Monday, March 1, 2010

What You Need to Know Finding the Right Pet

I have just spent quite a while discussing with a client online about getting herself a new cat. Her old one
had to be euthanized a few months ago and it's time for her to move onto to loving a new one. Her experience has been typical. She wants to adopt a young female, not necessarily a kitten, but young. She has all the financial and emotional resources to take excellent care of a cat. She plans to keep her inside (less likelihood of trauma, parasites, getting lost or stolen). She will give it the best veterinary care available including spaying (neutering). She is young enough (early 50's) that she won't have to establish this cat in her will. She is a piano teacher and works at home in a lovely neighborhood. This cat will be classically trained!
Well, no shelter will allow this nice lady to adopt. They want to do a home visit, but they don't have enough
staff to do one any time soon. I wrote the lady a letter of support, that I knew her well, have taken care of her cats for years and that she is an excellent candidate for adopting. No go from a veterinarian. Not good enough. So she must be interviewed and she goes for it. I can't imagine them finding anything notorious about her that would prevent them from approving her for adopting. She finds the cats she wants. They have chosen another cat for her, for what reason I don't know. Finally, this nice lady goes to the back of Cat Fancy Magazine, finds a cat she is interested and makes the call. This cat is $1,500 she is told. She has no interest in showing or breeding cats, she just wants "pet quality", as I had advised her. She will probably end up at the nearest pet store and get a kitten or cat with dubious papers from somewhere in the midwest and a
useless guarantee. "A guarantee is no guarantee" as they say on the Simpsons and this goes for pets, too.
Try to locate someone who has adopted a cat from this person or go to a cat show and meet the breeders and the cats' parents. This is your best way of knowing what you are getting. And by no means buy a cat for $1,500 that you do not plan to show or breed.

What is happening here is breeders breed and sell at the highest cost. The end up with dogs and cats they cannot sell for breeding or showing because of minor  (or major) defects. Too tall, too short, wrong color,
eyes to big, too small, tail too long, too short, nose too long, not long enough. Whatever! Each breeder decides what they think is show quality and realistically they cannot truly tell until the animals is a year or so older. So find a reject from a good breeder (what's good?) and ask for Pet Quality. They know what you are talking about. Pet stores are sometimes good and sometimes not. There's no way to know. The pet store near me in Burke does the best job I have ever seen but they still ask for way too much money. It's a racquet that reminds me of the used car salemen of old. Promises and guarantees they can't keep. You know why they offer guarantees on living, breathing animals? Because they guarantee requires you to bring the dog or cat BACK to the store and get another animal. I've never yet met an animal lover who would do this. That is why the breeders are so sure their guarantees will never be used.

A good breeder will have owners you can talk to who have adopted from them. They will have ribbons and all sorts of proof that their animals are the best. They will have had many tests done at the veterinarian for worms etc. They will be happy to show you the parents, at least one of them. They will want their pet to have a good home and ask you to have it spayed or neutered. They will call you next week to see how things are going.  And they will sell you a pet quality pet for half price.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Deciding on Euthanasia

