You know, I can’t tell you how many times I had to sit in an exam room with a weeping child, explaining to them over the listless puppy in front of them that I was so sorry, the test came back for Salmonella and the prognosis was grim. Wait, that’s parvo.
Salmonella, while demonized in the media to a bogeyman of epic proportions, is mostly known as an irritating member of the Diarrhea Duo, a pest more than a demon scourge of canines. And yet, with every recall, the anger, the indignation, and the fear rolls in, predictable as a rush on flu vaccines after the first case of the winter.
I get it. Trust me, I get it. The 2007 melamine recall put us all on edge- and rightly so, I might add. That was a terrible event, one I hope never to see happen again in my career.
There are several factors that went into that event that made it extra awful, mainly the scope, the deception on behalf of the suppliers, and the number of deaths assumed to have resulted from the whole debacle. There is no excuse for deliberately adulterated ingredients to make their way into the pet food supply, ever. And now here we are, with yet another Salmonella recall- on a food I’m currently feeding Brody. And am I indignant? Disappointed? Filled with righteous fury?
Salmonella typhimurium, courtesy NIH.
No, not really. But in order to get that you have to understand the ubiquitous nature of Salmonella.
Salmonella: The scourge of veterinary medicine (except when it isn’t)
Let’s put it this way: if dogs were a preschool, Salmonella would be that runny nose snotty kid always wiping their fingers on everything. It’s just kind of there, it’s not there on purpose, but it just kind of happens, and you manage it the best you can. You can peruse pubmed and the various studies on the topic if you want- in fact, NC State is doing research on the very topic of the prevalence of Salmonella in dogs as we speak- the older papers are all over the place, finding 11% to 66% incidence in dogs. A 2002 Canadian paper on asymptomatic dogs fed the BARF diet found 30% of those dogs tested positive for Salmonella, and, as BARF enthusiasts themselves regularly point out, they are not, as far as anyone can tell, keeling over dead of Salmonellosis in any discernible numbers. This despite the fact that in this study, 80% of their diet did test positive for the bacterium.
So why does the CDC hunt it down like Snape chasing Harry through the halls of Hogwarts? Are they that concerned about the comfort and well being of our canine companions? (hint: no.)
They care because people get Salmonella. The final tally from last year’s Diamond incident was that 49 people were sickened, 10 hospitalized, none dead. The CDC stats, when they have them available, average out to about 35 or so people a year getting documented cases of Salmonella from pet food. 35 out of the 42,000 reported cases a year. That’s 0.08% of the documented cases being due to pet food, for those keeping score. The actual number of Salmonella cases, most of which are never reported (how many of us had one of those “OMG I ate bad Taco Bell” mornings and never reported it?) is estimated to be about 29 times higher. Death rate from acute Salmonellosis? Less than 1%, actually quite a bit lower than even that unless you are very young ,very old, or immunocompromised.
I know you all love infographics. I’m too cheap to hire a graphic designer, but nonetheless I made you all a pie chart because I know everyone loves a good pie chart.
We swim in a sea of Salmonella
We know, we know and this is well documented, that raw meat is a common source of Salmonella. That is why my mother freaked out, loudly and with great horror, if there was any chicken juice on the counter not promptly blown into oblivion with bleach. “SALMONELLA!” she would scream, wielding Lysol like Excalibur against the foe. But as we’ve seen with a recall from The Honest Kitchen earlier this year, it’s not just meat that can be the problem- their recall was actually due to a batch of parsley that tested positive. It’s in the raw ingredients for pet food and the raw ingredients for our own foods. Peanut butter. eggs. chicken. milk.
So what’s the deal? If you want to make a list of the affected brands in the last 5 years, it goes far and wide. Almost everyone has been affected at some point or another. Is it that every single manufacturer, regardless of their commitment to quality control or lack thereof, is just gross and negligent? In certain cases, like the Diamond recall, where there was a well documented failure to maintain adequate facility standards at the manufacturing plant over several months, I would say yes- they screwed up royally.
But in most cases? I would argue that many manufacturers- at least the ones who do it all in house and are transparent enough to invite journalists in – follow very high levels of quality assurance. The testing process in a plant following adequate GMPS is thorough; the production process is extremely effective at getting rid of pathogens during the cooking process. And even with that, even with everything done properly, sometimes Salmonella happens, just like sometimes you get an infection post-op even when your surgeon followed meticulous sterile procedures.
In yesterday’s Natura case, we are talking about one single sample that tested positive.
So now what?
If you’re looking for an excuse to stop feeding commercial food and this seems like a convenient one, go forth with my blessing. Please find someone who knows that they are talking about (I love the nutritionists at BalanceIt) to help guide you.
If you, like the vast majority of the pet owning population including myself, have decided to take your chances with this vile scourge, this baleful bacterium, I give you this long and complicated process to minimize your risks of contracting Salmonella:
P.S. I thought this goes without saying, but just in case there was some ambiguity: good lord, if your food lot gets recalled, yes, do return it. That’s what recalls are for.
Disclaimer: I’m not a CDC public health expert, nor do I pretend to have the vast reservoirs of knowledge that many food safety pros do. That being said, I’m going out to dinner tonight with my good buddy, veterinarian, MPH and CDC employee Dr. Carrie, so I can pass on any questions to her you might have.
Today’s the day- 2013 Annual World Spay Day! I have to tell you, it doesn’t tickle the old joy centers quite the way, say, Ben and Jerry’s Free Ice Cream Cone Day does, but it’s here and I’m glad it exists.
