Saturday, December 07, 2013

My Heart and His

Last month while I was on vacation, Fletcher stayed with my best friend, and she noticed that he was panting on his walks. Since Fletcher will be 15 on January 1, that puts him roughly equivalent to a person in their nineties! He comes to the clinic every few months for a full workup anyhow, so I brought him in after I returned. The first step was a physical exam, and, for the first time ever, I heard a heart murmur while listening to his chest. We took blood samples for a geriatric screen and took chest x-rays, which were normal. I decided to take Fletcher to see Dr. Margiocco the cardiologist at Canada West Veterinary Specialists to learn more. I was worried that my heart dog's heart might be failing.

We are very fortunate to have access to veterinary specialists locally, including dentists, ophthomologists and surgeons. They are a great help to general practitioners like me, to give us further insight into specific body systems and diseases, and to provide advanced diagnostic tools and treatments, like ultrasounds, MRIs, and arthroscopy. Fletcher's cardiology appointment consisted of taking a history, a physical exam, blood pressure measurement, ECG and cardiac ultrasound. When Dr. Margiocco went over the possible reasons for the murmur and why doing an ultrasound is important, I was relieved to hear that everything I have been saying to my own clients is correct!

The ultrasound pinpoints to the murmur to a specific valve and looks at the thickness of the heart walls. This allows us to know if there is a disease of the heart muscle, which carries a worse prognosis. Fortunately, Fletcher's heart was functioning well, and the murmur was a caused by the degeneration of a single valve, which can happen with age.Veterinary Partner sums up what degenerative valve disease means. Fletcher's mitral valve is affected, the most common type.

Fletcher hiking at 13 years old
Fletcher will continued to be monitored with x-rays of his chest and ultrasounds of his heart. I'm also changing around his pain management, in case that caused the panting. The most important piece of advice I received, was to continue letting Fletcher do the activities he enjoys, like hiking off leash, and let him go at his own pace. Regardless of diagnosis, this is what we all should do, to live life to the fullest.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Puking Tiki

In early September, Tiki-Granger had a bout of sickness that lasted for several days in a row, where she would vomit up her dinner in the middle of the night. Tiki tends to be a puker anyhow; she doesn't have many teeth and the ones she has are quite worn, so she will literally bite off more than she can chew, swallowing things whole, which invariably come back up. But this was quite unusual, so I took her in to work with me.

The first step was a physical exam, which revealed maybe a bit of discomfort on abdominal palpation. Then we took x-rays of her abdomen, which revealed some arthritic changes that weren't there the last time she was x-rayed *insert guilty mummy feelings*, and showed that her stomach looked thickened. I was instantly panicked that she had gastric carcinoma, a form of stomach cancer, which Staffordshire Bull Terriers are predisposed to. I felt awful. I didn't want my Tiki to be dying.

Why did I instantly think Tiki had a terminal illness? Harriet Lerner, the psychologist, discusses connecting current anxiety to the underlying emotional field; being mindful that unconsciously we tend towards reactivity during stressful times, either due to a current stressor or when we have unresolved issues from a past experience. I thought about my history with Tiki. I had adopted her after graduating from university, a consolation prize for not getting into vet school on my first try. Here is what I wrote about her shortly after I adopted her:

The first photo I saw of Tiki-Granger, taken at Guelph Humane Society

Adopting her was the best decision I could have made. She has lifted my spirits and helped me resolve grief from the death of my last dog, over 5 years ago, grief that I didn't even know I was still holding on to. She has gotten me out of the funk that I've been in for the last few months after I didn't get into school.

I decided to adopt her just weeks after getting engaged, and a week before my fiance and I moved to a new province; a time of starting out in life, of hope for the future. Now, here we were, she had just turned ten and my divorce had just been finalized. How poetically cruel, I thought, that Tiki's life with me, which started in a new beginning, would be ending as I end that chapter of my life.

The next day Tiki had an ultrasound and a biopsy. While I waited for the results, I consoled myself by cooking and pureeing special food for her, which she happily gobbled down. Her ultrasound and biopsy came back just fine. I thought more about it, and remembered that I had taken all three dogs into the office with me the day before this started, and Tiki had found a dental chew that she quickly gobbled. Likely it had started the problem, but had passed by the time we started working her up.

