Friday, October 19, 2012


I finally have a moment to sit down and do a little thinking and typing.  This post is what I call a "feel good story".  Sometimes I have to retrieve a feel good story from the recesses of my brain when the stress of dealing with sick patients and death starts taking a toll.  The days on end of dealing with incurable diseases and euthanasia can weigh a person down.  But then there are those patients that come along and teach us that at least some of the time we can make a difference.

Dude came into my life this past August.  It was a Friday and our receptionist received a frantic call from one of our clients saying that he was bringing in a very sick cat right now.  When he got to the clinic, he told us everything he knew.  Dude was a cat that belonged to one of his renters.  The cat had gotten outside and had been missing for 6 days.  The client had just found the cat laying on the floor of his outside shop.  

Dude was about as close to being dead as a cat can get without being dead.  He was laying flat on his side and only his breathing told me he was still alive.  He would cry out when I touched him though.  He was cold and about as stiff as a board.  His body temperature was 95F (normal in a cat is around 101-102F).  He had a huge old rotting wound over his right shoulder and his entire right front leg was swollen shoulder to toes and oozing smelly fluid from multiple spots.  The only reason there were no maggots involved was that we were right in the middle of the 2012 midwest summer drought and there were no flies around and about.  Dude had other wounds as well.  There were some on his head.  There were even more to found hiding beneath his thick fur in the next day or two.  He smelled like a dead rotting animal.

So now decision time.  The actual owner of the cat did not have money for any treatment at all, but Dude had fate on his side.  The client who brought Dude to the clinic really liked this cat and felt bad for the owner who was a single mom with a very sweet daughter who was mentally handicapped.  He offered to pay for Dude's medical care, but there would not be unlimited funds available and transfer to a 24 hour care facility could not be part of the plan.  This is one of those times when you want to throw everything but the kitchen sink at a case, but can't.  This is when you do the best you can with what you have available.

IV fluids, various and sundry drugs, and active warming was begun.  By Saturday morning, Dude was showing signs of being a live cat, still smelly, but alive.  His wounds were bathed and some of the dead skin on his shoulder was starting to slough off.  By Saturday evening, Dude was able to lay upright on his chest instead of laying flat out on his side.  It was becoming apparent though that he suffered some kind of spinal cord trauma.  He could move all his legs, but was unable to stand up.   He wouldn't eat on his own, but he readily accepted some food offered to him out of a feeding syringe.

Sunday morning came with more improvement.  Dude was starting to get a little feisty and he ate just a little on his own.  Unable to stand at all, he was starting to drag himself around the floor some.  His wounds were bathed again on Sunday and more skin was sloughing off.  By Sunday night he was eating on his own.

On Monday his owners came to visit.  Dude was still unable to stand, but he was eating on his own and was urinating on his own.  After one more hydrotherapy session in the tub to cleanse his wounds, the owners decided to take Dude home.

As is always the case, more healing happens at home than at the hospital.  Dude's owners provided excellent nursing care.  Within 3 days Dude was taking his first steps at home and started using the litterbox on his own.  I saw Dude in the office about 2 weeks after he went home.  He was fully mobile and up and walking normally.  The skin over his shoulder wound was nearly closed.  He still has a little swelling in his leg, but overall he looked amazing.  Snatched from the jaws of death as the saying goes.

This story isn't just mine.  Saving Dude's life was indeed a team effort.  From the man who found him, brought him to the clinic and then paid the bill to the hardworking staff at the clinic that bathed, fed and tended to all of Dude's medical needs in the hospital and finally to Dude's owner who provided such loving care after he went home. And so Dude has become somewhat of a mascot for making a difference here at the clinic.  Whenever we have those tough days, Dude's name always seems to surface.  And that is the power of the "feel good story".  I hope each and everyone of you out there have your own personal "feel good stories" that make you smile and feel better when you are having a blue day.  At the end of the day, every single one of us makes a difference in this life.  We sometimes just need a little reminder from time to time.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Parking Lot Catastrophe Prevention

