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Wellness: Health Care
The Dangers Snail Bait Poses to Pets
Awareness and prevention of “shake and bake” toxicity

Spring is one of my absolute favorite times of the year. The arrival of new bulbs and blossoms breaking through the earth makes me giddy. It’s the official kick-off of another season in the garden and I look forward to the earth’s welcoming party. But spring also brings snails, followed close behind by the perennial gardening-season danger, snail bait.

Gardeners around the country use snail bait to keep plant-munching slugs and their ilk out of gardens, and it constitutes the most common poisoning agent in my community. Unfortunately, it’s extremely toxic when ingested by pets. During the spring and summer months, I treat pets poisoned by snail bait at least once a week.

The toxic substance found in snail bait is a compound called metaldehyde. Malicious poisoning is generally not the issue. The majority of toxicities are accidental, either due to lack of knowledge of its dangers or thinking that the compound has been properly stored or applied: Dogs are notorious for getting into things they shouldn’t or into places you think they can’t!

Snail bait is formulated in chewable pellets that are flavored with molasses, apple and bran to attract the snails. Unfortunately, our dogs find this a tasty treat as well. Snail bait is also available in liquid and powder formulations, which can get onto paws and be licked off with normal grooming. Additionally, many of these products also contain insecticides, which make the exposure potentially even more toxic.

Snail bait is highly toxic and even small amounts are enough to cause poisoning: less than a teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight can cause life-threatening clinical signs in your pet.

What are the symptoms of snail bait poisoning?
Signs of poisoning begin quickly after the bait is ingested. Generally, the first clinical signs observed are anxious behavior with mild twitching. This progresses to uncontrollable and severe twitching, followed by seizures and possibly death if not treated promptly.  

Severe twitching equates to constant muscle contractions, and this can raise the body temperature so high that permanent brain damage can result. This clinical course has lead to the colloquial emergency room term of “shake and bake syndrome.” Click the link to watch a short video that demonstrates what mild clinical signs of snail bait toxicity look like.

Making the diagnosis
Generally, the appearance of the twitching patient is characteristic, and a diagnosis can be made even if there is no known history of snail bait exposure. A radiograph may be recommended to try to evaluate stomach contents. If this is a known exposure, remember to grab the package containing the snail bait so that your veterinarian can evaluate the active ingredients.

What is the treatment?
There is no direct antidote for snail bait toxicity and treatment is aimed at controlling the clinical signs. Treatment includes possible induction of vomiting, supportive care with IV fluids, medications to control the twitching or seizures, “stomach pumping” and enemas to help rid the body of the toxin, and charcoal to help absorb any substance that remains in the body.

At home, your yard should be hosed down with water to dissolve any remaining bait and your dog should be restricted from the area for a two-week period.

Will my dog return to normal following toxicity?
Chance of recovery is largely determined by how much poison was ingested, how quickly therapy was initiated and the general health of your pet. While this is a serious type of poisoning, most pets fully recover if treated promptly and properly. If your dog is not successfully treated, death can occur within 4 to 12 hours.

I love my dog, but I also love my beautiful garden—what are alternative ways to keep snails at bay?
For the above reasons, I do not use toxins for snail control in my yard; I try a more natural route and accept that some of my greenery will have “snail art” throughout the leaves. But I also realize that this approach is not for everyone, so, what are the options?

Wrapping self-adhesive copper barrier tape (available in many garden supply stores) around the rim of plant pots or containers deters slugs and snails with a tiny positive electric charge that is given off by the tape.

One of my favorite alternatives is to purchase predatory snails known as Decollate snails. These snails do not pose a health hazard to pets, birds or other mammals and they have been used in gardens and landscapes throughout the temperate regions of the United States for nearly 150 years. This famous predator snail comes out of the leaf mulch or soil at night and eats the eggs of slugs and snails as well as feeding on the young snails. The Decollate Snail can live for two years and lays a small amount of eggs on a regular basis so there should always be many new protectors in your garden.