Sometimes cases are set against an emotional backdrop that we are unaware of. We may even use the issue as a way of dealing with an underlying anxiety. By the time Tiki's biopsy result came back, she was back to normal. I let go of my attachment to our past, and opened myself up to our new future together.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

How to Have a Safe and Happy Howl-o-Ween

I have always loved Halloween. Twenty-one years ago, a week before Halloween, I got my very first dog. I have always taken pet Halloween safety very seriously and made my family follow a special protocol. Here's how:

Outdoor cats should be in by 4pm, locked in a room away from the front door. Have a special meal, treat, or new toy as a reward. My sister's first cat, raw-fed Lucy, used to enjoy a whole quail. Fittingly gruesome for Halloween!

Dogs should also be locked in a room away from the front door before the first trick-or-treaters arrive, in a crate if they're comfortable. Even friendly dogs might be scared by a costume or bolt out the door with a loud noise. A large bone or stuffed Kong makes the time pass. For noise-sensitive dogs, play classical music or download Through a Dog's Ear, and consider using a Thundershirt. For severe anxiety, ask for a prescription medication from your veterinarian.

Fletcher used to love trick-or-treating (in costume!) and wasn't bothered by people in costumes or fireworks. Here, Fletcher (note his cousin Houdini's tail) gets ready to go out. If you do take your dog out, make sure they are securely leashed and actually having a good time. Tonight I'm working late, so my own canine crew will be coming to work with me, and I'll bring along Tiki's Thundershirt. Don't forget to keep chocolate and candy away from your pets! I don't want any phone calls about that tonight. Inducing vomiting isn't fun for anyone.

Everyone should be wearing identification, as shelters intake many loose strays around Halloween or any time there are fireworks. Happy Howl-o-Ween!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Many people saw last Friday's opening episode of CBC's sensationalist program Marketplace, on the topic of veterinary fees. As promised, I watched the program and took notes. Part of my goal of this blog has been to be a liaison between veterinarians and pet owners, two parties who ultimately both have the same goal, but who often have issues in communication.

In regards to the cost of care, I won't get into that. It has been covered nicely elsewhere and I simply don't have time to defend that. We practice a certain standard of medicine and that standard comes at a certain cost. I would, however, like to clarify a couple of misleading points, as many people watching are knowledgeable pet owners who want to know what's best for their pets. Making an informed health care decision should not be done based on cost alone.

3 Year Vaccine Protocol

Vaccine theory is of special interest to me, and I make of point of attending quite a bit of continuing education on the subject. I even did a two week rotation on vaccine science during my final year in veterinary school. Vaccine boosters can last for many years only if
  1. A veterinarian delivers the vaccine to a healthy animal
  2. A high quality, properly stored vaccine is used
  3. A proper vaccine schedule is used
The third point is the most confusing for pet owners. If a dog has missed the proper timing for vaccine boosters as a puppy, and as a young adult, we are less likely to get good immunity. The best way to avoid future vaccines is to vaccinate properly from the start. If you go to a new clinic, bring along your vaccine records, as saying your pet is "up to date" is absolutely meaningless.

It's interesting to me that Marketplace referenced the Dodds vaccine protocol, where preference is given to a blood test called a vaccine titer, which costs $100, over a vaccine booster every 3 years (about $30). Dr. Dodds also recommends annual bloodwork to establish baseline normal values for your pet. This is what I do for my own dogs, and we are proud to offer this level of preventative medicine to our clients. However, this protocol was not designed with the intention of saving pet owners money. Also, regardless of whether he is due for a vaccine or not, your pet needs a physical exam by a veterinarian every year.

Heartworm Testing

Heartworm is a very scary disease for dogs. I treated some heartworm patients when I worked at Winnipeg Humane Society. Heartworm is much easier to prevent than it is to treat. We have those "scary" heartworm posters up at our clinic, and when clients ask about heartworm, I tell them we don't have heartworm in this area, and ask about their travel plans. We have many clients who travel to Mexico or the Southern United States with their pets, where the risk is huge, and we need to keep heartworm prevention in the discussion. I also have concerns that a combination of climate change and the importation of heartworm positive dogs could mean that one day heartworm may be endemic here in Greater Vancouver.