This blog is dedicated to all the lost cats who are running loose in the woods behind the vet clinic where I work.  Yes, it happened again this past week.  Well it's not a weekly occurrence, but it does happen a handful of times every year.   The latest episode goes something like this.  A client was attempting to carry their cat in their arms from the parking lot into the clinic.  A dog that was inside a parked car barked.  The cat got scared and escaped its owner's grasp.  Cat runs far far away.  The owner goes after the cat and tries to call it (good luck with that one with a scared cat in a strange environment).  There are infinite places to hide in the great outdoors and the cat is never seen again.  For the life of me, I do not understand why anyone would bring their cat to a strange location and not have them confined inside a carrier.  I feel so bad for people who lose their cats in this way, but it is so preventable.

There are really no good reasons for not having a cat carrier.  Years back they were a little pricey, but nowadays you can pick up a really decent carrier for under $20.  If you can afford to have a cat, you can afford to have a carrier.

The biggest complaint I get from owners is that they have a really hard time getting their cat into the carrier.  Well I am going to share a tip that is going to make loading your cat into a carrier as easy as pie.  Step 1: make your cat's carrier part of the household furniture.  If you are anal retentive about how your house looks, first you should not have a cat.  A cat comes along with hair covered furniture and the occasional pile of hair induced vomit that seems to end up in just the right spot on the floor so it squishes between your toes when you are stumbling your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  But lets say you can live with furry couch cushions and slimy cat food between your toes, but you don't want to be tripping over that carrier everyday.  Well this is the time to get creative.  I'll bet with a little thought, a cat carrier strategically placed and decorated can fit into any decor.  If you have a dog, you may want to place the carrier up off the floor (you will see why in step 2).

Step 2: Now that the cat carrier is part of the living space, this is where you are going to feed your cat.  Every day.  Forever.  And always.  Now I will warn you that if you have multiple cats that don't get along at feeding time, you may have to put out a couple carriers or work out other creative solutions, but for most folks, this works well.  And it looks something like this.

Feeding time at my household:

Cat food goes into a dish and into the carrier and Voila!

Even when it is not feeding time, I never have problems getting a cat into the carrier because they are in the carrier multiple times a day every day of their lives.  There is no fear.

And as a bonus I have a tip in case you have a cat that needs to be moved from point A to point B and you for some reason do not have a carrier.  Enter the old pillow case.  I learned this back in my farm vet days in Pennsylvania although really it was usually a cloth feed sack and only occasionally a pillow case.  I was a vet in the 1980's when Pennsylvania enacted its state law that every dog and every cat HAD to have a rabies vaccination.  We would hold these rabies vaccination clinics on Saturdays.  I think it cost $5 to get your dog or cat vaccinated.  We'd have traffic lined up for quite a ways down the state route where our vet practice was located.  But what I remember most was how many farmers caught up these mostly feral barn cats and hauled them to the clinic to get vaccinated.  The farmers would put on a pair of leather work gloves at home, catch the cat and stuff it in an old burlap feed sack or a pillow case.   Many of these cats were so wild that we would vaccinate them right through the feed sack without even opening it up.  A needle goes through cloth just as easily as it does skin.  These cats were quiet and subdued inside the sack and while traveling away from home in a truck was stressful I am sure, these cats were calmly vaccinated with no freaking out and no wounds inflicted on any people.  Crazy stuff, but what a great lesson for a young veterinarian.   I don't know why I get so much resistance with this method because it works REALLY well.  The cat is confined and can breathe and dang, it just works.

Back to cat transportation via pillow case.  After you find a pillow case, next you find a cat.  I will purposely demonstrate with the cat on the left because she can be hard for me to handle at times.

Slip the cat into the pillow case all the way.  Most cats are not afraid of cloth like objects because they sleep, shed and throw up on them all the time.  They usually like to crawl into dark spaces (think boxes or paper grocery sacks) so most cats will not resist going inside a pillow case.   I would suggest not using a really thin pillow case though because I have seen cats shred through them, but most cats will just sit there.  Get them inside as much as you can and then pick up the pillow case so they slip all the way to the bottom.  Make sure to tie the pillow case shut.

