Friday, October 24, 2014

Howl-O-Ween Safety Tips

This Saturday, October 25th, I'll be on the Real Estate show at 8am on CKPM 98.7 FM talking about Halloween safety for pets! Halloween is one my favourite times of year, but there are lots of potential safety hazards.

Of course, I love Halloween candy, but chocolate, as we all know, is not safe for our pets to eat. If your pet accidentally eats chocolate, phone your veterinarian right away, with the amount and type of chocolate, to determine if a toxic dose was ingested.

Fletcher has always loved October
We also need to be cautious with candles, either in Jack-o-Lanterns or around the house. Pets could accidentally start a fire or injure themselves with the flame. Scented candles can also trigger breathing issues in some dogs and cats, so please be careful.

On Halloween night, pets should be confined to a room away from the door, with special toys or treats to keep them occupied. A Kong toy stuffed with their regular food makes a fun way for them to eat dinner. Pets should be brought indoors by 4pm on the 31st, and only taken outside for potty breaks on leash. Dogs and cats may be spooked by noises or scary costumes, and may escape through an open door or even over a fence. Make sure everyone is wearing their collars and ID tags; you can also speak to your veterinarian about permanent identification in the form of a tattoo or microchip.

Fireworks may also frighten pets this time of year. Again, keep your pet confined indoors to a small room and consider playing the radio or tv on a relaxing station to help drown out noise. Some pets may benefit from wearing a Thundershirt. This is a tight t-shirt that provides a calming effect for some animals. Thundershirts are available online and at many pet stores. Our clinic also carries a product called Feliway, which is a happy cat pheromone, that sends a chemical signal to your cat that he or she is safe and secure. This can be used in a room diffuser or as a spray. There is also a version for dogs called Adaptil. Please don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian to discuss keeping your pets happy during fireworks, as there are medications we can use for more severe cases. 

Me and Tiki, dressed as Charlie Brown and The Great Pumpkin
One last note, costumes are only for pets who enjoy them! My own dogs don’t mind being dressed up, but we always make it a positive experience with lots of treats. All of us at Shaughnessy Veterinary Hospital wish you and your pets a safe and happy Howl-o-Ween.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Veterinary Chiropractic: All It's Cracked Up To Be?

Some people may have noticed my absence from the clinic this summer. For five weeks straight, I attended the Postgraduate Essentials in Animal Chiropractic Course at Options for Animals in Kansas. At the end, I passed some scary exams in order to become certified with the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association.

On the drive down, I managed to take in some sights, and knock two more states off my list to visit (2 more and I'll have all 50!). Now that I've been back for just over a month, I've had a chance to see some patients specifically for chiropractic treatments, as well as integrate it into my regular appointments. Both my clients and I have been very pleased with the outcome, and my patients seem to be enjoying the treatments.

What's it good for?

Any pain or lameness (limping), including seniors or patients who have had an orthopedic surgery, any chronic health issues, including "weird stuff" like chronic anal gland issues, and patients of all ages in order to promote health and wellness.

Does it hurt?

Many patients find the treatments enjoyable, especially when they realize they feel better! Certain patients may be temporarily painful, and treatment plans altered as needed. Specific adjustments may hurt briefly during the treatment; I warn owners when that might be expected.

Will I hear a cracking sound?

The "crack" or popping sounds (called cavitation) that humans may hear during their chiropractic treatments generally don't happen in animals. If you hear it during your pet's adjustment, it is probably one of my own joints!

Is it safe?

Chiropractic treatments done properly, by a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (or Doctor of Chiropractic) who has been trained to do chiropractic adjustments on animals, are very safe. Additional training is necessary, and trained individuals can be certified through either the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA) or American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA).

Call to book an appointment at Shaughnessy Veterinary Hospital at 604-945-4949.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Beautiful Jessie

Fletcher had a lump removed yesterday, so he spent the evening recovering at home, groggy and out of sorts from his general anesthesia. Working on my own dogs is always a challenge, as I turn from vet-mode into mom-mode (I didn't even do the surgery!), and work myself up with worry. Fletcher's recovery was uneventful, and while he was still at the clinic on fluids, I took the younger dogs with me for a trail run to decompress. I took Fletcher home, fed him dinner, and catered to him all evening. By bedtime, I had him settled in his usual place next to my side of the bed. Eric is away, working on a film set out of town, so I had the king-sized bed to myself. Fletcher didn't want up on the bed when I offered (he usually prefers his own bed), but Tiki took her usual place at the foot on my side. Jake was curled up in the corner of the living room sectional, and didn't lift his head when I kissed him goodnight. Exhausted from the eventful day, we all went right to sleep.

