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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Do Indoor Pets Need Rabies?

Connie asks this question:
How important is it for a small house to get a rabies vaccine. I know it's a law in Florida but since my dog is rarely outside alone except for walks, I feel it is not necessary.
In every US state rabies is required by law.  In every country I've ever had a client take their pet to, it is the one vaccine that must be given.  To enter some countries you have to be very specific in the timing of the rabies vaccine and even have titer levels run.  This is the one vaccine or preventative care that government officials don't joke about or give any leeway.
The reason for the strictness has to do with the very serious, incurable nature of the disease.  If a person is infected long enough and starts developing clinical symptoms, they will die.  It's that simple, as there is no treatment or cure.  Transmission requires direct contact, but the virus particles can go through the smallest opening.  For example, infected saliva contacting an abrasion or small cut is enough to transmit the disease.  It doesn't take a full bite wound.  People have been exposed by having a stray kitten lick them, or removing something from a horse's mouth.  Symptoms don't show up immediately, sometimes delayed by many months, so it may not be immediately obvious that an animal is rabid. 
This is a deadly, incurable disease.  And humans can easily catch it if exposed.  We have significantly reduced the number of human cases through wide-spred vaccination of pets and livestock, as well as control of animals entering certain countries.  There are even programs to leave vaccine-infused bait in endemic areas to help prevent transmission in wild carnivores.  If people stopped vaccinating, this disease could easily become much more wide-spread.
Now you hopefully understand why the laws were established and why the governments are so strict.  But what is the real risk of exposure? 
Certain parts of the country are definitely at higher risk than others.  There are also different wild animals that are typical carriers (reservoirs) of rabies in different areas, though any warm-blooded animal has the potential to carry it.  Here are some graphics from the Centers for Disease Control.
Most common reservoirs for rabies.
Number of rabies cases, 2009.
And since Connie lives in Florida, here is specific data for part of 2013.
As you can see, this is a wide-spread problem.  And just because a certain area doesn't have any "dots" doesn't mean rabies isn't there.  It just mean that specific cases weren't diagnosed, but can still be in the wild population.
So what about the dog who pretty much lives indoors and goes out only a leash?  That's where the situation gets tricky.  That particular pet indeed has an extremely low risk of being exposed to the disease.  But it's not impossible for a dead or dying bat to be found by the dog, giving exposure.  Rabid animals don't behave normally, so an infected raccoon could possibly attack the dog.  What about a dog wandering the neighborhood that attacks?  Sure, I'll admit that these things are pretty rare, but they're by no means impossible. I've seen plenty of dogs attacked by wild animals, or even stray dogs, and in those situations you have no way of telling the rabies status of the attacker without killing it and having the brain examined.  Do you want to take that risk?
There's also the bigger issue of legality.  When a pet bites someone or punctures the skin with their teeth, it gets reported to local animal control.  They then look into the case, and if the pet isn't current on the rabies vaccine it will be quarantined at the owner's expense and a fine charged.  After 31 years in this profession I can assure you that even the best, nicest dog or cat has the potential to bite, especially if they are scared, sick, or injured.  If that happens and the dog isn't current on rabies vaccine, the owner is in for a world of trouble from law enforcement.
I know this has been a long answer for a simple question, but I wanted to take the time to go into the details and "whys" of the situation.  The short answer is yes, it's important even for mostly indoor pets to get rabies vaccines.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Big Dogs Mean Big Costs