Why would you need to test for heartworm when your dog is on prevention? The American Heartworm Society recommends annual testing due to the fact that some dogs become heartworm positive while on prevention. This may be a combination of drug resistance, improper administration of the medication (for example, a dog who spits out the pill later, or vomits it back up), or even individual patient variation in how the medication works. If I lived or travelled in an area with heartworm, you can bet my own dogs would get annual testing. The heartworm test can be easily combined with the testing for tick-borne diseases using Idexx's SNAPP 4Dx Plus test, for a similar cost to just checking for heartworm.

Travelling within Canada? Check out this map of Canadian cases:

Body Condition Score

Everyone's pets are overweight. Ok, that's not true, but not much of an exaggeration. One thing that really trips owners up is breed. Yes, all breeds and all individual dogs have different body shapes, but they all have the same flat, sheet-like muscle overlying their rib cage. Therefore, they should all FEEL the same (beneath their fur). If I have to push down to feel the ribs, I am pushing through a layer of fat. This chart explains body condition score by appearance.

Hill's Metabolic (the food referenced in the show) worked great for my most obese patient. The measurements are a bit tricky, and should always be double-checked against common sense, as occasionally the calculations come back with a weird number for weight loss. The numbers on the scale don't matter nearly as much as how a dog feels when you have your hands on them. Coincidently, keeping your pet at a healthy body weight is the easiest and cheapest way to save on vet bills!

You Get What You Pay For

The bottom line is that high quality medicine costs money. The only redeeming feature of the program was any sentence that included "ask your veterinarian". I am always happy to discuss the pros and cons of any treatment, and to come up with solutions based on each individual case.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jake's Collar

I did a behavioural euthanasia of an otherwise young, healthy dog for a friend. She bravely held him in her arms as he passed, protecting him until the very end. When it was over, she removed his collar and handed it to me. Thinking she just needed me to hold it, I gathered up his leash, and tried to hand them both back to her. She pressed the collar into my hands and said, “No, I want you to have this.”

It was a beautiful, hand-carved leather Dia De Los Muertos limited edition Paco collar, that I’d admired from the moment she got it. Fittingly, Eric, Jake and I brought it with us on our Halloween-cation that fall, which included a Dia De Los Muertos celebration in San Diego. One of our last stops was Paco Collars in Berkeley. We brought Jake into the shop, where I told the girls the story and they fashioned the collar into a martingale that fit Jake perfectly. What better way to honor a dog than to celebrate his life every time I slip his collar onto my own dog.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Round Two: Jake's battle with a mast cell tumor

Jake, my 8 year old Pit Bull/Mastiff cross developed a small, squishy lump on his right hind leg, that swelled up and became quite noticeable when we took him camping. When we got home, I took him to the clinic and went through the same fine needle aspirate procedure as I had with Granger back in March. I submitted the slide to the lab for analysis, and waited for the results.

Two days later, I sat with my morning coffee, checking emails, including a cheery one from my boss, about an upcoming conference I'm attending...with a note at the end asking if I wanted her to take Jake's lump off.

My mind buzzed as I opened up Idexx VetConnect to view the lab results and I could barely focus on the words mast cell tumor before I burst into tears, which quickly led to muffled sobbing (Eric was still asleep after working late). I was a bit surprised by my reaction. Plenty of dogs have mast cell tumors removed, and go on to lead normal, healthy lives. Why did this hurt so badly?

It wasn't just that Jake was my own dog, my Tigey-Tige, my running buddy, the dog who helped me "start over" when my life got turned upside down. That alone was like a punch in the gut, but normally doctor mode takes over and I just focus on fixing the problem. I thought about it, and realized I took it personally, both as Jake's mummy and as Jake's doctor. Unlike my "own" two dogs, Jake was owned by Eric first. I never make medical decisions for Jake without informing Eric first, treating him like a client who ultimately gets to decide how to treat "his" dog. So I was feeling the double whammy of "failing" Jake, personally and professionally. Of course, I didn't fail him at all. There wasn't anything I did, or didn't do, to cause this. The reason I found the mass, and found one in Granger less than six months ago, is that I don't ignore the little things. I didn't brush off his mass as "nothing"; instead, I took the right steps in diagnostics and treatment to give Jake the best chance at a cure.

Jake is lucky to have me for his mummy AND his vet.