Now, two things to note before I give my thoughts:
1. Although it’s called “Spay Day”, the event encompasses both spay and neuter. Nobody’s trying to leave the fellas out, I think it just rolls off the tongue better this way.
2. Yes, I know it’s a Humane Society of the United States initiative and that is making at least five of you raise your eyebrows. That being said, I do think it’s important to recognize and support good initiatives no matter where they originate, and this is one. Lots of other organizations, such as PetSmart Charities, Petfinder, and the ASPCA, agree enough to be an official part of the event.
This question of whether to spay and neuter has become somewhat controversial as of late. And to that I say, let’s talk about it. Politely, please. As long as it took me to perfect my gentle tissue handling skills I really take issue with being accused of ripping uteri out of unwitting pets willy-nilly for no good reason.
I am a spay/neuter advocate. Anyone who has worked even a little in a shelter environment becomes one really fast- because when you are faced with the reality:
Of 10,000 faces.
No, wait, that’s not 10,000.
No, wait. That’s not 10,000 either. THIS is 10,000:
10,000 faces A DAY euthanized in US shelters, makes it hard to argue against anything that will help reduce those numbers. Which is why I will support low cost spay/neuter clinics, even if it cuts into my own professional workload (though it never seemed to, even in my lower income area of practice.)
My clinic referred people all the time; our surgery protocol was absolutely top notch, but it came with an appropriate pricetag. Given the choice between a subsidized clinic down the road or no surgery at all, we knew what was the right thing to do. Money’s tight these days. I get that. I am glad there are resources around for those who need it.
Spay Day has an event locator for people to find local Spay Day events. As an example, here’s an event from my neck of the woods: $10 to fix any pet whose owners reside in a particular school district. I can’t compete with that, but truth be told, I probably never was in the running for most of the business to begin with. Whatever the outcome, one less litter in the Sweetwater shelter is OK by me.
But gonads are good! Don’t you deny it!
But WAIT! I know what you’re going to say. You are an educated, informed pet owner and you know all about the research showing that sex hormones do have health benefits and spaying and neutering may not always be 100% a positive thing. You’ve pored over the latest Golden Retriever neutering and cancer study (I did too. Putting 2 Goldens down in 6 months is not a fun thing.) And you ask:
Why must I be forced into this surgery for my pet? Why is no one admitting that testicles and ovaries have a purpose and are best left attached to the animal from whence they sprouted?
To this I say: I agree.
And to that I add: Will you at least concede, being an educated, informed pet owner, the sad truth that many, many people are not? And while I can say with utter sincerity that I believe you are not letting your pet run amuk impregnating the neighborhood, your less conscientious streetmates are?
We need to look at the conversation on two different levels: Individual health and population health.
I believe individual owners should have the right to decide when and if their pets are spayed and neutered. It’s my job to help you evaluate the risk/benefit analysis and decide for yourself what is right for you, what the consequences of that choices might be, and how to proceed. Should you make an informed decision not to spay and neuter, I will support you. I know you people exist. I’ve met you. However:
I also believe that from a population standpoint, in the absence of an owner who makes that level of commitment to understanding the complexity of the issue- or any issue regarding their dog, really- the default recommendation should be: spay and neuter. If you got your cryptorchid puppy off Craigslist and waited three months to bring him in for his first parvo vaccine, I’m going to recommend neutering him. If you are a local news personality and you Tweet me asking me whether you should buy a dog with an umbilical hernia if you intend to breed her….not that that happened…OK, it just happened…but do you see what I mean? There are a lot of people out there making, as I explain it to my children, “poor decisions.”
Nowhere is the benefit of spay/neuter more apparent to me than in Granada, where World Vets started performing the surgeries half a decade ago. You might have walked through there in 2002 and marveled that the stray dogs all seemed so young and vibrant, but here’s the truth: that’s because they usually died, starving or in pain, by age 4.
Those people who live there will tell you, with awe in their voices, how much healthier the overall animal population is. How much nicer it is to walk down the street and not see a dead starved dog in a ditch. Those of you educated enough to appreciate the benefits of an intact pet are certainly educated enough to appreciate in the big picture, that might not apply. If not, come on down to Granada and I’ll show you a TVT.
You can’t evaluate the necessity of spay/neuter campaigns in a vacuum; so to sum up, here you go:
TLDR: If you choose not to spay or neuter your dog because you’re responsible and educated enough to have decided that is right for you, I’m here for you. And while I will support you in that I hope you will also acknowledge that for millions of animals out there, spay/neuter IS the best choice, so do me a solid and don’t undermine my efforts to alleviate significant suffering in spheres outside your own. Deal? Group hug.
Last night at the North American Veterinary Conference I was sitting with a group of wonderful veterinary students, and we were chatting about practice and whatnot, when all of a sudden it occurred to me that I was the senior veterinarian in the group. As in, the things I was saying were now the Pearls.Of.Wisdom from on high, and the idea that I’ve been doing this long enough to have wisdom to impart is simultaneously horrifying and delightful. Wow, I’m the wise one! Good Lord, I’m the old one.
I was talking about my first days of practice, when I was with a group that had proclaimed that all veterinarians must give a whole bunch of vaccines, because vaccines prevent disease, so the more you give, the better you are practicing. This is where we were at in 2002, and it was an ugly scene. As you know, all vaccines are not created equal. Now we have AAHA and AAFP guidelines that define “core” versus “non-core” and “not recommended”, excellent, evidence-based rules that take into account efficacy, likelihood of reaction, and the individual pet. But at the time, those concepts were still kind of nebulous, so the concept was more along the lines of, “more vaccines = more medicine = good.”