Many of my clients have very large dogs.  Most of them are under 100 pounds (45kg), but some are quite a bit larger.  Dogs like Great Danes, mastiffs, Saint Bernards, and Great Pyrennes are really nice dogs and there is a differen kind of happiness when you have a "giant" breed that you won't find with a toy breed.  However, that joy can go away when something goes wrong and there are veterinary bills.
Owners of big dogs know that feeding costs are high because of the sheer volume of food the dogs eat.  But prospective owners don't always think about the medical costs.  In veterinary medicine we dose based on weight.  A 150 pound human is typically going to take the same dosage of antibiotics as a 300 pound human.  This is not the case with animals.  A 40 pound dog and an 80 pound dog are going to get radically different doses of pretty much everything.  This includes antibiotics, pain medications, heartworm preventative, flea preventative, anesthesia, and so on. 
Today a client came in with her 120 pound Great Dane.  As part of her annual physical we ran a routine urinalysis and discovered an infection that hadn't been obvious to the owner.  We talked and it did seem like there were some emerging clinical signs that supported our lab results.  The decision was made to put her on antibiotics.  The owner was fine with all of this until we added up the costs and the medications alone were nearly $200. 
Yes, that's a lot of money!  But because of her size and the nature of the infection there weren't a lot of other options.  A 15 pound poodle would have taken home the same medciations for less than $30 because it would have a much lower dosage to achieve the same result.  I've seen this time and time again, to the point where I actually cringe a little when I order up certain medications for these giant breeds.  Unfortunately, I have little control over it, as those higher doses of drugs cost us more to order and stock.  The mark-up is the same, but the larger dogs simply need more.  Believe me, we're not trying to gouge or penalize owners of these breeds.
When someone is considering getting a pet of a certain breed, I think it's always wise to research the pros and cons of the breed as well as the costs of medical care.  When you accept responsibility for caring for a pet you also have to shoulder the costs of that care, which are much greater for bigger dogs. Prepare for the inevitable greater costs, especially if that large pet gets sick. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

As a Christian this is one of the most special times of year for me.  We shouldn't forget about or ignore Christ the rest of the year, but around Christmas we get to celebrate His birth and what His coming into the world means to all of us.  I pray that all of you have a blessed holiday season and take to heart what the birth of that baby in Israel over 2000 years ago means to us now.  Enjoy your families and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Very Real Dangers Of Tinsel

I don't have tinsel on my Christmas tree and haven't since I've had cats.  I know all too well the dangers of "linear foreign bodies" in cats, and tinsel is a big culprit.  This lesson was driven home this past weekend with one of my clients.
I'll call this cat Buzzsaw (not his real name....just his behavior).  He is a rather obese, quite unfriendly cat who came in for a few days of vomiting and not eating.  His exam (what I could get of it without sedation) was unremarkable.  The owner said that he did like to chew on plastic bags, but more importantly they did have tinsel on their Christmas tree.  The husband (let's call him Mr. Toldyaso) had been opposed to tinsel, having heard it was a bad combination with cats.  But his wife and children overruled him, and the tinsel went up. 
We sedated Buzzsaw and I took some abdominal radiographs.  With his rather corpulent nature there was great contrast with the fat in his abdomen and I could clearly see a very suspicious part of his intestines.  This confirmed my worries, and I called Mr. Toldyaso that we needed to get Buzzsaw into surgery right away.  Not doing so could prove to be fatal within a few days.
Linear foreign bodies are anything long, flexible, and thin within the intestinal tract.  This can include sewing thread, fishing line, ribbon, and yes, tinsel.  If a long section of the material goes into the digestive tract the movement of the intestines acts like a draw cord on curtains.  When your curtains are closed you can pull on a string, which causes them to open.  If you look at them you'll notice that as they close they develop pleats and bunch together.  The same thing happens with the intestines.  The contraction of the muscles moves the intestine but not the string, so the intestines bunch together along the object.  If this goes on long enough it can actually start to cut into the intestine causing severe and life-threatening damage.  The only way to fix it is to go in surgically as soon as possible.
We did the emergency surgery and Buzzsaw was very lucky.  I found the affected area quickly and the intestines were healthy with no obvious damage.  At that point it was a matter of making a few small incisions and carefully removing the tinsel.  Closing the intestine and abdomen was routine and he recovered well.  The surgery ended only two hours before we closed, so I sent him to the local emergency clinic for overnight observation.  That was four days ago and he's home and doing well.
I had a conversation with Mr. Toldyaso when he picked Buzzsaw up last Saturday night.  He said that he was trying not to be mean about it, but he hadn't wanted the tinsel to be put up in the first place.  I did save most of it and gave it to him in a plastic bag to take home and show his family as an object lesson.  Our charges were around $1000, and the emergeny clinic probably charged around $500 to hospitalize and observe Buzzsaw until he could go home.  Mr. Toldyaso was quite clear with his family.  "You wanted a computer for Christmas.  Instead, you have your cat."
While I have tried to instill a little humor in the story, it's one that is completely true and has serious consequences.  Cats have a very, very high tendency to want to chew on long, thin objects, and this can result in disastrous outcomes, including emergency surgery.  Buzzsaw was lucky because we caught it relatively early and there was no damage, but it could have been quite different.  If you have cats, you should NEVER use tinsel in decorating.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tightwads With Coach Bags