And there you have a perfect cat carrier in a pinch.  Next is a picture of Miss Louise right after I let her back out.  And in case you think that I could do anything I want with this cat, I purposely chose the cat on the left because she IS kind of skittish at times and I DO have trouble catching her at times.  The cat on the right would not be fair because I literally could do anything to that cat if I wanted.  But Louise can be a challenge.  Thank goodness for catching her during sleepy moments.

Although she was a little perturbed that her nap was interrupted, Louise did not immediately run away even though I picked her up in the pillow case and carried her around for a bit before letting her out.  And this cat WILL run away when I let go of her if I do something to her that she does not like such as her monthly flea/heartworm prevention or a session with the grooming comb.  I won't say this method works for 100% of cats because nothing does, but it works for most and works well.  Just remember to use a sturdy pillow case.  One extra caution, I probably wouldn't use this on a really really sick cat or one that was having trouble breathing.  Get yourself a carrier.

And there you go.  Two methods for getting your cat safely to the vet clinic or anywhere else without risking the parking lot catastrophe.  There is nothing worse then losing a cat miles from home.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ticks: They're here and they're not going away!

Your first question may be why is there a picture of some chickens on a blog about ticks?  The answer is quite simple.  I hate ticks.  I don't want to look at them.  So since I don't want to look at them, I figured some of you reading this blog may feel the same.  So here is a picture of some of my chickens.  Although there are other fowl who are perhaps a little better at picking up and eating ticks, chickens are known to eat a few themselves and as far as I am concerned, the only good tick is an eaten tick. I now I can open this blog and happily look at the chickens foraging through the weeds eliminating ticks from this planet.  If you really want to look at some ticks, at the end I will post a really good link with lots of good tick info (identification, how to remove ticks, etc) and a video that talks about black legged ticks (deer ticks) and shows how to remove a tick.

It seems like not a day goes by that the staff at the clinic doesn't field a question or two or three about ticks.  Many of these questions are a source of mild amusement to me.  But don't worry there truly is no such thing as a dumb question except for the one that is not asked.  If I chuckle at your question, it is only because I was once you.  I TOTALLY get where you are coming from because remember, I hate ticks.

I did not grow up with ticks.  I don't think I even saw a tick until I was well into my twenties.  In fact, in my mind ticks were just slow moving spiders and I was terrified of spiders in my youth.  I ran into minor tick encounters when I lived in Columbus, Ohio, but this was only one or two here and there.  And then I graduated vet school and started work at a mixed animal veterinary practice in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.  Of course back then, Lyme Disease was not an issue and the primary tick that we had to deal with was the American Dog Tick, but there were lots of them.  I remember farm dogs walking in the clinic with perhaps 100 or more ticks on them and having engorged female ticks falling off on to the floor as the dog walked through the building.  It was all I could do to not run out of the exam room screaming every time I saw a tick.  But alas, that would not have been very professional and so I sucked up my fear and got over it.  I got a lot of practice removing ticks.  But deep inside, ticks still fill me with disgust.  I'm just really good at hiding it these days.

When I moved to rural northeast Ohio in 1995, I could breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Ticks in this part of the country were few and far between.  But that all changed in 2010.  That was the year that tick reports at the clinic where I worked doubled and they have been going up and up ever since.  That was the year that the black legged tick (deer tick) started showing up in Ashtabula County.  And sorry to say my friends, but there is no going back.  Our days of living the free and easy tick-free life are over.  Time to suck it up and get used to living with these little buggers.

So remember, as I chuckle my way through answers to your questions I am not laughing at you, I am laughing at me.  Because I was you at one time.  And because if I don't laugh, I think I may cry because I hate ticks.

Here are some of the typical questions that I get during a day's work:

My dog had a tick on him and now there is a pimple like lump.  What should I do?  The answer: not much. These nasty critters will leave a small hard lump in the skin where they were attached.  This is normal.  It is kind of like a superty duperty mosquito bite and will sometimes last a couple of weeks.  It will go away.  