Translation: Cats getting FIP vaccine whether or not the vaccine actually worked, dogs getting Lyme vaccine whether or not they lived in an area that had Lyme disease. FIV vaccine, regardless of whether we were messing up future FIV testing. We were expected to do it, because that was considered good medicine.
But it didn’t feel right.
I was the lowest producing vet in my area, in terms of the money I was generating. I talked to clients about the risk and the benefit, and in cases I deemed appropriate, I might give Lyme. I didn’t give FIP. According to the medical algorithms at the time, I was practicing bad medicine.
I spent a lot of time on the phone trying to justify my decision to my superior. He felt I was practicing poor medicine. I felt the exact opposite. He had been out a lot longer than me, and saw a lot more things than I did, but I stood my ground, shaky as it felt at the time. I knew what was right by my clients, so no matter how much my superior protested, I practiced for them and not for him.
It was considered quite contrarian at the time.
After a year and half or so of neither of us budging, I quit. I quit my job rather than compromise myself. Again, a move that seemed provocative back then, when practitioners had more of an expectation of loyalty from their employees. I went to a place that told me I could practice the way I felt was appropriate, and I took a few key staff members and clients with me.
I didn’t know at the time whether or not I made the right decision, but I made the one that allowed me to sleep at night. And then two things happened:
1. Tides turned on the vaccination deal. The medical field came around to the same conclusion the rest of us had reached some time before, which is, “more does not equal better.” Vaccination must be determined on an individual basis, tailored to the pet. Now that person who had made me feel like a chump for two years was on the defensive, and all those pets I had dissuaded from an unnecessary treatment sought me out at my new clinic.
2. The practice I had been at before I quit, the one that performed quite mediocre in terms of revenue, was recognized in a group of 400 practices as having the highest client loyalty in the nation for the year. The area I practiced in was economically depressed. My clients weren’t wealthy, but they cared, and they knew I was working with them to do what was best. And at the end of of the day, there was no greater recognition I could ever receive than that. Me, newbie Dr. V, the one who put the needle back in the fridge and said no, had more people who kept coming back than all the others out there with more experience, better skills, more knowledge.
And trust me, I really did not have a clue what I was doing, so don’t take it as a boast about my amazing vet-fu. I was shaky and insecure and I had a ton of stuff I was horrible at, like most new grads. I never lied about my skills. I referred a whole lot of stuff I wasn’t ready to handle. I said no to what I couldn’t take on. I put aside that mask of bravado you’re told you should have as a doctor, and decided to just be perfectly honest.
It’s exactly what they tell you not to do.
But it felt right.
And my clients all knew it, intuitively. They forgave every deficiency because they trusted me to be upfront with them, no matter what.
Time moves quickly. I’ve done a lot since then, and made good choices and bad choices and gotten to the point where I’m perfectly comfortable in my practice; I know what I know and what I don’t and I don’t worry about how old clients think I am because it doesn’t matter. But that one lesson has never changed, and I know now never will. It’s so easy, and we screw it up so often under some auspice of ego or “promote confidence” or whatever the practice management du jour mantra is.
Apollo, the minimally vaccinated, wet food only counterculture hippie of the house, is doing gangbusters at 14. He’s outsurvived Nuke, Mulan, Emmett, and sadly, probably Koa too.
I was in a lecture today with Dr. Alice Wolf, a world renowned expert on feline medicine. She stated without preamble that yes, adjuvanted vaccines have a higher risk of inducing cancer in cats, laid out the evidence, and said this is a risk she considers unacceptable.
Adjuvant, for those who don’t know, is something that is added to a vaccine to enhance the body’s immune response by acting, essentially, as an irritant. In some cases, estimated to be 1:10,000, that inflammation turns into a horribly aggressive form of cancer. While documented in many species, it is most prevalent in cats, to the tune of about 20,000 cases a year. Manufacturers, realizing this was an unintended consequence, have responded by producing alternative vaccines without this added product. They may be more expensive. They may need to be boosted more. But they are, in Dr. Wolf’s opinion and that of many others, the superior choice.
Note that she is not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that all vaccines are bad and you shouldn’t use them. She is saying there is a component of one particular type of vaccine that has the potential to cause a nasty problem, and because there are better, safer vaccine alternatives, we need to use those instead.
Dr. Wolf bases her vaccine recommendations on the widely used AAFP recommendations, which can be found here. She does state, and I agree, that all kittens should be vaccinated for FELV, though whether that is boosted into the adult years should be determined based on pet lifestyle. Again, and this is key, she recommends vets always use non-adjuvanted vaccines whenever they are available. “WHO classifies veterinary vaccine adjuvants as a Class 3/4 carcinogen,” she told the crowd. “If there was an alternative, which one would you choose?”
I’m calling this now. As a client, your vet may not carry non-adjuvanted vaccines such as PureVax, but they should. This is where the tide is going. This is what is right, and you as a client should be OK demanding it, and the other you, the new vets, should as well, because you need to advocate for your clients no matter what.
Let me make it easy for you, newbies. Because you won’t be newbies for long and in another year or two you won’t care what I have to tell you.
Do what you know is right, always. And that is all you need to know.
It was the day after Christmas, which is how these things always seem to go. I looked at the x-ray on the monitor and smushed my lips together at what I saw. “That looks terrible,” I say to my friend Kristen, also a veterinarian. She nods glumly. A lytic, destructive bone lesion. Pretty cut and dried for cancer.
