Senior Pets: Not “Just Getting Old”

Senior Pets: Not “Just Getting Old”

In front of me lies a very familiar cat.  She has hundreds of names and many different owners.  No this isn’t the story of a cat who lives anywhere special, this one cat represents all of the other patients that come in just like her.  She is older by old cat 2several years than the kitten I just finished examining.   Her owners tell me that she has lost weight, she’s not eating (and she always loved to eat!), and she has a glossy look in her eyes.  My next question is one of the most important and sometimes when I hear the answer I cringe.  How long has this been going on?  “One week with he appetite but she has been eating less and losing weight for a couple of months,” they reply. 

I’ve heard this story before.  Last week with the dog who has been having trouble walking for a month and difficulty using the stairs.  Before that, the cat who was peeing all over the house for 3 months and now can’t walk.  This is why I’m trying to help educate everyone so that your pets can get the care they deserve as part of your family.  A lot of people still also use the phrase that their pet is “just getting old.”  Well yes, your pets are getting older and they are living longer these days.  With that territory comes more potential for more health care issues, some of which are manageable to improve your pet’s quality of life.

old dog

Over the course of this blog, I’ll address lots of these issues but we’re generalizing for the moment.  Again, I must state that my writing cannot replace the value of an examination and visit with your regular veterinarian.  I consider senior pets to be dogs over 8 years old and cats over 10 years of age.  These are the pets that I feel should be visiting your veterinarian no less than 1-2 times a year.  If they already have been diagnosed with a chronic condition (diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, etc.), these visits should be at least 2-3 times per year.  There are a few patients who we don’t see unless it’s serious or only every few years.  These pets still need regular care despite being indoor cats, bully breed dogs whose owners are afraid their veterinarian will turn them in because of the laws, and pets who aren’t due for vaccines at that particular time.  First, indoor cats can still develop problems such as dental disease, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis.  Sure old catbeing indoors and solitary can protect them from viral diseases and bite wounds but as they age, they can still have health issues.  Secondly, I don’t know any vet who would turn in an owner for going against Ontario or other municipality breed ban laws – we’re not the police nor do most of us agree with the law; we just want your dog to be healthy.  And lastly, many people are mistaken that pets “just need their shots” every few years.  The real purpose and value of the trip to the vet is the examination to be able to detect early signs of problems that may become more harmful (and unfortunately more expensive) the longer that they go undiagnosed.

So the long and short of it is, there is no pet that can go without veterinary care.  I can understand and appreciate the cost associated with a visit to the vet but in the same vein as saving on veterinary costs, proper preventative care for your seniorold dog 2 pet can help save on finances in the long run.  Remember, the overall goal is for a happy and healthy life for your pet & you to share.  Be sure to check back here periodically for specific conditions I’ll review and if you’re wanting something specific, be sure to leave a note here in the comments!

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Euthanasia: The Pet Owner Viewpoint

Euthanasia: The Pet Owner Viewpoint

 

The room is quiet except for the gentle breathing of a dog and the sobbing of their beloved family.  They are here to say goodbye for now and to give their pet a gift of freedom from an uncomfortable life.  She has been a loyal dog for 13 years, giving her family unconditional love and devotion.  I remain as quiet and still as possible so as not to distract the family from this moment.  I ask them if they are ready…which is really asking if they want me to start the euthanasia process, one that will only take 15-20 seconds and dim the brightness in the eyes of their beloved friend.  The truth is, you’re never ready; as the pet owner or the veterinarian.  But how did we get to this moment?hugging dog2

 

This is one of the conundrums of veterinary medicine.  One of the hardest questions I get asked is “how do I know when it’s time?”  Certainly, some cases are obvious that letting go is in the best interest of the patient.  What we don’t want is people hanging on too long and inadvertently causing unnecessary or prolonged suffering.  The truth is, there is no easy answer to this question and the answer really is different for every person.

 

In the Disney ending, I’d like to believe that each animal will tell you when it is time.  But ultimately, we have to make that decision.  There is typically a few criteria that I try to outline for clients trying to make these decisions.

resting cat

First and foremost, what is your pet’s quality of life?  Are they eating and drinking?  Can they walk around on their own?  Do they still have that occasional burst of energy?  If you are noticing that they just aren’t acting like they used to, you should have them checked out by your veterinarian.  After a discussion with your vet, it may be decided that euthanasia is a reasonable course of action.  It is best to review what options you may have before making a decision.

 

Next, do they have a history of chronic diseases?  For many people, this is where a lot of pets are.  If they have already been diagnosed and treated with a condition, and have now become sick, these may be signs of the diseases’ progression and humane euthanasia may be the best option.

 

See, I told you this was tough…I’m not sure that I’ve clearly answered the question.  As I said before, it’s a very personal decision.  What it really boils down to sometimes, I think, is when you ask yourself if Sparky or Fluffy are themselves anymore.  You know your pet best, and you know when things are out of sorts.  If you’ve done your best to care for them by exploring reasonable options, and you’ve given them a fair chance at a happy life, then you should take solace in knowing that you are making the right decision to let them go.

