how the current system punishes initiative, education, and hard work. Our family would actually be better off financially if my wife and I were both working, making lower salaries, and relying on family to take care of our kids. What kind of a messed-up system encourages this kind of family lifestyle????

So, this being an election year, I decided to look at the candidates. John McCain doesn't have a tax calculator on his web site, so I can't figure out how much savings I would get if he becomes president. Barack Obama has one of these calculators on this site, and according to it, under his plan, I would save $1800 in taxes and McCain's plan would save me $122. Now, I'm going to take that with more than a few grains of salt, as I don't know how realistic his plan is. Sounds good, but I'm not sure how it will be paid for, and I'm not a fan of overly taxing wealthy people (that gets back to my beef with a system that punishes and discourages people from making more money).

For well over a year I've heard about the FairTax proposal. So I decided to check out their site (, and I went through their calcuator. According to it, I would pay $9170 less in taxes per year! Sounds pretty good. And everything I've read and heard makes the FairTax system seem very appealing. And frankly, I'm sick and tired of our current way of raising money for government (my problem with what the government then does with the money is a whoooole 'nother issue!). I think that we need to completely re-think our way of handling the money going from us to our governments, and start putting pressure on our legislators.

Take a look at your next or most recent paycheck. Look at the lines for your FICA and other income taxes. Now look at your gross pay. Sit down and pretend to write out a check to the federal government for the amount of taxes. What would it be like if you had to actually write out a check yourself for that amount on every paycheck? Would you be pretty upset about having to write a check that large? Then why in the heck are we all sitting down and doing nothing simply because it automatically comes out and all we really see is the final net income?

This is an election year, and a very important one. The approval ratings of Congress and the President are at historical lows. People are pretty darn fed up with both Democrats and Republicans. Well, why are we going to take it? WE have the power to make the changes! Don't let 545 people make the decisions for 300 million! Instead of simply voting for a party, take a really good look at the candidates. I mean a really good look, not simply watching or listening to their advertisements. And when it comes to tax situations, start to look at candidates that support the FairTax. I know I will.

We can make a difference in this country. It's not up to our President, Senators, or Representatives. It's up to us.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pet Peeves #2 & 3

Excuse me while I rant. Today I had to face my other pet peeves (see September's entries for my first one).

Pet Peeve #2
When you go to a doctor's office, do you expect to be in and out in a matter of 10-15 minutes? I'm talking about any human doctor. Of course, this is a pretty ridiculous expectation. When I go to the doctor, I take a book and consider myself phenomenally lucky if I get out in less than 30 minutes. Yet for some reason, people expect this speed from veterinarians. I can't for the life of me figure out why.

Today I had a client scheduled for a 2:00 appointment. She came in at 1:30 and was checked into the computer shortly after. We're at lunch from 1-2, so she had to wait until we came back. She was back in the room at 2:00, and came out complaining about the wait at around 2:10. By 2:15 the pet nurse was in the room. She came out and was putting her notes in the medical record when I came out of another room. She and I were discussing the case, when the receptionist came to the back saying that the client was asking if anyone was coming in the room. The pet nurse had just gotten out and was telling me what the pets were there fore! I was getting ready to go in the room when the client got fed up at the wait and left. She was furious that she had been waiting for so long without being seen by a doctor. This was all less than 30 minutes after her scheduled appointment and after a pet nurse had been in the room! And I was getting ready to go in and see her pets! Anyone else think that she was being really unreasonable?

Pet Peeve #3
When can you go to your own physician and expect to be seen just before closing? And do you as patients or clients realize that doctors have lives and families also? At about 30 minutes until closing today someone we had never seen before called up and said that they had picked up a stray that had a problem with the leg. We said that by the time they got there we wouldn't be able to do any x-rays or lab tests if they were necessary. We recommended taking the dog to the emergency clinic or come in tomorrow morning when we had the time. The client hung up and called back 10 minutes later wanting to come in. This was now 20 minutes until closing, and the client was still on the phone with us. We kept telling her that even if she came in, we would only have time to do a brief exam, and then would have to refer her to the emergency clinic or get the dog back the next day. At 6:45 (we close at 7:oo) she insisted on coming in, despite our warnings and recommendations. We told her that she needed to be there within 10 minutes in order to be seen. I walked out at 6:58 without her having shown up. My wife, kids, and I had planned a "family movie night" for when I got home. Is it really so unreasonable of me to want to go home to my family on time after having been at work for 10 hours?

I wish I could say that these were rare occurrences. Unfortunately, they're not. Things that people would never ask or expect out of their own doctors, they routinely ask and expect from vets. We work hard and really try to be there for their pets, but sometimes there are people with totally unreasonable expectations that want us to be a drive-thru doc.

So here's the lesson for the day, folks. Be nice and patient to your veterinarian. Realize that they are highly educated and skilled doctors that deserve common courtesy and respect. And don't expect to walk in just before any business closes!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Got Stones?

Brac is a papillon that is a patient of mine, weighing only 5.6 pounds. For the last couple of months, she has had a problem with recurring blood in the urine. Antibiotics didn't seem to help, so we took some x-rays. Look at what we found (I've highlighted the area of interest).

If you look carefully, you can see two small objects in the back part of the abdomen. They will be small, irregular, and slightly more white than the surrounding tissue (the urinary bladder). These are bladder stones. And this is what they looked like after I removed them surgically today.

Bladder stones are a common cause of recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs), especially if there is blood in the urine. If a UTI keeps coming back or doesn't seem to want to go away, veterinarians will usually want to do x-rays or ultrasound of the abdomen. If this recommendation is made, listen to your vet. Stones can cause much irritation to the bladder, and can be very uncomfortable. Small stones or pieces of stones can even lodge in the lower urinary tract, especially in males.

Several things can cause stones to form. Some breeds are particularly prone to them (such as dalmations and schnauzers) due to how their kidneys process and filter material in the blood. Some diets have been shown to increase the risk of stone formation if a dog or cat is prone to it. Usually the process begins with a simple UTI, and a cluster of bacteria forms. Microscopic crystals then collect around that bacterial cluster, eventually growing larger. At some point, the stones can cause further irritation to the bladder, leading to further infections or simply bleeding in the urine.

