By MEGAN TREMELLING, DVM, LVS

This summer, a Wisconsin woman died of an infection caused by a bacterium called Capnocytophaga canimorsus, and a Wisconsin man suffered serious illness requiring multiple amputations from the same organism. The infections are believed to be derived from contact with family pet dogs. This is scary stuff for those of us who share our lives with dogs, but there is no need to panic about Capnocytophaga.

Capnocytophaga species are found in the mouths of healthy dogs, cats, and humans. Normally it does no harm, but under certain circumstances, it can cause disease. Studies estimate that up to 74 percent of dogs and up to 57 percent of cats have Capnocytophaga living in their oral cavities. In short, if you have a dog, odds are very good that it carries Capnocytophaga.

In spite of how common Capnocytophaga is, however, serious infections are exceedingly rare. Nobody knows exactly how many cases occur, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received only 12 case reports in 2017, and only about 200 cases have been reported worldwide since this type of bacteria was first identified in 1976.

Capnocytophaga infections can be transmitted by bites from dogs or cats, or through close contact with an animal, especially contact with its saliva. Since humans also frequently carry Capnocytophaga, it is possible to develop an infection without any animal exposure.

Most of the time, Capnocytophaga is not your main concern after a dog or cat bite. Other bacteria, such as Pasteurella, Streptococcus, and Staphylococcus, cause many more infections. Rabies is uncommon in the United States but is so deadly that any possibility must be taken very seriously. Lastly, deep puncture wounds of any origin can result in tetanus.

When Capnocytophaga does cause problems, they can vary widely. Local cellulitis (tissue swelling, redness, and pain) is the most common finding associated with bite wounds contaminated by Capnocytophaga. In more serious cases, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body such as the heart, brain, or joints. When the infection affects the whole body in a condition called sepsis, there can be long-term effects from infection, including gangrene that necessitates amputations; heart attacks; or kidney failure. About 3 in 10 people who develop sepsis due to Capnocytophaga will die.

Most people who are exposed to dog saliva don’t get Capnocytophaga infections because their immune systems protect them. However, there are factors that can affect your immune system’s ability to keep you safe. One of the most serious risk factors is having had your spleen removed as a result of an injury or illness. Other risk factors include alcohol abuse, old age, or immune compromise due to disease such as cancer, diabetes, or HIV, or taking certain medications such as chemotherapy or glucocorticoids. Some people do get sick with no known risk factors.

Capnocytophaga infections are hard to test for. The bacteria are very difficult to grow in a lab. Fortunately, new technologies such as PCR amplification and gene sequencing are becoming increasingly useful for identifying challenging organisms like Capnocytophaga. The good news is that Capnocytophaga can be treated with common antibiotics, and so far antibiotic resistance isn’t a big problem. However, treatment must be started quickly, without waiting for a lab to confirm the infection.

There are ways to reduce your risk of a Capnocytophaga infection. Don’t let your pets lick faces, wounds, or irritated skin, and wash with soap and water after handling your animals. Minor bite wounds should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. See a health care provider if the wound is deep or serious; if it becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen; or if you feel feverish or weak. You should also see a doctor if the dog was acting strangely or is not known to be vaccinated against rabies. Most people who are going to become ill with Capnocytophaga will do so within 3 to 5 days after exposure, but it can take as little as a day. If you have any risk factors such as immune compromise, you should see your doctor right away for any bite wound that breaks skin, even if you don’t feel sick.

By MEGAN TREMELLING, DVM, LVS

Ever since humans realized the value of animals, we have wanted to provide some kind of medical care to keep them healthy. And for as long as medical care has existed, people have realized that what works for humans does not necessarily work for animals. However, the importance of veterinary medicine to human health has always been clear.

Veterinary medicine is as old as written history, with Sumerian texts making reference to doctors who treated oxen and donkeys. At the time, illness was believed to be due to malign spiritual forces, and seers and priests were considered to have a role to play in protecting the health of both humans and animals. However, clinical practitioners had developed a tradition of practical medicine in spite of them.