 

When preparing for a euthanasia, I always discuss two things with owners.  One is the option to be present with their beloved pet.  Choosing to stay with your pet is an intensely personal decision; a decision I can’t help you make.  You alone must choose if you want to be there until your pet’s final breath or if you want to say goodbye and not be

My sweet cat Gremlin...daddy's little girl

My sweet cat Gremlin…daddy’s little girl

present for the end.  And that is okay!  You should not feel guilty nor let anyone make you feel guilty about it.  Losing a loved one is intensely emotional and everyone handles it differently.  Personally, I could not imagine not being there for any of my pets.  They have given me unconditional love & companionship that I feel I owe them those final moments, no matter the heartache.

 

The second discussion (if they wish to stay) is the euthanasia process.  We place an IV catheter to avoid having to struggle to find a blood vessel in compromised patients.  I feel that you witnessing your pet get poked with a needle can only potentially add to the emotional trauma; as well as if they move, the vessel sometimes gets damaged.  It’s also important to give you the time you need to say goodbye, or “until we meet again,” so it’s up to you to let us know when you are ready to begin.  The drug we use is essentially an anesthetic, in a highly concentrated dose.  Once the injection is given, after 10-20 seconds, the heart stops followed by the nervous system.  Sometimes this is where you may witness a reflexive breath or some twitching after their heart has stopped.  This can be a startling sight which is why it is usually recommended to give sedation before hand as it can limit this reaction.  Lastly, it’s important to know that the eyes don’t close like in the movies.

 

holding paw

Treasuring the bond

Back in the exam room, my patient’s family has been recalling stories of her first day at home as a puppy, how she would hide her toys in the couch, and the holiday dinner she helped eat the turkey by pulling it off the counter.  These are the happy memories they recall and this is how they cherish her memory.  “We’re ready now,” they tell me.  I join them on the floor, take her paw in my hand, and tell her that she’s free from any pain.  I give the injection and she slowly lowers her head.  Her breathing has stopped and I listen to her chest to confirm that her heart is stopped.  Once I have heard silence, I let the family know, give my condolences, and quietly step out of the room.  Outside of the room, I let out a sigh over the thought that I’ve lost another patient but then I realize it’s more because I know a family is heartbroken over the loss of a family member.

 

Here is some information (literature or hotlines) to help those who are grieving the loss of a pet:

ASPCA Pet Loss resources

University of Illinois CARE Pet Loss info

Ontario Veterinary College Pet Loss Support

additional pet loss resources by state

Pet Loss Canada

 

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear
-- Rudyard Kipling

Euthanasia From the Veterinarian’s Perspective

Euthanasia From the Veterinarian’s Perspective

 

I want to clear up a misconception about veterinarians.  A lot people, including myself, think veterinarians have the greatest job in the world – we do!  And one of the biggest reasons they have this thought is that our days are spent OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsnuggling puppies & kittens (sometimes they are!).  On the flip side of the coin, many people do realize that it’s not always a happy or easy profession.  We can see 10-20 pets & their people in a day and oftentimes they are sick animals that can sometimes lead to euthanasia.

 

Euthanasia is one of the hardest parts of the job.  I’m not going to lie…it sucks.  It is one of the best acts of kindness people can do for animals.  We know that it is an sometimes an incredibly hard decision to make when your pets are like your family members.  And as difficult as it is for pet owners, it too can be ravaging on the emotions of the veterinarians & the technicians when sometimes we do this 2-3 times (or more) a day.  By nature, we are caring & emotionally invested in your pets health because we understand how much they mean to you.  It’s the reason many of us are veterinarians so that we can help you strengthen the bond you share.

 

hugging dog

How do we do it?  Each of us is different.  It may not look like we’re torn up when we are helping your pet free from it’s suffering but that’s because we have to shut off a part of our emotions to help you get through it.  Believe me it hurts inside every time I help a patient pass on.  Veterinarians, along with their technicians, have an inner turmoil worrying about their patients overnight and hoping they don’t have to call you with bad news the next day.  Knowing that letting go of your pet is a very tough process, it would be unreasonable for us to break down into tears while your are saying goodbye.  And certainly, when I have spent significant amounts of time and energy, or have formed a special bond with you & your pet, I have shed a few tears; but I know that this is your time.  When those patients are euthanized, I sometimes feel helpless in that I’m not able to help them get well.  Then I’m reminded that the relieving of pain or suffering might be the most humane thing I can do.

 

Over time, I can’t say that it becomes easier.  You build up a tougher skin but at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to break down.  If you don’t, you end up burning out from compassion fatigue for caring too much and then we aren’t any good to you or your pet.  Fortunately, there is help for medical professionals who are experiencing these issues.  But I think one of the best things to help veterinarians & technicians continue to help your pets is an understanding that we also have feelings and to let us know “thank you for helping.”  We understand that there will be a period of grief that can include anger and denial so we are okay with your venting; we know you don’t mean to hold us responsible.  No matter what, we’ll always be there for you.

TenderMoment

 

This is part 1 of a 2 part look at euthanasia.  Come back in a few days when I discuss the topic from a pet owner perspective.  Please leave comments in the section below if there’s anything specific you’d like me to address.  Thank you!

To Tea Tree or NOT to Tea Tree?

To Tea Tree or NOT to Tea Tree?

 

For many people in today’s world, they are constantly looking for different ways to treat their pets ailments and keep them in general good health.  This can range for diet selections to home remedies and unfortunately can include some old wives’ tales or incomplete/improper information.  I’m not saying they aren’t useful for some conditions, but they should be discussed with your veterinarian and if safer therapies exist they should be used first.  Here in Kingston (like in many other parts of the world), one of the biggest concerns many pet owners have with their pets is the wicked flea!