Jake's tumor was completely excised, and classified as a low grade two. His bloodwork was perfect, and he is booked for an ultrasound as an added precaution.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Daisy's First Vet Visit

Recently, my sister brought her Bullmastiff puppy, Daisy, in for an exam and vaccines. Daisy already knows me from training sessions, so she was very happy to see me and show off her latest clicker-training knowledge. Most puppies need to come to the vet every 4 weeks or so, for routine check-ups, vaccines, and deworming. Here, Daisy demonstrates a typical puppy visit.

Having your mouth opened is a funny sensation, but I need to check Daisy's teeth and get her used to having her mouth examined. She gets a treat for being so good. This will make it easier to do when she grows up to be 100 pounds!
I listen to Daisy's heart and lungs and check her pulses at the same time. When she is full grown, I will probably examine her on the floor, but for now, she is practising staying still on the slippery exam table.

Daisy gets treats throughout her exam, especially when I am doing something new to her. Going to the vet should be as fun as possible, especially during puppy check-ups. That way, Daisy will trust me and let me help her if she is sick or injured.

Daisy was happy to jump on the scale for another weight check at the end of her visit, since she knew she would get another *click* and treat. I usually use string cheese, which is a big hit with most puppies. The next time I saw Daisy, she was thrilled to see me, so I know her visit was a success!

Monday, August 05, 2013

Off Leash

So relating to my post on nature deficit disorder, I’ve decided to elaborate on how I find places for my dogs to cut loose, particularly when I have three highly prey driven dogs, one of whom is dog aggressive. Most are a short drive away of my Maillardville home, although some places mentioned are from dog-friendly road trips. Descriptions are intentionally vague, as these are secret spots, some are frequented by other people with not-so-friendly dogs, and in most cases, off leash is breaking the rules. The goal is to give the dogs a bit of freedom to make their own decisions, while getting hard physical exercise, for both mental and physical health benefits. Just don't bother anyone and pick up after your dog.

Hydro property

BC Hydro allows multi-use trails on some of its property. I worry a bit about all my exposure to high voltage power lines, but it’s worth it for the isolation so close to the city. Here, Shorty, owned by Sarah of Bad Dogs Gone Good, enjoys a bit of freedom.

Former Mental Institution

Locals will recognize this place. Great during the week, especially if there are no films crews, although there’s usually enough space to avoid them.  Granger likes a bit of Chuck-it among the trees of the beautiful grounds. Walks should be on leash, as there is still road traffic and patients/workers here, and I have seen dog training classes taking place. Be sure to give the security guards a friendly wave when they drive by. Can you spot Fletcher's Where's Waldo imitation in this photo?

City Industrial Land

Along the lines of Hydro property, most industrial areas, including access roads, are quiet on the weekend and early weekday mornings (i.e. outside of union working hours). As always, don't disturb anyone and pick up after your dogs. There is one around the corner from my house, and I've met some other dog people who utilize the spot for fetch or an off leash romp.

Crown Land

I like to think of it as exercising the dogs in the Queen’s backyard. Don’t disturb the wildlife or the range cattle. Here, Lila and Tiki enjoy rolling in cow pies outside of 100 Mile House, BC.

Empty Beaches

The Oregon coast is my favourite place to look for deserted beaches (especially in winter), but I’ve also had great success along the Pacific Ocean side of the Olympic Penninsula in Washington. This is Eric and the boy dogs just south of Forks, WA.

Start off slow, know your dog's limits, and follow the general guidelines of not disturbing anyone and respecting the environment. It can take years to be able to do this type of activity safely, but the rewards are worth it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Raising a Holistic Dog

Fletcher The 14 year old Holistic Dog
Today I took Fletcher for a romp in the woods. At 14, he can still run wild for a couple hours, though he crashes on the car ride home and spends the rest of the day napping. Often I see dogs far younger than him who aren’t nearly this healthy, and I wish I could bottle what I do for Fletcher and prescribe it to those dogs. However, the very definition of holistic is to consider every aspect that contributes to the whole, and there isn’t one thing that I’ve done in raising Fletcher that has lead him to where he is; it is everything I’ve done working together.