One of the earliest veterinarians, in the sense of a healer who treats animals but not humans, was Shalihotra, son of Hayagosha, said to have lived in Uttar Pradesh, modern India, sometime in the 3rd millennium BCE. The Sanskrit work credited to him is a large treatise on the care and husbandry of horses, including notes on the anatomy of elephants. He was one of many writers in the Indian tradition that discussed veterinary science and may have been trained by the same teachers who laid the foundations for Ayurvedic medicine in humans.

Legend has it that the Chinese veterinarian Zhao Fu was practicing on horses during the Western Zhou dynasty in the 10th century BCE. Unfortunately, he was performing bloodletting procedures that have not stood the test of time. Textbooks of traditional Chinese veterinary medicine were produced regularly and discussed the use of acupuncture and herbal medicine.

By the time of the Roman Empire, veterinarians were recognized as professionals whose work was important enough to the state that they were exempted from public duties, like architects and physicians. The most important veterinary work at that time was the care of horses because they were important to the Roman military, to the post and to the huge horseracing industry.

Modern Western veterinary medicine is usually dated to 1761 when Claude Bourgelat founded the first European veterinary college in Lyon, France. The idea of improving animal care by training practitioners with rational scientific principles soon caught on. Veterinary schools began opening around the world. Daniel Salmon who spent his career in public health and identified the bacterium Salmonella earned the first DVM degree granted in the United States in 1872.

Working in clinical practice or public health, as many veterinarians do, does not lend itself to fame and fortune. Many of the most prominent veterinarians are people whose names are not familiar to the average person, although their work has freed us from diseases that have plagued humans since antiquity. In 1892, Leonard Pearson introduced tuberculin testing to the American dairy industry. In the 1920s, Swiss-born veterinarian Karl Friedrich Meyer developed safe canning procedures for food, saving many from botulism. French veterinarian Camille Guérin worked with physician Albert Calmette to develop one of the first vaccinations against tuberculosis for humans in 1921.

In recent years, American veterinarian James Thomson developed the first human embryonic stem cell line. Australian veterinarian Peter C. Doherty won a Nobel Prize for his research in immunology. Two veterinarians have gone into space, including Martin J. Fettman, a veterinary clinical pathologist who flew on a NASA mission in 1993, and Richard M. Linnehan, who undertook no less than 4 space flights from 1996 to 2008.

Many veterinarians have written about their experience. Most famous of course was Alf Wight, who wrote under the pen name James Herriot. His endearing stories of mixed animal practice in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1940s, published in a series including “All Creatures Great and Small,” inspired innumerable young people to pursue veterinary medicine (your correspondent included) and were made into 2 films and a television series. Louis J. Camuti and Baxter Black are two other veterinarians who have charmed audiences with their writing.

Of course, there are many veterinarians who have turned their talents from practice to less clinical fields. They have served in the U.S. Senate and the Cabinet. The first President of the Gambia was a veterinarian, Dawda Jawara. John Boyd Dunlop, who developed the first practical pneumatic tire in 1887, was a veterinarian. Peter Ostrum, who as a child played Charlie in the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie, is now a large animal veterinarian in New York. Debbye Turner, who took time out from veterinary school to be Miss America in 1990, is a popular TV host and motivational speaker.

Finally, in case there remains any doubt that veterinarians have greatly contributed to the quality of life for humans as much as for animals, no review of famous veterinarians would be complete without a mention of Elmo Shropshire, famous for recording the immortal Christmas song, “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”

Did you know that 12 million cats and dogs are diagnosed with cancer every year? With new advancements in veterinary medicine, veterinarians can now diagnose and treat cancer with greater success. There are even veterinary cancer specialists who can provide expert cancer care to your pet. Early detection is crucial when it comes to cancer. Cancer is the number one cause of disease-related deaths in older cats and dogs, and detecting cancer early can make all the difference in the life of your pet.