Most stones have to be removed surgically, though some can be dissolved with special diets or medications. If you suspect this might be a problem, check with your vet.

Oh, and Brac came through the surgery just great, and is expected to make a full recovery.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ear Issues

Ear infections are one of the most common problems I see in dogs. Sometimes it's an occasional problem, and with other patients it's chronic. Now, the first thing I want to make clear is that ear mites are uncommon to rare in dogs. Yes, it happens. But if your dog has itchy, smelly, dirty ears, odds are that it's NOT ear mites. See your vet for certain, and don't waste your money on over-the-counter medications.

The main thing I want to address today is the problem behind continual or chronic ear infections. If your dog has two or more ear infections in a year, then we consider this a chronic problem. Please understand that in these situations the infection is not the problem. The ear infection is the symptom, and there is some underlying problem that is causing the infections. You need to figure out why this is happening, and not just treat the infection. Let's say that you're a fireman and a house catches fire. You go and put it out as quickly as possible. Now let's say that a few months later another house catches fire in the same neighborhood. A few months after that, another house on the same street catches fire. This continues, every few months a new house in the same neighborhood burns. Of course, as a fireman, you would put out the fires when the happen. But when so many happen in the same neighborhood in such a short period of time, you will probably start suspecting an arsonist. To truly fix the problem, you need to find that arsonist, and stop him from setting the fires. Now take this analogy to chronic ear infections. Yes, you want to treat the problem, but then you need to find out why they keep happening.

There are numerous causes for chronic ear problems.

*Breed--Dogs with heavy ears that hang close to their head are more prone because lack of air circulation keeps moisture in the ears. Cocker spaniels are the worst breed for this problem.

*Hypothyroidism--Low thyroid levels can lower the effectiveness of the immune system, as well as make the skin more susceptible to infections.

*Excessive moisture--Dogs who have been bathed, swimming, or running through sprinklers can have an increased risk of infections because of water in the ears.

*Allergies--This is probably the #1 reason for chronic ear infections. Allergies can be related to fleas, food, pollens, mold, dust mites, and numerous other reasons. Inflammation from the allergies can make the skin (including in the ear canal) more susceptible to infection.

If you have a dog with chronic ear infections, please don't simply keep getting more medicine for the ears. Talk to your vet about the possible underlying causes, and treat them instead. If your vet doesn't seem interested in this kind of a discussion, consider getting a second opinion. Not truly treating the real problem can lead to permanent damage to the ears. Think about what is best for your furry friend.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Heartworms....Not Just For Dogs!

Most dog owners are at least somewhat aware of heartworms. These are parasites carried by mosquitoes, and can be fatal. The worms are around 10 inches long when mature, filling the heart and vessels leading to the lungs with up to 30-50 worms. This can cause severe inflammation in the lungs, and lead to congestive heart failure. Dogs with advanced heartworm disease die slowly and painfully. Luckily, this can all be prevented with a monthly pill and annual testing. The testing is important because in the early stages of the disease there are no outward signs or symptoms.

But did you know that dogs aren't the only ones susceptible to heartworm disease? We are seeing an increase in the number of cases of heartworm disease in cats. It's been known for years that cats can contract the disease, but we as veterinarians haven't done a good enough job of letting clients know about this. Heartworm disease is different in cats than in dogs. Felines are naturally more resistant to heartworms than dogs, but they're not immune. Cats also get different symptoms than dogs, and it takes fewer worms to cause serious illness. Additionally, it's much harder to diagnose heartworms in cats than in dogs.

Ferrets are another pet that can get heartworms, and are as susceptible as dogs. However, like cats, it's hard to detect it. That's why most veterinarians don't require annual testing in species other than dogs.

Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in every state in the US, though since it's carried by mosquitoes, the incidence is higher in locales with high heat and humidity. Just because you live in a desert state, or a state that gets very cold winters, doesn't mean that you don't need to put your pets on prevention. No matter what the situation, prevention is better than treatment. Depending on the size of your pet, prevention will cost anywhere from about $40-80. Treatment for a dog can cost $800-1000. There is no approved treatment for cats or ferrets (which is why I tell my clients that though cats are less likely to get heartworms, if they do become infected it's a much worse situation than in a dog).

There are many different brands of heartworm prevention for dogs, and every vet will carry some. There are also several different brands approved for cats (Advantage Multi, Heartgard, Revolution, and Interceptor), and every cat should be on it. Personally, I prefer the topical preventions in cats due to the difficulty in getting a cat to eat a pill. Heartgard (and similar products like Iverhart, Wormshield, and many others) is safe to give ferrets, though not specifically approved.

So regardless of whether you have a dog, cat, or ferret, your pet is at risk of contracting heartworm disease. Do you really want this to happen? If not (and I hope that's your answer), see your vet right away.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Have Enough Time?

There is a young man in our church named Joseph (everyone calls him Jo-Jo). He has always been very nice to everyone, and the kind of person that always smiles at you. He didn't always live his life the best he could, but in the last year has been turning that around. He has been one of our most regular members, became a Christian, and was baptized. His heart truly changed, and he began seeking to be closer to God. He already had a young son, and earlier this year his second son was born. Two weeks ago he married his fiance.

Yesterday Jo-Jo was killed coming home from work when a car ran into him on his motorcycle.

That has really made many of us think about ourselves. Here was a young man (in his 20s) who was really trying to turn his life in a better direction. He had two young children and a new wife, and had his whole life ahead of him. Being in good health, nobody expected anything to happen. Yet it did. In an instant he died, and the lives of those around him changed forever.

Do you ever want to do something, or tell someone something, but always think you have time? I fall into that trap very often. I always think that we have plenty of time ahead, and can get around to doing things. But truthfully, we don't know how much time we actually have. We may not have another day, or even another hour. Heart attacks, aneurisms, accidents, and many other things can take us suddenly.

So here's what I want you to do. Is there someone you've been meaning to say "I love you" to but haven't? Do it immediately. Is there someone you're mad at? Forgive them immediately. Is there a family event that you've been meaning to do? Get it done right away. And most importantly, have you thought about what will happen to you after you die? Many haven't, and that can be a very bad thing. Start looking into it right away. I would seriously suggest reading the Bible and listening to Jesus. The only thing on the line is eternity.