One of the things that frustrates us in the veterinary field is the life choices some pet owners make that puts their pets at risk.  I'm talking about the people who have enough money to buy luxuries but won't spend even a little money on their dog or cat.

Recently a client came in with her poodle, worried about her dog's nasal discharge and sneezing.  While the dog was in good spirits, she was running a low-grade fever and had slightly enlarged lymph nodes.  To me it was a very straightforward case....the dog had a sinus infection and needed antibiotics.  Because of the enlarged nodes and fever I wanted to treat for possible bacteria rather than just letting the case run its course.

To me this wasn't a big deal.  I ordered up the medications, which came to $18, and had my tech review the treatment.  The owner looked up at her and asked "Can I use something cheaper, like Benadryl?"

Several things bothered me about this comment.  First, antihistamines aren't going to treat an infection.  Second, $18 for antibiotics is really inexpensive.  And last, the client was carrying a Coach brand handbag.
I actually had to look up the costs of these bags, even though I knew they were expensive luxury items.  Looking on the Coach website when writing this blog, I saw that they start at around $300, and go up from there.  Some list for $1000 or more!  And the lady had one.  Sure, it's possible she got a really good deal or managed to pick one up at a yard sale for a steal.  Maybe it was a gift from someone else who had the money.  But it looks bad when you carry a brand known for its expensive price and then balk at necessary medicines that come out to less than $20.

I don't change recommendations based on a perception of the client's ability to pay.  I offer a treatment plan based on what is best for the pet, and then deal with whether or not the client can afford it.  I don't artificially inflate the price if I see a client driving a Lexus or wearing a Rolex, and I don't artificially discount the price if the come in wearing flip-flops and overalls.  What is the best treatment plan is relatively objective and whether or not a client can pay the costs doesn't change whether or not their pet needs it.

Every day I see people who want to treat their pet but can't afford to.  Many of them are sincere in their desire to help and legitimately can't come up with the funds.  But many others are tightwads are are simply looking for the cheapest way out rather than the best way.  Sure, I like a good bargain as much as the next person, but we shouldn't be dickering about the life of a pet. 

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but if you can't afford $20 worth of antibiotics for you pet, then you do not need to have a pet at all.  If you're that hard up for cash, put the Coach bag on eBay, make a couple of hundred dollars, and set that aside for your pet's care.

Yes, I'm ranting a bit, but it frustrates me and many others when we see clients buying costly handbags and carrying their iPhone 5 who complain about things that cost a fraction of their monthly cell phone or cable bill.  If someone is going to have a pet, then they have the responsibility to put that pet before luxuries.  Unfortunately many people have their priorities mixed up.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Emotional Toll Of Being A Vet