For young and adult pets, schedule annual visits with your family veterinarian for a full checkup. For older or senior pets, schedule checkups every six months. Animals age quickly, and regularly-scheduled checkups will allow your vet to determine any changes in your pet before they may become severe issues.

Look for these early warning signs of cancer.

Be observant of any changes in your pet’s physical appearance and behavior. Not all cancer warning signs are apparent right away, with some changes developing over time.

Here are the top 10 warning signs of cancer in cats and dogs. If you notice any of these, contact your veterinarian to check things out as soon as possible. Depending on the cancer type and stage, your pet’s health can deteriorate very quickly, so it’s always best to get an exam. When in doubt, get it checked out.

1.) Enlarged or Changing Lumps and Bumps
Once or twice a month, take a few minutes to feel your cat or dog’s body for any lumps, bumps or abnormal swelling. Check for swollen lymph nodes, which can be a sign of lymphoma. Lymph nodes are located throughout the body but most easily detected around the jaw, shoulders, armpits, and behind the legs. Make a note of any bumps (their size and location) to make sure they aren’t growing or changing shape over time.

2.) Sores that do not Heal
If your pet has an open wound that will not heal, it could be a sign of something more serious, such as an unresolved infection or cancer. Tell your veterinarian as soon as possible and have it checked out.

3.) Chronic Weight Loss or Weight Gain
If there is no change in the diet or food, but your pet is gaining or losing weight, this could be a sign of illness. Weight loss or weight gain can indicate a possible tumor in the stomach. Another related symptom could be chronic vomiting or diarrhea.

4.) Change in Appetite
Is your dog or cat eating more than usual? Eating less than normal? Are they trying to eat foods they were previously uninterested in? Drastic changes in your pet’s appetite could be a sign of cancer.

5.) Persistent Cough
There are many reasons why dogs might have a persistent cough. For younger pups that were recently adopted or placed in boarding, a persistent cough could be a sign of kennel cough. In older dogs, a dry persistent cough could indicate a tumor near the heart or lung cancer.

6.) Persistent Lameness or Stiffness
You may find that your pet is limping on one foot or no longer wants to walk or exercise. Persistent lameness or stiffness can be a sign of osteosarcoma or bone cancer.

7.) Unpleasant Odor from the Mouth
A foul smell from the mouth can be a sign of oral cancer. Not all pets that have oral cancer exhibit pain or have trouble eating, so it is a good idea to consult your veterinarian if they have persistent bad breath.

8.) Difficulty Breathing, Eating or Swallowing
A tumor in the mouth or neck can put pressure on the area and make it difficult for your pet to eat or drink. A tumor near the esophagus, nose, or lungs can block airways, making it harder for your pet to breathe.

9.) Difficulty Urinating or Defecating
Dogs and cats can develop tumors in their urinary tracts, which can make it difficult to urinate. Similarly, if you see your pet is having trouble defecating or there is a sustained foul odor from the rear, a mass near the anus may be the culprit.

10.) Bleeding or Discharge from Any Opening
Consult your veterinarian if your pet experiences any unexplained bleeding or discharge from any opening. Bleeding is a common sign of cancer and other illnesses. Oral cancer can cause gums to bleed. Nose cancer can cause the nose to bleed.

Regular wellness exams will provide your veterinarian the opportunity to check for signs of cancer, but you can take a more proactive approach to your pet’s health by looking for these warning signs regularly. Your furry family members depend on you to keep them healthy for as long as possible. And they’ll be sure to thank you for catching their cancer early with cuddles, love, and loyalty!

Courtesy of PetCure Oncology

By KERRI WIEDMEYER, DVM, WVRC

Bloated may be how we all feel after a nice holiday meal, but Bloat in a dog is a very different kind of bloat. Bloat, otherwise known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), is a very serious condition that occurs when the stomach fills with gas and then rotates, causing further distension and a series of severe complications.