Jo-Jo leaves behind a young wife, two young sons, a sister, and many other family members. Please pray for them. If you died tomorrow, what regrets or unsaid things would you leave behind? Figure that out, and correct them right away. You really don't know if you have enough time.

Monday, October 20, 2008

History Is Fun!

How many of you out there like history? My wife and I find it fascinating, especially the small details of how life was lived. As you may have read last time, we had our 10th anniversary in Charleston, SC. The city was founded in the late 17th century, and played important roles in the American Revolution, pirate lore, and American Civil War. Needless to say, there is history aplenty in this Southern city!

We toured a few historical homes, went to a plantation to walk the grounds, went out to Fort Sumter (where the first battle of the Civil War was held), and simply walked around the historic section. It was amazing to think that some of those homes were over 200 years old! They have survived wars, hurricanes, an earthquake (in 1886), and time. But as I said, some of the most interesting parts of history to us is how people lived their daily lives. Here's a smattering of things that we learned.

* Plantation owners and their families would leave their lands completely for the summer months to get away from conditions they believed would cause disease. During this time, only the slaves lived on the grounds and continued to work the plantation.

*Slaves had to weave their own clothes in their spare time after all other work was done. Their masters were supposed to give them a set of clothes every six months, but most of the time their clothes would last at the most only three months.

*The Middleton family imported water buffaloes to act as draft animals because horses couldn't handle the conditions in the rice fields (a main staple of the plantation).

*Abraham Lincoln was invited to attend a surrender ceremony at Fort Sumter, but declined because he had tickets at Ford's Theater that night. How different would history have been if he had accepted the invitation!?!?

*City ordinances required kitchens to be separate from the main building due to fire hazards. This way, if the kitchen caught on fire, the whole house wouldn't burn down.

*Large mirrors were used in wealthier houses to reflect candle light, not for vanity. The mirrors helped light the place at night, as well as make it look bigger.

If you ever get a chance to visit Charleston, I would highly recommend it. Stay in a downtown hotel or inn, because almost all of the interesting historical sites are within walking distance. And forget what you know about memorizing dates as the end-all and be-all of history! The details are the fascinating part, and remind you that part of "history" is a "story".

Friday, October 17, 2008

The First 10 Years

In March of 1998 I met the woman that I would marry. Our story is a bit of an interesting one. We met through a radio station singles line, where you could register and leave messages for free, but had to call a 900 number to retrieve messages. I had just started, and she was about ready to give up on it. She was the only person who called me back, and we talked on the phone for a few weeks before meeting in person. I found out later that she almost stood me up, and after that date she wasn't planning on seeing me anymore. Well, things changed, and she did go on a second date with me. Things developed very quickly. Two months later we said "I love you". A month after that I proposed to her. Then four months later we were married. First contact to wedding day was only seven months.

That was 10 years ago today.

These past 10 years have been pretty wild. We've lived in five states during that time (Tennessee, Utah, Illinois, North Carolina, and Georgia). We've added two children, two cats, and a dog. There have been very lean times and greatly blessed times. We've had plenty of arguments but have also grown closer. She's taken on some of my interests and personality traits, and I've taken on some of hers. We've truly become one person in two bodies.

Today, on our 10th anniversary, I can honestly and truly say that I'm madly in love with my wife. We still kiss, snuggle, and spoon. We flirt, hold hands, and truly enjoy being with each other. Is it always perfect? Heck no! There are times when I've been furious at her, and she's been at her wits end with me. But we've grown closer than I though could ever happen with anyone, and I am serious in saying that I'm more in love with her now than on our wedding day.

We're getting ready to go away for the weekend to Charleston, SC. The kids will be taken care of by her sister and parents, and we're going to have four days together without any other distractions.

I love you, Stacey. With all of my heart. You have made me happier than I could ever imagine, and I am so blessed that God placed you into my life. The first 10 years have been great, but that's only the beginning!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Kitty Questions

Timpani sent in several questions, so I'll break this down and answer them by section.

I had a question because we recently took an abandoned
cat into our home. Our neighbors moved out and left
about 6 cats, including the cat we took in. She has
been in our home for a few weeks.

We gave her a flea shampooing, and her own litter box,
since we have two other cats (ages 10 & 11). Should we
have done anything else before bringing her inside?

Since you have two other cats, I would have her tested for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline AIDS (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus...FIV). This is a quick and simple blood test that any vet can do in their clinic in about 10 minutes. Both of these are contagious diseases for which there is no cure or effective treatment. Casual contact shouldn't trasmit FeLV or FIV, but if any fights happen, it could happen. Also have the cat tested for intestinal parasites. Roundworms, hookworms, and coccidia are the most likely risks, and all could be potentially contagious if your other cats come into contact with her feces (such as getting into her litterbox). All are treatable, but you want to minimize any risks.

And, she keeps getting outside (I think she was mainly
an outside cat) and going back to the empty house
where her siblings are still hanging around. How do we
keep her inside, or make her want to stay inside?

That's a great question! And unfortunately, not one with an easy answer. Once a cat gets used to being outside, it's very difficult to make them want to stay inside. Very little can make the inside of a home more appealing than outside. Usually all you can do is be very careful about letting her outside, especially if she's near a door when it opens.

Also, she goes pee in the litter box, but she goes
poop in the bath tub. Which is probably the most
convenient place for a cat to poop, but, how do I get
her to go in her litter box? She likes to scratch,
I've seen her poop in my garden, and then bury it, so
I know she likes to bury it.

If a cat is used to using the bathroom outside, it can be difficult to get them to use a litterbox. First, I'd recommend getting Feliway (read yesterday's post) to reduce stress. Then, find a brand of cat litter called Cat Attract. I've had good luck with clients having problems with their cats going outside of the litterbox. Pet specialty stores such as Pet Co and PETsMART should carry it. To help train her, start with her in a small room, and don't let her out until she is consistently using the litterbox. Then put her in a larger room, and so on, making sure she's using the litterbox each time before allowing her in a larger space.