A lot of people seem to think that being a veterinarian or any other sort of doctor is fun and interesting.  Don't get me wrong, because it can be.  But I think some people don't think beyond the cool cases or the cute puppies to what can happen when things go bad. 
This was a bad week for me emotionally.  Two days ago we had an emergency come in, a young dog who had dug under the fence, got into the neighbor's yard, and was attacked by the neighbor's dogs.  When I saw him he didn't have obvious punctures, but was breathing hard and had some air leaking under the skin.  An x-ray of the chest showed some lung bruising but no air leaking into the chest yet.  We stabilized him with IV fluids, gave pain medicine, and planned to repeat xrays in a few hours to see if there were changes.  Over the next three hours he went downhill quickly and passed away despite our attempts to intervene.  That same day I found out that one of our good clients had to euthanize her dog at the emergency clinic, and another dog that we had been treating died at home (which in that case wasn't unexpected).
So that day I came home pretty bummed out by all of the death I had heard and seen.  The next day was only marginally better.  One of my earliest appointments was an obese cat who was in a diabetic crisis with liver damage, and the owner had to chose euthanasia because she couldn't afford the potentially thousands of dollars to stabilize the pet, let alone the long-term care.  I also had to tell a client that their Sheltie had complete kidney failure and wouldn't make it to Christmas.  This morning another long-term client brought in their very elderly dog for lethargy.  We had been monitoring him over the year as he became more severely anemic, and the owner didn't want to pursue specific diagnostics.  His anemia was worse and his white blood cells significantly increased.  Since he was nearly 15 years old the owner decided to euthanize.
So over the last three days I've euthanized two pets, lost one under treatment, lost two from other causes, and had to give terminal news to another one.  Not exactly the fun parts of the job.
This rapid-fire set of cases wears on a person mentally and emotionally.  We do the best we can to help pets, and we are very aware that we can't save all of them.  Everyone in a medical profession has to have a certain degree of emotional resilliency in order to keep performing on a daily basis.  But some days and some cases are worse than others.
This emotional toll isn't always talked about.  But it's a regular part of being in a medical field.  Over the years I've learned how to cope and handle things, but that doesn't make weeks like this one any more fun.  Anyone who wants to become a vet needs to keep this particular kind of challenge in mind, as it's not typically taught in school.  These are the times when the rose-colored glasses come off and the brutal reality of death hits you in the face rather forcefully. 
Thankfully most weeks aren't quite so dire and depressing, otherwise I don't think I could keep doing this job.  Now I just need a few days off and some healthy puppies and kittens to see!

Monday, December 15, 2014

How To Thank A Veterinarian

Peter asked me a very interesting question, one I've never had someone ask before....

My wife and I recently had to put down our cat Jessie.  She was diagnosed with CRF at the age of 4 during blood work taken as prep for a normal dental cleaning.  (Her kidneys were the size of plump raisins... I suspect she got hit with the whole Chinese Protein fiasco, even though she never had a brand of food that was recalled.)  She lived for 7 years after that with no more than every-other-day sub-q fluids and kidney food (after starting fluids her blood values never again left the normal range by much, if at all).  Her only complications were a couple of UTI's and a stone.  In the end, it wasn't her kidneys that got her, it was lymphoma that spread throughout her intestine.

Our vet and clinic staff took great care of her over the years, and I was wondering what would be an appropriate thank you gift would be.  I was hoping for something more meaningful than a gift basket...

First, Peter, on behalf of my colleagues let me say thanks for your appreciation.  Even the best vets tend to get more complaints than compliments, or at least it can seem that way.

Believe it or not, genuine, sincere thanks doesn't come as often as you may think.  In all of my years I've probably gotten about a dozen or so thank-you cards from clients.  And I've cherished and kept every one of them.  It may not seem like much, but a short, simple card where the client expresses their thanks and feelings means more than you can imagine.  We are in this profession to help people and pets, not to get rich.  Sometimes it feels like we aren't successful as we see pets go untreated, therapy fails, or clients are unhappy.  We crave those few times that a person takes the time to single us out to let us know how much they appreciate what we do.  Such thanks often come at the times when we most need them.