A common cat flea (which also lives on dogs)

A common cat flea (which also lives on dogs)

These nasty little bugs can cause a multitude of diseases that many people may not see including tapeworms, Bartonellosis, and anemia.  More often though the biggest problem bothering everyone is itching and skin problems.  I can only recommend that you talk to your veterinarian about the best way to handle individual cases of flea problems.  I DO want to keep you from making your pet sick however!

tea tree oil

Many people have found information on the internet about using tea tree oil as a natural remedy for flea control.  Firstly, there is no proven research behind this to prove any efficacy.  And more importantly, it can be toxic to your cat or dog if used (cats do appear to be more sensitive) improperly.  Full strength tea tree oil is sometimes mistakenly applied to the skin of the pet.  Sometimes it is also mistakenly fed to an animal.  When these types of exposures occur, a pet will begin to show signs of toxicity within a few hours.  Most commonly this will include weakness, muscle tremors (twitching), depression, ataxia (walking like they are drunk), and development of hypothermia.  Oral ingestion can lead to liver damage and electrolyte disturbances.  I have personally seen signs disappear in adult dogs in 24 hours but when used in puppies or kittens, they will often be more serious and may require veterinary care.  This was a kitten that I saw once that was so lethargic and depressed from a bath with tea tree oil that she almost died due to hypoglycemia because she was too lethargic to be able to eat.

Exposed to tea tree oil

Exposed to tea tree oil

After treatment, feeling better!

After treatment, feeling better!

 

 

 

 

 

While there is no way to reverse the effects or control neurologic signs without the help of a veterinarian, the first step taken at home should be to wash your pet with a liquid hand dishwashing soap that will de-grease the coat & skin.  After taking this measure, you should contact your veterinarian for further advice.  For oral exposures, you should seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

 

In short, it is best to avoid using any natural or home remedies without consulting your veterinarian.  The same goes for any type of over the counter human medications.  There are many safe and approved products for use in flea and parasite control.  Ask your veterinarian what’s best to rid your pets and home of those pesky parasites!

How Not to Break the Bank

How Not to Break the Bank

I cried with a client the other day.  I had examined his dog and given him a generally good bill of health…except for one problem.  This particular pooch seemed otherwise okay and was full of spirit except that the one abnormality was the cause of some discomfort & pain.  This owner was very certain that he did not want his buddy to be in any pain.  He had made the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize his beloved dog.  Why?  Because he couldn’t afford to do anything for his pet.  It doesn’t matter what the problem was.  Broken leg, bad teeth, glaucoma….  All examples of relatively “simple” problems that can be treated and pain relieved.  I use the term “simple” here to describe medical problems that are straightforward with the potential for very easy resolution.

Now before we go any further, I’m not here to get into an argument over the cost of veterinary care.  Believe me, it ate at me to have to euthanize that dog and it probably will for a long time.  In some ways, I do feel the cost is high but I also have to respect the other side in that I myself am not yet a clinic owner so I do not know all of the additional costs to run a clinic.  I can attest to the fact that veterinarians graduate with a high amount of student debt.  What I am aiming to do here is maybe help others find ways to defray the costs and avoid losing their pets.

piggy bank bandageFirst off, I feel the need to remind everyone that a pet is like a child in that it is a responsibility.  Having a pet is a wonderful thing and it can offer so many benefits to a person.  But in return, that pet deserves to be cared for so keep that in mind when adopting or “rescuing” an animal.  There is no socialized healthcare for pets unfortunately and I too would like to claim then on my tax return.  Veterinary clinics are privately owned businesses, much like an auto repair shop or a restaurant, where payment is for services rendered.  So how can we help ease the strain or plan for those unexpected emergencies?

Save for that rainy day...

Save for that rainy day…

Save a little:  Set up a savings account for your pet, whether it be at a bank or in a mattress.  Each paycheck put a little something away…$5, $10, $25…whatever.  Over time, this will build up for those emergencies that might happen.  Surgeries & dental procedures aren’t inexpensive so you should start saving up anytime when you get a pet.  Face it, if you adopt a chihuahua, it’s going to need dental work at sometime.  Adding that male cat to your house?  Prepare for possible urinary problem.  To also help with savings, cut back on eating out and your doctor would agree with saving money on not buying addictive things.  I think this option for saving up is the best idea of what I’ll present.

Save a lot:  This focuses on the idea of preventative care.  Nothing hurts more than watching a puppy fade away due to parvovirus (despite our best efforts) because somebody chose not to vaccinate it – treatment is easily 4-5 times more expensive than vaccines.  Just because your cat will “never” go outside doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be spayed – a spay surgery will save you at least $1000 by having the procedure done when they are young & healthy rather than when already ill.  Preventative care is there for a reason…to try and keep your pets healthy and have a good quality of life.  With your senior pets, it is far better to check some blood tests while they seem healthy because often the results can show an abnormality before the patient will show signs of the disease.   Also, if we send your pet home with a cone of shame, it’s for good reason – if they chew out their stitches, not only will it hurt them but it will cost you; so keep it on to avoid unnecessary vet visits.