She's looks between 5-9 months old, but I can't be
sure. What shots will she be getting when we take her
to the vet? And should we just get her fixed at the
same time or wait?

Definitely take her to a vet. The vet should be able to tell her age pretty accurately (it's something we do every day). I would recommend getting the feline distemper (FVRCP), FeLV, and rabies vaccines. Those are very important vaccines, and rabies is required by law. Check with the vet, but most veterinarians won't schedule a spay for a pet that they've never seen before. However, you should definitely plan on getting her spayed soon. A cat in heat is NOT fun to have around, and being unspayed increases her risk of certain kinds of cancer.

Keep those questions coming!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Socialization Part 2....The Cats' Turn

Liz writes the following...

what about cats? do they have similar behavioral developement? how do you get a cat used to different kinds of situations? my cat is awesome with our family, and if one or two adults comes over, she's just fine. add another kid however, and she freaks. this is partly due to some mishandling of other people's kids, and i totally understand her behavior. i just would like to know if there's a way to get her to calm down in those kinds of situations, or if i should just continue what i'm doing, which is locking her away in our room whilst company is over to avoid the situation altogether. normally, this wouldn't bother me, but she's such a social cat. the most social i've ever seen. she just hates being locked away from all the excitement, but again, if there are children...any advice?

Cats and dogs have similar behavioral developmental "windows", though the data isn't as well established in our feline pets. The type of handling and experiences a cat has when young will help develop its personality and tolerance for certain kinds of stimulus. However, socially cats and dogs are very different. Dogs are by nature very social, and have been bred for millenia to be this way. Cats have been bred for independence as much as anything, and have been revered for their aloof nature. In the wild, cats rarely congregate in social groups (lions being the obvious exception), preferring a solitary life. While pet cats have been bred to be human companions, some of that solitary nature remains.

When a kitten is very young, it is recommended to do kitten "gentling" exercises. That means to gently handle their feet, ears, teeth, tail, and belly several times each day. Regular stimulation of them in this way helps get them used to handling, making them more gentle (hence the name). Exposing them to other animals (dogs, cats, etc.) as well as new people, pet carriers, and so on will help get them used to such things. Dog owners take note that the same exercises can and should be used on puppies.

Now let's say you have an adult cat, like Liz mentions. Changing a cat's behavior is much more difficult than changing a dog's, because they respond to different kinds of rewards, and are by nature different behaviorally. In my comments about storm phobias I mentioned Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP). Well, a cat version came first, called Feliway. Originally designed to help with spraying and marking behavior, the pheromone helps reduce stress. Using this prior to any expected visits could help reduce a cat's fear of such things.

Now, in Liz's case, the cat is specifically afraid of children, and appears to be due to mishandling. This can indeed cause a cat (or dog) to become afraid of anyone or anything that resembles the source of the trauma. This is an important lesson to anyone with children. Teach your kids NOT to chase, pull, or otherwise frighten pets!

Besides the Feliway, I would recommend having some children come over occasionally in a controlled setting. Find a treat that the cat really goes crazy for, and have the child offer the treat to your cat. Make sure the child doesn't do anything that would frighten the kitty, and wait for the pet to come over to the child, rather than the child approaching the cat. Do this with relative frequency, using different children (to prevent the cat from associating the reward with a single child). You should also council friends with kids that when they visit, the kids need to be quiet so as not to scare the kitty. Yes, this is a lot of work, but it's the only way to undo the "damage" that was done.

Definitely find a vet good with behavior problems if this doesn't help. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Importance of Socialization

Have you known dogs that get too excited when they see people and jump all over them? Dogs that are fine around their home, but can't stop trembling when they go anywhere else? Dogs that pee nervously when anyone new comes around? Ones that jump at the slightest noise or shadow? Or ones that snap or bite in situations or around people they don't know? And did you know that all of these behaviors are pretty set by about 4 months old?

Veterinary behavioral specialists are becoming more vocal about the importance of early socialization in dogs. There are developmental "windows" where a dog's brain is very receptive to certain kinds of stimuli. In the case of socialization, this window is open the greatest until about 14-16 weeks old. During this time, a dog learns how to handle new and different situations, how to behave around people and other animals, and how to react to something they don't understand or might find frightening. If they don't learn these things during this period of time, they likely will never properly learn them. Their experiences in their first 2-4 months of life helps determine their behaviors for the rest of their life.

So what does this mean for you as a dog owner? When you get a new puppy, you should strongly consider getting them into a group puppy class as early as 8-10 weeks old. Many people shelter their dogs, keeping them away from other people or pets. Unfortunately, this can actually hinder a puppy's behavioral development, leading to fearful or rambunctious behaviors. Socialization does not mean being around the kids, grandkids, and other family pets. It means getting them around people, situations, objects, and animals outside of their normal environment. However, you need to have this done in a controlled way so the puppy can be properly trained and can learn to behave properly. And you must do this early! Many people don't think about it until their dog is 5, 6, or even 9 months old and is causing problems. By this time, the behavior is already set, and very difficult to change.

For those of you who have adult dogs, there is still hope, though it will be harder. Find a vet who is skilled in behavioral counseling and listen to their advice. For those with new puppies or considering getting one, please don't discount the benefits of group puppy classes in devleoping proper and desired behaviors.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's A Gas, Gas, Gas

One of the points of this blog is to give people insights into the mind of an average veterinarian. This means that not every post will be about veterinary medicine, as you gain some insight into my mind. (Yeah, a scary place, I know...I live there every day)

I'm not sure how things have been where you live, but here in the Atlanta metro area, gas has been pretty scarce. After the last hurricane, we had a major supply shortage in the area. For a while, most gas stations were out of gas, and finding some would often involve a lot of searching and 20-30 minutes of waiting in line. Thankfully, the supply lines got back to normal, and we have plenty of gas in the area.