How Do Dogs Get Bloat?

That is the million-dollar question. No one knows the exact cause of bloat; however large breed, deep-chested dogs are more likely to bloat than other breeds. Older dogs are also more commonly seen with bloat than younger dogs. In some cases, eating or drinking large amounts and then being active is thought to cause bloat. There is also thought that eating out of elevated food dishes may increase chances of bloat as dogs may swallow more air when eating.

Unfortunately, there are many times when dogs present with bloat with no predisposing cause; and, although it is much less common, small breed dogs can bloat.

What Does Bloat Look Like?

Dogs with bloat can be restless and unable to get comfortable or lay down. They will hypersalivate/drool and try to vomit, but nothing will come out. They can have very distended abdomens that can be very painful. They may also have very fast heart rates and changes in breathing. In severe cases, they may collapse or be unable to stand. It is very important that if you see any of these signs that you have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. As veterinarians, we understand that each dog can show different variations of these signs; if there is any concern, an owner can always call a veterinary clinic and ask their opinion.

Why is Bloat an Emergency?

Bloat sets off a cascade of damaging events to the body. As the stomach fills with air, it expands and starts to cut off blood returning to the heart. The expansion of the stomach then puts pressure on the diaphragm, making it difficult for the dog to breath. The stomach then starts to rotate, cutting off the blood supply to the stomach. When the stomach rotates, it can entrap the spleen and thus cause damage or cut off blood supply to the spleen and even rupture blood vessels. All of these changes lead to the dog going into shock. Blood pressure drops, arrhythmias and internal bleeding can occur as well as sepsis. Unfortunately, death can occur in a matter of hours if bloat goes undetected and untreated.

All of these changes happen very quickly, which is why it is so important for an owner to recognize the signs of bloat and get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

How do you Treat Bloat?

Unfortunately, there is nothing that an owner can do at home. It is imperative that the dog gets to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Typically, a radiograph will be performed to diagnose a GDV. These dogs then require pain medication, intravenous fluids and emergency surgery immediately. The surgery consists of de-rotating the stomach back to its normal position and then tacking it to the body wall. This is called a gastropexy. If the spleen was involved in the twisting, then it may have to be removed as well. Even after the surgery is performed, these dogs are not out of the woods. There are many complications that can still arise after surgery and it is very common for these dogs to be in the hospital for multiple days. As many as 15 to 30 percent of dogs will not survive bloat even with immediate care and surgery.

Preventing Bloat

Today many people are putting their minds at ease early on by getting prophylactic treatment done. If you own a large breed dog that is more likely to bloat, a gastropexy can be performed when the dog is spayed or neutered.

This procedure will not prevent the stomach from distending with gas, but it will prevent the stomach from twisting/ rotating. The “twisting” is what makes a GDV a surgical emergency. Preventing this by tacking the stomach at an early age will likely save an owner from some sleepless nights and an expensive emergency surgery.

Other considerations to try and prevent bloat are feeding several small meals a day, discouraging drinking large amounts of water at one time, allowing some time between eating and activity, and feeding on the floor.

Hopefully knowing some of these preventative tips will decrease the chances of your furry family member bloating; however, if you see the signs listed above do not wait! Get that loved one to a veterinarian.

By MEGAN TREMELLING, DVM, LVS

In January, someone tried to take a peacock on a United Airlines flight, claiming it was an emotional support animal (ESA). Last June, a 50-pound dog that was traveling on Delta as an ESA badly mauled the face of another passenger. So much for the friendly skies.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not opposed to the idea of ESAs. Animals can be an incredible balm to the human psyche even when it is in perfect working order. Mental health is extremely complex, and if somebody needs their dog with them to be able to manage, I’m not going to criticize. Fortunately, the TSA views ESAs as aids that allow people to live their lives, going a step beyond the job of “pet,” and so ESAs are allowed in airports and airplanes. Traveling with a disability can be challenging enough without the airlines placing undue burdens on the people who need these animals to get by.