Survival statistics for cancer depend on a lot of things, but one of the main prognostic indicators is type of cancer. Bone cancers are notoriously nasty and challenging to treat. Typically, one would deal with a lesion like this- sitting right on the ankle bone- by amputation, a treatment that removes discomfort on the part of the pet but doesn’t increase survival time. So, it’s a palliative treatment. There aren’t a whole lot of options.
Kristen scratched the patient behind the ears. “I’m sorry, old girl,” she said.
And Koa licked her hand, like she always does.
So yes, that’s been our holiday, which is fast turning into my least favorite time of year. As you all know, Koa has been at my mother-in-law’s for a period of time, during which she has done very well. But it also means I didn’t see her ankle joint starting to swell. I noticed it right after she came home on Christmas, as she was walking in the backyard.
There are a lot of different reasons I assumed it was what it turned out to be, that “clinical intuition” in actuality a combination of physical exam, statistics, and experience. Sometimes things surprise you, but usually they don’t. The radiograph the next day confirmed it. Koa has a cancer lesion on her ankle, and it sucks.
With the exception of Taffy, my childhood Lhasa who expired of heart disease, all my dogs have died of cancer. Hemangiosarcoma, melanoma, lymphoma, and now what is most likely a synovial cell sarcoma. I’ve spent more time than I care to talk about at the local specialty hospital and I’ve done some pretty aggressive treatments, both radiation and chemotherapy. And this is what I’ve learned:
It’s OK to be angry, even if you kind of knew it was coming.
It never gets easier, no matter how many times you’ve gone through it.
You know your pet has a finite lifespan, but there is something about getting the diagnosis of a terminal condition that is just so final. The sense of dread when the stopwatch starts ticking is always there.
It’s OK to not do the most aggressive thing.
Suffice it to say, there are a lot of factors that go into deciding on an appropriate course of treatment for your pet. Their state of health, economics, effect on outcome, quality of life- all of that matters. And it’s your veterinarian’s job to help you make the best decision for yourself and your pet. That is what I want to stress to everyone, because I know so many of you have agonized over the same questions- you don’t have to do everything if it’s not the right thing for your family.
For a variety of reasons I spent a good deal of time thinking about, I have decided not to do a limb amputation on Kekoa. I’ll be as aggressive as I can with pain management and keep her quality of life good for a long as it makes sense. To be honest, were it not for the swelling I probably wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss- she’s as happy and active and prone to stealing rolls as always, and the only difference now is that I don’t get mad when she does it.
Today, she sneaked into the garage through a door normally just cracked open for Apollo.
This was an unopened can of cat food. How she managed that, I’ll never know.
Then to top it off, she had cat litter for dessert.
Happy Holidays! I’ve been lucky enough to attend both Global Pet Expo and SuperZoo this year, skulking about the aisles in search of my favorite pet items of the year, and fortunately for us there was plenty to choose from. I’ve teamed up with the pet enthusiasts at Blog Paws to bring you some suggestions from the BlogPaws Great Gifts for Pets Holiday Gift Guide. (The guide in its entirety is viewable at the Blog Paws site.) Here are some of my favorites for under our tree, which if fate and the banks smile upon us will be up at OUR NEW HOUSE about two days before Christmas!
1. Soggy Doggy
I can tell you from personal experience that wet Golden + hardwood = bruised tailbone. Not fun. The Soggy Doggy Doormat® is made from millions of textured, ultrafine strands woven together to create “noodles” that absorb 5x more water than regular cotton doormats! The durable, microfiber chenille doormat has a non-skid backing, and is odor-free and super quick-drying. It’s so velvety-soft that it works as a travel bed and crate-liner too. Plus, the product is available in a variety of colors and sizes to compliment any home’s interior. From $39.99-$84.99, the Soggy Doggy Doormat can be purchased at www.SoggyDoggyDoormat.com.
2. FURminator deShedding Tool Vacuum Accessory
For the millions of pet owners who simply love their FURminator deShedding tools, here is great news: FURminator now has a vacuum accessory that fits on to your tool for a faster and cleaner pet grooming session. Compatible with small, medium and large size FURminator deShedding tools for dogs and cats, the new product features two removable heads to adjust tool size, and two attachments to fit most vacuum brands.
FURminate and… ZIP… the fur is in the vacuum.
The Furminator Vacuum Accessory retails for $19.99. FURminator products are sold at pet specialty stores, professional pet groomers, veterinary practices and rescue organizations, and are also available online at www.FURminator.com.
3. Cool Blue Dog Hoodies
Just in time for the cooler temperatures that come with winter, dog owners of shorthaired, smushed-faced breeds can take comfort that Cool Blue Dog Apparel has got them covered, literally! Cool Blue Dog Apparel just launched their new hip hoodie line which will be perfect for keeping our Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs and other hard to fit breeds warm, comfortable and in style! Click here to see them now: http://www.coolbluedog.com/products-page/hoodies/.
These hoodies retail for $56-$58. And though they are marketed for your favorite broad chested brachycephalic breed, I see no reason why you couldn’t put your longer nosed barrel chested dog into one of them if hoodies strike your fancy.
4. PetHub ID Tag
The holidays are a prime time for pets to get lost, with all the hubbub and travel of the busy season. Give your pet the gift of reassurance. Each PetHub QR tag links to a comprehensive pet profile that includes multiple contacts, critical medical information and more. Every tag includes a 24/7 Found Pet Hotline number, where operators are available around the clock to help lost pets get home fast. PetHub’s Premium Services include Instant Email Notifications w/GPS Mapping, a nation-wide Shelter Alert System & $3000 of Emergency Medical Insurance.