Dog eats raw food
Since Fletcher was 3 years old, he has eaten variations of a raw food diet, primarily raw meat, bones, and vegetables. I’ve made this my primary focus of healthful living for dogs, since I believe it to be a cornerstone of health. I see many dogs who have had similar results on a such a diet, and others who are only marginally better, or, in some cases, worse than they were on a commercial dog food. I believe that the most proper way to feed dogs is to tailor the diet to their needs and to aim for complete and balanced nutrition. To this end, I have always supplemented my diets with mineral/vitamin mixes, paying particular attention to the calcium phosphorus ratio, as well as nutraceuticals (such as glucosamine), essential fatty acids, and additional herbal medicine as needed. To me, it is a continuem; a base diet with the extras added based on individual needs, segwaying into herbal medicine from both a Western and Chinese medicine perspective.

Veterinary Care

dog gets chiropractic and acupuncture care
Speaking of medicine, I have adopted a blend of East meets West that works well for me. I use the minimal core vaccines to reach immunity, running blood titers as needed to confirm, and keep up with a single rabies booster every 3 years. I run bloodwork every 6 to 12 months when my dogs are healthy, depending on age, to catch issues early. Bloodwork is also checked before any anesthesia or if they are sick. The same goes for abdominal and cardiac ultrasounds. I use drugs including antibiotics and pain control when needed, in addition to chiropractic and acupuncture treatments both for specific ailments and routine tune-ups. I’ve also used homeopathic remedies both alone and in conjunction with drugs. Fletcher is currently on minimal steroid eye drops as needed to control an autoimmune disease, on the advice of both his veterinary ophthalmologist and my most trusted holistic vet. He has had two root canals done by a veterinary dentist. Any lumps or bumps are immediately biopsied, and benign masses are not removed unless they are interfering with quality of life.


In Traditional Chinese Medicine, health comes from both food and daily exercise. Fletcher would not be so healthy without exercise. For an old dog, it lubricates joints, fights muscle wasting, improves neurologic function, and provides mental stimulation. He walks and has yard time every day, and at least once a week is allowed to hike off leash, to run and explore at his own pace. It scares me at times to let an old dog engage in potentially dangerous activities (and if you saw him ripping around the forest, you would know what I mean). At some point, I just decided that I would let him be, that if he injured himself at his favorite activity, it would be worth it to let him live his life. Pictured is Fletcher on a hike shortly before his 13th birthday.


The discussion of exercise and mental stimulation leads me to the emotional side of raising a holistic dog. I can’t ignore the importance of raising a dog who has had the benefit of being emotionally engaged through interactions with both people and other dogs. Would Fletcher be so healthy without his younger brother and sister, dogs that he wrestles with, snuggles with, and acts as the patriarch to? What about his training sessions which stimulate his neurons, keeping him mentally fit? As a younger dog, he had many “jobs”, including accompanying me to summer day camps, and doing dog safety classes in elementary schools. Many long-lived dogs are ones who have had some sort of job, something to live for. You can see Fletcher is completely engaged in his job of interacting with schoolchildren.

A Holistic Hound

Someday I will have to say goodbye to my beloved heart dog. He is my first holistically raised dog, and the one to whom I owe the most for the lessons he has taught me. I take comfort in knowing that since I adopted him from the shelter, he has not wanted for anything, and I thank him for showing me the way.

1, 2, 3?

I hmm and haw about 2 dogs versus 3. I am 100% a two dog person rather than a one dog person. I much prefer to have dogs, plural. I spaced the ages of Fletcher and Tiki-Granger intentionally, so that their needs (exercise, medical care, etc) would be different enough. I intended to get a puppy when I finished vet school, and was on my way to doing so when my personal life kinda fell apart, and I unintentionally fell for a fellow dog lover (something I swore I'd never do). I don't know if I would have fallen so hard, had I not first fallen for his dog. Jake was absolutely a perfect match for me (see Falling for Jake Milner) and he fit into my canine crew better than I could have hoped for. We make a lovely little family of five now.

When one of my dogs passes, I am not sure if I would go back to three dogs. I don't know that I would ever get such a great 3 dog mix again. Though, if one of the dogs isn't with us, their presence is missed greatly. Yesterday we were going to be out all day, in and out of a hot car, so Fletcher went to stay overnight with my brother. The first thing I do in the morning is reach for Fletcher, who sleeps on the floor beside my side of the bed. This morning I thought "Merle must have slept on the couch", before I remembered he wasn't there. I haven't gone to pick him up yet, and something about 2 dogs doesn't feel like "enough".

