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Welcome to the Creature Comfort Care Blog. "Adventures in Veterinary Care"
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"Jasper" was rescued by a wonderful family, from the back hills of Arkansas where there was a huge puppy mill, and all the dogs lived in utter muck. There was no human socialization, the dogs bred to each other and weekly carcasses and wonder bread were thrown over the fence to them. "Jasper" and his fellow dog friends were in real trouble when a drought hit AK. Many didn't make it and died, the rest of the dogs that did were stunted in growth due to malnourishment. All were fearful of humans, not knowing humans can be loving. Thankfully the authorities found out and did something to help.
Here is his story as told by his family:
"Jasper was born on the bad end of town.
His father died young. His mother was drowned.
Jasper sired babies year after year. He lived back on a mountain with pain and in fear.
Jasper got rescued around about two. He came to Wisconsin. He ate, slept and grew.
He learned about loving and trusting and treats. He ran in the fields. He got walks down the streets.
Until he lost battles to cancer and age. Then he howled in pain.
So we gave him a leg up to a place with relief. Now he’s playing in heaven and resting in peace
RIP little guy. We love you and miss you!"
Meet Keres, this gorgeous 6 year old girl will steal your heart! Here is her story, valiantly Battling Bone Cancer.
There is no way to sugar coat it… this cancer is very aggressive and, pun intended, Bad to the Bone. As a veterinarian, I hate seeing this cancer, it has classical, recognizable manifestations, and it breaks my heart to give such bad news.
Here are the characteristics:
When Keres began limping on her right rear leg, her family thought she must have tweaked it. After a few days, the limping persisted, so her family gave her an anti-inflammatory, and she improved. However, after stopping the anti-inflammatory, the limp was back & to make matters worse, her leg was quite swollen.
Its at this point that the family called to us to examine Keres. This beautiful girl was perky & bright, but clearly not comfortable in her leg- she wasn’t able to place any weight on it and was even guarding it from the other pets in the home. Her knee was not only very swollen, but warm to the touch. This was a dog-gone ouchy leg!
It can also affect the front legs, here are some pictures of the carpus (wrist area) with osteosarcoma:
Xrays were the next step in investigating what was going on with her knee.
Here are things to take notice of in the xrays:
Once Keres’ had xrays, it was apparent that cancer was confirmed. Osteosarcoma is presumed to be the type of cancer affecting her bones, at it is the most common bone tumor in dogs. The way to be sure would be a bone biopsy (but this would further decrease the strength strength of the bone as we are taking out a chunk of it). Or if amputation is chosen, the bone could be biopsied after that.
As important as what to do next, is how to control the intense pain caused by osteosarcoma. Here are some common pain control options:
Keres family elected amputation, but before considering amputation, it is a good idea to stage the cancer, or see if there is evidence of cancer elsewhere in the body. Kere’s had xrays of her chest cavity and lungs, as well as rest of her body and bloodwork (to screen for organ dysfunction, evidence of cancer, etc). Keres’ bloodwork was normal; However elevations in ALKP have been found to have shorter survival times. Thankfully Keres did NOT have evidence of cancer elsewhere in the body and her ALKP was normal! Woo Hoo! BUT, due to the aggressive nature of this cancer, it is common to have microscopic metastasis that may not be seen on X-rays. She did well in surgery and immediately seemed more comfy with having that cancer-affected leg removed!
You may be wondering, what is the prognosis & options for treatment for dogs like Keres? I always recommend a consult after a cancer diagnosis with a veterinary oncologist- they have the most up to date info on potential new therapies. Here are some stats and options:
Some veterinary schools have funding available to study trials. Keres family is considering enrolling her in a clinical research study (http://uwveterinarycare.wisc.edu/clinical-studies/oncology/)
Keres family is also trying some homeopathic options, including flaxseed and molasses. None have been proven to help with osteosarcoma, but Keres family does think they are helping!
Complications are so important to consider with this type of cancer as they can be tragic... I’ve seen both of these first hand…
As I write this, Keres is still doing well. We send lots of love and hugs out to Keres and any other dogs going through this! If you have any more questions, please feel welcome to contact Dr. Christina.
Here is bright-eyed & still-spry super senior 12 year old “Oliver”. Nearly a year ago, he was diagnosed with Degenerative myelopathy (AKA DM).