This holiday season, PetHub is offering a FREE Limited Edition Holiday QR tag with every new or renewed Premium Subscription (you also have the option of a FREE basic tag instead). And, as a special exclusive offer to readers, PetHub is offering 25% off all Premium Subscriptions. Use code HOLIDAYBLOG25. For more information, visit PetHub.com.
5. Thundershirt for Dogs and Cats
As festive and fun as the holiday season can be, it can cause many pets to suffer from severe anxiety and stress. No one likes to come home to a trashed tree or 15 unwrapped presents chewed up all over the rug. Thundershirt can help. With its patent-protected design, the Thundershirt’s gentle, constant pressure has a dramatic calming effect that has already helped tens of thousands of dogs with anxiety problems. The product is also used and recommended by vets and trainers worldwide. Anxiety experts believe that pressure has a calming effect on the nervous system and may release calming hormones.
For a limited time, the company is offering a FREE personalized stocking and a squeaky toy for holiday purchases! Simply use code GIFT12 at checkout and be sure to type the name you want embroidered in the “Gift Notes” box. Retail price starts at $39.99.
OK, this one made me squee. You know how I feel about cake pops. Bubba Rose dog cake pops are made from a pumpkin and molasses cake ball (similar in texture to biscotti) on an edible peanut butter and carob “stick”.
Husband and wife team, Jessica and Eric Talley, are founders of the internationally known Bubba Rose Biscuit Company, located in Boonton, New Jersey, dedicated to providing healthy, preservative-free dog treats; made with organic and natural ingredients and free of wheat, corn and soy. All treats are handmade in small batches in their bakery in NJ using locally sourced ingredients from the U.S. Bubba Rose only uses local cage-free eggs, free-range meats with no added hormones or antibiotics and never any chemicals, artificial flavors, colors or fillers. A portion of every sale goes towards animal rescue.
These can be purchased at www.bubbarose.com and in hundreds of fine pet boutiques around the country.
Retail price: $13.99
I think I know what someone is getting this year!
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. While BlogPaws compensated me for sharing these cool gifts with you, I retained the right to pick and/or reject items I would not personally recommend.
We, the collective animal loving internet, have done a great job of telling people to “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” We do it so much that people say it without thinking, assume without asking, and demand without discourse. Now, don’t get me wrong: I absolutely support the concept, and this is why I am here writing a post today in honor of Petside’s Pet Net Adoption Week. It’s why I’ve adopted lots of pets over the years. But this is only half the equation.
We tell people they should adopt, and why they should adopt, and then do nothing to support people during the transition. Here’s the reality: pets do get returned to shelters and the rescues, usually for reasons that could have been avoided with a little owner education and preparation. In the rush to get pets out into homes, we sometimes neglect to make sure those homes are ready and willing to take on the challenges, which are rewarding beyond measure once you get past them- as long as you know they are coming.
1. Be honest with adopters about the pet’s behavioral issues that need to be worked on.
Nuke, the 10 year old coonhound I adopted from UC Davis, was a moderately neurotic agoraphobic hound dog who had never been housetrained. Translation: I left him outside when I was gone, as the well meaning person at the school had recommended, only to have him howl inconsolably because he was scared of being outdoors. I got a notice from the neighbors within 36 hours.
6 months, three adopted pets: for a vet student, pretty typical.
I wouldn’t say crate training an elderly, set in his ways dog was an easy task, but I did it, only because I had access to professionals who reassured me that with patience, it was possible. He never did learn to sit on command, but he ended up housetrained, and we had three lovely years together before he passed away.
Koa has terrible separation anxiety that leads her to howl like a banshee- one currently in a state of torture- when she is left alone. It’s why she was returned to the rescue twice. Unfortunately I didn’t know this until I got home and reviewed the paperwork in detail and found the note from the previous owner. Luckily, I can keep her inside where she doesn’t bother anyone, and I have Thundershirts and all that good stuff.
We make do. But some people couldn’t in that situation, and it’s better to give them fair warning and let them find the right pet for them than to make them return a pet later, which is stressful for everyone- and might even turn them off rescue entirely. Some people can’t handle a cat who sprays or a dog who doesn’t like other dogs, and that is part and parcel of having a pet, yes, but this is also a great opportunity for us: all pets have their quirks. The difference between a puppy and a senior is that with the senior, those quirks are known ahead of time, and for that I am grateful.
2. Put all dogs, no matter the age, in an obedience class.
Some rescue dogs will have had oodles of training. Most haven’t. Regardless of their age or training status, a basic adult obedience course is the perfect way for new owners and pets to get to know one another better, work through their kinks under the care of a professional, and most importantly, develop a clear understanding of each other’s place in the developing relationship.
Nuke was a sweet dog, but in 8 weeks he never did learn how to sit. He just wouldn’t do it. He wasn’t motivated by anything. Needless to say, he never learned down, either. No matter. We had a structured hour each week to work on his socialization, his manners, and for him to learn to trust me. It was worth every dime.
3. Remind new owners to be patient.
I have yet to take a rescued pet home and NOT have a day when I seriously regretted it. It happens. The dog eats something expensive. The cat has diarrhea in your shoe. You discover your new pet hates all men with grey beards and baseball caps, which just happens to be 85% of your neighborhood. The key is to acknowledge that these bumps are normal and expected and to provide support for owners to work through them, rather than just give up.