On the other hand, when an airplane cabin starts to resemble a petting zoo, and passengers are being taken away by ambulance, clearly there is a flaw with the system. A big part of the problem, of course, is the irritating phenomenon of people pretending their dogs are ESAs, or even service animals, when they really aren’t.

Why would someone pretend to have an ESA or service dog, instead of admitting that their dog is a pet? For one thing, traveling with a pet can be challenging. People are understandably wary of putting their pets in cargo, given some tragedies that have occurred there. Whether in cargo or in the cabin, there are fees to be paid, and the airline may turn your pet away if there are already too many animals on the flight. ESAs and service dogs, however, sometimes travel for free, and are more likely to be accommodated in the cabin regardless of the number of animals on the airplane or the size and weight of the dog.

This does not change the fact that pretending your pet is an ESA is clearly unethical in all cases, and is criminal in some areas. There is quite simply a limit to the number of animals that can fit on a given airplane before things get disruptive. Like disabled parking permits, those spaces should be reserved for people who actually need them.

In an attempt to reduce abuse of the system, some airlines have begun to use more stringent restrictions on ESAs. Delta, for example, has quite an extensive list of animal species that are not permitted on board. United now requires customers with ESAs to bring “a veterinary health form documenting the health and vaccination records for the animal as well as confirming that the animal has been trained to behave properly in a public setting.”

Owners are notoriously bad at assessing their own animals’ behavior, so I can see why the airlines want to get a third party to vouch for the dog, but many veterinarians are wary of going on record stating that their patients have been trained to behave properly. For one thing, even a dog that is well-mannered under ordinary circumstances may find the conditions on an airplane to be a little much. Let’s face it, after standing in line at security, navigating the hubbub of the airport, and then getting squeezed for hours into a cramped space that makes deafening noises and ear-popping pressure changes, even the humans are just about ready to bite somebody. There is no way that I or any other veterinarian can tell whether a dog that behaves nicely in the clinic will continue to do so in flight.

People who genuinely need ESAs will be the ones to suffer if they can’t produce the paperwork the airlines now expect. Even service dogs from an accredited training program, which are expertly-trained to tolerate quite challenging conditions without causing trouble, may find it hard to get on board.

It remains to be seen how to best balance the needs of people with disabilities who rely on their animals to function and the other passengers’ basic expectation of reasonable safety. Veterinarians, representatives of the air travel industry, and disability advocates are attempting to work together to find a way to ensure that genuine service dogs and ESAs are accommodated without putting other passengers at risk. But one thing is clear: pretending your pet is a service animal is not okay.

By KERRI WIEDMEYER, DVM, WVRC

Getting a new puppy is a very exciting time in anyone’s life!

It can be such a fun time with much to consider and learn: when to vaccinate, how to train them, what to feed them, etc. But before you even bring that bundle of joy into his or her new forever home, you may have to do some puppy proofing.

Environment

It is very important to make the puppy’s environment safe, and it is similar to baby proofing your home. Use baby gates to keep the pup in or out of rooms. Hide electrical cords, and keep them out of reach. Consider crate training your puppy to keep them both safe and as a potty training tool. Puppies should never be left unsupervised with toys or bones as they may choke or swallow them. Puppies may also try to chew or eat non-edible items in the house, such as clothing items, furniture, carpet, etc. Proper training is very important to avoid such problems.