This is the most difficult decision a pet owner faces in the lifetime of their pets (and sometimes in their own!)
Don't we wish our pets lived longer? We, as veterinarians, are working on that but there's only so much we can do to change nature. We all die sooner or later and pets in many ways bring that reality back to us. We tend to put off thinking seriously about our own death until we have to face the death of those we love, especially when it has to be our own decision to end that life. So pets die and it's not just the death of our beloved companions but the reality of death itself that sets off deep feelings of loss, fear and the unknown.
But, back to pets. When do we decide? How do we know? Is now the right time? Should I wait a bit longer and see if my friend gets better? I don't want to make this decision prematurely. I don't want to prolong suffering. I don't want to come home a pet who passed away alone, possibly afraid, possibly in pain. So many questions and absolutely no way to predict the future. So what do I recommend as a veterinarian? I try to put myself in your shoes, where you are, what your family situation is and how you handle personal loss.
I like to have the family in agreement. Often, if the decision is clear cut to me, ie, the pet is in pain, not treatable and no hope of recovery, I will step in and say it's time. But often it's not that easy. Often, pets hang on, day after day, one day acting better than yesterday, giving us hope that tomorrow will be even better. We get on a rollercoaster of inaction due to changing forces over which we have no control. In some cases owners are going on vacation and don't want to leave their pets in a kennel or with strangers when their last days or near, or they don't want to contribute to the pet's stress by leaving. I know families who have not been on vacation for years because of the guilt they would feel. I know in my own case with 4 cats and 2 dogs, I am not comfortable leaving for more than a few days for fear something might happen in my absence.
I've had clients who were traveling overseas or somewhere they could not be contacted give the the "power of attorney" to me to make the decision to euthanize their pet if illness was so severe I felt it was the right thing to do. That's a lot of responsibilty even for an experienced veterinarian to take on. Bottom line is there is no easy answer. You need to have an honest conversation with your veterinarian who will be gentle and understanding of your emotions regarding what you want for your pet. Some people can never make the decision to euthanize in which case I do my best to keep that animal pain free until they pass away.
Most people hope and pray that their pet will go to sleep on their own so that they will not have to make that awful decision. I'm here to tell you that almost never happens. Pets have a strong will to live and they will
valiantly make every effort to fight death even in pain. It's your responsibility as a loving, mature and responsible pet owner and as the guardian of this wonderful friend who has been by your side through thick and thin, to not allow suffering, to make that decision no matter how much it hurts you, no matter what your 5 year old wants or even your teenager. Most children cannot make such a decision and even some teenagers will want you to hang on forever, so you may not get a consensus at home. At least try to and if you have to blame it on the vet. (Don't say anything bad about me to your children, just that I had to make the pain go away). Thanks.

Digital X-rays

Does your doctor use digital x-ray? Most veterinarians do not. I went to a conference for advanced surgeons learning a new bone surgery and I was the only one in the room who raised their hand when asked who had digital x-rays. It's the same as the difference between film cameras and digital cameras. There is so much more detail contrast and ability to enhance film images. It's also faster so that moving pets still get good images and fewer pets need sedation. That's great for everyone! If you need to measure, it's inch for inch accurate. If you are doing advanced surgery there is software to add to make the placement of plates and screws almost perfect. Until digital we depended on the talent of the surgeon to know how to put bones back together and place the screws in the right places. Most of the time they succeeded with much practice on plastic bones first. It just shows you how far veterinary medicine has come. Everyday it's something new!!
Of course our pets deserve the best, too.

The Real Truth about vaccines, Dogs and Cats

The word is finally getting out. Vaccines last a lot longer than the manufacturers would lead you to believe. They recommend to veterinarians that they give vaccines every year but now we know their interests are financial. Studies show that even Rabies vaccines last longer than the law says they do but that will never change; it's important to have legal dogs and cats so always keep the Rabies shots up to date, even older

There are CORE vaccines and there are NON-CORE vaccines, CORE meaning required and important for the health of your pet. All the veterinary university websites and the American Animal Hospital Association have established similar CORE vaccines recommendations. Basically cats need at least two distemper/upper respiratory vaccines, one of those after 14 weeks of age, Leukemia vaccine if they go outside and Rabies vaccine after 12 weeks of age. Those vaccines will be boosted in one year. The distemper/upper resp vaccines will then be good for 3 years, leukemia and Rabies for one year (there is a 3 year vaccine for cats
but the once yearly type is most recommended). NON-CORE vaccines are not essential for every pet. For example, if you live in an area where there is no Lyme disease, you most likely will not want to vaccinate your dog for Lyme disease (cats do not get Lyme disease!!). If you are a hunter and your dogs have a history of coming home with ticks, Lyme vaccine would be important for that dog. There are now other ticks besides the deer tick carrying disease, so a history of ANY ticks is considered at risk. Other non-core vaccines are canine flu, giardia, bordatella, feline infectious peritionitis and dental disease bacterial vaccines.
Forget feline infectious peritionitis, giardia and dental bacterial disease altogether. Bordatella (only get the
nasal) is important for boarded and groomed pets and dogs who frequent dog parks. Some veterinary immunogists are saying that after the age of 8 dogs and cats need only Rabies and bordatella vaccine (if exposed as above). This is a new recommendation and I am not ready to go quite that far yet but I believe that will be the case in the near future. If your vet insists on a host of vaccines all on the same day, go somewhere else. The maximum recommended number of vaccines in one day in 3. Any further vaccines should be given at least 3 weeks later. This is especially true for small dogs. You can e-mail me for further information at Be sure to put in the line Blog question so I don't send you to spam!