It's not a cone of shame but a cone of protection

It’s not a cone of shame but a cone of protection

Carry extra protection:  Yes, I’m talking about insurance.  Pet insurance is so much simpler than human insurance andinsurance-claim you can even choose your pet’s doctor!  Lots of insurance plans will cover for accidents and illnesses while some will even cover basic wellness care such as vaccines, dental cleanings, and heartworm prevention.  It is best to research plans before you commit to one and many of them will have a trial period.  Two of my favorite plans here in Canada are PetsPlusUs and Petsecure.  Your veterinary clinic may have a relationship with some insurance companies that may offer special deals so be sure to discuss this option with your veterinarian.

Community support:  In many parts of the country (USA or Canada), there may be city or municipality programs that can help defray costs.  Here in the city of Kingston, they have instituted a program to provide $100 vouchers to have your pet spay or neutered for people with financial hardship.  Similarly, there are groups that help TNR (trap neuter release) feral cats in order to help decrease overpopulation and keep more animals safe.  In Kingston, one such group who does great work is the Spay Neuter Kingston Initiative (SNKI) and if you support a feral cat colony, they might be able to help.  So check in the area where you live to see what might be available.TNR

Use common sense:  These are things that might seem obvious but I’ll put them here are reminders.  Keep your dog on a leash and your cat indoors.  This can avoid fights, bite wounds, and being hit by a car.  Brush your pet’s fur if it is long.  Ask your veterinary clinic to show you how to trim nails safely & properly.  Brushing your pet’s teeth daily (okay, at least 3-4 times a week) with an enzymatic pet toothpaste can help reduce the severity of dental disease thus lowering the cost.  Don’t let your pets get overweight.  And lastly, don’t keep putting off a vet visit for a problem thinking it will get better…the longer you wait, the worse it can be and subsequently cost more.

I’m not going to lie; pet health care is expensive.  NOT counting food, beds, toys, or fun outfits, the average cost for pet in their first year of life (all core vaccines, spay/neuter, deworming, etc.) just in terms of basic care and maintenance can be approximately $600-$1200 depending on species, size, & gender AND assuming no other problems arise.  This is why it’s important to plan ahead and not get a new pet on impulse.  Hopefully, some of the above advice can help your pet enjoy a happy long life with you.  Lastly, one final way to save money when getting a new pet is to adopt from a shelter or rescue group.  Many of these pets will already be spayed/neutered, have some vaccinations, and tend to be less costly for an adoption fee rather than purchasing a purebred – oh and they’ll love you just as much if not more!!

Adopt_a_Pet

When Indulge Leads to Bulge

When Indulge Leads to Bulge

 

Obie at his beginning weight

Obie at his beginning weight

Have you heard of Obie the dachshund?  You know, the one who tipped the scales at 77 pounds (35 kilograms) when an average dachshund weighs 16-32 pounds (7.3-15 kg).  Fortunately, Obie has lost weight and is living a much healthier life now.  One of the biggest health problems facing pets these days is the struggle with weight and obesity.  Sure, we as veterinarians up north make some allowances in the springtime as we expect a lot of pets gain weight over the winter.  With the extra long and harsh winter here in Kingston, Ontario this year I know I did and now I’m working to lose what weight I put on.  Strangely, our dogs & cats did not put on weight.  So what’s our secret?  No, it’s not removing Charlie’s spleen that helped keep him thin.  It really is common sense but part of a larger overall plan.

 

Part 1: EXERCISE – Spring and summer are the time of year for everyone, including the family pet, to get out and be active.  I think many people can be guilty of a little too much couch time (I’ll confess I have been) or not getting Fido out as much due to heat.  There is a movement by the National Football League (NFL) to get kids outside to play 60 minutes a day and be active.  So is 30-60 minutes too much to ask for your dog?  Just be sure to take along a travel bowl and some water if you plan on any outdoor excursions.

 

Work it kitty!  Burn those calories!!

Work it kitty! Burn those calories!!

Part 2: MEDICAL – Very commonly, when we discuss weight problems with your cat or dog, it is usually due to them being too thin or losing weight and this is typically related to a medical issue such as hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, or cancer.  But what about the other side of the coin when your pet seems to have put on a little extra weight?  There are some medical conditions that will cause weight gain, or give the appearance of it.  If your pet is gaining or losing weight, it is necessary for your veterinarian to examine them to help rule out medical issues in formulating a weight management plan.dog on scale

The most common is hypothyroidism which tends to affect middle age to older dogs where metabolism is decreased by a lack of thyroid hormones.  Another disease that may give the appearance of weight gain is hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease) where an increased level of the hormone cortisol leads to muscle weakening of the abdominal muscles and subsequent abdominal distension or a pot bellied appearance.  For cats, abdominal distension (if not due to weight gain), is often a sign of fluid accumulation due to heart or liver disease for example.

 

Hills_Measuring_Cup_CatPart 3: FOOD CHOICE & PORTIONS (this is the most important part!!!) – Two things I stress with all my clients are counting calories and measure food portions.  Many people choose to use a “weight control” diet from an over the counter brand.  Unfortunately, not every brand lowers the calories significantly or their general maintenance diets are quite high to begin with.  But more often the issue is how pets are being fed.  Oftentimes, multiple people are helping to feed the pets, animals are free fed (just leaving a bowl out), or portions are not measured.  This can lead to overfeeding and the dreaded weight gain.  “But doctor, it’s impossible to feed my pets separately” or “If I don’t feed him, he cries all the time” are two common responses I get during this discussion.  Overfeeding is typically all that needs to be corrected to help your pet slim down.