I took a tick off my dog and I think the head may have broken off and still be in the skin.  What should I do?  The answer: not much.  If you can see for sure that the head is there, you can grab it with tweezers or something similar and pull it out. If you can't see it, more than likely it is not there.  I find most of the time people think the mouth parts are still there because they feel the hard lump in the skin.  The hard lump is normal even if the tick is removed head and all.  The main reason for wanting to remove the entire tick is to lessen the chance of transmitting disease.  I have heard that in people, leaving the tick's head behind can cause infection, but I can honestly say I have never seen a tick bite on a dog that has gotten infected.  Not to say it can't happen, but it is very rare.  Fortunately, we have primarily dog ticks and black legged ticks around here and they are pretty easy to remove intact unlike their southern cousin the Lone Star tick that has deeply embedded mouth parts.  If you do leave mouth parts behind in the dog's skin, the dog's body will react to it and spit it out in a few days.  Most tick bites in dogs do not itch or bother the dog at all, so if your dog is scratching at a tick bite, that MIGHT be a sign of mild infection.  Call your veterinarian if the skin is red, raw or oozing.

I found 3 ticks on my dog.  What should I do?  The answer: count your blessings.  Remember my story about seeing farm dogs with 100+ ticks on them?  3, 4, 5, 6 ticks, that ain't nothing!  And get used to it because these things are not going way.  On the serious side, if you find ticks on your dog or cat, then you should be practicing some form of tick prevention.  Call your veterinarian.  There are a few different methods of preventing ticks and we can tell you the pros and cons of each.  And remember, some tick preventatives for dogs can kill cats.  So be careful!  Don't use a dog product on a cat.  Use only cat labeled products on cats.

My neighbor told me that I should not have removed the tick myself, but should have taken it to my vet to have the tick removed.  Is that true?  The answer: we are more than happy to remove ticks, but the truth is that ticks are very very easy to remove.  I don't know where all the mystery about tick removal came from, but it is easy folks.  There is a little bit of technique involved, but it is basically grasp and pull (see the video below for a visual guide to removing ticks).  No hot matches, no Vaseline, no finger nail polish.  All you need is something to grasp (tweezers, hemostats - my favorite, tick removal tool) or even your fingers are OK if you wear gloves.  While we may only have to deal with a tick here and there, the time is coming when we all will have to deal with ticks in much higher numbers.  Like I said, we are more than happy to have you bring in your dog and show you how to remove ticks, but you need to learn.  Otherwise, you will be at our office every day at certain times of the year.

My dog got bit by a tick and my neighbor told me I should take my dog to the vet and get it started on antibiotics.  Is that true?  The answer: no it's not true.  Can ticks cause disease that is treated with antibiotics?  yes.  But remember, most ticks, at least in Ashtabula County, do not carry any diseases.  Even if a tick does carry a disease, there are a whole bunch of factors that come into play for a dog to get that disease from the tick. In some areas, if we treated a dog that got tick bites, that dog would be on antibiotics the whole year round and that is not a smart idea either.  The better solution is to watch your dog for signs of illness.  Usually the illness will show up weeks to months after the tick bite.  Watch for things like lethargy and wanting to sleep a lot.  Poor appetite and fever.  Swollen joints and limping.  Then call your vet.  It is true that the sooner treatment is started the better chances are of curing the dog, but it makes little sense to start antibiotics after any tick bite.

For more information on ticks, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has a nice informative web page that discusses everything from tick identification to how to remove a tick. The page also discusses some common myths about ticks.  Follow the link below.

Ohio Division of Wildlife Ticks In Ohio

And for your viewing pleasure, I'll post this video about ticks. It is titled "Beware of ticks in winter", but has some really good information about black legged ticks as well as showing how to remove ticks.  Good info here and well worth the 8 minutes to watch.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What were they thinking?

I am sitting here writing this blog entry on the night before a meeting of the Safety Council of the largest city in the county where I live.  That would be the city of Ashtabula in Ashtabula County, Ohio in case you are curious.  The city of Ashtabula currently has a law in place that bans ownership of "pit bull" dogs within the city.  According to my sources, one of the topics that will be discussed at tomorrow's meeting of the Safety Council is the fate of this law.  There are some very good people who are trying to get the ban against pit bulls abolished and I applaud their efforts.  This topic is especially relevant because of what happened yesterday during my work day at the clinic.  I had one of those moments in life where you think about a particular law that is in place and say to yourself "What were they thinking?".