Here’s the good news: that regret is always gone within a few days, once I have a plan in place for dealing with whatever it is that was frustrating me. And the only regret I have now is that my husband won’t let me go our and adopt just one more.
This post is part of Petside.com’s 5th Pet Net Adoption Event. Petside will be donating $5000 to a shelter in one lucky community in honor of the event- click the link for details! Disclaimer: I received no compensation for this post.
Why are overweight pets so fascinating to people? The whole 40 pound cat thing, having now been overplayed, is making way for roly poly dachshunds. Obie’s all over the news, as you’ve seen- the 77 pound doxie on his way to health through his foster mom. Although I am glad it has reminded people about the plight of the 50% of US pets who are overweight, I have mixed feelings about the attention he’s getting.
One of Obie's many media appearances, on WRCBTV.
First, the message here: people who overfeed their animals to the point of abuse (and intentionally done or not, it’s still abuse to let a dachshund get to be 77 pounds) get to hand them off with an abashed “whoops!” and then someone else gets to inherit the problem to deal with? And what, exactly, is the news story? Unlike a diabetic dog who’s peeing everywhere and about to head into ketoacidosis, fat is cuter?
Giving a pet lavish media attention for an owner induced medical condition, by the way, makes me shudder for its own reasons. We’ve all seen what happens when people decide to try and outdo one another for the chance to be on TLC. So help me God, if someone creates a reality show about huge dogs on a quest for glory, I’m going to write off humanity entirely.
Articles about Obie state that he’s in good health aside from his massive size, and that Purina has donated food for his weight loss journey. Awesome. Do we know how much has been raised through his Paypal already and what it’s going for, if all he needs is a little less food than he was getting and maybe a dental at some point (he is, after all, a dachshund)? And did they fly him in CARGO from Portland to New York for his Today show appearance, him, a massively obese stressed out dog? What exactly is in his best interest here? (hint: a measuring cup. That’s it, really.) A word of advice to his foster mother, who I have no doubt got into this with the very best of intentions: opening yourself up to public donations can be a double edged sword. Be utterly transparent now, before the tides turn.
I know, this is probably going to make me unpopular. I understand. Sometimes I have to get into Unpopular Veterinarian Mode. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for a person who takes on a dog like Obie, because yes, it’s a lot of work. Everyone likes to feel good about cheering on a dog like him. Trust me, I do too. I wish him the best and I hope every single cent raised goes to his treadmill account. I just wish we could cheer him on without all the attendant trappings of sideshow circus celebrity because that just makes me feel icky. An owner induced medical condition is not a cause for fame.
At the end of the day, this is the story of a dog who has been failed by the family who stuffed him like a foie gras duck, and the family, friends, and vets who were unable to at any point make them stop. And that’s not really cute at all, is it?
Well, we did it. Brody and I survived our first surfing competition.
Let me start by saying I never would have dared even show my face there had I not known the local surf dog community previously. They’re an accomplished bunch, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and setting world records and getting on Times Square billboards and the like. They are also really good surfers. Next to them, Brody and I with our handful of goes on the board and our lackluster ability, were total rubes. But like all genuinely cool people, they were happy we, and everyone else, was there.
Brody and I had a quick lesson the day before with our friend Pawl Griffin, the absurdly adorable PBGV that is the P&G Petcare official VP of Canine Communications. Basically his job is to go to various events and be a good ambassador, even if it means surfing. He performed swimmingly, pun intended. He was fortunate enough to be taught to surf by two of the world’s best surf dog instructors, Peter Noll and surf pro Guy Takayama, who had him standing on the board and cruising in within minutes.
It wore him out.
The waves were gorgeous on Saturday. We frolicked in thigh high waves and gently rolled into shore, foolishly convincing ourselves that this was what it was always like. The next day, the day of the contest itself, would prove us wrong. But at the time, we were happy, my hair stayed dry, and I had nary a bruise to show for it.
Brody was in the last heat of the day, shortly after the costume contest where Ricochet and Judy took to the waves in a pile of wet yellow feathers. Told you they didn’t take themselves too seriously (and that is a compliment.)
I, on the other hand, was terrified. The waves were over my head today, choppy and rough under gray skies that threatened to open up at any moment. We had a different instructor for the contest, Secret Surfice Agent Phil, who took one look at Brody and said, “Oh my god, is he, like, 120 pounds?” (For the record, it’s 80.) Nonetheless, after evaluating his sturdy and furry frame, Phil decreed we would surf not on a regular longboard but on a stand up paddleboard, a wide Cadillac of a board that can best be described as a fiberglass barge.
This is why I asked Iams for help. Because there was no way me and my 120 pound dog and a 120 pound paddleboard would survive in those waves by ourselves, life jackets or not. I know my limits. But with Phil steering the board and me charged with keeping Brody on it, I figured we had it made. You saw the picture on Monday. You have to trust a dude in Spam boardshorts.
As we waited for our heat to start, I surveyed the competition. 10 of us in total, each color coordinated with our dog. Some, like the guy with the Go Pro strapped to his dog, were clearly pros. Others were unknowns. Brody and I had style going for us, that and Mike Arms giving us the thumbs up from the side, but that was about it. I silently said a prayer for two things:
1. Dear God, please don’t let us drown or get stung by a stingray.
and 2. Please don’t let us come in last.
I mean, I purposefully kept expectations low.
When the horn blew, we picked up our boards and ran to the water, scattering spectators left and right with our massive floating barge. Getting out into the waves in a competition like this was like storming the beach at Normandy in reverse, Phil rushing out ahead of us, me staggering in the undertow to keep up while getting slapped in the face with water. Dogs hurtling towards you balanced on boards but only moderately capable of steering away, projectiles which you were responsible for dodging. In the midst of this swirling maelstrom, I lifted Brody onto the board, a dead lift worthy of the finest Russian weightlifters, and we got him turned around.
