Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cats, kidney disease, and making a difference.

Last week was kind of a rough week at the clinic.  We had several patients die or get diagnosed with advanced cancer or other equally horrible diseases.  These kind of weeks happen in the medical profession.   And not to say that one individual loss of life doesn't have any effect on us, but when multiples occur in a very short period of time, the stress level certainly rises above the norm.  During times like this, a person needs to have a coping mechanism in place or they won't last very long in this very emotional environment.  When I am faced with great sadness at work, I grab on to the successes for the successes are why we do what we do.  Last week I said goodbye to a patient of mine named Sabrina when she was brought into the clinic for euthanasia.  It was time to say goodbye, but Sabrina's life has special meaning because of her story and Sabrina's owners graciously said "yes" when I asked if I could tell her story in my blog.

When I decided to do this blog, I asked Sabrina's people if they could send me a few pictures to add to the blog which they very kindly did along with a note about how and when she first made her way into their lives.  I am going to include that note word for word because I was touched by a feeling of love that came across to me in those 2 short paragraphs about Sabrina's life.

Sabrina was just a tiny kitten when found at the McDonald's dumpster in Conneaut in the winter of 1992. Efforts were made to find the owner to no avail, so the people that found her kept her at their home in Conneaut. When it was not possible to care for Sabrina anymore, they asked a mutual friend of ours if we would mind taking care of "Ashley" (Sabrina's name at that time). Since we already had one cat--a seven-year-old male "Bailey", we took in "Ashley" on a trial basis in October 1993. Everything worked out well--we renamed "Ashley" to Sabrina.

Sabrina adapted well and became the "Queen Bee". She adapted well to travel to and from Florida (sometimes twice a year) and various trips to Connecticut. In 2002, "Bailey" died, but she was not alone for long. "Buster", a male cat about two years old, was adopted from a shelter in West Virginia in November 2002, so she had another male cat to boss around. In 2007 she was diagnosed with a kidney disease that would be fatal. She was on medication for that until she died in February 2011. She was at least 19 years old.
I first met Sabrina in 2002 when she was 10 years old.  Over the next few years all her visits and bloodwork were for routine check ups or to get her teeth cleaned.  In the summer of 2006, Sabrina came in for her regular check up.  She had been doing well, but had lost a little weight.  This year her bloodwork showed that she was in the beginning stages of chronic kidney disease.  We changed her diet to a commercial feline kidney management diet and started her on Calcitriol, a drug that helps with some of the changes in parathyroid hormone that occurs in kidney disease.  Over the course of the following years, there were a few minor bumps in the road and Sabrina needed a treatment for a urinary tract infection once and was treated with an antacid stomach medication a few times.  Through out all of this, Sabrina's owners were very diligent about giving her medicine and bringing her in for regular appointments and bloodwork.  This is what made all the difference.

The point of Sabrina's story is that this is what early diagnosis and treatment can accomplish.  Chronic kidney disease is one of the most if not the most common disease veterinarians see in our senior cat population.  There have been several studies that have shown on average, a cat that has been diagnosed with early stage chronic kidney disease will live about 1 year with no treatment.  With treatment, cats will live an average of 2 years.  Sorry this is not a scientific paper so there are no footnotes.  If you want me to dig out my notes about these studies feel free to shoot me an email and I will find them.  In Sabrina's case, she lived 5 years.  Not every cat will do as well as Sabrina did, but many will.  BUT the kidney disease needs to diagnosed early.  Not when the cat has shriveled down to a skeleton, quit eating and is vomiting bile all over the place.  Sabrina's 5 extra years of life is why we veterinarians harp about bringing your cat in every year for a check up.  It's why we tell you that your senior cat needs routine bloodwork every year.  We are the ones who see what can be possible.  We can't work miracles, but with a little help and perhaps a touch of good luck, we can make a difference.  The successes.  It is why we do what we do.

Along with some pictures of Sabrina all by herself (and one with her "brother" Buster), I was also sent one picture that made me cry and smile all at the same time.  You understand I am sure.  It is the sadness that comes at the time a pet's life ends and we have to say goodbye.  It is the smile that comes from knowing how blessed we were to have met and how much that pet's life meant to our own.  Dear Sabrina, I hope you have a good job supervising computer work on someone's lap over the rainbow bridge.  It was a blessing to have known you.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Socialization biscuits and delivery people

Last week I got to see Molly, my 14 year old Brittany, interact with our fuel oil delivery guy. I'd like to invent an award for most favorite delivery person because if there were such an award, he would win it hands down. The morning of the ice storm last week, the clinic where I work was put on a 2 hour delay in opening so that none of the staff had to drive to work during the early morning when the roads were the most treacherous. So instead of going out to start my car and clear ice off the windshield at 8am, I was doing this chore at 10am. Molly followed me outside and as we walked toward the driveway, the fuel oil delivery truck pulled up. From all the years I have lived on the farm, I know the driver's name is Jessie. I said hi to him as he was getting out of the truck and I continued on over to where I had parked my car in the driveway. Now I know Molly is a good social sort of dog, but I am rarely home when the fuel oil gets delivered so I don't really know how she behaves around delivery guys. I've just never had a complaint and I almost always follow the "no news is good news" way of thinking. Molly has lived on the farm since a year and a half old and is trained to stay in the yard so most days when no one is at home, she is outside keeping the yard safe from, well, really not safe from much of anything. Mostly she sleeps with the cats on the front porch. So when delivery people come to the house, she is free to greet them or chase them or whatever. Last week was a rare opportunity for me to watch Molly and Jessie interact.