You can also purchase various commercial snail traps. There are also many “home-made” snail traps options as well. For more information, watch this video  demonstration of how to control slugs organically, helping to protect your garden without fear of harming your pets.

As always, prevention is better than cure and hopefully this article has raised your awareness of the dangers of snail bait. If an accident does happen, it is critical to seek veterinary attention immediately. If you suspect snail bait ingestion, please go directly to your veterinarian immediately as every minute counts!

Wellness: Health Care
Three-Legged Dogs Do Adapt
Second Opinion
Three Legged Dog

About a year ago, I walked into a busy waiting room, called a patient’s name and was rewarded with the kind of life lesson usually delivered by dogs. A woman in her early twenties (I’ll call her Lauren), with cropped, bleach-blond hair and a healthy tan, struggled to hang onto her frisky retriever’s leash. From a distance, I thought I saw one of her arms in a sling, hence her difficulty, and rushed right in with, “Can I give you a hand?” The question got away from me and found its mark before I realized my grievous mistake — Lauren had no right hand. Lauren was an amputee.

Not my best opening gambit, but, thankfully, Lauren laughed and took me up on my offer. By the end of our consultation, I was completely in awe of her refreshing attitude toward the change in her body’s appearance. She had lost most of her right arm (and she was righthanded) in a car accident, and I loved the fact that she had absolutely no inhibitions about wearing a spaghetti strap top, laughing off her physical limitations and refusing to be defined by them. Her confidence and manner said it all.

It was the first time I had ever witnessed, in a human, a sentiment I have perceived in so many three-legged dogs over the past twenty years. Amputation conjures mental images of civil war, genocide, unsightly stumps and puckered scars from which we avert our eyes, swallow hard and try to act as though we are perfectly comfortable with raw disfiguration. We forget that such talents as sleight-of-hand magic are for people, not other mammals. Sure, reservations and psychological projections are perfectly logical, but our dogs are focused on far weightier matters such as the absence of pain and the ability to ambulate. They remind us that, for them at least, Pride is not a deadly sin.

My job requires me to convey precisely this reassuring message to anxious owners battling two relentless and alltoo- common demons — fear and denial. So when Zoe, a seven-year-old brindle Boxer, and her owner, Ellyn, walked into my examination room, I knew I had my work cut out.

“I’ve been to two other vets,” said Ellyn. “They both think it’s a badly torn ligament in her knee and she needs surgery.”

In my experience, Boxers are always fun, their bouncy and exuberant demeanor a challenge during my hunt for clues as to the cause of a lameness. Perhaps this was why Zoe struck me as all wrong. She carried her right hind leg completely off the ground, her wet eyes conveying a “don’t want to play” attitude.

No one wants to hear, “It’s not a torn ligament, it’s a tumor,” but a brief palpation followed by a set of damning x-rays brought us to a predictable moment in which I would attempt to justify an amputation.

Ellyn looked lost, trying to stay with me, clawing her way back after being felled by my diagnosis and shocking therapeutic option.

“Zoe actually has three really positive factors in her favor,” I told her. “First, the tumor is in the knee joint, destructive but slow to spread to other areas of her body. With an amputation, there is a good chance Zoe might enjoy a normal lifespan. Second, this is a back leg and not a front leg. Since dogs carry about 60 percent of their weight up front and 40 percent in the back, losing a back leg is usually a little easier than losing a front. Finally, and most importantly, Zoe is already a three-legged dog. She doesn’t put weight on her right hind leg. Zoe has completely adapted to life on three legs. Believe me, she’ll be grateful to be rid of a useless appendage weighing her down, causing her pain.”

It took a while, but Ellyn finally agreed to the surgery. On the day of Zoe’s discharge from the hospital, I watched their reunion from afar. Ellyn was visibly nervous, afraid for the transformation in her dog’s appearance, but what impressed me most was this woman’s determination to connect with the dog she loved. When Zoe trotted out, Ellyn never hesitated; she was all about reassurance in her eye-to-eye contact, sneaking a sideways glance at the incision as she fussed and hugged and convinced her Boxer that nothing between them had really changed.