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Update on the Joint Supplements

So I finished the first tub of Synovial-Flex Soft Chews and I've been very pleased with the results. Fletcher definitely seems to have better mobility in his back end, so much so that I brought him home some Toe Grips from the New Orleans conference (more on these to come), and never put them on him. After being away for a week, I really noticed the difference in how he was walking. The dogs are now at their maintenance doses, and are happy to continue getting their nightly chews.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Blame the behaviour or blame the bloodwork?

I had an interesting case where a dog presented for his annual exam and his owners began to discuss what had happened 6 months prior. At that time, the owners had noticed a significant weight gain of several kilograms and the dog had begun to resource guard food, very out of character for their middle-aged dog. Sure enough, 6 months prior there was a note in the file documenting a conversation with one of our clinic's up front staff, recommending the dog come in for a physical exam and possible bloodwork. The dog was not seen by a veterinarian at this time, but the owners sought the help of a trainer and began to increase exercise and decrease the calories in his diet. By the time they came in for an exam, the dog's weight was back to normal and the resource guarding had stopped.

I ran a full blood panel on the dog, and the only abnormality was a thyroid level in the borderline-low range. Had the dog presented 6 months prior for his issues, I would have likely started medication, as well as recommended the changes that the owners implemented on their own. I wonder, in some cases of low thyroid levels being blamed for behaviour, did the real improvement come from everything else we did, and not from medication? It's important to remember that correlation does not equal causation.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

In Defence of Prescription Diets

Allow me to preface this with a disclaimer. Fresh, real foods (whether raw or cooked) will always be more healthful for humans and animals than processed food. However, kibble is still the most common type of dog food, and the most viable option for most owners.

When discussing nutrition with dog owners (in fact there’s hardly an appointment where I don’t ask “What’s he on for food right now?”), I encounter a varied range of knowledge. Sometimes people have picked up something from mainstream media, the internet, or other dog owners. Usually they are adamant about what should or shouldn’t be (by-products, grains, chicken) in their dog’s food, yet very few can tell me why.

There are many great brands of kibble available at the pet stores these days, certainly more options than twenty years ago. I remember when Hund-N-Flocken (one of the original “holistic” foods, from Solid Gold) first appeared in Metro Vancouver, there were, like, two places you could buy it (I know this because I had my parents drove me across town to buy it). 

We don’t stock any over the counter foods in the clinic, but do carry some prescription diets, and I have found many uses for them. Usually I will recommend a Medi-Cal/Royal Canin Veterinary diet, and sometimes a Hills or Purina diet.
Believe it or not, many people still buy dog food at the grocery store. There are some people who are simply not going to go to a pet store to buy a higher end brand of dog food. In this case, feeding a maintenance Royal Canin Veterinary puppy or adult food is a huge improvement. If I can start their small breed dog on Dental, all the better for preventative medicine.

For some dogs, the urinary health foods are a lifesaver. Owners may have difficulty preventing bladder stones with anything other than a prescription diet, or a very strict homemade diet. The very best food on the market may not be the very best food for your dog, if he needs surgery to remove bladder stones.

I have seen other dogs who have ongoing gastrointestinal upset, and a prescription “GI” diet is the best medicine I can prescribe. This is particularly true for puppies, especially those with a history of giardia, parvo or another intestinal cell-damaging disease. Owners often tell me they have tried every puppy food or they’ve switched their puppy to a “better” food, only to have unsatisfactory results (try housebreaking a puppy with chronic diarrhea-yikes!). I now tell them to try GI Puppy for one bag, and consider a slow switch to the diet of their choice once we have the gastrointestinal tract functioning normally.

What I love about nutrition is that it can be tailored to the individual, with the goal of providing optimal health. So please keep an open mind about what food might be best for your dog.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Quick and Easy Dinner

Tonight I got home after a lengthy (3 day) delay after my New Orleans conference. By dinner time, we had been up since 3am, and had 2/3 of our dogs home from dog sitters, and had no food thawed. Luckily, I brought home some samples from The Honest Kitchen, that I picked up at the exhibit hall. Jake got to sample Verve Thrive and Keen, and Tiki had Love Embark and Force (yes I am a bad raw feeder and sometimes break the traditional taboos like "don't mix proteins" and "don't feed grains"). I added my sample packs to their bowls, heated up some water in the kettle, mixed according to package directions, and 5 minutes later (during which time Granger went back to the couch and Jake stood and sang) the dogs dove into their dinners. The food looked quite green to me (as in high veggie content) and I haven't looked deep into nutritional analysis or cost effectiveness. So far, I like it, and I'm hoping it can become my new camping/road trip dog food.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