 

Step 1: Always measure the food.  Your vet will often have plastic measuring cups from food companies they will give you so you can leave it in the bag.

Step 2: Discuss with your veterinarian the amount of calories your pet needs to maintain or lose weight and strictly adhere to it.

Dinner time!

Dinner time!

Step 3: Whether you have one pet or five pets, make them have a set mealtime.  Don’t give in and let them snack when they cry out.  If you have multiple pets, close one in the bathroom, one in a bedroom, get a baby gate…whatever, just separate them so that one pet is not overeating while another gets shortchanged.  To adjust your free-fed pet to mealtimes, I recommend giving them 20-30 minutes with the food twice a day then pick it up.  Your pets will learn quickly that this is the time to eat.

Step 4: Limit treats and avoid table foods.

 

You may find that if you do nothing more than follow the 4 steps above, your pet can lose weight!  You may not even have to change food which is particularly useful for those picky eaters.  Help your cat or dog fight the battle against pet obesity!

 

Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for a conversation with your veterinarian and regular medical care.

 

Friday the 13th & Black Cats

Friday the 13th & Black Cats

 

Today is a rare occurrence of both a full moon and Friday the 13th.  Unfortunately, whenever a Friday the 13th comes around, we can still hear stories of black cats being abused, tortured, or neglected.  Fortunately, as a veterinarian I haven’t heard of any such occurrences here in Kingston, Ontario but I hope I can help say something here to change the fortunes of these fancy felines. 937753-friday-13th

 

The origin of a fear of black cats lives in the Middle Ages when older women became demonized as witches.  It was believed that witches could transform themselves into black cats or that black cats hung around witches and were therefore guilty by association.  As witch hunts spread, the killing or torture of black cats sadly began.  For people with a superstitious persuasion, they know there aren’t witches these days but they still have a fear for reasons unknown to myself.  Fanatical people can go so far as to harm these cats.  This is an excellent reason to keep your black cat indoors, not just on Friday the 13th or Halloween, but all year round.  They can also be harder to see in the dark and may become victims of car accidents more often.

 

chat noirIf black cats are not being abused (hopefully not any longer!), they can often be left in shelters and passed over for adoption strictly because of their color.  Some shelters have gone to reducing adoption fees or promoting black cat adoptions to help alleviate this problem.  Despite all this, there are several reasons to add a black cat to your family!  In some parts of the world, a black cat being around is a sign of good luck or prosperity (Asia, United Kingdom, southern France).  In older days, it was often thought that owning a black cat would ensure a safe return for travelling sailors or good weather on their travels.  There are also these excellent reason from the British Columbia SPCA to adopt a black cat:

 

  1. Black cats are easier to find in the snow.
  2. Black cats absorb heat and are therefore perfect for cuddling with.
  3. When next to you, black cats make you look thinner.
  4. Black cats never look dirty.
  5. Black goes with everything so you will always match your cat.
  6. Black cats always look presentable on formal occasions.
  7. Black hair is invisible on your black wool coat.
  8. Black cats look more distinguished as they age because their grey hair is more visible.
  9. It’s easier to see black fur in your food so you’ll never end up swallowing it.
  10. Black is beautiful.

 

So the next time you see a black cat or you know someone who is afraid of them, share these wonderful reasons to help break the negativity about these lovely felines.  If you yourself are superstitious about what today may bring, just steer clear of any ladders, don’t move any mirrors, and be sure to keep your lucky horseshoe handy.

Full of mystery and love behind those adoring eyes

Full of mystery and love behind those adoring eyes

The Fallacy of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)

The Fallacy of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)

 

When I started this blog, one of my goals was to provide an informative and open forum with a real honest look into veterinary medicine, not just in my home of Kingston, but also from a larger world-wide perspective.  Right now, with an upcoming election in Ontario, there is a small focus on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL for short).  What really needs to happen is that BSL needs to be brought to the forefront of the discussion within the public and veterinary community.  The short and long of the discussion is that BSL is ineffective and ethically wrong.  Here’s why…

 

MLK paraphrase pitbullIn short, Breed Specific Legislation is tantamount to discrimination.  The majority of the world has morally accepted and even placed laws into effect to ban discrimination.  So why are we taking a step back and writing laws to encourage a bias against a group?  It’s not 19th century America anymore!  What kind of lesson does this teach children especially in today’s world and the ever present topic of bullying?  Society is encouraging the picking on of some dogs for what amounts to how they look, not how they act.

 

The roots lie in the Dog Owners’ Liability Act which was amended in 2005 to include a specific ban on “pit bulls.”  The act was originally intended to protect victims of dog bites while at the same time offering some degree of protection to the dog owner but also holding them liable.  In theory, it’s a good idea by enforcing leash & muzzle use for a previous offender and requiring spaying or neutering.  The problem goes back to the amendment that placed a specialized ban on “pit bulls” which in itself is “a misnomer and does not refer to a singe, recognized breed of dog, but rather to a genetically diverse group of breeds which are associated by certain physical traits.”  The act defines multiple breeds to be considered “pit bulls” including American Staffordshire Terrriers & Staffordshire bull terriers.  This creates a potential problem for the dog owners as there may not be a way for them to prove that the dog is not a pit bull.  But in some cases, a DNA test will show that a dog is not a pit bull even if it has visible physical characteristics as was the case of a court action I was involved in back in Florida.  This helps prove the old adage, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.