A month or so later, I checked in with Ellyn by phone.

“What have you noticed since the surgery?” I asked. “I mean, when you take Zoe for a walk, does anyone say anything?”

“Sometimes,” she answered. “I passed two women the other day, and the first loved her up and never said a word about her missing leg and it was great, but then another one got all upset and worried about how Zoe could possibly cope, and I found myself getting really angry at her.”

Hmm, I thought. Perspective can be a funny thing.

“And what about your other Boxer? How’s he acting around Zoe?” “Absolutely no different,” said Ellyn. “It’s as though it never happened.”

I smiled, hesitated and said, “I like that,” thinking, once again, it takes another dog to see all that matters, proving a point that what counts hasn’t changed one little bit.

Wellness: Health Care
Idiopathic or “Old Dog” Vestibular Disease
Vestibular signs in dogs are often incorrectly referred to as a stroke

A fairly common reason for a veterinary visit is the concern that an older dog has had a stroke, when he suddenly starts walking like a drunken sailor with his head tilted. I know of other cases, where these sorts of symptoms are assumed to be a brain tumor and the dog is euthanized—maybe unnecessarily. (The condition plays a role in the new Hallmark movie, Duke.)

Well, I want to shed some light on a much more common and less concerning cause of these and other disturbing signs, something known as idiopathic vestibular disease, in case it is something you ever experience with your own geriatric dog.

Idiopathic (meaning unknown cause, think: idiot) vestibular disease is a syndrome that looks really, really bad, but usually gets better all on its own with little or no treatment.

The vestibular system
The vestibular system is composed of portions of the brain and ear and is responsible for maintaining a sense of balance. When something goes wrong with this system, it’s like being drunk on a rocky boat. Dogs with idiopathic vestibular disease have some combination of the following signs:

  • A head tilt,
  • An unsteady gait, loss of balance, or falling over,
  • Circling in one direction,
  • Eyes rapidly moving from side to side, known as nystagmus,
  • Sudden vomiting.

These videos show a dog with mild, but very typical, vestibular signs and another dog with more severe signs.

Now for the caveat: These clinical signs are unfortunately not unique, or diagnostic for, idiopathic vestibular disease and other things can cause this same presentation. These can include (yes) a brain tumor, an inner ear infection, inflammatory disease or sudden bleeds into the brain—to name a few. But with that being said, when the symptoms seemingly appear out of nowhere in an older dog, I always recommend a “wait-and-see approach,” treating symptomatically and supportively, as there is a good chance of improvement.

Wait-and-see approach
For a dog showing the above signs, I first discuss the possible causes. Next, I recommend blood work and a blood pressure check to make sure there is no “obvious” disease. I discuss the availability of an MRI to evaluate the inner ear and brain. Although an MRI allows for the best evaluation of disease, it is often not pursued due to cost (about $1,500 here in the Bay Area).

I examine both ear canals, and if an infection is suspected, I discuss antibiotic therapy, as inner ear disease is one of the possible causes of vestibular signs. The inner ear (pictured below) is something you cannot see during an exam because the eardrum obscures the view to the inner ear. The eardrum is like a closed door that sits in front of the middle and inner ear. However, if there is a nasty looking outer ear and an inflamed eardrum, there is a chance that inner ear disease could be present as well.

If the dog’s clinical signs are so severe that they cannot walk, I then recommend supportive care with IV fluids and injectable anti-nausea medications. Urinary catheters are sometimes placed for hygienic reasons. If clinical signs are mild, pets can often be managed at home with over-the-counter meclizine (for the feelings of “motion sickness” they experience). We also provide instructions for general nursing care as well as how to protect from falls.