But I've noticed an amazing and welcome trend. About a week and a half ago gas was about $4.00 a gallon. Gas prices have been plummeting, lately dropping $0.10 per day. When I left work this afternoon it was $3.15 per gallon, and when I went in this morning it was $3.25. I know that gas prices are pretty complex, made of a combination of crude oil prices, refinery capacity, taxes, type of gas (for different metro areas and times of year), and supply and demand. I've been doing some searching on the internet as I've heard of crude oil prices dropping. And I've noticed something interesting. The last time a barrel of oil was at this price was about a year ago. So you'd think that if a barrel of oil was the same, then gas should be the same as it was in October 2007, right? Think again. Gas prices were about $0.60 per gallon cheaper then, even though oil was a similar price.

Now, I don't believe in a great conspiracy of oil companies. I know that gasoline prices are made up of more factors than just oil prices. I also know that the gas stations are not to blame, as they make only a little bit per gallon (the government makes more in taxes than the store makes in profit!). And I know that at about 9% profit margin, oil companies have a much smaller margin than many other products we buy or use. But I still have to wonder at why prices are still so high, all things considered. Have we grown so used to $4 per gallon that we're excited at the idea of $3 per gallon? When just a year ago $2.70 was outrageously high?

So what can we do? Well, conservation is important, and I think we're all learning about that. I doubt that the gas guzzlers will make a comeback for a long time, if ever. And frankly, I don't know that the government can help much. The Republicans are right in the fact that we need to utilize the oil reserves that we have in this country, while we explore other sources of fuel and energy. And for all of the talk prior to the 2006 election, the Democrats seem awfully quiet about gas lately. Like most people, I've started losing all confidence in Congress's ability to do anything helpful for us. So I really don't know the answer, though there seem to be some reasonable plans out there that combine the best ideas. Now if we can just get our legislators to actually listen to us!

But heck, I'm just excited that in the next few days we may actually see gas back under $3!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It Makes A Difference

Life isn't easy. I think it's safe to assume that everyone knows that. As you get older, it often seems harder. You have bills, a mortgage, house upkeep, kids, and so on. Lately, it seems like the world is going crazy. The economy is in trouble, the stock markets around the world are crashing and burning, gas prices are high despite decreasing oil prices, and the presidential candidates are probably the worst choices we've had. Sometimes I want to turn off TV and ignore the world because of all the bad news that constantly bombards us. Stresses at work never seem to let up, and it's a struggle to make ends meet. It can really be hard to find the joy in life.

That's why I'm glad that I'm a Christian. The Bible never says that when we become a Christian that life will suddenly be sunshine and roses. It never says that our life will be without troubles. In fact, it says that we're pretty much guaranteed problems. However, it does say that throughout it all, God will always be there. No matter how hard things are, He is there to hold our hand and guide us through it.

I'm not sure how many of you who read this are Christians. Those who are probably know what I'm talking about. Having faith in Jesus and believing in Him doesn't take the stresses away. But knowing that I have His support, and knowing that when this life is over I have a much better place to go....well, that really makes a difference.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Day In The Life

Have you ever wanted to know what a vet's typical day is like? That's pretty difficult, as each day is quite different. Today was a pretty crazy one, but let me give you a little insight.

For an experienced vet, it's pretty easy to see 20-25 patients in a day. Today I saw 43. It was busy, but started out with some pretty routine vaccines and well pet exams. However, it kept building up, with lots of pets dropped off for us to see as we had time. There were a few who had some minor problems like diarrhea or itchy skin. A very geriatric golden retriever who was losing weight came in. A hyperthyroid cat needed periodic blood testing to assess whether his medication was working or causing an problems. A young puppy came in with limping that had been going on for a week, so we kept him for a while for sedation and x-rays (turns out that it was a bad sprain and not a fracture). A cat was having vomiting a few times a week after eating. As I worked through those and the drop-offs, I realized that I wasn't going to get to take lunch. I did manage to squeeze in about 15 minutes to scarf down some food. We began the afternoon appointments, and had started to catch up a little bit. That's when the seizuring American bulldog came in. Everything had to stop while I triaged the patient and got him stabilized, placed an intravenous catheter, and collected lab samples to run. A few more relatively well pets, puppies and kittens, came in, and I found a point where I could start calling clients and discuss lab results that we had run earlier. I was able to take a breath, collect my thoughts, and get through the cases. That's when we got the last rush of the day. A cat with dehydration and weakness, that we ended up putting to sleep because of possible renal failure. A dog with an ear infection. Another dog with vomitting and diarrhea. A kitten with some sneezing. A cat's spay incision that had become infected. Finally, an hour after closing, I was done with my last patient, finished my last set of medical notes and was able to start home.

A busier day than normal, but it gives you an idea of the types of things we can see in a day. It's truly unpredictable, and you need to be ready for just about anything.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Blessing of Pets

Those of you who have pets know what I'm talking about here. I called on my way home from work to let my wife know that I was leaving, and she put the phone up to the ear of our Labrador retriever, Guinevere. I started speaking to Gweny (as we call her), and she got excited and started looking out our front window to see if I had come home yet. When I finally did get home, our kids opened the door, and she came bounding out to the car to see me. Seeing that joy and excitement helps lift away the stress of the day. Our youngest cat, Ash, came to see me a little while ago while I was on the computer, and was purring as I scratched his ears. Right now he is curled up next to my wife, who has her arm over him as she's on her laptop.

Simple things like this are so wonderful. The little signs of love and affection that our pets show us really help us. Several studies have shown that people with pets tend to live longer, be healthier, and consider themselves happier than people who don't have pets. Doctors recognize the benefit of service dogs and cats that visit nursing homes and hospitals, giving uncompromising love and attention.

One of my clients has had chronic health problems and cannot work. She also is on a fixed income because of her disability. Recently she adopted a German Shepherd mix named Ceasar. He is a very sweet and gentle adult dog, and a perfect match for her. She has told me several times what a blessing it is to have him, and how greatful she is. Seeing her glow when she is with him makes it obvious what an important part he has in her life.