Sometime in the night, I woke up slightly, and could feel Tiki in her usual place on one side of me, and another dog pressed against my other side. In the dark, I reached down and felt Fletcher sigh in his sleep, still cozy on his bed. I assumed Jake had joined us from the couch, and went back to sleep, surrounded by canine love. When I woke up, there was an empty spot on one side of me, and Tiki still snoozing away. I went out to the living room, and there was Jake, still curled up in the exact same spot and position I had left him in the night before. I must have imagined him beside me, I thought. But I didn't really believe that. I knew I felt another dog beside me. I wondered if it was Jessie, my childhood dog, and Fletcher's first best friend. Could she have visited to watch over us both?

When I drove home from work today, my iPhone was on random, and as I turned at the stoplight towards home, it played a poem, one of my favorites by Edgar Allan Poe

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love
I and my Annabel Lee

And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Today is the best day ever

Last Friday, I had every intention of taking my dogs for a good off leash hike deep in the woods. They'd been a bit neglected as I tried to handle 4 dogs, while we babysat Opie, who had just had a happy reunion with his parents that morning. I got home from work in plenty of time to take them somewhere nice. Instead, I drank tea on the couch and cuddled with Tige, who was happy to have me to himself again.

Just before dinner, I took the dogs to our local secret spot, where they got to race around in the long grass, and Tige got to chase the Chuck-it. I looked at their happy faces, and remembered that dogs don't think about whether we're going to our favourite place, or just a quick romp along an ugly, industrial road. Every walk is good, every chance to enjoy life is worthy of happiness. So I relaxed and let myself have a good time. After all, according to them, every day is the best day ever!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

New Joint Supplement Chews

I've previously discussed using joint supplements in my own dogs here and here. I still use Synovial-Flex chews daily for my two younger dogs. Recently, the same company has come out with TRP-Tri-COX chews for more advanced cases of joint pain, so I started 15 year old Fletcher on them.
My three dogs on a hike last month
Once again, I found them super easy to give (my dogs go crazy for the soft chews) and I was amazed at how much of an improvement I saw in his mobility. I now recommend Tri-Cox chews for dogs who need a stronger natural anti-inflammatory for their joints, but still recommend Synovial-Flex chews for less advanced cases.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Evaluate Your Options

Lately I've been reading up on the responses to Sheryl Sandberg's famous Lean In TED Talk and book. I heard it mentioned several times at NAVC, and I had never heard of it, so I made a little note in my iPhone to look it up when I got home. Something about it didn't sit right with me. What if I don't want to be a CEO? Am I letting down the girl power movement, and all the women who came before me, if I don't always put my career first? This timely response, written by a veterinarian, takes spin on work/life balance that really articulates everything I was feeling.

What really struck a cord with me was that she extended her discussion of work/life balance to include men and women, with and without children, who want time away from being a veterinarian. I turned 31 today, and have spent the last 3 years being a full time veterinarian; I spent the first 28 becoming one. So last month, I decided I need to take a breather this summer. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do.

I think most people have some place they'd like to travel to, a place they always fantasized spending months or a year backpacking around. Most people might imagine Europe, Australia, or maybe Southeast Asia or South America. For me, I've always loved classic Americana: diners, highways, neon signs, the National Parks; I romanticize them the way other people might romanticize the Eiffel Tower.

So, when I graduated high school, instead of a typical gap year in Australia, my sister (who had just graduated from university) and I road tripped across Canada and the United States. I can say that I have been to every province and 46 American states. I'm still missing Hawaii, Alaska, Oklahoma, and....Kansas. My favourite vacations involve a highway and music on the stereo. So when I asked myself, "Where would you go?" the answer was obvious. Road trip.

But I wanted more than just a mental break and a bit of fun. I wanted to work towards being the veterinarian I want to be. So I decided I would spend the summer in Kansas, and check at least two things off my bucket list in one go.

What's in Kansas? A 5 week intensive veterinary chiropractic course, at Options For Animals. Yes, I'll be going back to school for most of my summer vacation, and travelling through 10 or so states on the way there and back. I want to return refreshed, and with an ever expanding knowledge of animal health and well-being. I'm so fortunate to be a part of clinic that shares my vision for what we want to offer our patients, with an understanding boss and colleagues who are there to pick up the slack while I "lean out" for some much needed time off.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Best Things In Life Are Free

In December, I read two great books, which I enjoyed for very different reasons: A Grumpy Book by Grumpy Cat and Plenty In Life Is Free by Kathy Sdao. 