En-route to Nawlins

I'm on my way to New Orleans for a veterinary acupuncture conference for the weekend. Eric and I decided to make a mini-vacation out of it. The lectures I'm planning to attend include feline acupuncture, rehabilitation, and food therapy. On Sunday morning we're going on a cemetery tour, and then I have an afternoon lab with Steve Marsden, which I'm really looking forward to. I'm also on a mission to find a herbal substitute for the medication that Scamp is on. The conference has lots of great vendors and natural products available that I'm planning to peruse.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Falling for Jake Milner

Once, I was playing with Jake, before he was truly “mine”, and as our eyes met, I was transported back 14 years...

People often ask how you can work around animals in need and not “take all of them home”? I have never been a “take all of them home” type. I’m not sure if it arose out of self-preservation, or if I was always particular about which animals to get attached to. Very rarely do I connect on an inner level such that I feel compelled to take anyone home, even with animals that I care a great deal for. In fact, I like to joke that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt that connection to a dog at a shelter...and two of them are still living with me! Of the rest of the handful, one was a dog named Jake. My 14 year old self fell hard for him. He was everything I wanted and needed. Sadly, I was not able to save him, and he haunts me to this day.

Fourteen years later, I made eye contact with Jake Milner and he looked up me with those liquid brown eyes. I remembered my first Jake’s kind brown eyes, one of the only things I can remember both in my mind and in the few photos I have of him. I stopped and stared into this new Jake’s eyes, drawing in a breath as it dawned on me. “Come back to me?” I whispered. And Jake smiled and wagged his tail.

Physiotherapy for Scamp and Ashley

Friday morning before work, I went to my first physiotherapy session to heal my separated shoulder (acromioclavicular injury). I've got several exercises to do as homework, and a follow up visit next week.

Later that morning, I had a visit from Scamp, a foster pup from West Coast Rottweiler Rescue. Scamp has some hindlimb issues, as well as partial urinary incontinence, stemming from a hit-by-car injury. Together with his foster mum, I came up with a physio program to help Scamp. I also did an acupuncture treatment to help with his bladder.

Scamp's exercises include backwards walking, standing with his front feet elevated, weaving through a figure 8, moving between a sit and stand, lifting one back leg at a time, so that he is balancing on the other legs, and taking leash walks on sand. The goal is to increase Scamp's muscle mass in his back legs, and also to help his nervous system learn where his legs are and how to move them properly.

Scamp has a wonderful personality, and will make a great dog for some lucky person. I am very glad to help him on his journey!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Do Dogs Suffer From Nature Deficit Disorder?

We're having a quiet Tuesday night; the dogs are on various comfy surfaces (dog bed, human bed, couch) and I'm curled up ready to settle down with a book (I'm re-reading Merle's Door). We spent a couple hours this afternoon enjoying one of our favourite, isolated, secret dog off-leash spots. I know that I feel better after a short time out in the fresh air, feeling the sun on my skin, walking among the trees. A few minutes of unplugged stillness can feel like an eternity.

My dogs' dad, Eric, says that he believes that modern day dogs need to reconnect with nature, to counter nature deficit disorder. I can't help but think he is on to something, with the huge improvement in behaviour and overall happiness my dogs seem to have as a result of our increased time spent in un-organized, get-back-to-nature hikes where dogs just get to be dogs. Yes it's hard to find those places, especially in a dense urban area, and even more so with a reactive dog. I've made it my mission to find as many secret places where we can all let loose and reconnect with the dirt.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Joint Supplements

I decided to start my three dogs on a supplement for joint support. I've used glucosamine on and off over the years, and usually supplement their diets with an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. They eat raw diets and chew bones, which does provide natural joint supplementation from consuming cartilage. I decided that Fletcher (14 years old) seemed a bit stiff in his back legs at a run/gallop, and Granger (9 years old) had occasional reluctance to jumping, especially after exercise. They get tune ups of chiropractic and acupuncture treatments as needed, but I thought I would start adding something in on a regular basis. Jake (6 years old) is very active, and I'd like to start taking him dock diving, so I thought I'd include him in my experiment.