Yes, I know that pets can be a nuisance. Just today my wife told me that Gweny defecated on the floor, which is something she really doesn't do. We also still have the bite marks on the legs of our kitchen table and chairs from when she was a puppy. And yes, pets cost money to keep in good health. In today's economy, that's not always easy to manage. But take a moment to look at your pet, and really enjoy him or her. Right now, I'm typing this while sitting on my bed, and Ash has moved to lay between me and my wife. Guinevere is stretched out on the foot of the bed. Not sure where the other two cats are, but I'm still glad they're around. The blessing of our pets really makes a difference in our lives. Don't forget that about your own, and take the time to give them a little extra love and attention.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Learn From Yoda, You Will

How many times do I get to channel my geek side while being a vet? Several years ago I had a client with a dog named Yoda. Yoda was a geriatric long-haired chihuahua, about 14 years old. Despite her age, she was a spunky and sweet little girl. Unfortunately, she was plagued by severe periodontal disease. True periodontal disease occurs when infection from dental tartar becomes so severe that the bone of the jaw (upper or lower) starts to erode away, making the teeth loose. Small breed dogs are especially prone to this, with chihuahuas being one of the worst.

The first time we did a dental cleaning on Yoda, we had to remove a little over half of her teeth due to severe infection of the bone and teeth literally falling out at a touch. The next year, more teeth came out. The year after that, we removed more. Adult dogs should have 42 teeth. By the time we got finished with little Yoda on that last dental, she only had 4 teeth left, none of them close to any of the others.

There are a few lessons we can take away from Yoda. First, many people wait too late to begin taking care of their pet's teeth. Clients frequently wait until the periodontal disease is very advanced before doing anything about it. If Yoda's owner had started dental cleanings and proper at-home care earlier, she likely would have ended up with more than 4 teeth. Second, periodontal disease is a severe problem. Yoda was lucky that it didn't lead to other things. Infection from the mouth can get into the blood stream and lead to kidney or liver infections and heart murmurs. Yoda loosing her teeth was the least concerning problem.

The third lesson is that treatment should be taken seriously and not discounted because of what is needed. Yoda was very old, but handled multiple anesthesias and extractions without any issues. Age is NOT a disease, and I've done anesthesia and dental cleanings on dogs and cats much older than her. Even though she lost almost all of her teeth, we kept any infection minimal or eliminated it. She was also still able to eat dry food, and was a very happy little girl. By doing cleanings and pulling her teeth, we likely helped extend her life, and give her a better quality.

So keep this story in mind when you think about your dog's or cat's teeth. And when your vet tells you that you need to take care of your pet's teeth, and you say "I'll try," remember the other Yoda's famous words...

Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bugged By Fleas?

This is a topic that I or my staff have to discuss multiple times per day. The severity of fleas varies around the country, and the further southeast you go, the worse it gets. It's a daily occurrence to have a client say that a certain flea product isn't working. The large majority of the time, this isn't the case. Most of the time the client isn't doing something appropriately or doesn't realize something about fleas. So today's entry is going to try and educate you about this topic.

1. All flea products that you purchase from a vet work well. All of them work MUCH better than any of the store-bought products. The main ingredient in Advantage and K9 Advantix has been investigated , and no fleas are resistant to it. None of the other products have been specifically studied, but there has been no direct evidence that fleas are resistant to any veterinary-carried products.

2. Fleas have to jump on the pet in order to die. All of the topical flea products require this. So this means that you may still see fleas on your pet. We get lots of calls from a client who uses a single dose, still sees, fleas, and thinks it didn't work. Please understand that none of these products repel fleas. The fleas have to jump on the pet and contact the skin in order to be killed.

3. You have to use the products consistently. Regardless of which product is used, a single dose will NOT control fleas. You have to use them for months, especially if you wait until you see fleas to use it.

4. The topical flea products are carried in the oil layer of a pet's skin. If you use most shampoos or bathe frequently, you are washing this layer off, and therefore making the product less effective. You need to avoid bathing frequently, and use a soapless or soap-free shampoo (look on the label).

5. You have to treat the environment! Fleas are only on the pet long enough to feed, and spend most of their life in the carpet, furniture, and yard. If you aren't treating the environment, you're not controlling the problem effectively.

6. You have to use flea products on every dog and cat in the household. Only treating some will not fix a problem, as the fleas will feed off the unprotected pets. You should also consider treating any rabbits, ferrets, and guinea pigs. The small cat size of Advantage has been shown to be safe on these kinds of pets.

7. Start using the products BEFORE you see fleas, and use it consistently as a preventative. By the time you see fleas, you're fighting a loosing battle.

Treating fleas can be a complicated issue, and it's rarely as simple as putting a one-time dose of any product on a pet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

An Arthritic Dog

Renae sends in this question:

I have a 7 year old, female yellow lab, weighing about 97ish lbs. She looks a LOT like your dog! (Labs are just the best dogs ever, are they not? I couldn't ask for a more perfect pet!)

Anyway, I used to take her on 3, 4, 5 mile walks semi-regularly. Several months ago, I noticed that after a good walk, and a rest-up (time enough for her to get stiff), she'd limp around for a couple of days. I asked the vet about this the last time I took her in, and they said it was probably just arthritis. So, I started giving her a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement. It seemed to help some. However her limping is always on the same leg, one of her front legs, and she has a knot on it, right at the ankle joint. I've given her plenty of time off, but she still gimps around after an active day. It's gotten to where I can't walk her more than once or twice around the block. She seems fine while we are walking (as far as I can tell), but she has a hard time after she stiffens up. Anyway, do you think she has injured herself, or does it sound like arthritis? Should I take her back to the vet? Is there hope?

Good question, Renae. This is a common situation, especially in large dogs. The first question that I would have is about the knot. Have your vet examine it carefully to make sure it's related to arthritis, or at least isn't a huge concern. Bone cancer can occur in this location, and can be very aggressive. Your vet should be able to determine this with a careful examination and likely x-rays. The symptoms do sound consistent with arthritis, but there is no way I could tell you definitively without an exam. Your vet is in the best position to tell you this.

Arthritis can manifest in different ways in each patient. A 97 pound lab is above the normal weight for the breed. Ask your vet if she is possibly overweight. If she is, then do everything you can and follow recommendations to get her to a normal weight. My lab is very average in size, and at 76 pounds is about the upper limit of normal for her build. I have known very large labs, but they're not the rule. Being overweight puts a lot of extra stress on the joints, and can make arthritis worse.