Toxins

Foods. This is not an all inclusive list, but these are some of the more common foods that are either toxic or cause problems in our pets

  • Chocolate and coffee can cause GI upset, arrhythmia, seizures, potential death
  • Grapes/raisins can causes kidney failure
  • Xylitol products (sugar-free gum and other sugar-free products) can cause hypoglycemia, liver failure
  • Macadamia nuts can cause lethargy, lameness, CNS depression
  • High fat foods can cause GI upset and pancreatitis
  • Fruits with pits can cause GI obstruction
  • Chicken/turkey bones can cause possible GI perforation and upset
  • Moldy garbage can cause GI upset, tremors, seizures
  • Onion/garlic can cause anemia

Medications/Drugs. Alcohol, marijuana, over-the-counter human medications and prescription medications should never be given to dogs or cats without consulting a veterinarian. Also, animal medications should never be given to an animal that they are not prescribed for as this could result in unforeseen complications or illness.

Household products. Once again, this is not an all-inclusive list, and these are items that commonly are ingested, as they may taste good.

  • Rat poison. There are several different kinds: Anticoagulants can cause bleeding, Bromethalin can cause severe neurologic problems
  • Cholecalciferol can cause Vitamin D toxicosis
  • Antifreeze can cause kidney failure
  • Household cleaners (effects vary depending on the product)

House plants: All plants should be investigated if your pup is going to be around them. This is just a short list of common plants.

  • Sago Palm can cause GI upset and liver failure
  • Oleander, Foxglove, Lily of the Valley, Milkweed (can be toxic to the heart)
  • Rhododenrons can cause GI, cardiovascular and neurologic signs
  • Araceae family can cause oral irritation, GI upset, rare respiratory disease

As stated above, these lists are the most common items that we see causing problems. If there is any concern about something a new puppy gets into, please contact your veterinarian to be certain. Now that you have a better idea of how to maximize the safety of your new addition to the family, do not forget to have fun and enjoy every minute with your new puppy!

By MEGAN TREMELLING, DVM, LVS

To some people, leaving your dog at the veterinary hospital for any reason sounds harsh, like leaving a child at one of those ghastly orphanages in Dickens books. There’s no doubt that most dogs would rather be in their own homes, but we do our best to make them feel at home with us. So what are the accommodations really like at the hospital?

A comfortable bed is step one, and we have bedding in a variety of thickness and layering options. Some dogs want to have enough blankets to burrow under. Orthopedic mattresses are a great thing for older dogs whose joints get creaky. There are a few dogs that simply cannot tolerate being in a kennel at all, and though I strongly recommend teaching all dogs to accept a kennel for this reason, we have worked out ways to confine the kennel-phobic without them feeling trapped.

Many owners bring a blanket or article of clothing that smells like home. I think this is a great idea for a pet that is wary of novelty. Once a pet has settled in, of course, their own smell is on their bedding. Most dogs are quite willing to go back into their kennels after they’ve been out for tests or treatment; they recognize it as their own safe space.

Nobody wants to sit in bed all day, even if they’re sick, so all dogs are walked several times per day if their condition allows. There are a few small dogs that are trained to use pee pads, but even those are given the opportunity to take a little exercise. (Exception: When I had a 5lb puppy hospitalized overnight and it was -5°F, I did not take the little mite outside; she would have frozen solid.)

Boredom can be a problem even with pets that are ill enough to be hospitalized. Visits from the owner help to pass the time. We keep a supply of stuffed animals around, carefully chosen for safe construction, and provide them to any patient who looks like they might want something to snuggle. If snuggling turns to chewing, unfortunately, the dog loses stuffy privileges, but we can resort to treat-stuffed Kongs if the patient’s condition permits.

Speaking of food, the phrase “hospital food” takes on a very different meaning when you’re talking about the animal hospital. It isn’t bland, boring, cafeteria-style stuff like you might see in an old-fashioned human hospital. Since many of our patients are feeling too sick to eat properly, we stock a variety of delicacies to tempt feeble appetites, along with several therapeutic diets for those that are ready to take more substantial meals.