DM is a slowly progressive, neurodegenerative disease that affects the spinal cord and thus a dog's ability to walk. Although not exactly the same as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, it has similar manifestations. It is caused by a DNA mutation and there is a DNA saliva test to screen for this mutated gene. On a structural level, myelin, which surrounds the nerve fibers & carries signals to the muscles of the body, degenerates and this results in a lack of coordination and communication so the nerve’s signals to move are not “heard” by the muscles. It typically begins in the mid to lower spinal cord, and progresses up. Visually, progressive weakness & lack of coordination of the hind legs is noticed first: toe scuffing when walking (wearing of the toe nail tops), dragging rear feet, unsteady gait, etc. In time, muscle atrophy (weakness), and paralysis of the hindlegs occurs. Many pets also become incontinent. It will eventually move upwards along the spinal cord can eventually affect the muscles that innervate the chest cavity and thereby affects breathing and front limb muscles. Most pets are euthanatized before this occurs, and most within by 12 months of initial diagnosis-- but Oliver is defying the majority...and hopefully your pet will too!
Oliver’s timeline of DM Progression: Here is Oliver’s progression, but keep in mind each situation is different, based upon rate of progression and where the degeneration first began.
-11 months ago: Oliver was showing signs of hind leg weakness, it seemed like the Left rear leg was weaker than the Right in general
-8 months ago: Oliver became paralyzed in his hindlegs. He would still “push” or paddle with his back paws occasionally
-7 months ago: Oliver’s family began acupuncture and chiropractic therapy- doing 2 sessions of each monthly
-6 weeks ago: Oliver began defacating more in the house, right now it is a few times a week that he will have an accident. He has only had a few urinary accidents.
-2 weeks ago: Oliver’s family decided to get him a cart- it is currently being made. He stills wants to run and be active, so hopefully the wheelchair will be a great way for him to continue to do the things he loves!
Oliver still loves to be engaged mentally- he loves his treats and chasing bunnies outside. His family supports him with a sling and tries to encourage him to use his legs as much as possible. He loves massage & his mom gently does range of motion on his legs. He still goes for walks daily, and is known to pull his mom (as she holds his back legs up in a sling) as he chases after bunnies!
Fortunately, dogs with DM do not appear to be in pain, however because there is weakness in muscle groups, it can cause strain on the healthy muscles and joints, so joint supplements and arthritic pain control, as well as massage & chiropractice care may be helpful.
Unfortunately no treatment has been shown to reverse the signs, but one study concluded:
“affected dogs which received physiotherapy remained ambulatory longer than did animals that did not receive physical treatment.”
By keeping the nerves stimulated & maintaining muscle mass as much as possible, progression may be slowed & quality of life maintained. In Oliver's situation, and as a veterinarian, I am impressed with how much quality of life, muscle tone, and function he has maintained. Here is a list of helpful ideas:
Meet 15 year old sisters “Po” and “Dro”! These furry gals have died their locks for Breast Cancer Awarness. Their mom knew the pink fur would be a great conversation starter, whether out on a walk or in the nursing home doing therapy for senior citizens. Po and Dro’s mom is a breast cancer survivor herself. Although we often think of human’s with breast cancer, this is a great time to remember that pets can also be afflicted with this type of cancer. My first patient with it, was actually a MALE cat (by the way, male humans can also get breast cancer). Its important to get your furry loved one for lump, including those along the mammary glands- there are 8-10 mammary glands on cats and dogs (males and females). If you feel a lump, talk to your vet about it and have it examined & to see if testing is warranted. On average, ~ 50% of mammary tumors are malignant (Cancerous) in dogs while approximately 90% are malignant in cats. Prevention is always best- an easy way to decrease the risk of breast cancer in dogs or cats is to spay females at an early age, preferably before their first heat cycle. With people and with pets, early detection is key to a successful outcome, and thats something to HOOOWWWWLLLLLL & Meow about 😊
Most adults have been through the loss of a pet before, or other experiences with death and dying. But for many children, the loss of a beloved pet may be their first experience with death. Their experience will likely forever shape and affect them, making this experience very important.
We may want to protect kids from this painful experience but that may actually do more harm that good. Kids will look to us, in word and action, for guidance and support in understanding and mourning the loss of a special pet. Think about your past experiences with losing a pet- those experiences truly stay with us forever! Was there something you wish was done differently? Do you carry any resentment about it? It is never too late to develop skills and healthy approaches for yourself—this will also enhance your child’s ability to deal with this kind of deep loss.