I walked into the clinic yesterday morning and my surgery case I had scheduled for the day had already been admitted to the hospital.  The dog's owners are very nice people.  The dog I am sorry to say is not so nice.  Oh it may be nice to people that it knows, but it is not so nice when it is around the strange workings of a veterinary hospital.  Some dogs come to the vet office and are what I call "eternally happy".  This is the majority of dogs we see.  They wag their tails and love being petted.  Some dogs come to the vet office and are fearful, but even though they are scared, they sit still and just wait for the horrible experience to be over.  These dogs will often warm up to us if we are slow and take time to get to know them.  Then there are the fearful dogs that do not back down.  These dogs are a small minority, but they do present certain challenges.  They have learned that if they are scared of strangers and if they attack then the strange people will go away.  These dogs are dangerous and such was the case with the dog that was in for surgery yesterday morning.  This dog would just as soon eat my face, my technician's face or any other face of a strange person at a vet hospital.  It didn't help that the dog weighed about 100 pounds to boot.  Fortunately I work with some of the most talented animal handlers on the planet and we were able to get a muzzle on and treat this dog with what I call "no muss, no fuss".  The dog did not freak out at all and no one got bit.  But in spite of an uneventful visit to the vet, this dog is dangerous.  It is not however a pit bull so anyone that lives in the city of Ashtabula, Ohio could legally own this 100 pounds of accident waiting to happen.

My last appointment of the day was a stray dog that was rescued off the streets of Cleveland.  The dog was pregnant at the time of rescue and a wonderful woman who lives in my neighborhood took her in.  This woman has rescued many dogs and is very good at placing rescued dogs in good homes.  The dog had her puppies and Momma dog and her pups are being cared for until the puppies are old enough to be placed into new homes.  Then momma dog will be spayed and she too will find a new home.  Anyway, momma dog came to the clinic to get her vaccinations.  I walked in the exam room and she immediately walked over to me, wagging her tail and wanted to be petted.  I sat on the floor with her and she licked my face.  Then she rolled over next to me so I could rub her belly.  This dog was in that first category of dog that I talked about.  She was "eternally happy".  I did a physical exam while avoiding the slurping tongue.  I administered three vaccinations while she happily ate treats out of my assistant's hand and without any restraint at all.  Momma dog was one of the friendliest dogs I have ever met and I have met a lot of dogs.  Momma dog is a pit bull.  She cannot be adopted by anyone  who lives in the city of Ashtabula.

And so there is my "What were they thinking moment?".  If I lived in a city neighborhood and had a choice between my neighbor owning the 100# accident waiting to happen or the friendly pit bull, is there any question what I would choose?  Or what any sane person would choose?

I always wonder how a city council votes for a breed specific ban in the first place.  If I were on a city council and I was getting ready to make a new law, I would consult with people who were experts on the topic.  If I were making a law concerning, let's say, safety of drinking water, I would consult with people who have degrees and work in the field of water quality and public health.  If I were making a law concerning education, I would consult teachers and other educators.  Who would I contact if I were considering enacting a law concerning dogs?  Well, that would be dog experts such as veterinarians, trainers and those who run animal shelters to name a few.  I would not ask the public.  I would not ask the police department.  They are not experts on dogs.  And the funny thing is that almost across the board, dog experts are against banning specific breeds of dogs.  So how do these laws get passed in the first place?  Someone is obviously not listening to experts on the subject.