Some of the dogs that visit us are really excited to see that there are other dogs on the premises. They would love to make friends with everyone. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, we can’t allow playtime among the patients, but if they want human friends, they’re in luck. Everyone who works at our clinic loves dogs madly. No matter how tired or grumpy we might be at the beginning of our shifts, the sweet faces of our patients help us to focus on the positive. It’s all we can do to get our work done when there are so many ears to be scratched and tummies to be rubbed. When things are slow at the office… well, there may or may not have been a few patients who spent part of their hospitalization sleeping on my lap in the office. I’m not saying.

Some people go a little bit overboard with the comforts they provide their pets at home. I’m pretty sure no dog ever suffered for lack of a $30,000 wedding chapel doghouse (for, of course, dog weddings), a Marie-Antoinette style brocade dog bed (complete with ostrich plumes), or a microvelvet Chesterfield dog sofa (with nailhead trim, naturally). The accommodations at the veterinary hospital will be a bit more spartan than that. (For one thing, everything we use is 100 percent machine washable). But, for all that, I think we do all right at helping our patients to feel at home.

By MARYSSA BECKMAN, DVM, MECA

The alluring cuteness of Dachshunds and Corgis most likely stems from their disproportionate body composition: long bodies, tiny legs! While absolutely adorable, their layout does not come without added risks. Their tiny spines carry a lot of joint stress that predisposes them to a condition called intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). This disease is common and can result in complete hind end paralysis for life if not recognized and treated quickly. So let’s examine the common signs, why it happens, and what to do if you suspect this disease in your furry friend.

The vertebrae of the spine have small discs between each segment that serve as shock absorbers and keep the vertebrae from suffering trauma when your dog’s body is active. These discs prevent your dog’s spine from being damaged doing simple things like going up stairs or playing catch, but over time these discs undergo degeneration. This results in the hardening of the disc, which ultimately leads to loss of function. When this happens, the disc is at risk of extruding or moving out of its normal position when a compressive force is applied. This is because the normal squishy shock absorber is now a spring-loaded projectile. In small breed dogs, this compacted disc material is extruded upwards when a force is applied to it, and as a result, the spinal cord that lives above it becomes compressed. If this sounds like a bad thing, you’re right! Depending on where this occurs in the spinal cord, signals from the brain may not be able to be transmitted effectively, which can lead to your dog not being able to walk appropriately, control their bladder, and may also cause them a lot of pain. This process can happen in a matter of minutes and will need medical attention fast.

Okay, so I have a large-breed dog. I am safe, right?

Unfortunately, they get their own type of IVDD. Breeds like German Shepherds, Labradors, Dobermans, and really any larger dog that is active can have this occur. The good news is that these types of dogs get a protrusion of the disc instead of an extrusion that comes on slow and can usually be medically managed.

All right, it’s happened! Now how do I treat it?

As you can imagine, nerves are very delicate and require fast action to ensure appropriate recovery. IVDD can range from a small amount of spinal pain to complete hind limb paralysis, and it can progress to an irreversible disease in a matter of hours depending on severity. If your dog is lucky, a small amount of back pain that is often recognizable by your dog crying out going up stairs, reluctance to jump may be as far as it progresses. In this case, strict cage rest and some anti-inflammatory medications can have your pooch back to normal in no time. If, however, your dog is one that has problems placing their feet, cannot stand up, and does not seem to have voluntary bladder control, you may be looking at a surgery to fix your pet. During this surgery, the veterinarian will go into the spine and remove the disc material compressing the spinal cord. This is a costly surgery, and only certain veterinarians will be able to preform it. Before doing so, the exact location of the disc rupture will need to be determined by using X-rays, CT, or potentially an MRI. Once performed, the recovery period is variable with some dogs walking in days, while some may need rehabilitation and may not walk normally for months. Recovery rate is about 70 to 100 percent with dogs that don’t have complete loss of deep pain in their hind limbs before the surgery. If this procedure is not performed quickly, the nerves will lose blood supply and the situation may be irreparable. So if you suspect this is happening to your pet, act fast.