The conversation ends with discussing a very loose rule of thumb: If there is gradual or complete improvement within 72 hours, it is likely idiopathic vestibular disease and additional diagnostic testing is not necessary. If there is no improvement or progression of signs, it is likely something much more serious, such as a tumor, and an MRI would be recommended to reach a definitive diagnosis. With idiopathic vestibular disease, marked improvement is usually evident in this time frame, with the pet returning to normal in 7 to 14 days (although in some dogs, a head tilt will still persist).

It should also be noted that this is not a painful condition, and my recommendations stem from the fact that euthanasia is a permanent decision, so why not wait and see, giving time a chance? There is a high likelihood that improvement will be seen and the difficult decision of euthanasia can always be made at a later date if there is no improvement or if there is a change in your pet’s quality of life. I feel there is reason to hold out hope and be cautiously optimistic, as idiopathic vestibular disease is the most common form of vestibular disease in dogs. It is the direction I would take if it were my own boy experiencing this.

Please note: There are times, however, when a physical exam points undeniably to a brain tumor, but these neurological exam findings are beyond the scope of discussion, so feel free to ask me any questions.

News: Guest Posts
Apps to Track your Dog’s Medical Details
Florence Ion

How do you keep track of your dog’s medical records? Many of us manage with some combination of a calendar and manila folders jammed with vet records. Finding important information can be frustrating, time-consuming and, in an emergency or when you're away from home, nerve-wracking. Whether your pup has special needs or you just want to keep track of annual checkups and vaccinations, there are a few apps out there that can help. While most keep track of very simple things, such as your dog’s medications and next appointment, a few go a step farther.

For iPhone and iPad users, Dog Medical Agenda stores all of your dog’s medical information (such as microchip information, allergies, last exam, surgeries and medications), including the infrequent visits to the acupuncturist or masseuse. For a new puppy, there’s a vaccinations tab that tracks which shots your dog should be getting at certain stages in his first year of life.

  

There’s also a tab that hooks up with your veterinarian’s contact information from your iPhone’s address book and stores it for future reference. The best part about Dog Medical Agenda is that you can password protect all of the data. You can then export all of that information into iCal or email it to share with family members or back-up caregivers or dog-sitters.

The only caveat is that each version of the app is priced differently, so you’ll have to pay three times over: $3.99, $4.99, and $6.99 for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac app, respectively. The developers at Jupiter Engineering hope to offer iCloud integration in a future version of the app.

For Android phone and tablet users, Pet Master Pro is the best app for keeping track of your pet’s health information. For $4.99, the app comes with a Daily Log feature that enables you to record information such as your dog’s dietary history, weight and behavior or just keep track of general notes. You can set notification alerts for upcoming appointments.

   

The app has a nice, clean interface, and also stores typical information, such as allergies, insurance provider and medical conditions. Unfortunately, there are no notifications to help remind you to update the daily logs, which is a shame because there are so many of them.

There’s a free version of Pet Master available, though it’s ad-supported and some of its features are only available as a one-month trial. However—and this goes for both apps—the convenience of having your dog’s vital health information organized in digital format is worth the price of a box of dog biscuits. 

Wellness: Health Care
Vet Advice: Treating Your Dog's Diarrhea
Common canine ailment responds to home care and familiar remedies
Dr. Silver recommends serving rice water to dogs can help relieve diarrhea

Question: Help! my dog has diarrhea—is there anything in my medicine cabinet or on my kitchen shelf that could be used to save both of us a visit to the vet?

Answer: As a veterinarian, this author sees many patients with minor problems (such as the dog in this story) who could be treated at home safely and effectively. At the same time, there are dogs whose problems, if not addressed early enough by a veterinary professional, suffer more than they need to.

Probably the most common complaint received by veterinarians is that of diarrhea. It’s such an easy condition to identify: The smell is unmistakable, as is its chocolate-pudding appearance. Most of the time, diarrhea is caused by a dietary indiscretion or stressful circumstances, and is self-limiting. Diarrhea is not a disease; rather, it is a symptom of a dysfunction of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). When associated with bad food or food-borne pathogens, diarrhea serves to rapidly remove pathogens from the GIT before they have a chance to be absorbed and cause more damage.