Things that have happened in the past though are just that: in the past.  Wrongs can be righted.  The State of Ohio just recently removed the words "pit bull" from the state's dangerous dog law.  It is time for local communities to step up and do the same.  You don't ban cars because some people are dangerous drivers and you don't ban specific breeds because some people own dangerous dogs.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

H.B. 14 January 25, 2012 update: Ohio vicious dog law

Way back last year, I wrote about Ohio House Bill 14 that would remove the word "pit bull" from Ohio's vicious dog law.  This bill NEEDS to be passed.  Ohio is the only state in the U.S. that specifically names a breed of dog in the vicious dog law.  The original wording of this bill got passed umpteen years ago and like all things in government, it is taking eons to fix this mistake. 
You can find my original blog post here.  If you are in too much of a hurry to read the entire post, I think the last paragraph sums up the gist of why H.B. 14 needs to pass:

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.
The bill is progressing through the legislative process.  It has made it through its initial committee and the Ohio House.  It has made it through the Ohio Senate committee just a couple a weeks ago.  The next step is a vote by the full senate.  It was suppose to make it to the Senate floor yesterday, but it did not.  All expectations are that it will be heard and voted on by the Senate in the next few weeks.  The next general session is next Tuesday on January 31st.

I'm asking everyone who lives in Ohio and especially dog owners to call your Ohio Senator and tell them you support Ohio H.B. 14.  A few links below to help you out.

Find your Senator here.

Link to Ohio House Bill 14

General information on efforts to stop breed specific legislation

This bill may be voted on very soon.  The time to call or email your Ohio State Senator is now.  Fingers crossed that this bill makes it through the Senate.  It is important to every one of us who owns a dog.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dogs with bad backs - Emmett's story

I've heard it said that 80% of people will experience back pain at some time in their lives.  While back problems are not as common in dogs as they are in people, they are still one of the more common conditions that a small animal veterinarian will treat.  Today's blog is about Emmett.  This cute little dog is up and walking around today thanks to his very astute owner and a wonderful surgeon.  (I have told you I like success stories, right?  *grin*)

I saw Emmett for a sudden onset of back pain one Friday last June.  I had to look up the month, but for some reason I can distinctly remember what days of the week this all happened.  Anyway, his mom brought him in on a Friday and I remember how painful Emmett was.  We took some X-rays and confirmed that he indeed had evidence of intervertebral disc disease.  (Click on the link for a very thorough explanation of disc disease in dogs.)  Just like in people with disc disease, pain is caused when a disc, which is the cushion in between the vertebrae, swells and bulges.  And just like in people, almost all dogs will heal with some anti-inflammatory drugs, rest and sometimes muscle relaxers.  Only 5% of dogs need surgery.  Emmett only had pain with his back disease and he did not have any neurologic signs such as weakness in his legs or paralysis.  And so, he got sent home on medical therapy, but I still remember how I thought Emmett seemed more painful than most dogs that I treat with this condition.

Four days later on Tuesday morning, Emmett's mom called to tell us that Emmett started have some weakness in his legs that just started that morning.  Tuesdays are my main surgery day so I was gloved up and working in sterile surgical field when all this was happening.  I remember my wonderful staff relaying messages back and forth between me and Emmett's mom.  At first Emmett's symptoms weren't too bad so it was decided to just wait a bit, but within an hour his weakness was much worse and progressing toward paralysis.  The question then was should Emmett come into the clinic for a recheck?  Well, I've seen symptoms progress this fast before and this is not the time to delay treatment.  We had Emmett's mom come and pick up his X-rays from Friday and go directly to see the veterinary surgeon.  Within hours, Emmett had surgery for a disc in his back that had gone from bulging to ruptured.

The next day, Emmett got sent home from the surgical hospital.  I remember how his mom commented how she was expecting to have to help him walk at least in the beginning as he healed from major back surgery.  When they left the hospital, Emmett walked over to a post and lifted his leg to pee on it.  Amazing.  Emmett is doing well today (although he did have a flare up of back pain a month and half ago but only needed medicine to treat).  Emmett is doing well because his owner was so incredibly on top of what was going on with her dog and also a big thanks go out to the wonderful surgeons and staff at our not-so-local referral hospital.

This is definitely a story of a bad disease where everything went right.  I am always amazed when I have an owner bring in a paralyzed dog and when I ask how long the dog has been this way, they tell me a day, or two, or three, or sometimes more.  Really?  Your dog goes suddenly paralyzed and you wait days to bring it to the veterinarian?  Bulging discs with mild to moderate pain and no weakness of the legs can wait until morning.  Ruptured discs that cause paralysis cannot.  This is definitely a disease where HOURS count.  Not days.  HOURS.  If it happens at night, you don't wait until morning to see your regular veterinarian.  Certainly there are many diseases where a "wait and see" approach is totally acceptable.  This is not one of those.  Even with quick action, not every dog will recover, but most will if treatment is not delayed.  Thanks to Emmett and his "mom" for letting me share his story.  He is a remarkable little dog to be sure.