So what signs can you look for, and how can you prevent this?

Dogs usually show a wobbly hind end, reluctance to climb stairs, or may cry out in pain with early onset of the disease. With more progressive disease, dogs will be unable to rise or stand on their own and will be incapable of placing their feet, especially in the hind limbs. Preventing high-impact activity such as jumping, quick turns, or fast stops can limit stress put on the spine. Ultimately though, this can happen to any breed at any time, so knowing what to look for and when to seek veterinary care can save your pet’s life.

 

By MEGAN TREMELLING, DVM, LVS

Like most veterinarians, I genuinely love animals, but the sad fact is that not all of my patients love me back. For every pet that greets me with a wagging tail and happy kisses, I get at least one who gives me side-eye and a stony expression. I can’t blame them, of course. I invade the personal space of every one of my patients when I do a physical exam, and further indignities and discomforts come with almost everything I do. Some patients take it all cheerfully, others tolerate it, and then there are those who put a furry foot down and say, “No way.”

This is where muzzles come in. Some dog owners find muzzles scary. They can look like torture devices, although they don’t actually hurt the dog, and it is possible to buy cute ones. Dogs dislike the muzzle, and owners find this upsetting. “Why do you need to muzzle my dog?” they sometimes ask. “He’s not going to bite you! What kind of veterinarian is afraid of dogs?”

Well, it’s like this. I’m not afraid of dogs; if I were, I couldn’t do my job. I do, however, have a certain respect for what their teeth can do. It’s born of seeing many a dog bite injury in my career: many of them on my patients, some on my co-workers, and a few on myself. Our furry best friends come with teeth that were designed to cut and crush flesh, and they’re pretty good at it. Big dogs of course can be more dangerous, but size doesn’t always matter. Almost any dog can, if motivated, give me an injury that will put me out of work for months.

What are the odds that any particular dog will bite? Unfortunately, that dog’s owner isn’t always the best person to make that prediction. Dogs that are angels at home with their people sometimes make bad choices when they’re in a strange place, surrounded by strangers, feeling threatened, or cornered or in pain. Some dogs will even bite their owners when they’re at the vet’s office. In this game, there are no bonus points for doing things the reckless way so I prefer to err on the side of safety.

Placing a muzzle on an uncooperative dog can actually make the process of providing veterinary care easier on the patient. It isn’t immediately obvious that this would be true, but it is true. Some dogs, when muzzled, just freeze. You have seen this phenomenon in action if you have ever seen a rowdy puppy annoying an older dog until the adult has to give the pup a correction; they do this by taking hold of the pup’s muzzle to make it stop misbehaving. In the same way, some dogs, when muzzled, seem to get the message that it’s time to stop snapping and struggling. That means I can do my job quickly and thoroughly rather than having a prolonged wrestling match that’s far more upsetting to the patient than whatever it was I was trying to do in the first place. Of course, the process works best if the dog is muzzle-trained, and I encourage every dog owner to do so.

But even or especially in patients that won’t give up resisting, a muzzle ultimately reduces the risk of anyone getting bitten. And while I selfishly want to keep my skin intact, I also want to avoid bites for the dog’s and the owner’s sake. Wisconsin state law is quite strict on the subject of dog bites. Any medical care provider who treats a person that was bitten by a dog is legally required to report the bite to the authorities, and the dog is then subject to rabies quarantine. This is expensive for the dog’s owner and means extra visits to the veterinarian’s office for the dog that didn’t enjoy going in the first place. If the dog dies or is euthanized for any reason before the end of the quarantine period, its body must be tested for rabies, a process that can also be expensive for the owner.

Of course muzzles aren’t the only tool I have to keep teeth off skin. I rely on my expert staff to distract and safely restrain pets, and I use all my training and experience to make veterinary care as painless and reassuring as possible for the patients. But there are times when a muzzle is the right choice, and then I don’t hesitate. It’s for everybody’s protection.