My best friend growing up was my dog, “Tinker”. Tinker was the best! She was a small mini-schnauzer, with a big personality! Her presence and company filled so many memories of my childhood. When Tinker died, it was one of the hardest things I remember about my childhood. I was in 2nd grade at the time, and to this day, it brings tears to my eyes. Tinker died naturally at home. I don’t remember many of the details of her passing, but I vividly remember afterwards: Wrapping her in the most beautiful garment we had, digging a hole, covering her body with flowers from the backyard, and planting a peony over her grave site. The initial days that followed were full of grief. I remember crying so hard that I could hardly breathe and my face was so puffy and red. My mom let me stay home from school on one of the days, which was unheard of for my sister and I. To this day, those memories are raw and I have sometimes feel slightly guilty for feeling more emotion over missing my dog than other passed on relatives, but it is a reflection of the closeness of the relationship I had with Tinker.
As the “adult”, how can we help our younger ones? Here are some pointers:
- Talk through what they will likely see and feel & Show your feelings. Your children will look up to you to model grief, and it is helpful for them to see they are not grieving alone. Understand that you will feel a pleuthra of emotions, and so will your child. Be available for this to discuss their questions and feeling. This pertains to everything from natural death, the decision to euthanatize, as well as the grief they will experience afterwards. Don’t expect your veterinarian to do this, or place blame on your veterinarian (or animal caretaker) for your pet’s condition. Your vet can help with explaining the process but your children will likely have more questions and will need your guidance.
- Choose your words carefully and make sure your child understands what “dying” means. Explain that the pet’s body “stopped working” & make sure your child knows the pet has died and is not coming back. The general concept of death is likely not new for kids, but they may not understand the finality of it. For children, usually by 10 years they understand that death is final and all living things eventually die, but for younger children, they may not understand this concept. Depending on your beliefs, it may be helpful to discuss the concept of a soul & what you believe will happen after. Use words like Death and Dying, not “putting him to sleep” or “the pet went away”. If there is misunderstanding, children may look for the pet lifelong, have a fear of sleeping, or grow in resentment as they eventually discover what happened.
- Give your children the option to be present and say goodbye. One of my mentors told me that kids “dose themselves” with grief. I have found this to be absolutely true, and really a wonderfully helpful tactic. Some children may want to be present, others not. Many kids will choose to be present to some of the experience, and quickly drift off to some other activity, and likely return again. I find this to be an important concept in the grieveing process for adults too- they emotions may be so strong that sometimes its helpful to take a mental siesta if that feels right, and you can’t force emotions. Children may have a lot of question and curiosity as well, and it may even feel disturbing to some extent to answer all of them, but it is important to do so. You may not have the answers to all of their questions, and it is ok to tell them this.
- Make sure your child knows this was not their fault. Many children will wonder if the pet’s illness and death would have been avoided if they had done something better.
- Expect that your child will likely act differently as they grieve. Appetite, sleep habits, participation in activities, ability to focus, irritability level, etc are all common changes. Kids will look up to us as role models for how to respond.
- Let kids participate in a ritual after the pet has passed, to help them cope with the loss. This may be as simple as holding a ceremony for the pet, drawing a picture, writing a poem, making a memory book, planting something for the pet, taking time to remember special memories, etc. Have books and resources on hand to help them if needed.
- Children need support from others: Tell those that work closely with your children about the loss. This includes teachers, day care providers, other caregivers, family, parents of close friends, etc. Often children will act differently after the loss of a pet (just like we do!), and this will help explain the change in behavior.
After Boo Bear’s passing, Skylar told me “Boo is on his way to Heaven and is going to watch over us, and tell us he loves us”. I often feel I have much to learn from kids! They look to us so much for modeling how to grieve and for support, but often they offer such innocence and wisdom. Untainted by life, some of the most profound words come from the breath of a child. Dr. Suess once said “Adults are just outdated children”, what a good reminder for to us for our mindset in dealing with our pets and kids!
What have your experiences been?
Many families ask me if their other pets should be present for the process of euthanasia. As a housecall veterinarian, I have experienced first hand how compassionate euthanasia can be (euthanasia means “good death”) for the pet that is ailing, but also how intimate time is for the family and companion pets.
In most situations, companion pets should be allowed to be present during the process of euthanasia. Furthermore, companion pets should ALWAYS be allowed to be present AFTER the ailing pet has passed on.
I often tell families that companion pets’ grieve uniquely, like people do. Some companion pets want to be present, some don’t. Some companion pets want to come and go throughout the process- this is ok too. Some companion pets will need more TLC after the other pet has passed. What is important is that you give them the freedom to be there (if appropriate) and that you understand that they will grieve too. It really does help give them closure, just like it does for us!