“Are you riding with him?” asked Phil.
“No,” I said. “I think you get less points that way.”
Brody, who up to this point had been fine riding the waves solo, was a little less than thrilled on this occasion, since the second the wave carried him off he was no longer able to see me due to its rather large height. So he jumped off. And jumped off again. To me, paddling expectantly, happy to get on again but really mostly wanting me by his side.
“I think you need to ride with him,” said Phil. And he was right. First place, last place, disqualification, at that point, none of it mattered. My dog was kind of having fun, but I wanted him to really have fun. So I hopped on board.
I wasn’t really wanting to hop on board, as this meant my bedraggled, sand-embedded visage would be photographed much more closely than I would wish by the throngs of spectators clogging the shore, but what are you going to do. Brody needed me. With me steering behind him, reassuringly talking to him as we glided in, he happily stayed put on the board all the way to shore, looking steadfastly ahead like the Captain of the Surfing Barge that we was.
And seriously? Truthfully? It was a TON of fun. It’s reinforced my desire to get back out on a paddleboard post-haste.
When the horn sounded, we ran in, my daughter helpfully wiping away my badly-thought-out mascara. Brody greeted his fans.
I gave our rashguards back to Chad from Iams, who set up the entire adventure, and sent him to return them. He came back a minute later.
“Guess what?” he said, as I gave Brody a bowl of water.
“We came in last?” I said.
“You came in seventh!” he said, sounding as surprised as I felt. Seven out of ten, a veritable Jamaican bobsled team of a success, not a win but for someone with as little experience as we had, a major success. And then, “Are you ok?”
This was a refrain I was to hear over and over the next two hours. Apparently, in his zeal to get on and off the board, Brody gave me a Wolverine-worthy swipe or two with his bear claws. Love swipes, really. I didn’t feel a thing.
It looks worse than it is, though I’ve decided to skip shorts for the next week because most people are too polite to ask and simply blush and look away. Next year: Teflon wetsuit.
There’s no victory without pain, right? The agony and the ecstasy of extreme dog surfing. I am convinced to this day that had I not gotten on board with Brody, he would have pooped out within another wave or two, gone in early, and we would assuredly have come in last. Which would have been fine too, but how awesome is it that we did better as a team than we did by ourselves. For me and Brody, that is truly our story.
If you want a feel for what this insane beach party is like in person, here’s a video from the day. We’re not in it but a lot of dogs you might recognize are:
OK, so first things first- yes, we surfed in our first competition and no, we didn’t win (the well deserved honors went to the always amazing Surf Dog Ricochet, as it should.) I will be posting about it when I get back later this week and I have the rest of the pictures. I always had a ton of respect for the So Cal Surf Dog group, but after seeing them in action in competition I love them all even more. As busy as everyone was with their own dogs, many of whom were in multiple heats, I saw Peter Noll taking the time to help out novices and getting out in the waves with them so they would have a good time. That’s the kind of people I was with today, who raised thousands of dollars for Helen Woodward and had a wonderful time with their dogs. Win, lose, who cares.
Iams was kind enough to not only sponsor me but provide me with my very own surfing assistant- and trust me, it would have been impossible without his help. That’s Surf Instructor Phil, but I like to think of him as Secret Surfice Agent Phil because as you can tell, he took his job way seriously. We owe all our success to him. Without the pressure of actually thinking we needed to be competitive, Brody and I went out there and had a great time. We looked better going in than coming out- the waves were pretty choppy- but nonetheless, we persevered. But anyway, more on that this week.
Speaking of things I get really passionate about: As you probably surmised, I’m really, incredibly excited about the work World Vets is doing. Last week, I officially joined up with them as the World Vets Media Spokesperson. The press release is here, but to sum up: HOORAY. I love this group and I can’t wait to get even more opportunities to get the word out about the amazing accomplishments of this organization.
I am so excited to be a part of World Vets in this capacity. Thank you Cathy!
And with that in the back of my mind, I’m heading out today to SuperZoo, one of the big pet retail trade shows in Las Vegas. It’s a great opportunity to see what’s up and coming in the pet industry for the holidays, and I’m looking forward to finding some gems to show to you all when I get back. Thank you Tagg for your help getting out there!
If you all can think of anything you want me to keep an eye out for while I’m there (the latest trends in skijoring equipment, perhaps, or what’s new in wall mounted cat beds) let me know and I will do my best to track it down.
A refresher, if you haven’t memorized all the details of my life, and I hope you haven’t:
Last year, Brody was scheduled to surf in the Helen Woodward Surf Dog Surf-a-thon. We had lessons. We had a board. And, of course, we had Evan the Surf Instructor:
Who is probably blissfully unaware of his cult status in the pet blogging world. But I digress.
At the very same moment we were out practicing our wave technique, someone, somwhere, hit a button they weren’t supposed to and some Very Bad Things happened. As we were driving home from the beach, my husband was punching fruitlessly at the radio as all we got was static, static, static. Traffic had come to a standstill as all the traffic lights were out throughout the entire county, here during rush hour. We had one, and only one, functioning AM station who could tell us only this: Massive Power Loss in the county. Chaos. Insanity. My husband and I looked at each other and independently arrived at the same conclusion: Zombie Apocalypse. Thank god we had Brody with us for protection.