Plenty in Life is Free is meant to call into question the dog training philosophy Nothing in Life is Free (often abbreviated NILIF, which I pronounce in my head as "nil if", which made me wonder if PILIF should be pronounced like pilaf?). As Kathy Sdao points out, trainers and veterinarians (Ashley The Vet = guilty!) love to espouse NILIF to get people to take back control of their ill-behaved dogs. She gives a great explanation of the downsides of complete NILIF, although I can’t imagine anyone took my advice that seriously. I was just hoping dogs might learn something if their owners asked for a sit before dinner. Nonetheless, her arguments are solid and her solutions are just as easy to implement. 

I love the straightforward, simple-yet-scientific approach, particularly her concept of SMART. SMART stands for See, Mark, and Reward Training. See your dog doing something you like? Mark the behaviour and give a reward. I've consciously tried to incorporate SMART into my daily life with my dogs (using whatever treats come in our monthly Bark Box), with great success.

For example, I've made a point to reward the dogs on and off for checking in and waiting for me on off leash hikes (called a variable reinforcement schedule). This is actually a throw back to "old fashioned" dog training. When I got my first dog at 9 years old, my grandma told me to keep a bit of food in my pocket and every time the dog came up to me on her own, give her a piece of food. This was how my grandpa taught all his dogs to stick close to him, while farming in the 1940s and 50s. Now, I have to tell Tiki “Go” to send her back out for free time when she constantly checks in, because OMG FOOD!!

If you have any interest in dog training, definitely read Plenty in Life is Free. And before you think that I am some sort of master dog trainer, please note that as I sit writing this in a coffee shop, there are visible bite marks in the bottom left corner of the book, courtesy of whichever one of my dogs grabbed it off the coffee table while I was at work.

Still, it was better than their review of the Grumpy Cat Book...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Wonderful Thing About Jake Milner

I recently brought Eric this mug back from Disney's Animal Kingdom:

Since Jake's nickname is Tige (a reference to his tiger stripes), Eric will say "Tige? Is that you?", which has prompted me to sing a little song to Jake for the last month.

The wonderful thing about Tiggers 

Is Tiggers are wonderful things!

Their tops are made out of rubber

Their bottoms are made out of springs!

They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy

Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun! 

But the most wonderful thing about Tiggers

is I'm the only one!!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Alma Matters

The dictionary defines alma mater (derived from the Latin for fostering/nourishing mother) as "the school, college, or university that someone attended". In my mind, with my tendency towards hyperbole and vivid imagination, I imagine an Ivy League campus, where I'd be on the rowing team. In my own experience, I never felt such a deep, romanticized connection with either university I attended. I didn't, as I imagined, leave school with fond memories, and go on to wear a well-worn sweatshirt from my beloved alma mater on Sunday mornings while lounging around the house or walking the dogs. I've never really liked school, and I never really reminisce about the wonderful times I spent at university.

After my third year of vet school, I had a summer job working at the Winnipeg Humane Society, essentially as a (supervised) veterinarian. I loved that job more than any other work I had ever done, and got out of bed every morning excited to go to work. I spent the whole summer in Winnipeg, and felt that I gained more from those few months than the rest of school combined. At the end of the summer, I left behind some wonderful friends and colleagues, who were just as sad as I was to see me go back to Saskatoon. Two of the doctors that I worked with gave me a parting gift of a WHS t-shirt, a gift that moved me to tears and that I wore with pride. I loved it so much, and everything that it represented, that I still have it, despite its well-worn, holey appearance.

Now on Sundays, I get up and, without realizing it, reach for my WHS t-shirt; Eric will laugh,"Oh, you're wearing your dog walking shirt again." Seems I found my alma mater after all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Some Days

Fittingly enough, as I drove to work that Friday, I mulled over my love/hate relationship with my job. When it's great, it's the best job in the world. I can't imagine doing anything else. When it's bad, it's heartbreaking and takes a piece of your soul that you never get back.

It was one of those days. I had two euthanasias scheduled, and a third happened quickly when an emergency appointment revealed the dog was dying of terminal cancer. We literally had no more room to store any remains until our crematory pickup.

One euthanasia had been scheduled by the rescue that I work closely with. Doing outreach in marginalized communities is the most difficult type of work to be doing, and they handle it with compassion and patience. The dog I was scheduled to euthanize was senior, with serious health problems that had been neglected for years, and a flea infestation so bad I could watch them scurry across his back between his remaining hairs. I couldn't in good conscious let him return to his owner, even with treatment, as I would be sending him back into the same situation that caused the problem. His owner signed his euthanasia consent form and left in tears. I walked him to the back.

He walked happily beside me, took treats, and enjoyed the tasty canned food we fed him for his last meal. I drew up the syringe that would end his life and placed it on the counter. I looked into his trusting eyes and he wagged his tail at me.