I have heard countless stories from families on having the companion pets present has been a positive experience and how conversely, not allowing them to be present can result in unsettling behavioral changes. One family described how their bonded pet looked for the deceased pet for literally 5 years. “Dill” and “Pickles” were a sibling pair of cats, adopted as kittens from the shelter. When “Pickles” became too ill to bear, the family took him to the vet clinic, without his brother “Dill”, the family witnessed “Dill” calling for “Pickles” every day “on a daily basis he would walk the home, meowing at the top of his lungs, it was awful”. Not only were they grieving, but so was the companion pet, “Dill”, and unfortunately he did not have the closure of knowing what happened to “Pickles”. This situation is not uncommon when other pets are not able to be present during the process.
What are some reasons not to have companion pets present? Foremost, if they don’t want to be present, don’t force them. Another reason is if he companion pet is disruptive—often times, I see this with a younger pet, that really just wants to play or have all your attention, or mine as the new person in the home. In these instances, the other pet should be left in another room until the euthanasia process is over, then let them have some time to smell and be with the deceased pet.
The other element to remember is that the companion pets likely new their friend was ill, perhaps even before you or your family may have know. I’m always amazed at how keenly aware pets are- in tune with our emotions and needs. Pets often hide signs of pain or illness and display subtle behavior changes (which may go unnoticed by us humans for a period of time). Make no doubt that your companion pets probably knew about these changes long before we did. Many times too, they may act differently towards a pet ailing and towards the end of their life, and may even give the ailing pet more space. Do not ignore these signs.
What are your experiences? We would love hear about them. I find it so helpful to share experiences with others and encourage you to do so. Most experiences are unique and are always beneficial to others going thru the same process. You will probably be helping others who may be going through a difficult time.
Cirrus is a beautiful boy, who has gotten to enjoy lots of activity & competition throughout his life. His spirit to run and play is still strong, however he has some elbow arthritis that really gets in the way! Here is Cirrus before and after acupuncture. Big thanks to his family, Jody Hergert-Andresen from Pawsitive Directions for documenting this!
As I write this blog, it is a balmy 43 degrees outside. The snow finally all melted just a few days ago, birds are starting to chirp again, and the grass is starting to change from completely brown in color to signs intermittent shades of green. All this to say: Spring is finally here!...and so are the bugs :(
Al, one of Dr. Christina's favorite K9 friends & Creature Comfort Care LLC mascot, was unfortunately kissed by multiple ticks yesterday. And if you know anything about ticks, when they "kiss", they literally attach to the pet. They lay down a cement- like substance that adheres to the top layers of the skin. They don't like to let go until they've sucked out enough blood to engorge themselves like a plump raisin: YUCK!
As if that weren't bad enough, ticks can transmit lots of bad diseases thru their saliva, such as Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and more! When the vampire- like tick attaches to a pet, it sucks blood; As the tick gets full, it often regurgitates and some of its' saliva into the pet and this is how ticks can transmit diseases.
As a veterinarian, I've seen multiple pets die painfully from tick bourne diseases and the ramifications from them. So get apply tick preventative (most are monthly, topical treatments) now, and go thru December or when we have a hard freeze. If you know you have a high incidence of ticks by where you live or if you like to go up North with your pups, it is best to get them vaccinated for Lyme disease.
If your dog has a tick an embedded tick, best to get some gloves on before handling the nasty bug. Next, clean the area with rubbing alcohol and use tweezers to get as close to the skin as possible. Pull up and out with even pressure; don't squeeze of twist the tick, as doing this may "tick off the tick" and cause it to regurgitate saliva, or the head of the tick may fall off all together and be left behind in the pet.
If your pet has been bitten by a tick, it is best to tell your veterinarian- they will likely recommend a blood test to screen for tick transmitted diseases. Lyme disease, one of the most well know tick transmitted diseases can causing joint soreness, fever, kidney damage, and all around causes pets' to feel painful and "Bla".
I firmly believe that in the unwritten rule of what I like to call “Full Moon Fever”: Weird things happen on full moons. The calls typically increase and overall the clinic (or house call service) is consistently busier. Furthermore, usually there is an increase of oddities—including pet behavior and medical cases. In fact, I plan my vacations around avoiding full moons! I spoke with a fellow colleague in the animal industry and she said her friend, whom is a dispatcher with the local police, staffs heavier around full moons. ALL of my friends and colleagues also agree that this is an epidemic phenomenon.
There is a big, beautiful, full moon out tonight. This week has been a very busy one, supporting my theory of “full moon fever”. This got me thinking…is there any research supporting this?
In 2007, an 11-year retrospective study by Colorado State University (1992-2002) Veterinary Medical Center supported an increase in veterinary visits on full moons: 23 percent higher for cats, and 28 percent higher for dogs. Another study published in the British Medical Journal cites twice as many people visited emergency rooms with animal bites during full moons.