Does this dog look dangerous?  Don't judge

Does this dog look dangerous? Don’t judge

 

Let’s look at part of an example of a breed description from United Kennel Club, which is one of the groups the DOLA directs us to use in identifying a pit bull.

  1. SKULL – The skull is large, flat, deep, and broad between the ears.  Viewed from the top, the skull is square.  There is a deep median furrow that diminishes in depth from the stop to the occiput.  Cheek muscles are prominent.  MUZZLE – The muzzle is broad and thick, with a very slight taper from the stop to the nose.  TEETH – Has a complete set of 42 large, evenly spaced, white teeth.  NOSE – The nose is large, with wide, open nostrils.  Black color is preferred, but shades of red or brown are acceptable.  Lack of pigment is a cosmetic fault.  EYES – Eyes are medium in size, round to almond shape, and set well apart.  All colors are acceptable, but dark brown is preferred.  Haw is not visible.  Black eye rims are preferred.  EARS – Ears may be cropped, but natural ears are preferred.  Natural ears are small to medium size, high set, and may be drop, semi-prick, or rose.
  2. SKULL – The skull is large, flat or slightly rounded, deep, and broad between the ears. Viewed from the top, the skull tapers just slightly toward the stop. There is a deep median furrow that diminishes in depth from the stop to the occiput.  Cheek muscles are prominent but free of wrinkles.  MUZZLE – The muzzle is broad and deep with a very slight taper from the stop to the nose, and a slight falling away under the eyes.  TEETH – Has a complete set of evenly spaced, white teeth meeting in a scissors bite.  NOSE – The nose is large with wide, open nostrils. The nose may be any color.  EYES – Eyes are medium size, round and set well apart and low on the skull. All colors are equally acceptable except blue, which is a serious fault. Haw should not be visible.  EARS – Ears are high set and may be natural or cropped without preference. Prick, or flat, wide ears are not desired.

Can you tell which dog is a pit bull?  They sound pretty similar.  The other dog is not listed in the breed ban but is in fact an American Bulldog.  The second description is that of the American Pit Bull Terrier.  This again presents the problem of how these dogs are identified based on appearance and ultimately leads to the killing of thousands of innocent dogs.

Puppies like these are condemned to die because of how they look

Puppies like these are condemned to die because of how they look

Now, most veterinarians are against BSL in any city or municipality, including here in Kingston, Ontario.  We have 8+ years of university education behind us and realize that the behavior of dogs is not tied to their breed but rather their handling and socialization.  The act goes on to insult the veterinarians by placing the onus of writing a letter after a violation of the act (your dog bites someone) stating that a dog is a pit bull.  This is wrong because I feel we cannot morally condemn a dog without knowing the facts.  What caused the person to get bit?  Did they approach the dog’s home? Did they try to pet it without asking the owner first?  Was the dog running loose?  Were any warning signs of defensive behavior shown?  And most importantly, why are we not asked to write such a letter when the family Golden Retriever, Pug, or Border Collie bites someone??  This is flat out discrimination.

 

Who now is the vicious dog? It's not fair to generalize.

Who now is the vicious dog? It’s not fair to generalize.

Sure, I’ve been bitten before; I remember my first dog bite back in 1999.  You know what it was?  A dachshund!  I’ve also been bitten by chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, and Jack Russell Terriers.  You know what’s missing?  Yeah, “pit bulls” are not on my list despite seeing 2-3 a day when I used to practice in Florida.  Of course, I’ve come across a few that growled at me but who likes to go see the doctor anyway.  Just a few days ago, I was nearly bitten again…by a labrador.  The time before that I was lunged at by a Saint Bernard.  Now, let us look at some facts.

 

The Canadian Veterinary Journal (distributed by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association) published an article in 2008 listing fatal dog attacks in Canada for the preceding 18 years.  Of these 28 fatalities, only ONE dog deemed to be a pit bull was involved.  The remaining dogs were husky breeds, rottweilers, a bull mastiff, a border collie, malamute, chow chow, and mixes including German Shepherds or labradors.  In a few cases, the dog breed was not identified.  A majority of these attacks (18 of 27)were also by dogs known to the victim or their family.  Upon further review, a majority of these fatalities were due to the victim entering the dogs’ area/yard.  Looking further at US statistics, since BSL was introduced in various parts of the countries, dog bite fatalities have actually increased.  When you review the accurately detailed list on Wikipedia, numerous breeds are implicated.  Yes, pit bulls are there but so are Rottweilers in large numbers, Saint Bernards, dachshunds, huskies or husky mixes, English sheepdogs, chows, and even a Pomeranian.

Is your dog next?

Is your dog next?

 

You’ve made it this far.  I hope you’re getting to the same conclusion I am…it’s time to repeal the breed ban and end the discrimination.  If the fallacy of the BSL isn’t apparent through statistics, the difficulty in breed identification, or the simple fact that thousands of dogs have been condemned to die for simply being from the wrong gene pool, perhaps the testimony of a parent named Donna Trempe who lost her child to a dog attack.  It was not a pit bull either; it was a bull mastiff.  You can read the full statement before a committee here but I have included a few excerpts.