Heartworm tests

Ah the buzz over heartworm tests!! Heartworms are actual worms that form in the heart 6 months after an
infected mosquito infects your dog (and sometimes cats!) Therefore wherever there are mosquitoes there
are heartworms. Dogs who are not on heartworm preventative once a months DO have a more likely chance
of heartworm infection and the preventatives are almost 100% effective so I believe it would be most foolish
to NOT give heartworm preventative. In addition that one monthly pill also prevents most intestinal parasites.
What a bargain! Really! As far as testing, unfortunately there are occasional veterinarians who prey upon the
fears of the public and recommend too many tests. Once a year is plenty and sometimes ( dogs in Alaska for example) can go two years. I live in the mid Atlantic states where we have plenty of heartworm disease.
IF a client is confident they have given the pill without fail for the past 12 months, the liklihood of heartworm
developing is near zero and I will let them go two years. I have not been wrong yet in 35 years. The problem is some vets won't give you a prescription for the preventative unless you have had the test at their recommendation. I think this is highway robbery but there isn't much you can do about it unless you change vets.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, FL

The NAVC is the largest veterinary continuing education meeting and this past week hosted almost 6,000 veterinarians from all over the world. The meeting covers all species of animals, even camels and donkeys, birds and fish. I saw a great T-shirt there that read: "REAL doctors treat more than one species". It was tempting to spend the time at Disney, but there was so much new information and excellent university speakers that the draw to "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" was no match.

One of the most interesting topics is one referencing the vaccine dilemna. There are more than 70 vaccines available now for prevention of disease in animals, some diseases I never heard of. It's a vaccine manufacturer's fantasy: just make more vaccines and they will come. The speaker I heard is renowned in the topic of immunity and immunizations. She supported my view that we are over-vaccinating. Her pets, once they reach the age of 8 only receive Rabies vaccine as mandated by law. I was shocked as I have
never heard anyone propose such restrictions. My experience of 35 years however, tells me this is factual: once animals have had a series of distemper and other vaccines they have permanent immunity. Doing vaccine titers which has been the recommendation to people who want to minimize vaccines for their pets, is useless. A positive titer does not prove immunity and neither does a negative titer prove none. These are expensive tests that veterinarians are recommending and they are absolutely of no value and certainly not worth the expense. Each pet should be evaluated on their exposure threat. For instance if you never go to
Africa, you might not want to get vaccinated for African diseases. The same is true for animals. If your cat never goes outside its chances of getting Feline Leukemia are zero. Why vaccinate?

I am dedicating my blog to help people understand the real needs of pets and what their options are. No need to feel guilty for declining flu vaccine or Lyme vaccine. You know your pet and most people are realizing that somethings are just available and not always required. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What You Want to Hear From Your Vet--The Truth

I'm getting settled in at Companion Animal Hospital in Springfield. It's great because we have similar philosopies that I am more accustomed to. For instance, my view is not every dog and cat should have
every vaccine known to veterinary medicine. Every pet is an individual and certain situations deserve
individual consideration. This is quality veterinary medicine. People in Northern Virginia are for the
most part educated and understand over vaccinating. As Charlotte says "it's all about the animals" .
That's why we are here. Furthermore, having been in practice for 35 years, it is clear to me that when
you treat animals and clients with respect, do the right thing and give them options rather than demands,
you build a great, loyal clientele. You practice medicine with a clear conscious, knowing that what you
are doing is what you would do for your own pets. Veterinarians who are doing this work for the
business aspect will always be struggling and burning out personally because they know that what they
say are lies and misrepresentations. Thankfully, these vets are few and far between. But when a vet says
to you, your pets needs DHLPP and Rabies vaccines every year, that's a lie. When your vet says
your dog needs flu vaccine, corona, etc., etc. or that your cats need 4 distemper vaccines as kittens they
are nursing your wallet, not your pet. It's such a relief being here at Companion Animal Hospital in
Springfield, because they always do what's in the best interest of the pet and not in the interest of their
net income. You can be sure that here, we are animal lovers and not solely businessmen.