I wanted something simple to give, in treat form would be preferable. Synovial-flex soft chews turned out to be the most economical for 3 large dogs. I've started Granger (20kg) on two chews and the boy dogs (both over 30kg) on three chews. After 4 weeks, I'll decrease to a maintenance dose, if everyone is doing well. The dogs were very excited about their "treats" tonight and it should be a convenient way to supplement them.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

My own dog's battle with a Mast Cell Tumor

One day I felt a pea-sized lump on the back of Tiki-Granger, my 9 year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Tiki often gets small skin reactions, and being short-furred, it’s easy to feel every little scratch and scrape. However, this lump happened to swell after being prodded, which can be a sign of a mast cell tumor. The next day I took Tiki to work with me, and tried to find the lump, in order to do a fine needle aspirate (FNA). I had to shave her fur in that area in order to find it and to be certain I was aspirating the right area, as it had shrunk down smaller than a pencil eraser. I sent a slide of cells to Idexx for analysis. Later that weekend, I logged on to the Idexx site and read the words I’d be dreading: mast cell tumor.

That night, I arranged for Tiki to have the lump removed the very next day (ahh, the perks of being a veterinarian). My boss did the surgery, as I have too much of a mental block to operate on my own dogs. The incision stretched 8 centimeters down Tiki’s back, and went one tissue layer deep under the skin. 

Mast cell tumors can be deceivingly invasive, and can send tumor cells in all directions like tentacles. They can also metastasize (spread), so Granger also had blood taken for analysis and, a week after surgery, had cardiac and abdominal ultrasounds done (did I mention the perks of being a vet?). 

Granger recovered uneventfully from the anesthetic, and her dad was right there holding her. 

In order to keep her incision safe from her and from our other dogs, she wore a nifty pair of dog pajamas.

After a few days on pain control, Granger was pretty much back to her old self, bugging us to take her on walks and trying to jump on and off the furniture (bad post-op behaviour!). Her incision healed beautifully, thanks to good surgical technique, and I began applying coconut oil once or twice a day when the incision was dry. After 14 days, her stitches were removed, and she was happy to be able to do her rolling-back-scratch-happy-dance once again.

Her bloodwork and ultrasounds were normal, and the histopathology report on her tumor indicated a grade 2 (low) tumor with clean margins. I also ran Idexx’s Mast Cell Tumor Prognostic Indicator panel, which looks at the DNA of the tumor sample. This again revealed a low-intermediate grade tumor with only small risk of metastasis and death from mast cell tumor disease. It was not the perfect result I was hoping for, but I couldn’t have asked for a better surgical outcome for my precious little girl.
Taken 18 days post surgery

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What Is A Mast Cell Tumor?

Practically speaking, all dog owners need to know about mast cell tumors (MCT), as they can affect any dog and can look like anything. They are often found as a lump in the skin, but can also be a lump under the skin (subcutaneous tissue). The easiest way to diagnose them is to take a fine needle aspirate (FNA) of the lump and look at the cells under the microscope. I always send my samples to a reference lab, as in-house samples may miss mast cells if you are using Diff-Quick staining.

Once we diagnose a MCT, the lump needs to be removed with large margins. That means that even a pea-sized lump will need to have at least 3cm of skin taken in all directions, and you remove 1 tissue layer deep (e.g. removing all the skin, but also the layer of fat underneath). Sometimes the tumor is in a bad location, like the limbs or the face, and, in order to get complete removal, an amputation is done.

MCTs should be taken seriously, as they can spread through the skin and also to other organs (metastasize). We can't tell which tumors will do this based on the FNA alone, so once the tumor is removed, we submit it for further testing. We can also run bloodwork and do an abdominal ultrasound to check for signs of metastasis.

The best thing to do is to check your dog regularly, and bring any lumps to your veterinarian's attention, particularly if you have an at risk breed, including Boxers and any Pit Bull or related bully breed.

For a more in depth look: ... C=0&A=1600

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Calico Rabbits

I learned something interesting this week while examining a rabbit named Carrot Bunny Hop. Although a calico cat needs two X chromosomes (i.e. has to be female) to be white with black and orange, calico rabbits can be male or female. Hence, I will be neutering, rather than spaying, Mr. Carrot Bunny Hop on Wednesday.