As it turns out, it was nothing as sinister as zombies so much as it was a massive “whoopsie” by an Arizona Public Service technician. And one of the many side effects was this: a malfunctioning waste treatment facility dumped thousands of gallons of sewage into the ocean, rendering Dog Beach unusable for the surf event scheduled that weekend.
It was rescheduled to the week I left for Africa, and it would pretty much have taken a zombie apocalypse to make me miss that trip. That was an unmissable trip, bomb scares, flight delays, and idiotic KLM policies notwithstanding. So to summarize: we didn’t surf last year.
We were invited by Surf-a-thon sponsor Iams to revisit the competition again this year, and as far as I know no one’s fouled the beach so it should proceed as scheduled on Sunday. Brody and I will be hanging out with the So Cal Surf Dogs and the Iams VP of Canine Communications Pawl Griffin, who is making his surfing debut at the competition (he lives in Ohio so I don’t think dog beaches are a regular thing for him.)
I’ll be doing some live broadcasting- out of the water, at least- using my phone and the new Color App. This is an app that allows people to stream one minute of video live from their phone, to your phone. It also posts directly to my Facebook page, but if you download the free app you can actually see us live streaming on your phone, which could be awesome or disastrously hilarious as it will be 100% live.
If you’re interested in trying it out (it’s pretty cool! I use it on my personal Facebook page too) you can download it from your app store or just call **COLOR (that’s **26567) from any smartphone, and you will be sent a text message with a link that takes you to the proper storefront (Android’s Google Play or iTunes) to download the app.
We’re going to do a refresher surf lesson on Saturday, to get Brody’s sea legs back. I’m a little nervous about him meeting a VIP like Pawl, but hope springs eternal that he will behave himself and not hog the instructor or vomit up seawater.
Festivities begin Sunday at 8:30 PST but Brody will be going later in the morning. I’m embarrassed to admit how nervous I am for this.
I knew we were in for a long morning when I saw Elvis’s name on the schedule. A fearsome and mighty miniature pinscher who thought he was a Great White, Elvis held the reigning title of ‘most challenging dog to vaccinate’ I had ever seen. He had the unique ability to turn himself into a Tasmanian Devil on demand, a whirling, 360 degree tornado of teeth, claws, and anal gland secretions. And today he was coming in for a cough- one of the first signs of heart disease in dogs.
The ECG is one of the most useful tools in medicine, a device that measures the electrical activity of the heart to help you determine whether or not it is in good health. While the ECG is technically a noninvasive procedure, it’s one of the less well tolerated procedures in awake dogs and cats because it requires holding still, chilly alcohol, and some rather uncomfortable alligator clips on the skin. Needless to say, as much as I dearly wanted an ECG on my friend Elvis, the procedure was as likely to kill him- or us- as his potential underlying cardiac condition. Which is why although it is regularly used on anesthetized pets, its usefulness on awake animals is often limited to those who will actually tolerate it; it is sometimes limited as well by the need to get the pet close to the machine itself, which doesn’t always work in the confines of an ICU.
When I was at AVMA last month, AliveCor Vet was in a booth promoting a new veterinary ECG that works with your iphone. I walked by the booth, not expecting much- maybe an app that sends the results to your phone or something, I thought, but I’ll check it out. And then, my mind was blown.
An ECG on the floor at the AVMA convention
The AliveCor actually turns your iphone into a portable ECG machine. It consists of a case that snaps on over an iphone, turning it into a single lead ECG that is placed on the side of the animal, or, in the case of those animals who don’t want to deal with that, you can hold one paw on each contact. And that, my friends, is awesome. While it’s not an exact replacement for a three lead machine, it’s a pretty fantastic way to get a quick assessment on animals like Elvis, whose alternative is no ECG at all. It’s portable, and can send results via email so a printed copy can be saved to a medical record.
Taking an ECG on a dog on an iphone with the AliveCor Vet at the World Vets Latin American Training Center in Granada, Nicaragua.
The next day, I flew to Granada, where AliveCor had sent two devices to Dr. King to use at the World Vets Latin American Training Center. Now here is another application- out there, there’s no ECG machine at all. Surgeries are performed without the benefit of an ECG, which can be really helpful when one is working with older, malnourished animals with no history of veterinary care. We were even able to take it into the field to use on horses. An horse getting ECG out in the middle of a field in Nicaragua. Who would have thunk it. ECG devices of any kind are not used in places like Granada, but the veterinarians there do have iphones, so thanks to AliveCor the pet population now has access to a very valuable too.
AliveCor was selling the units at AVMA and they were flying out of the booth faster than I could keep track. My colleagues were all as impressed as I was. The device is inexpensive- $199- and the app is free. Veterinary interpretation, of course, not included. But next time you bring your pet in for a wellness check, you very well may get a quick in-room ECG!
Anyone else watch Star Trek back in the day? Remember those little handheld tricorders, that magical device that could with the wave of a hand give you invaluable health information? I’M NERDING OUT HERE.
It’s National Take your Cat to the Vet Week, which ranks right up there with Get Your Annual Prostate Exam Week and Pull Off Your Toenails Week on the fun scale. I know it’s not fun, for you or for the cat. It’s a necessary evil, one of our first lines of defense in catching disease processes early before they are crisis situations. In fact, most vets recommend taking your cat in twice a year, though we know from surveys that less than half of you take your cat in unless he or she is sick.
Do these visits actually accomplish anything? I asked my Facebook friends if they had ever taken their cat in for routine care and discovered an unexpected medical issue, and here’s what you said: (more…)