  • I applaud certain sections of the bill: doubling fines to dangerous dog owners up to a maximum of $10,000, jail sentences, the requirement for dog owners to pay restitution to victims, and giving police and municipal bylaw officers the authority to search for dangerous dogs. What I don’t agree with is banning specific breeds.”
  • In my opinion, Bill 132 has its good points and its bad points. A bull mastiff, not a pit bull, killed my daughter. Rottweilers killed a three-year-old boy in Vancouver. Presa canarios killed a woman in San Francisco. Even small dogs such as west highland white terriers and cocker spaniels have been recorded as killer dogs.”
  • Am I against dogs? Not in any way. I love dogs and own a German shepherd. What I am against is irresponsible dog owners. I agree with the Humane Society of Canada that banning only pit bulls will not solve the dog-biting problem. German shepherds, cocker spaniels, Rottweilers and golden retrievers are actually the most common biters.”

 

educate not discriminate

Photo from Smilin’ Pit Bull Rescue

Ultimately, the root of the dog bite problem lies with the owners who don’t properly socialize their dogs and potentially those few who train them to be aggressive.  The main facet of all this still remains that ANY dog can bite, maim, or kill a person.  The problem lies with the people; not the dogs.  It’s been suggested by numerous people and groups (including the OVMA, the Humane Society of Canada, and the Canadian Kennel Club) that Ontario replace this heinous legislation with the Calgary model which aims to prevent bites through education, spay/neuter programs, and penalties for owners.  One of the reasons I believe that pit bulls have been targeted, is that the media hypes these reports up as they always love a good story.  Other dogs bite too but you NEVER hear about it because it doesn’t get people’s attention.  Despite the bans, bites haven’t decreased.  Multiple attempts have been made to repeal the law but the government here in Ontario has always found ways to kill the bill.  Fortunately, you can vote these people out of office and replace them with those who support Hershey’s Bill.  It’s time for a change.  It’s time to end the Breed Specific Legislation in Ontario.

 

Me with 2 great pit bull/mixes, Dagny (left) and Ethy (right) - some of my favorite patients ever.  Very well behaved and a prime example of responsible owners.

Me with 2 great pit bull/mixes, Dagny (left) and Ethy (right) – some of my favorite patients ever. Very well behaved and a prime example of responsible owners.

 

Acknowledgement: Inspiration for this post and major assistance with research go to @MacBarksBack or visit his blog mac.bravesites.com for more info about what you can do to fight BSL

 

To Spay or Not to Spay…Spay please!

Spaying Has It’s Benefits (more than just keeping pets out of shelters)

 

So you love your cat or dog?  You paid a lot of money for that purebred too right?  And you want to have them or a part of them around forever?   Oh, and you have kids of your own?  Great, let’s get to work breeding your pet so that you can get some money back from selling puppies, have a new puppy from your dog, and let your kids see new kittens or puppies being born!

3 day old kittens that adopted my dad

3 day old kittens that adopted my dad

 

Alright, now forget everything you just read and prepare for the truth.  Those are all the excuses I often hear when discussing spaying and neutering pets.  Many pet owners will commit to “fixing” one of their pets but not both.  The usual factors are cost, machismo, or just not being fully aware of the risks.  For now, we’re just going to focus on the girls, with particular attention to the health aspect…we’ll get to the boys later.  Even though your dog or cat may be an “only” dog or always indoors, there are still more reasons to have her spayed than to leave her intact.  There is currently a pet over-population crisis where hundreds of thousands of animals wait in shelters for someone to take them home, or in too many cases, they are euthanized.  Aside from saving lives by spaying your animals, there are many other splendid reasons to do this kind gesture for your pets.

 

So, you think people are the only ones who get breast cancer?  Guess again.  Intact dogs and cats are also prone to mammary cancer.  While in dogs it has a 50-50 chance of being malignant, in cats there is a 90% chance of malignancy.  Aside from malignancy, these tumors can burst open causing pain and infection.  If they are spayed before their first heat cycle, these cats & dogs have a significantly reduced chance of developing these tumors.  A spay surgery, properly called an ovariohysterectomy, removes the entire uterus and ovaries.  This also eliminates the chance of ovarian cysts or cancers as well.

 

Now imagine a large abscess developing inside your furry loved one’s belly.  When it involves the uterus, we get to use the icky word “pyometra.”  If your pet is draining from its’ vulvar area, this is better than no drainage but still not a

A pus filled uterus I removed

A pus filled uterus I removed

good thing.  If the uterus is not draining, your cat or dog will get sick quicker as the bacteria invades the bloodstream and in the worst cases, the uterus can pop like a balloon.  These patients often present to the veterinarian for vomiting, lethargy, a decreased appetite, or increased drinking & urination.  Ultimately, the best way to fix this is surgery which is riskier and also more costly than a routine spay.

 

My dad called me the other night.  A stray cat had followed him home and she looked pregnant.  A few days later, he called me back saying “There’s some blood coming out of the back end.”  A minute later, “There’s a large bubble coming out now!”  “Congrats! It’s a girl!,” I jokingly told him.  Fortunately, she delivered all 6 kittens that night without the need for a c-section.  Yep, you heard me; people aren’t the only ones who need c-sections!  And wouldn’t you know it; these things always happen at 3am on a Sunday morning.  Then don’t forget dewormings and first vaccinations after they’re born.  These things all do cost money so that should be taken into account before considering breeding your pet.