Friday, January 13, 2012

If I never declaw another cat ......

If I never declaw another cat, I would be a happy veterinarian.  OK, I am a happy veterinarian, but the older I get, the more I dislike doing declaws.  So now I am on a mission to educate cat owners about alternatives to declawing their cats.  We might was well get used to practicing the alternatives now because this is the way the world is going.  There are a whole slew of countries around the world that already make declawing illegal or severely limit the procedure.  I don't see this happening in the United States anytime soon, but the winds of change are swirling around and that is a good thing for cats.

As I was doing some research for this blog topic, I did a little surfing around the web and the array of opinions on both sides is quite interesting.  Everything from declawing is perfectly acceptable to declawing should be criminal.  I wanted to link to some good solid info on alternatives to declawing (scratching post training, nail trimming, Soft Paws, etc) and it took me a good half hour to find a link that didn't start off with a page or two of "you are evil if you have your cat declawed" or "if you are a veterinarian who declaws cats, you are evil".  It's kind of a turn off when you are trying to change someone's opinion, to tell them they are scum of the earth right off the bat.  Kind of human nature to dislike being called a horrible person and I am not so much against declawing to make it a mortal sin.   Finally though, I was successful in finding some "just the facts m'am" information on cat scratching behavior and minimizing damage to the house that I will link to further down the page.

Like most people who get older, I find myself contemplating all sorts of things in life.  I used to give very little thought to declawing cats.  I grew up in a dog household so the fact that cats like to scratch things meant little to me.  When I went to veterinary school twenty-cough-some years ago, we were taught to declaw cats.  There was no discussion.  It was just another procedure that we would need to learn in order to be proficient small animal veterinarians.  I acquired my first cat during my first year practicing veterinary medicine.  She was a sweet little stray calico that a good samaritan had found and brought to the clinic where I worked.  She had a horribly mangled leg that needed amputated.  Since she was such a sweet little cat and seeing as how I didn't have a cat, I volunteered to amputate her mangled leg and take her home.  She would be an indoor cat and as I was dutifully taught, indoor cats sometimes scratch furniture and woodwork and if that was not acceptable, the cat should be declawed.  I don't remember her having any problems with the declaw surgery at all and she lived happily inside my house as a declawed cat until she got intestinal cancer and had to be put to sleep many years later.  At this point, my opinion of declawing cats had not changed much.

It was sometime during my second job as a veterinarian that I started to contemplate things.  Back then, I worked for a veterinarian who did ear crops for clients who owned show dogs.  Fortunately I never had to perform one of those horrible procedures, but I did often have to take stitches out.  Ear flaps are very tender and delicate body parts and while most times, we could just hold puppies to remove sutures, I was surprised at how often we would have to sedate puppies to remove stitches because the ears after surgery were so tender and painful to touch.  I vowed I would never perform an ear crop on a dog.  And this is when I started changing my feelings toward performing painful procedures on animals.  If it is for the animal's benefit that is one thing.  If it is totally cosmetic (like ear crops), that just doesn't sit well with me.

Declawing falls somewhere just shy of cosmetic surgery for me.  On one hand, there is absolutely zero benefit to the cat to get declawed.  On the other hand, I have done a lot of work in animal shelters over my career and know of all the cats that are out there desparately seeking homes or facing death.  I also know there are people who will open their home to a cat or two or three, but only if they are declawed.  That is just the way it is.  There are anti-declawing advocates that will say that I am copping out by performing a surgery that I don't really agree with and to that I say rubbish!  I am for cats being able to live plain and simple.  If declawing gives a cat a life, I can live with myself.  But my hope for the future is to educate, educate, educate and inform cat owners that declawing is a painful procedure and there are alternatives.  I know that my own opinion about declawing has changed overtime.  I have come to recognize declawing for what it is: a painful surgical procedure with not one health benefit to the cat.  So if I can change my own stubborn opinion, I know with a little education I can hopefully persuade others to rethink declawing their cats.
So let the education begin.  First I have to make sure all who want to get their cat declawed understand what the surgery is all about.  The claws cannot be removed without also removing the last bone in every toe that is being declawed.  Declawing is AMPUTATION of the end of the toes X 10 toes in the case of front claws being permanently removed.  Just cannot sugar coat that any which way.