Unfortunately, the exact reason why the “full moon effect” is still unknown. Some researchers think pet behavior may be more precarious during a full moon because it is brighter outside and they are simply spending more time outside or awake at night when the moon is brighter.
Beyond out pets, nature and wild animals have demonstrated documented changes during full moons. For example, a species of coral has a light-sensitive gene, becomes more active during full moons. A study done in 2006 discovered that prey animals are more apt to stay in a safe place during full moons because the increased amount of light makes it easier for predators to see them. Wild wolves are also less active during a full moon, probably because there are less prey animals moving around to hunt.
This leads to the question of “Why do animals act differently during a full moon?” I believe this answer may have cross over to the human species as well. Here are a few possible answers: Increased Light, Activity, and communication by pet’s when there is a Full Moon:
Many families acknowledge that their dogs’ bark more during a full moon—I suspect it is because there is more light. More light means they see more aware in general, of their surroundings—and your pet may notice more things, and want to alert you to it, such as a mouse outside scurrying away. Beyond this, sometimes that increase in light alters our sleep pattern (I can personally attest to this!), and our pets’ may be affected as we.
Even though the jury is still debating on supplying the research and establishing the cause on the “Full Moon Effect”, I’m going to closely adhere to my experience and will try to leave extra time open on my busy schedule to take more calls during a full moon. Sometimes I even feel like howling…”HOOOOWWWWWLLLLLLL!”
Wells RJ, Gionfriddo JR, Hackett TB, et al. Canine and feline emergency room visits and the lunar cycle: 11,940 cases (1992-2002). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2007;231(2):251-253.
Once I had a house call to a family whose dog could no longer get up, and hadn't been up for several days. The family told me that they didn't think he was in pain because he still wagged his tail and wasn't yelping or whining in pain. When I went over there, I found a sweet old labrador retriever, who wagged, but was in terribly rough shape With towels around him, the strong smell of urine made it difficult to breathe, and it was clear he had not been moved from this spot for several days. When I lifted his skinny rear legs (skinny because he had bad arthritis for a long time and the muscles had atrophied from not using them much) that was moist from urine, he winced, and he had such bad sores on his leg that there was bone exposure over his hip. This immediately brought tears to my eyes. This dog was definitely in pain- and had been for a long time.
Unfortunately this experience is not unique, but thankfully most cases are not this severe. It is nearly on a daily basis, however, that I find great pets owners missing obvious signs of pain. Furthermore, our pets often HIDE signs of pain, and often that tail continues to wag because they love us so incredibly much. The question remains: Why is it so difficult to recognize in our beloved pets?
I believe the answer to this question is multifactorial-- Although most of us spend more time with our pets than our bestest of friends, the truth is that it can be difficult to recognize pain, after all they don't speak English, and come to terms with the fact that our pets may be in pain.
It is so important to become pain AWARE. This is an acronym that I came up with to help decode signs that may indicate pain:
Journey on carefully…you never know who might be out on the road!
Everybody gets upset sometimes...try to control your anger and frustration
Try not to pig out everyday...but INDULGE once in a while!
Remember to get plenty of exercise
Cozy Up! ...better yet, with Someone you Love
Don't fret over a bad haircut...
...or Bad Day. Sometimes it really is best to go Incognito
Even on the worst of days, Your purr-sonality will light up the room if you let it!
Above all else, remember life is precious & sweet! Stop to smell those roses and bask in the sun!
I'm so thankful for You and Your Critters! I have been so touched by you all- blessed to know you and your pets. In thinking about this week week and some of the things I’m thankful for, many things come to mind- here is a short list
That big bird and all the goodies that adorn it are so inviting to us AND our pets, making it hard resist mischief! I will admit…I’ve tried some of the goodies before they make it to the table to “make sure they’re ok” :-)
In addition to stolen nibbles, it’s also possible that in the frenzy of food prep things could drip/ trip over/ splat on your furry friend—causing injury, oil burn, etc… oh my! Best to try to keep Rover out of the kitchen during this time. The smell of food cooking is an underestimated treat.
Thank Uncle Gene for not feeding Fido just ANYTHING- Fido has a refined palate and tummy, and is also watching that furry waistline! Here are some good treats for your faithful friend:
The post-feast and kitchen clean-up trash is one of the biggest threats to your pets- don’t make let your pets be at risk of dining on the trash. Make sure garbage is out of the way from Fido feasting on it. Seal leftovers properly and store them in the refrigerator.
Take a few moments to check in with your pet and contact your vet if you notice any of the following:
Adventures in In Home Veterinary Care!Read More