Archive for September, 2009

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

September 24, 2009

It began as a simple request from my incredibly talented friend, Leira.  She is directing a production of The Wizard of Oz at our local junior college, set to run around Thanksgiving.  Knowing that I am well connected in the dog world, she asked for my assistance in finding a suitable Toto.  She told me that any breed or look would do as long as the dog was small enough to fit in a basket and was well trained.  

I reassured Leira that I would be able to readily recruit a few suitable candidates to audition for her.  I let my dog training buddies know, put out word at the dog park, and solicited all of my more than 100 dog-loving coworkers.  My notions of being a successful talent scout were quickly dispelled.   I heard the same response over and over again-  “I’d love for my dog to be Toto, but he’s not really well trained,” or  “I know a dog who would be the perfect Toto, but she’s doesn’t really obey commands.”  I should have considered things a bit more carefully before reassuring Leira that I had the role of Toto covered.  My experience tells me that the vast majority of little dogs are not well trained.  It’s not that they are not smart- in fact the opposite is usually the case.  They are so smart that it is more about them training their humans than the other way around!  

I approached Leira with my tail between my legs and let her know that I’d struck out.  I should have kept my mouth shut after saying, “I’m sorry.” Rather, the part of me that hoped to “fix” the situation blurted out, “You can use Nellie if you want.”  What in the world was I thinking! Nellie is an 11 or so pound Terrier mix who was delivered to my hospital a couple of years ago by a good Samaritan.   He’d found her wandering the streets. She was a skinny little ragamuffin- in heat, terribly underweight with horrific skin disease, and her body was peppered with BB’s.  The second I looked into her eyes, I was smitten. I took her home just to “try things out.” It took just a night to know she was ours for keeps.  She is the very first little dog we’ve ever shared our home and hearts with and yes, she is our very first dog that has not been taught all of the basic obedience commands.  She is lovely, kind, adorable, and sweet in every way, but we simply never “trained” her.  Somehow, just as for all those other “little dog people” it simply seemed that such training wasn’t really necessary, that is until now.  I have until mid-November to teach my little Nellie to play a convincing Toto.  Come by my house these days and you are likely to hear a high pitched “Dorothyesque” voice shouting, “Toto come!”  Oy Vey! What have I gotten myself into!?

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross –

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Differing Perspectives on the Same Observations

September 13, 2009

I’ve received many wonderful emails in response to my interviews on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The stories I’ve heard about peoples’ pets run the gamut from delightful to heart wrenching. Many listeners described crying while driving- I certainly hope Terry and I were not responsible for creating any collisions!

I’ve also received emails from a handful of folks who were put off by the Fresh Air interviews. The content of Anne’s comments (printed below with her permission) is representative of what these disgruntled listeners had to say:

“I’m annoyed at how dogs have become soooo important over the past 10 years or so. They’re just pets! Just animals. Clearly all this elevation of dogs is a by-product of a society in trouble. Never would I have imagined that dogs would be referred to as ‘family members’ or ‘surrogate children.’ NEVER!! Back in the day, the dog was just the ‘family dog’, not ‘the dog family member.’ It was like, ‘Yeah, there’s the dog, so what?’ No thought was given to brushing its teeth, worrying about dog cancer, or feeling guilty if we went on vacation and left the dog at home with a neighbor to look after it. I recently read a book about an African village, and the hard life they have, and the poverty. I found it so shameful that they live like that, while America’s dogs are often dressed in designer clothes, waited on hand and foot, given the best medical care, the best food, cooed over, etc. What the hell has happened to Americans? We’ve gone nutty! Dogs are just dogs, driven by selfish instinct to look after its own interests.”

As easy as it would be to ignore such “fan mail,” I truly believe that Anne’s comments are worthy of consideration. Given what I do for a living, I have certainly grappled with what I believe Anne is questioning. Is it reasonable to invest so much, emotionally and financially, in our pets when there is so much human suffering in the world? After all, the amount of money spent on one of our four-legged family members during the course of a year would represent a fortune to someone who is impoverished. Wouldn’t “shut in” senior citizens relish the affection and attention we lavish upon our pets?

While I agree with Anne’s observations- yes, many people consider their pets to be “family members” and yes, there is a great deal of human suffering in the world- I disagree with her notion that doting on our pets detracts from our willingness and ability to give of ourselves to others. I contend that the opposite is true. Many studies have documented that the human-animal bond positively impacts peoples’ psychological well-being. People whose “emotional bellies” are full rather than empty are more inspired and capable of giving their time, energy, and financial resources to others in need. One need not be a scientist to know that pets bestow a unique brand of sweetness and joy upon our lives; they keep us grounded even when insanity abounds. As I state in the introduction of Speaking for Spot, “Today the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. Perhaps, the more tumultuous the world around us, the tighter we cling to our beloved pets. They soothe us with their predictability and unconditional love, and they consistently give in excess of what they receive.”