Warning Signs That Diarrhea Needs Medical Attention
• Black, tarry stool, or stool with copious amounts of fresh blood (bright red)

• Loss of appetite

• Marked lethargy

• Frequent vomiting

• Signs of abdominal pain (bloating, groaning, panting rapidly or avoidance response when belly is touched)

• Lasts longer than 48 hours (Since it can rapidly weaken puppies and geriatrics, or dogs with chronic diseases, they may need veterinary attention sooner.)

However, when your dog has mild diarrhea and doesn’t meet any of the above criteria, the best things to start with are a 24-hour rice-water fast; white rice balls that contain active probiotic cultures; and the oral administration of an intestinal protectant such as kaolin clay and pectin (KaoPectate™) or a suspension containing bismuth subsalicylate (PeptoBismol™). Loperamide (Imodium™) can be given if the diarrhea doesn’t resolve easily; caution is required when using this OTC medication in Collies, and don’t use it for more than five days. (Another caveat: While dogs can tolerate PeptoBismol or KaoPectate, these medications should never be given to cats, as they contain salicylates, which are potentially toxic for felines.)

Fasting your dog allows her GIT to rest and recover from whatever insult it has received. During the fast, make sure she has plenty of rice water to drink. Rice water is the creamy liquid that results from boiling white rice in water. It’s important to use a good quality white rice; “minute” rice does not work and brown rice has too much fiber in it, which does not help firm the stool because it speeds the transit of digested material through the colon.

To make rice water, boil one cup of white rice in four cups of water for 20 to 30 minutes (depending on your altitude) or until the water turns creamy white. Decant the liquid and allow it to cool. You can serve the rice water to your dog as often as she will drink it. If she isn’t interested, mix a teaspoon of chicken baby food (or another flavor that your pet likes) in the rice water to increase its palatability. (Hint: One cup of white rice makes a lot of rice water!)

Probiotics—living bacterial cultures intended to assist the body’s naturally occurring gut flora in reestablishing themselves—may also help speed recovery. These live microorganisms are found in yogurt, for example, and are also available from your health food store or your veterinarian as high-potency powdered acidophilus cultures, which are more effective than yogurt for diarrhea. Mix these cultures into the rice water that you are serving your pet during its fast.

After the fast is over, start your dog back on a bland diet of white rice cooked with extra water and mixed with small amounts of baby food for protein and flavor; for each cup of dry rice, use two to three cups of water. Continue to add probiotics to her food, using at least 2 to10 billion viable bacterial organisms in each meal you serve; to determine the level of “viable organisms” or “colony forming units” (CFUs) present in a probiotic such as acidophilus, look on the label—a reputable manufacturer will list that number.

Dosages for the two intestinal protectants mentioned above are approximate. Use the liquid medication, not the tablets, and give about 1cc of liquid for each 10 pounds of body weight up to three times daily. The bismuth subsalicylate has more anti-inflammatory activity, so may work better on patients with abdominal cramping.

If the diarrhea is very severe, you may want to also give your dog some loperamide (Imodium AD™), which can help to reduce fluid loss until the rice-water fast, white rice and acidophilus, and the dog’s own healing system can overcome the diarrhea. The published dose for loperamide in dogs is 2 mg (the standard-size capsule) for each 40 - 45 pounds of body weight, two to three times daily (this translates into no more than 0.1 mg per pound).
 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Cloning and Mummification
The lengths we can go to preserve our precious pups

Following a recent euthanasia, the owner asked me to collect some of his Labrador’s fur. I was under the assumption that he wanted a tangible fragment to remember his dog by, but when I handed him a locket of fur, he told me that he was going to “look into cloning him.” He asked me if fur was enough and if I knew of any cloning resources. I was at a loss. I realize these questions were, in part, triggered by his grief, but it got me thinking about how far people go to hold on to their best friends.