For some, just knowing that fact is enough to turn away from declawing.  But the biggest hurdle is what to do with a cat that wants to use it claws to scratch furniture/woodwork/ carpet, etc and cats DO want to use their claws to varying degrees.  Scratching is a normal behavior.  You cannot get rid of a normal behavior.  You have to redirect it.  You have to do a little work.  Yes, work.  Never did understand why dog owners will go through all sorts of effort to housebreak dogs and teach dogs to do this and that, but cat owners will not teach their cats appropriate scratching behavior.  It is no different.  It does take some effort.  

There are lots of web sites out there that give training tips.  This is one of my favorites because it is complete with pictures and I LOVE pictures.  

How to stop a cat from clawing furniture

If you don't want the hassle of training a cat when and where it can scratch and taking care of things like keeping claws trimmed, perhaps you shouldn't own a cat.  It is simple logic.

If you don't want to listen to loud cock-a-doodle-dooing early in the morning, don't have a rooster.
If you don't want a house full of hair, don't own a dog that sheds.
If you don't want an animal that has claws and might use them on occasion, don't own a cat.
Just think about it.  That is all I ask.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Positively Perfect Poodles

I like success stories.  I like stories that allow us all to see what is possible.  So this blog is about two positively perfect poodles.  Ok, perhaps they have a fault or two somewhere, but if they do, I don't know about it.  What I do know is that they are gracefully living life through their senior years.  One of these poodles is 16 years old and one is well over 17 years old.  What they have in common is being senior poodles with no bad breath, no mouth pain, both have nearly a complete set of teeth and good health. If you haven't been reading the news lately, good dental health often translates to good overall health. 

You may ask how is this possible.  After all, teeth are one of the genetic weaknesses of almost all small breed dogs.  There is some confusion about soft diets causing bad teeth and I think this is because often small breed dogs are fed canned or table food.  But food plays a very minor part in determining if a dog's teeth are healthy or diseased.  Genetics plays a much more dominant role.  Poodles can have some of the worse diseased teeth I have ever seen.  Perhaps until you see a little toy poodle screaming in its owners arms because rotting neglected teeth have eaten through the jawbone and caused the jaw bone to break in two, perhaps then you can appreciate what pain can be caused by rotten teeth.  This is the extreme, but all rotting teeth cause pain.  Unless the pain is extreme though, dogs seldom complain.  Maybe they will sleep a little more.  Maybe they will be a little more cranky.  Maybe they will drool or chew funny.  Maybe.  Often times they just deal with their chronic pain and live their lives.  But their pain is real.  Believe it.  And this is a story about how we can make a difference in our pets' lives by providing them with regular dental care if they need it.

So let me introduce you to the two positively perfect poodles.

Buffy age 16

Frodo age 17 

And as a special treat I have a picture of Frodo's teeth during his teeth cleaning at age 17.  Is this not the prettiest set of 17 year old poodle teeth you have ever seen?  Excuse the little bit of blood on his upper lip as Frodo did have one small tooth that needed to be pulled, but that was it.  I think of the 42 teeth that Frodo started his life with, he is only missing one or two.

Buffy is missing a few more teeth than Frodo, but not many and her teeth look just as lovely.

Buffy and Frodo have been blessed with owners who realize the importance of dental health and these two dogs have come in to get their teeth cleaned under anesthesia every single year starting when they were much younger poodles.  They don't have heart disease secondary to bad teeth.  They don't have kidney failure secondary to bad teeth.  They don't have liver disease secondary to bad teeth.  They don't have bad breath or mouth pain.  They are positively perfect poodles.