If you want to do more (and believe me, a card is thanks enough!), gift cards are a great option, especially to a nice restaurant.  I've gotten a few of those over the years, and it gives me an opportunity to go out to eat with my wife, something for which we don't always have the budget.  Gift cards to coffee houses such as Starbucks are also very nice, and have sometimes allowed me to grab something caffeinated on my way to work. gift cards are also nice because they allow us to splurge a little in ways we normally wouldn't.  If you want to do something more specific, make a gift basket with cookies, candy, and chips.  Nice pens are always a great gift, as we constantly lose the ones we have around the clinic.

In case you couldn't tell, those of us in the veterinary profession are very motivated by food!  We love the holidays because we will get clients bringing in cookies for the staff.  We'll often buy munchies to keep around the clinic so we can snack between patients.

I hope this gives you a little direction, Peter.  Really, the simplest thanks are more than sufficient and are greater than we usually get.  You don't have to do something extravagant in order for your appreciation to be recognized.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fat Cats Aren't Just Fluffy

I hate seeing obese pets.  I really, really do.  It is something that in most cases is completely preventable and results from a combination of too much food and too little exercise.  Most of my clients don't seem as concerned about the health consequences as I am so it becomes frustrating to recommend weight loss and then they ignore my advice.
It shouldn't be a surprise that pet obesity is a rapidly growing problem in the US.  Our human population is one of the fattest in the world, so it's no shock that our pets resemble us in this way.  As with humans, there are consequences to obesity.  Cats are about six times as likely to become diabetic if they are obese, and this disease is particularly challenging to regulate in the species.  Being overweight also can lead to skin problems, liver disease, heart disease, joint issues, and increased risks of anesthesia.
My clinic recently saw one of the fattest cats I've personally examined.  Actually, one of my associate doctors had the case, but I got the chance to look at him too.  Here are some photos.

As you can see, the cat is morbidly obese.  When these pictures were taken he was 29 lbs (13kg), which was less than his previous visit weight of 33 lbs (15kg).  Considering that this cat should have weighed around 12 lbs (5.5kg) you can see the magnitude of the problem.  At his peak he was essentially carrying around three cats on his frame!  In human terms this is equivalent to someone who should weigh around 150 lbs (68kg) actually weighing over 360 lbs (163kg)!

This isn't cute.  This isn't fluffy.  This isn't something to ignore.  This is sad and should never have happened.  The cat is suffering because he really can't easily move around.  It requires a lot of strength and energy to move that much weight and his body isn't designed to do so.  And it puts him at a significant risk for serious disease.

Just a few days ago I saw a sick cat.  He was 13 years old and hadn't been to a vet in many years because he never acted sick.  This cat was obese, and when we ran lab tests we diagnosed severe diabetes with significant complications.  Due to the life-threatening nature of his condition and the costs involved in treating him, the client had to euthanize him.  If he wasn't obese, he may never have developed that disease.
The good news is that the client is taking this seriously.  It's impressive that they were able to get a 4 pound weight loss in a month or so, and they're continuing to work on further loss.  With proper treatment and diet, he has a good chance of losing the weight and becoming healthier.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Puppy Regurgitates Liquid

Today's question comes from Kathryn....
My 6 week old puppy regurgitates liquids, he doesn't have any problem with eating food. What should I do to begin testing to find out what his prognosis is? He is from a litter of puppies I have and has had the problem from birth, regurgitating some of his mothers milk.
I have had him to the vets, he suggested x-rays and is suspicious of Mega-esophagus, I have research this disease online but find it usually includes food reguritation.
First, this is definitely a case in which you should rely more on in-person vet visits than online comments and research.  I'll give my thoughts, but if you want a true second opinion find another vet to do the exam on your dog.
My first two concerns would be megaesophagus or some kind of hiatal hernia.  Megaesophagus in puppies is typically a birth defect where a fetal vessel around the esophagus doesn't go away, resulting in a stricture and difficulty passing food.  It builds up in the esophagus, stretching it out and leading to food regurgitation.  While Kathryn's puppy is certainly not a typical case, I wouldn't completely rule it out.  In megaesophagus cases liquids typically can pass through easier than solid foods, which is the opposite in this case.  Still, it's worth checking out.
A problem at the upper sphincter of the stomach (cardiac sphincter in the hiatal region) could result in the stomach opening into the esophagus more easily.  In this case liquids would be more likely to pass back out rather than solids.
If this was my case my first step would be x-rays and possibly and upper GI contrast study.  If this didn't give any answers and the problem persisted I would want to refer the case to a specialst to have an upper GI endoscopy procedure.
Kathryn, I would continue to follow your vet's advice and see if they can track down the cause of the problem.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Nutrition Mythbusting....Current Pet Food Fads