Genetic cloning became popular back in 1996, when scientists were able to duplicate a sheep named Dolly. Today, this high-tech genetic engineering is becoming more accessible—for those with a spare $100,000 lying around.

Currently, the procedure is available at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in South Korea. The process involves collecting fresh eggs from the egg donor, removing the original nucleus and replacing it with the cell of the deceased animal. This “piece” of the original, living pet is injected into the egg, fused together, and then transferred into a surrogate mother. After the normal 63-day gestation period, two identical animals are born.

Some of the controversy arises from current overpopulation of pets and the fact that so many living in shelters need to find homes or face euthanasia. Not to mention the fact that the money it takes to clone a deceased animal could go very far to help those still living.

Another controversy stems from the fact that studies have shown that despite “identical” cloning, you are not going to end up with the same exact dog that you had before; it may “look” identical, but may not behave identically.

All that being said, however, should one judge or deny another the joy of a second life with a best friend that has meant everything and more to him or her? What if it is a therapy dog, who is a cornerstone and foundation for a dependent person? Just thinking …

Well, if cloning is not your gig, there’s yet another option for preserving your pet: mummification. Believe it or not, more than 1,500 people across the world have contacted a business called Summum, which says it’s the world’s only mummification company. The Salt Lake City, Utah-company claims a clientele from around the world, including celebrities as well as us “common folk.”

Summum’s mummification process takes three months, and begins with the removal and cleansing of the organs, which are placed back inside the body, followed by hydration of the body by submersion in a tank for more than 70 days. The body is then covered with lanolin and wax, followed by layers of cotton gauze and a fiberglass finish. Lastly, the body is encased in a steel or bronze animal-shaped casket.

The body of your pet will still look like the day it died—even thousands of years later. This process is a little more affordable than cloning, at just under $24,000 for canine companions. And, to return to where we started, Summum says mummification has tremendous implications for cloning, as it is feasible to later remove DNA by drilling into the casket.

Would you ever consider cloning or mummifying your four-legged best friend?

News: Guest Posts
Canine Cancer Study Seeks Dogs
Free supplements and discounted vet visits provided
pink paw canine cancer

The National Canine Cancer Foundation needs dogs for participation in a two-year observational study on the effects of natural supplements in combating cancer. The target start date is May 2012.

The study is funded by Elimay supplements, and will take place in Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and San Diego. Each dog will be required to go to the vet every three months. All supplements will be provided by Elimay. In many cases, vet visits will be paid for or discounted.

Three groups of dogs are needed:

Group 1
Healthy dogs ages 2 to 6 years are eligible. Each dog will take Elimay Longevity, Elimay Omegas and Elimay Immunity. (Dosage to be determined.)

Group 2
Dogs ages 4 to 9 years with history of cancer in their lines and/or breed are eligible. Each dog will take Elimay Longevity, Elimay Omegas,  and Elimay Immunity. (Dosage to be determined.)

Group 3
Dogs of any age with a verifiable diagnosis of cancer are eligible. Each dog will take an Elimay supplement(s) to be determined by doctors at Elimay. (Dosage to be determined.)

For more information or to participate in this study, contact NCCF co-founder Sara Nice at snice@wearethecure.org.

Please include your location, age and breed of your dog, which group the dog would fit into and why you would like to participate.

Wellness: Health Care
Advantage vs. Advantix: An Important Difference
Monthly flea prevention warning for homes with dogs and cats

Bayer makes two different flea control products that can easily be confused with one another, leading to potentially lethal complications in our feline family members. Advantage has formulations approved for both dogs and cats, while the product Advantix is intended for use in dogs only. Advantix causes permethrin toxicity in cats, which is a common emergency I see, especially during the spring and summer months, when fleas are at their peak of peskiness. 

What exactly is the difference?
Advantage is a topical solution that can be applied to either your dog or cat’s skin once per month for flea prevention, and it contains the active ingredient imidacloprid.