Let's assume that the lump isn't a real problem, and that we have her at a good weight. What can you do then? First, you need to realize that arthritis is an irreversible degeneration of the joint. We can't reverse any changes, but we can help with the pain and discomfort.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are excellent supplements, and have been repeatedly shown to make a difference in pets. However, use a veterinary product, not a human one. Just because the ingredients are there doesn't mean that they can be absorbed, and a dog's digestive tract is very different than a human's. There are also several foods that have been shown to make a noticable difference by including these and other ingredients (such as green-lipped mussell). I would recommend looking into Hill's J/D or Royal Canin Mobility Support.

If nutritional supplements aren't quite doing the job, talk to your vet about prescription pain medication. Avoid aspirin, acetominophen, naproxen, ibuprofen, and similar over-the-counter medications. A dog's physiology is different than a human's, and they are more prone to side-effects on these drugs. There are now many excllent drugs specifically made for dogs and are commonly used for pain and inflammation. Talk to your vet about medications such as Rimadyl, Etogesic, Deramaxx, and Metacam. Often these medications can be used "as needed" rather than every day. They do have their own possible side-effects, but have a crucial place in managing arthritis pain.

Besides the supplements and pain medication, there isn't much else that we can do. Many dogs eventually have to be euthanized due to advanced hip dysplasia or other degenerative joint diseases. However, it sounds like you're just starting to explore the beginnings of arthritis treatment, so you're probably far from that point.

I hope that helps answer your question!

Monday, October 6, 2008

I Hate Ivy

I have spent the last couple of Mondays discovering that decorative ivy is a gardener's nightmare. We moved into our house two years ago, and the previous owner had set up several bird houses and bird feeders on posts. Around the base of several of them there was ivy. At first, I thought it was pretty, and left it there. But I have since learned that ivy isn't content to stay where it is planted. Several times I've had to trim it back, as it crept out of its bed to spread into the lawn. Most recently it decided to start climbing the posts. When I pulled it off, paint came with the vine. Not exactly fun or attractive.

So I decided that I would get rid of the ivy completely, and plant something different in the beds. That's when I discovered that ivy doesn't have a single root. My goodness, this stuff is tough! Tiny little roots everywhere, branches and vines intertwined, and multiple places where thick roots go deep. Removing it from six beds took hours and hours of cutting, hacking, and digging. I have several new blisters, and will NEVER plant or recommend ivy. Sure, it looks nice, but it gets everywhere, and its a major headache to remove if you decide you don't like it.

But the job's finally done, and the beds are free of the accursed ivy. In the spring I'm going to plant azaleas, aster, and perhaps some other things (I prefer perennials since you don't have to do as much work on them).

Tomorrow I'll have another "Ask The Vet" question!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Iron Man

Have you read my profile? I clearly pre-warn everyone that I'm a big self-proclaimed geek. That means I'm into comic books, science fiction, fantasy, and most movies, books, and TV shows related to those subjects. My wife and I dress up for Renaissance Faires and fan conventions (such as Dragon*Con).

So it should come as no surprised that I absolutely love the Iron Man movie. I bought it this week and just watched it again with my son today. I enjoyed it more the second time around, and I was pretty pleased when I saw it in theaters. In my opinion it hits on all cylinders perfectly, and is extremely true to the comic books. It's obvious that the director and producers have a love of the genre and character. And I don't think that anyone else could have played Tony Stark better than Robert Downey, Jr. If you don't already know, Tony Stark has been an alcoholic in the comics. Downey has had problems with drugs and alcohol himself, which means he could easily relate to the character. He's an incredibly talented actor with a true insight into the person of Stark, and it shows on screen.

Of course the special effects are great. It's hard to tell what is CGI and what is a practical effect suit. And that's the way effects should be! The movie should definitely get at least a nod in the Academy Awards for Best Special Effects.

Even if you're not a fan of comics, I would really recommend this movie. It's simply a great, fun action adventure.

See, vets have interests outside of medicine and science!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Take the Chip Off!

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to walk around with a perpetual chip on their shoulder? Some people seem always cranky and ready to be offended over the slightest problem. I see that on almost a daily basis with some of our clients. The people at the front desk get the brunt of it, but I have to see it sometimes also. You know exactly the kind of people I'm talking about. The ones that come up to the desk with a frown on their face. The ones that act very brusque when you greet them. The ones that never smile or seem to regard any small talk. Have you ever been one of these people? The slightest thing will set them off and make them start cursing or arguing. And there is no pleasing these people. None at all. No matter how hard you try, it seems like they refuse to listen to anything other than their pre-conceived notions of right and wrong, and even if you try to offer suggestions and solutions, they still aren't happy.

Several years ago I was vaccinating a dog and talking to the owner while I did so. I gave the vaccines while we were talking, and the dog never reacted. When we were done and I was taking the client to the front, he said that I didn't vaccinate his dog. I assured him that I did, and the dog just didn't cry or flinch. He started to get angry and argue with me, insisting that I never gave the vaccines. I couldn't do much but insist that I did. I finally said that I could give the vaccines again with him watching, and I wouldn't charge double. It might increase the risk of a reaction, but I was willing to do it. The client said no! And still didn't seem to believe that I had given the vaccines right in front of him without the dog noticing!

So here's a hint to everyone. Take that chip off your shoulder! Yes, I know that some people have had a bad day, and they end up taking it out on the people they interact with. Sorry, folks, but it's not our fault, and it's not fair that you get mad at us. When I'm in Wal-Mart or other stores, I make a point to at least smile and be polite to the cashiers. They have a difficult and thankless job, and there is no need for me to take my bad day out on them. They deserve to have customers that are at least polite, even if not overly friendly.

Frankly, I can't understand how some people seem to live this way. How can anyone actually be happy like that? Will it really break your face to smile a little? Life's too short to keep that chip on your shoulder!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sew Surprising

Here's a case I had a few years ago, and one that I'll never forget.