Every time I write about pet nutrition I get people commenting about how I'm full of crap and obviously don't know a thing about pet foods and what goes into them.  Time to walk that path again.
This post comes from a question sent to me by Sharron....
Hi Dr Bern: lexee is a yorkie/chihuahua 5 yrs old - my problem is i don't what to feed her - she is SO fussy when it comes to dry dog food. Of all the dry foods i have tried i always go back to Royal Canin.
But of course i have gotten raked over the coals because so many people believe it's a horrible food. Today i was asked if i'm trying to kill her by feeding her RC. I try not to get wrapped up in the holistic, organic etc trend. I think RC is fine. Lexee likes it but i still wonder if she should be on grain free - she doesn't have allergies. She also likes Hills Healthy Advantage Small Bites. Can you set me straight on these foods. Are they good foods to feed. Thankyou.
Before I get into the meat of my post, let me first stated that my opinions are formed by listening to and reading articles from board-ceritified nutritional specialists and internal medicine specialists.  My sources are reputable and experts in their field.  Before you disparage and dismiss those folks, remember that these are veterinarians who have studied for 5-6 years after vet school in a very specific field and then have passed rigorous exams where the pass rate is around 40%.  If you ignore their opinions, you are throwing away the views and knowledge of the people doing the reasearch that everyone else follows.

Okay, that's out of the way.  I had to throw that in there because I inevitably get people who think what I say is uninformed hogwash and my sources obviously don't know what they're doing and are shills for the food companies.

Sharron, here's the simple version....the people who are giving you advice don't really understand what they're talking about and you shouldn't listen to them.  Keep doing what you're doing.

Now the long version. 

The whole "grain-free" diet trend we've seen in the last couple of years is purely a fad without any real scientific basis.  It's perpetuated by people who have incomplete understanding of the gentics and digestive physiology of dogs, and often by pet food companies trying to sell food by playing on client fears.  So why is this such a popular trend?  From my personal experience this trend started as a result of two things, both incorrect. 

First, there is a percpetion that because dogs are descended from wolves we need to feed them something similar to the diet of their wild anscestors.  Since wolves don't eat wheat, rice, and corn, we need to be feeding grain-free diets.  The problem with this idea is that it's completely wrong.  Dogs are not wolves.  Yes, they are very similar and have a nearly identical physiology, but there are also significant differences.  Dogs have been domesticated for 10,000-15, 000 years, and in that time have been exposed to diets much higher in grains than what wolves eat.  Scientists have identified differences in several key genes in dogs related to starch digestion and glucose uptake.  This means that dogs have developed so they have a much better ability to handle grain-based diets than do wolves.  It also means that there is no benefit to feeding a grain-free diet over one with grains.

Second, there is a misconception that grains cause food allergies.  This is blatantly untrue.  It's the same as saying that a bee sting causes someone to be allergic to bees.  In any of these allergies the person/animal is already genetically predisposed to the allergy, and exposure to the allergen can trigger the reaction.  The bee didn't cause the person to be allergic; the person was already allergic and the sting simply triggered a genetic tendency.  It's the same way with food allergies.  If a dog has allergies to grains, it means that they had genes already in their body which would trigger a reaction after repeated exposure to the allergen.  Grains will absolutely not cause an allergy in a dog with no genetic predisposition, just like a bee sting wouldn't result in anaphylaxis in a person without an allergy to it.  Additionally, not every food allergy is to grains, and even if it is, it is usually to specific grains.  Wheat is indeed a common allergen, but beef and chicken are even more likely to cause a problem.  A grain-free diet is only of benefit if the dog has an already documented allergy to the grain in question.  For your average dog there is no need to limit this ingredient.