Advantix is also a topical solution for the treatment and prevention of fleas, ticks, biting flies, mosquitoes and lice on dogs. The product’s active ingredients are imidacloprid and permethrin. It is the addition of permethrin to the recipe that makes the deadly difference.

Dogs can metabolize permethrin effectively, resulting in a safe product for them. However, cats cannot metabolize this ingredient, and will suffer from toxic effects if exposed. Cats are exposed to Advantix in a variety of ways, including direct application, close contact with a dog who has been treated within 48 hours, or if they have groomed a doggy pal’s fur after an application.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms in cats will generally manifest within a few hours, but it can take up to three days following Advantix exposure or application. Symptoms include tremors and twitching (sometimes just the ear tips), hyperexcitability, drooling, depression, loss of coordination, vomiting, seizures, loss of appetite and, potentially, death, if not treated. One of the major concerns is an extreme elevation in body temperature from the continuous muscle activity due to tremoring.

What is the treatment?
Treatment consists of decontamination of the skin with a bath, tremor and/or seizure control and supportive care. Medications are given as needed by an intravenous injection to control these clinical signs. General supportive care takes the form of intravenous fluids to keep the cat hydrated, as well as vital-sign monitoring and providing a safe environment so the cat does not harm him or herself during the period of incoordination and disorientation. Clinical signs of tremors generally last for 12 to 24 hours but may persist for up to 48 to 72 hours.

Prognosis for recovery is excellent with early treatment.

Prevention tips
If you share your home with both dogs and cats, it is not advisable that you treat your dog’s parasites with Advantix mainly because accidents can occur. I often hear a distressed owner say that they “accidentally” applied the wrong one, so I feel that it is best just to take that risk out of the equation, especially when there are so many other flea control options available.

If you do use canine Advantix in a home with cats, apply the medicine to your dog while your cat does not have access to the area or to the dog and allow for the medicine to fully absorb into your dog’s skin—when you can no longer visibly see the oily medication on the fur—before allowing your cat back into the same room. I have treated cats that were obsessive groomers and decided the fur between “their” dog’s shoulder blades needed to be cleaned.

And lastly, always double-check labels and read all the fine print; you can even have someone just “double-check you” as another safety precaution.

Culture: DogPatch
Foreign Bodies
Tasty, disgusting, edible or not— everything’s fair game for curious critters

Foreign bodies combine mystery, intrigue, incredulity and guilt to make for a fascinating and fickle assortment of surgical diseases. There seems to be no limit to what our pets will try to cram into their mouths; size, shape, texture and taste often playing little or no part in an oral obsession that for many owners can become a difficult and costly vice to curb. So why do our dogs, cats and even ferrets crave foreign bodies, and why are so many of these pets repeat offenders?

Young animals of two years of age or less are most commonly afflicted, and so, like inquisitive toddlers intent on putting everything into their mouths, simple curiosity plays a part. It has been suggested that in dogs, it reflects the need to hunt, that it is instinctive and a throwback to a time when their prey was eaten in its entirety. Some animals appear to enjoy the act of chewing, experimenting with the feel of an object in their mouths. My favorite theory, and one I believe I can safely share with the majority of Labrador owners, is that “it was there, so I ate it.”

Undergarments—socks, stockings, pantihose, panties—often prove to be popular offending items.Here, perhaps, another etiology applies. In much the same way that bear attacks on people may occur more frequently among menstruating females, the olfactory stimulation of ripe underwear of either sex might prove too tempting for your curious pet.

Foreign bodies related to food make perfect sense. Peach pits, corn on the cob and all manner of bones can prove irresistible to the scavenging instinct of a dog. Those little plastic pop-up timers that tell you when your chicken or turkey breast is perfectly cooked are drizzled in tasty fat, and despite being made of tasteless plastic, slip down nice and easy until they reach the small intestine. The teriyaki stick laden with succulent meaty pieces may not go down with quite the same ease, but who cares until the sharp wooden skewer begins piercing its way through a variety of abdominal organs on its errant journey through the abdomen?