Someone brought their 4-5 month old kitten to see me because it had something hard in its throat. The little girl was a very sweet cat, and apparently was acting perfectly normal at home. The issue was pretty obvious at a quick glance. From the front of the cat's neck there was a small but very noticeable projection just under the skin. When I felt it, it was firm like bone, and could move slightly from side to side. When I tried to move it a little, the cat acted like nothing was wrong. Frankly, I was very puzzled. It felt like a bone, but there are no bones in that part of a cat's neck, and the cat seemed completely unaffected. So I recommended x-rays to the owner and they agreed.

This led to my first surprise of the day. The object that I had been feeling was a sewing needle! Somehow the cat had swallowed it, and half-way through the esophagus it had turned 90 degrees and was poking through to just under the skin. What really frightened me was that the pointed end of the needle was only a couple of millimeters from the kitten's spine!!!! If I had pushed to hard on the "object", I could have accidentally rubbed it against the vertebrae, or even gone between them. Yikes! And the kitten acted like nothing was wrong the entire time.

The kitten was old enough to spay, and I would have to anesthetize her anyway to remove the needle, so the clients agreed to do both. I put her under anesthesia, and made a small incision in the skin just over the needle. Once through the tissue, I was easily able to grab hold of it and start to pull it out. That's when I discovered surprise number two. As I pulled it completely out of the kitten's neck, I noticed that there was string still through the eye of the needle. I kept pulling and thread kept coming! It seemed like there wouldn't be an end to it! Eventually I removed about 18 inches of thread, along with the needle!!! All of this from a 4 1/2 pound kitten!

I sutured the incision closed, and proceeded to do a routine spay on her. She recovered normally, came back 10 days later for a post-operative exam, and everything was normal. Despite all that she went through, she had no long-term adverse effects. A very lucky kitty!

Lesson #1: Everyone be very careful with thread and needles around your cats.
Lesson #2: You never know what you're going to see when you're a veterinarian!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Appreciating the Little Things

How often do we take little things for granted? Most of us don't think about the fact that we can see, hear, and walk. In fact, we usually complain if there is a minor pain or problem, such as an ingrown toenail. How many people don't have legs at all?

So what in the world brought this up today? Well, I have laryngitis. I've been dealing with a cold all week, and now it's gotten to the point where I can barely make any sound. That means that I'm staying home from work today to rest my voice.

Now laryngitis may not seem like a big problem, and it really isn't. This will be gone in a few days and I'll have my normal voice back. But it makes me think about how little things can affect my ability to work. I talk to several dozen clients per day, as well as my staff. Having a voice is very important (which is why I'm not working today...I'd really strain it talking that much). But there are so many other things that can affect my job more seriously. What if I was in an accident that made me blind? I wouldn't be able to practice medicine at all anymore without the ability to see my patients, x-ray films, etc. What if a large dog bit my hand, causing enough damage that I lost the use of it? I wouldn't be able to do surgery, and it would severely limit my ability to do many other things. What if I lost my hearing? I couldn't use a stethoscope, which is a simple but important diagnostic instrument and wouldn't be able to discover abnormalities with the heart and lungs. What if I couldn't walk? That would definitely make things more difficult, and I couldn't handle many pets easily. However, when I was in vet school I worked with a practitioner who was paraplegic, and still did daily practice in his wheelchair. He's someone I won't forget, as he didn't let a physical handicap stop him from doing what he loved.

It may seem a bit fatalistic, but I do think about these things sometimes. And it's why I carry "accidental death & dismemberment" insurance. But it also makes me appreciate what I do have. As I said, laryngitis is a temporary inconvenience, not a serious problem. And I do have good vision and hearing (though my wife might disagree on that last part), as well as sound limbs. So really, times like this make me look to God and thank Him for what I do have. God has blessed me, and has allowed me to stay healthy enough to work, support my family, and still enjoy what His world has to offer. As I type this, I can hear birds chirping outside. What a blessing to be able to hear such a joyful sound!

Take a moment and say a simple prayer, thanking God that you have what you have, knowing that it could be worse.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An Ounce Of Prevention

Remember Ben Franklin's saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"? I think about that a lot on a daily basis. Too many people don't realize just how important preventative care is. Many of my clients don't start using flea medication until they start seeing fleas. They don't realize that it's intended as flea prevention, not just treatment. I've had clients that have had a dog treated for heartworm disease, but still don't keep their pets on the prevention (there's that word again). Some people hold off on getting vaccines, and then their dog gets parvo virus and dies.

So what does the saying really mean? It means that the cost of prevention is much smaller than the cost of treatment. Let me give you some examples.

A six-month supply of heartworm prevention can cost $30-50 dollars. Treatment for heartworm disease can cost $800-1000. If you do the math, you could buy 10-12 years of prevention for an average dog for the cost of treating it once. Yet only about 50% of American dogs are on heartworm preventative medication regularly.

Parvo virus can easily kill a dog, and treatment can cost $600-1000. The vaccine is about $20-30.

A bordetella ("kennel cough") vaccine is also about $20-30. Though this isn't a fatal disease, an office visit, antibiotics, and anti-cough medication can easily cost $100.

So why do so many people think that they don't have the money to keep their pet on proper preventative care? Honestly, I don't know. I think that part of it is that they don't know any better (which is part of the reason for this blog). But in my professional opinion, people can't afford NOT to use prevention!

I could give many other examples, but let me end today with an example from this week. A client has an outdoor cat named Simba, who is an un-neutered male. He frequently gets into fights, often resulting in bad injuries. She has been told by more than one vet that neutering him would lower his instinct to fight, and perhaps reduce the number of injuries. Being outside is also exposing him to injuries and illness, especially the risks of serious infectious diseases (such as feline leukemia virus). Yet she hasn't had him neutered, and hasn't kept up with his vaccines. Recently he was in ANOTHER fight, and ended up with a very serious infected wound on his front left leg. She refused to do the recommended care of cleaning the wound and removing any dead or infected tissue, instead opting only for oral antibiotics. Well, the wound isn't healing properly, and she still won't pay for proper care. If the infection doesn't get better soon, he may end up loosing his leg or dying. Neutering and keeping him indoors would have completely prevented any of these issues.

Keep this in mind the next time your vet recommends a certain preventative medication or vaccination. We're not trying to rip you off. We're actually trying to save you money down the road.