In all my clinic experience, private practice, the teaching hospital, a shelter, I've always understood the necessity of euthanizing animals, even in cases where I don't agree 100% with the decision, because it is a part of reality. This is my job. But as I looked at this dog, for the first time ever, I couldn't do it. I just couldn't.

Some days I hate my job. I was stuck between a rock and hard place. I couldn't go through with it, yet I couldn't send him back where he came from, and I couldn't move forward with saving him without his owner's permission. I also couldn't risk the owner feeling that we had stolen the dog after she asked for help; if word spread through the community that we were in it to take everyone's pets away, no one would trust us and let us help their animals.

After several phone calls to the rescue co-ordinator, and several anxious hours waiting to hear confirmation that his owner would surrender him, we got the phone call. His owner would relinquish all claim to him. By now he'd had a few good meals and flea treatment, and had several people lined up to foster him.

Yes, some days I hate my job. But not today.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The final question

Last year, I was emailed a two year follow-up survey from my alma mater Western College of Veterinary Medicine. Overall, I feel it is one of the best veterinary schools and my degree prepared me reasonably well for practice. The final question on the survey had me take a moment to ponder.

"If you could do it all over again, would you still become a veterinarian?"

Hmm...all of it?

I thought about the mental/physical/emotional and financial costs of school ("Vet school broke me" one friend lamented years later), after spending my whole life trying to get in. I thought about doing all of that for the privilege of entering a profession with huge mental/physical/emotional and financial costs. I thought about all of us who paid the ultimate price with our marriages and relationships. I thought about doing all of this against a constant backlash of "vets are evil/ignorant/drug-pushers/money-grubbers".

I also thought about my clients who trust me with their most beloved family members, who are scared and confused until they have me to tell them what to do. Clients who won't listen to advice from the internet or from their sister's neighbor's cousin's friend who's "had dogs forever", until they've run it by me. I thought about puppies who are ecstatic to see me at their second visit, about split second decisions where I literally saved a life, and about helping a soul pass peacefully to the other side.

On one particularly bad day, I texted my veterinary BFF, Meredith, saying "If I'd known the price I would pay to do this, I'm not sure I would have", and she responded with a supportive message that ended "Just remember you have friends who know firsthand the price you pay every day".

Oh, and the final question? I clicked YES.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Protecting the Herd

Fletcher and Opie protect their friend Ryker
Recently we implemented a new in-house titre test at our clinic. To practice using the testing kit, we ran the blood samples of our staff dogs. Fletcher, at 15 years old, is still protected well over a decade after his last vaccine was given. Opie, at just over a year old, is still protected from the vaccines he received as a puppy. Ryker, who was 18 weeks old at the time of testing, was found to have no positive titre to distemper, parvo, or adenovirus, despite receiving an excellent vaccination protocol. We were very shocked to learn this. In the scientific literature, dogs like Ryker are referred to as genetic "non-responders" or "low-responders". Since they do not respond to vaccination in the same way the rest of the population does, they are more susceptible to getting sick. This is where the concept of herd immunity becomes crucial.

If the dogs around Ryker (referred to as the "herd") are properly vaccinated, the viruses don't have an opportunity to spread and he is protected, even if his immune system isn't working like it should. It's up to us to make sure our pets are protected, for their sake and for the sake of the dogs around them.

In Ryker's case, we decided to vaccinate him with a different brand of vaccine and he was able to respond with a positive titre. Want to learn more about titres? See my recent post about them here:

Vaccine Titres

Monday, January 13, 2014

Checking Titres

At Shaughnessy Veterinary Hospital we are very pleased to announce that we now have an in-house vaccination titre test for dogs. This allows us to determine if a dog is protected against the most common viruses we vaccinate against, parvovirus, distemper virus, and adenovirus*. Previously, we had to send out blood samples to be tested at the lab, at a significant cost. We are now able to offer this service to our clients for less than $40.

What is a titre?

A titre is a blood test that tells us how much antibody a dog has to protect them against a certain virus. A certain level of antibody is needed for a dog to be protected from getting sick from the virus.

Who might benefit from a titre?

Any dog with an unknown vaccination history, or one who hasn't had a booster in recent years. Any dog who is in for an annual wellness exam and might be due for a vaccine. Any puppy who has completed their puppy vaccines, just to make sure they had a normal response to vaccination. Any dog who has had a vaccine reaction previously, or who has an illness that prevents them from being vaccinated. There is no downside to checking a titre!

How can I get a titre test for my dog?

Make an appointment by calling 604-945-4949. We'll make you an appointment with one of our veterinarians, who can arrange for the titre to be run in hospital.

*Rabies vaccination cannot be substituted with a titre.