Bottle feeding at 2am

Bottle feeding at 2am

Kittens & puppies can be a lot of work, and much like a newborn child, can include nights of little to no sleep.  Then comes finding homes because face it, 2-3 cats can be difficult to manage, but 7-9 is even more a difficult.  With all of the stories you may hear of pet over-population and shelters that do not follow a “no-kill” policy, it just makes sense to do this simple act to help our domesticated animals.  Below you will see a cat who had a pyometra and her family could not afford to treat her and they were left with the unfortunate choice of euthanasia.  Luckily for this young girl, were were able to find a foster home for her but she is a rare case as most of these patients do not get a second chance.  I hope I’ve laid out the facts enough so that informed and well thought out decisions can be made for the health of your pets as well as any that may follow you home ;)  Please sound off in the comments if you have anything to add or if I’ve forgotten something!  Thanks again for reading, share if you like, and be sure to check back often for more posts!

Post-op pyometra recovering before going to her foster home tomorrow!

Post-op pyometra recovering before going to her foster home tomorrow!

Lessons Learned

This is part 3 of 3.  For part 1, click here.

 

Lessons Learned

 

The first 48 hours was challenging.  I hadn’t slept that first night as I was constantly checking on Charlie to make sure he was comfortable and that his IV fluids were running.  Multiple times I found myself giving him small pep talks.  I just had to make sure he knew how special he was – to me, to Jennifer, our other pets & family, and all the dogs he had helped save over the years.  They were all pulling for him.  I was even more touched when we noticed our cats had taken up a bedside vigil with Charlie for a short while.

Our oldest cat Gremlin providing moral support

Our oldest cat Gremlin providing moral support

 

The next morning I had to go into Kingston for work at the clinic.  It was never a decision that required any contemplation; Charlie was going to travel with me.  My boss understood and my co-workers were amazing with the nursing care they helped provide during the day.  Charlie had not yet started to eat and even more concerning was the fact that he had not urinated.  We passed a urinary catheter and he seemed to be a lot more comfortable once his very full bladder had been emptied.  It was later in that day that Charlie stood up on his own for the first time since surgery and I was beaming like a proud parent whose baby had just taken its’ first step!

 

It was time to go home that first day and fortunately when I arrived home, my neighbor was kind enough to help me get Charlie in the house.  We had been keeping Charlie’s pain under control with plenty of pain medications and it would have made walking very difficult, especially with stairs.  Once Jennifer arrived home, we tried to coax Charlie to eat but to no avail he continued his 48 hour fast but on the plus side he gave us a tail wag!

Jennifer & Louie helping to cheer Charlie up

Jennifer & Louie helping to cheer Charlie up

We still had to pass a urinary catheter to relieve his bladder and ultimately the next day we found out this had created an unusually bad urinary tract infection.  Upon getting some antibiotics on board, Charlie began taking an immense liking to one of our technicians and he began to eat for her.  Again, I felt the joy of optimism that everything might turn out well.

 

The next couple of days passed quickly as we saw Charlie regain his appetite and his personality.  My most joyous moment was when I went in to the kitchen where he followed me and then proceeded to beg for treats.  It was also that night that I received the pathology report with the findings of really what we had removed.  It wasn’t very clear as it only said “probable hemangiosarcoma” of the spleen so there were no definitive cancer cells seen.  Good news arrived in that it had not spread to the liver as the nodules seen in surgery were normal liver cell regeneration.  We took this as a small victory and hoped that it meant he was going to be okay.  On the advice of some colleagues, I got the slides sent off to a second pathologist who was considered to be “the authority” on such matters in her field.  Roughly one week later, I received the news I had hope to hear – benign hemangioma!

 

"I'm ready for a walk!"

“I’m ready for a walk!”

My two weeks of fear were instantly erased.  Charlie was a cancer survivor!  We had taken the skin staples out, he was eating, walking around on his own, and taking in all the comforts of our couch.  I had my senior dog back who was again acting like a puppy.

 

Jennifer & I are very lucky.  Charlie beat the odds and is healthy again.  Most dogs who present to the clinic with a splenic tumor never get to go home and share more time with their families.  Charlie has saved countless lives as a blood donor and provided lots of emotional support to help me get through school.  Now he has worked his charm again and taught us how to use the greatest gift for a veterinarian – compassion, understanding, empathy – whichever term you prefer, these are things no professor in school can teach.

 

The profession of veterinary medicine has a gravitational pull for people who have a natural tendency for caring, compassion, and service to people & animals.  There are days when everything goes right; and days where everything seems to go wrong no matter how hard we try.  This is part of the the heart of the term “compassion fatigue.”  We, as veterinarians, care so much but sometimes in the field many of my colleagues have experienced a burn out and lose the soul of what led us to this profession in the first place.   Charlie has once again kept me on the path to bettering myself as a compassionate veterinarian as I have now been in the shoes of many of the pet owners I have worked with.  It’s amazing what four furry paws, big brown eyes, a wet tongue, and wagging tail can teach us.  Thank you, Charlie.

Charlie & I two weeks post-op (our photo from the clinic webpage)

Charlie & I two weeks post-op (our photo from the clinic webpage)

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