Jessie got out of the truck, stopped for a minute, reached for something inside the truck and closed the truck door. Molly saw him and trotted over to him. Jessie reached down and patted her head and gave her a dog biscuit. Molly was wiggly and wagging. Another dog cookie was fed before Jessie unrolled the hose and started filling our fuel oil tank. Molly followed him. As he was waiting for the tank to fill, he knelt down and was scratching Molly behind the ears and talking to her. I couldn't hear what was being said if much of anything. Dog cookies 3 and 4 were fed during this time. Molly loves Jessie.

I feel for delivery people and having to deal with all sorts of dogs. I live in the country. I am a big bike rider. I have been chased by my share of farm dogs both mean and friendly. I know what delivery people have to put up with. But it does my heart good, to know that their are delivery people out there who are smart enough to realize making a life long friend is a good goal to accomplish if possible.

I had a similar experience with a Fed Ex driver. It was probably 5 or 6 years ago, but I was headed home in the middle of the day and as I drove down my road toward my house, I saw a Fed Ex truck pull into my driveway. Again, I was wondering how Molly was going to act toward the Fed Ex guy so I purposefully slowed down so I could watch what happened from a distance. The Fed Ex driver got out and as he started walking up the sidewalk to the front porch, Molly came trotting off of the porch to greet him. He promptly tossed a couple dog biscuits her direction which she happily ate while he put the package on the porch. Another delivery, another positive experience for the dog. It's no wonder she likes delivery people so much. Good thing we don't get more deliveries or I would be wondering why my dog was getting fatter.

For years, I've been passing out a handout called "Socialization Biscuits" that was given to me by Dr. Wayne Hunthausen. Dr. Hunthausen is a veterinarian who does a lot of behavior consultations to help owners with their pet's behavior problems and he writes and co-writes a lot of behavior handouts and articles. His hospital's web page can be found here. But I love the Socialization Biscuit handout. Getting puppies started off on the right foot, or perhaps I should say paw, is so important to good behaviour later in life. But even as dogs get older, I think we tend to forget that they need positive encounters all the time to keep them happy and well balanced. I am blessed that my dog Molly has had so many good encounters with some very savvy delivery people. I know this is not always the case and that's where trouble can start.

I am glad I can trust Molly around strangers. That is a blessing in and of itself. But it's also nice to know there are plenty of people out there who know that you can catch more flies with honey. Being positive and friendly gets you into a lot more places than being scared and/or grumpy. I need to go invent my favorite delivery person award now.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pit bills and Ohio's vicious dog law

Meet Rommel.  Sweetest pit bull on 4 legs.  I absolutely love this dog.  He has a pit bull "sister" Val who is equally as sweet, but don't tell Val that Rommel is a bit of a favorite of mine.  I think there is a certain amount of charisma that goes along with old age and Rommel is certainly showing his age. Maybe I just have a great deal of empathy since I have my own geriatric dog at home that is developing her share of old age doggie quirks. A few people good naturedly chuckled at the picture of me holding on to Rommel in my office. They said it looked like I had a wrestling hold on him.  Truth be told, he was hanging out in the office with me after having anesthesia to remove an abscessed tooth.  He is a bit unsteady on his feet to begin with and with just a touch of left over anesthesia in his body, well, he was kind of doing the weeble wobble (without falling down).  But the weebling was making it really hard to get a good picture so I was just giving him a little physical support.  Kind of like the boy scout helping the old lady across the road.  Sweet ol' Rommel.

The point of introducing Rommel is that pit bulls are one of my favorite breeds to work on as a veterinarian.  I meet very few who are truly vicious.  If they are vicious, they are not sneaky about it.  I like knowing where I stand with a dog when my face is in their face doing an exam.  But like I said, very few are aggressive in the vet's office and that is just the plain and honest truth.  I could give you a list of about a half dozen other breeds that can make me cringe a bit inside when I see one of them appear on the appointment calendar.  But even on my own personal list of breeds that could just go away and never be seen or heard from again (and all vets have this list whether they admit to it or not), there are good individual dogs and bad individual dogs.  For some reason I prefer breeds where 80% are happy and friendly in the strange exam room setting as opposed to breeds where 20% are happy and friendly in that same setting. Call me crazy.

Which brings to my reason for writing about pit bulls today.  The state of Ohio's dangerous dog law specifically names the "pit bull" as a vicious breed.  I'm not quite sure the history of how this type of dog and no other became part of the law, but it is there and the law needs changed. Notice I said "type" and not breed because "pit bull" is not even a recognized breed.  There are actually several different breeds that fall into the pit bull "type", but none of this is spelled out in the law.  All this does is to make the law ambiguous and that is a big problem.

What it comes down to is that dog bites are a serious issue.  The physical and emotional damage caused by a dog bite can be enormous.  And on occasion, dog attacks can be fatal.  The laws need to be harsh toward those who choose to keep dogs that are aggressive.  The law does not need to punish people who keep dogs that are well mannered and even tempered just because that dog belongs to a specific breed.  Dangerous dogs need to be treated as individuals.  Period.  Breed specific laws are just plain wrong.

Fortunately Ohio House Representative Barbara Sears has sponsored a bill to remove "pit bull" from the vicious dog law.  The bill (which was actually floating around last year too) is now known has House Bill 14.  The bill is in committee right now and has been assigned to the Criminal Justice committee.  There was actually a committee meeting earlier this morning to hear testimony on this bill.   If you would like to help get H.B. 14 passed, please feel free to contact members of the committee and voice your opinions.  Follow the links below for contact and other information.

Ohio House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee

Lynn Slaby Criminal Justice Committee Chair

Barbara Spears H.B. 14 Sponsor

Ohio H.B. 14 details and links to status

I'll try to keep this blog up to date with details on how this bill is progressing.  This is an important issue to all dog owners.  If the pit bull is specifically named in the law now, what will keep Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Akitas etc from being added.  All of us as dog owners have a stake in this.  Treat dangerous dogs harshly, but treat them as individuals.