For some pets, the object is simply curiosity. How else can we explain the allure of a diamond ring, a needle and thread, a fishhook and nylon leader, a backpack, bottle caps, coins, gold balls, a leather leash that remains attached at the collar, string still tethered to a helium- filled balloon? The list of irrational objects is endless and limited only by one’s imagination.

Occasionally, the problem can become an addiction.Maisie was a two-year-old Weimaraner with a penchant for stones. Her tastes went beyond the occasional pebble, brick end or fragment of rock because Maisie’s drug of choice was the gravel driveway of her home.We’re not talking about one or two rocks, here. Sometimes Maisie might binge on 50 to 100 large pieces of coarse rock that would either accumulate in her stomach or obstruct her small intestine.After her third surgical procedure, the owners realized that it was far cheaper to put asphalt on the driveway than to continue to pay her medical bills.

But sometimes we choose to ignore what our pet’s behavior is telling us. Consider the case of one Golden Retriever who underwent gastric surgery twice after swallowing a tennis ball whole. The catch here is that the dog had two quite separate surgeries to remove the exact same ball.That’s right; the owners wanted her favorite ball returned to them after the surgery, and gave it back to the dog to play with once again.

* * * * *

Inside Snowball's Abdomen, I find things much as I expect; loose, lazy switchbacks of pink bowel replaced by a lumpy knot of bruised intestines. Carefully, I inspect the surfaces of the duodenum and jejunum, looking for purple areas of perforation where the foreign body might have piano-wired its way through the entire wall, allowing digesting food to leak into the abdomen.Most of her guts may look like twisted telephone cord, but the tissues appear to be healthy aside from the presence of a thin linear material trapped inside the intestinal lumen.

I was trained to start at the point of fixation, in this case, Snowball’s stomach. The luxury of pulling a linear foreign body out of a single incision is unusual, especially for an object as intent on getting out the other end as this one, so opening the stomach affords the surgeon his or her first glimpse of the culprit as well as an opportunity to cut the anchor, breaking the drawstring effect and releasing the tension on the bowel.

It takes two more small incisions in the intestine to remove the entire problem, and after everything is sutured up and Snowball is resting comfortably in recovery, I head to the waiting room.The Duggan family sits watching television, but they are up on their feet as soon as they see me approach.

The answer to this mysterious foreign body had been in front of my eyes the whole time. Mrs. Duggan was wearing pumps. Mr. Duggan, a pair of well-worn work boots. Kerry Duggan sported a pair of old sneakers made unusual by one feature common to both feet—crisp, white, brand-new shoelaces. Guess what happened to the old ones?

News: Guest Posts
Advances in Veterinary Care Come at a Cost
How do you put a price on love?

In his recent story for The New York Times, William Grimes provides an interesting look at recent advances in veterinary care, especially in the treatment of cancer (including bone marrow transplants), urinary-tract disorders, and even dementia. Thanks to improved technology, drugs, surgical techniques and holistic care—there are many more options for keeping our dogs and cats healthier longer. All of which comes as a comfort to those of us with pets.

But as with human medical care, these interventions come at a price, often a high price, for animals who are only very rarely covered by insurance. Bills can easily run into the thousands of dollars, even the tens of thousands, making for a difficult cost/benefit calculation. Grimes suggests it comes down to the question: “Precisely how much do I love my dog?”

I’m not sure that’s really the question. Sometimes loving your dog might mean forgoing expensive treatment. Extending a dog’ life by a few months with painful surgery, frustrating crate-rest and a long, slow recovery—regardless of the cost—may not be the most loving gesture.

If you read the story, be sure to check out the comments. The story sparked an interesting conversation about how we value our dogs, with many personal, heartfelt stories. I’d love to hear how Bark readers have navigated these difficult questions.

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