Now let's talk about Royal Canin specifically.  I think it's an excellent food, as does every nutritional specialist with whom I've ever consulted.  It is what I chose to feed my own dogs and cats, and I don't work for the company or get any financial incentives for recommending it.  I just believe in it that much.  When ever I've talked to veterinary nutritionists and asked which foods they recommend. Royal Canin is always near or at the top of the list. 

Royal Canin is a great food for a number of reasons.  They use high quality ingredients and pay particular attention to the needs and eating habits of specific breeds.  They put a lot of attention on palatability, which is why they guarantee a dog or cat will eat it.  They are highly involved with quality control on their foods.  And they are supported by the Waltham Foundation, which has been one of the premiere animal nutrition research facilities in the world for several decades.  Besides being one of the leaders in nutritional research, the Waltham Centre has always impressed me by how they take animal welfare into account when conducting research.  I would really challenge anyone to be intellecually honest and find serious fault with the research and findings of this group.

Yes, I know like I sound like I'm trying to promote Royal Canin and Waltham and that I work for them.  I assure you that I don't, and that it just comes from carefully looking into pet foods and this company in particular for over 10 years.

Sharron, I'm curious as to why some of the people you talk to think that Royal Canin is so horrible and detrimental to dogs.  I can almost guarantee it is because of some passionately held misinformed beliefs.  Personally, I think you're feeding one of the best dog foods on the market, and wouldn't recommend changing anything that you are doing.

Now I wonder how long it will be before someone starts commenting on how horrible and ignorant I am.......

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Concerns About Fostering Dogs

Jennifer asks the following....
I have been thinking for a while about becoming a foster home for a bichon rescue group in my area. I am at home during the day so I would have time to be with and work with the rescue dog, and I have a fenced in yard for the dogs to run around in. I am concerned about how Sparky will react to the rescue dog. He is very friendly and energetic when other dogs come over to visit, and wants to run and play chase games. I understand that it is important for these poor little dogs to go to a home where there is a dog who is well socialized and friendly who can show them that people can be trusted. I am wondering though how do the 'home dogs' react to the very frightened and abused newcomers? Is it difficult for home dogs to adjust to a scared newcomer? I would like to be able to help abused animals in this way, however I don't want to harm my own pet in the process.
First, I want to commend you on wanting to become a foster parent for dogs.  This is truly admirable and it sounds like you have the right situation for it.
The concerns you have are valid, but there are no general answers that can be made.  Really this is very much a "it depends" situation.  If Sparky is generally friendly and gentle around new and unknown dogs, he should be a great foster brother.  If he is friendly but too energetic, he might frighten a very nervous dog with his exuberance.

On the other side it also depends on the personality and behavior of the fostered dog.  Some of them will not have been socialized well and will be nervous around any other dog, regardless of the other dog's behavior.  This can potentially result in fights from a scared or dominant dog.  It may also confuse Sparky when he wants to play and the fostered dog cowers or snaps.  Some fosters will actually like the social interaction once they get used to it, and it may be hard for you to give those up if they form a bond with Sparky.

If Sparky is as good with other dogs as you say, I would take the plunge.  It will help many otherwise homeless dogs and can be very rewarding.  But keep in mind that every dog is an invididual, and no two dogs are going to react exactly the same to the same situation.  Some of the dogs you foster simply may not be good fits in your home, and you shouldn't take that personally or think that it reflects poorly on you as a foster parent.  Have lots of love and patience with Sparky and the newcomers, and partner with an experienced foster parent who can help you though any challenges.