Loving our pets does not make them more important than humans, nor does it “replace” our ability to tend to the needy. Rather, opening our homes and our hearts to animals makes our own humanity more accessible. Temple Grandin got it just right when she titled her newest book, “Animals Make Us Human.” Our love of animals doesn’t fill up our hearts- it makes our hearts grow bigger.

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay

Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross –

AKC Genome Barks – Podcast on Canine Cancer Treatments

September 12, 2009

AKC Canine Health Foundation News Alert

The American Kennel Club and the AKC Canine Health Foundation are pleased to debut the next podcast in the Genome Barks series: Canine Cancer Treatments -Thursday, September 10, 2009.

This week, the Genome Barks podcast series welcomes Dr. Jaime Modiano, a member of the faculty of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Modiano has spent the last 15 years of his career looking at the mechanisms that are responsible for the origin and progression of canine cancer. Dr. Modiano’s current research focuses on better cancer therapies, singling out the canine immune system as a treatment for cancers that are in the process of spreading to various regions of the body.

The Genome Barks podcast series features lectures from the highly successful AKC-CHF Breeders Symposia and provides responsible breeders and pet owners an inside look at the work being done by the AKC and the AKC Canine Health Foundation.

New podcasts are released every two weeks and can be accessed from either the American Kennel Club website at www.akc.org or the AKC Canine Health Foundation website at www.akcchf.org – click on “Podcasts.” They are also available on Apple’s iTunes or directly at http://www.genomebarks.com
Clubs are encouraged to add the Genome Barks Podcast link to their home pages.

AKC Canine Health Foundation
http://www.akcchf.org

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members much good health!

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Cancer?

September 7, 2009

When it comes to a cancer diagnosis, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How did my dog get this?” It’s only natural that people want to know what they could have done to prevent this dreadful diagnosis.  

Unfortunately, it’s exceedingly rare that I am able to provide a clear-cut answer. Yes, we know that cigarette smoke, asbestos, sun exposure, and some pesticides and lawn herbicides can be carcinogenic in dogs. We also know that female hormones influence the development of mammary tumors (breast cancer). In most cases of canine cancer, however, there is no discernible cause. 

Genetics clearly play a role in the development of some cancers. Giant dog breeds (heavier than 75 pounds) are predisposed to bone cancer. We certainly see an inherited predisposition to cancer in particular breeds, including Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, Scottish Terriers, and Cocker Spaniels. 

So what can you do to prevent cancer in your four-legged best friend? Here are some suggestions (I truly hope this list becomes longer as our knowledge about cancer increases): 

Avoid exposure to known carcinogens (cancer causing substances) such as cigarette smoke, asbestos, and lawn herbicides. 

If your dog has little or no pigment on his face or underside, avoid letting him sunbathe during daylight hours when the sun is most intense. 

Talk to your veterinarian about when your dog should be spayed or castrated. Neutering prevents testicular, ovarian, and uterine cancer. Neutering female dogs before their first heat eliminates the risk of developing breast cancer, and when performed before two years of age the risk is markedly reduced.  Some data suggests that postponing neutering until a year or more of age in large breed dogs may be protective against bone cancer. More studies looking at this relationship are needed. 

Before adopting a purebred dog from the list of breeds mentioned above, do the research needed to confirm that parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents were cancer free. I recently had the heartbreaking experience of working with two Bernese Mountain Dog littermates who lost the battle to a type of cancer called malignant histiocytosis. Three of their other four siblings had already succumbed to the same disease. 

Have your dog thoroughly examined by your veterinarian at least once a year. Just as with us, the earlier the detection of a cancerous process, the better the chances are for successfully treating the disease. 

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Pain Management 101

September 4, 2009

My husband and I just returned from a wonderful stay at a dog-friendly campground. We encountered just about as many dogs as we did people! We made some new friends including Buddy, Sierra, Milo, Otis, Judd, Lexie, and Homer (please don’t ask me to recall the names of their humans). Our next-door neighbors were Milo and Otis, two middle-aged black Labradors. When these goofy brothers weren’t off on family hikes they spent their time meandering about with sticks in their mouths and checking our campsite in case we managed to “misplace” any food items. By day three, I observed them to be exploring less and lying around more. I also noticed that Milo was favoring a front leg and Otis was showing discomfort in his hind end. When I mentioned my observations to our neighbors (I cannot seem to keep my mouth shut in such situations), they told me that Milo and Otis both have arthritis and their stiffness and soreness was predictable in response to their increased activity level. They routinely gave them pain medication (the equivalent of aspirin or ibuprofen for us) as soon as arthritis symptoms became apparent. In fact, they had administered their first dosage that morning. These poor folks had no idea that such innocent comments would prompt a mini-lecture from the likes of me! Here is what I explained:

Whether for ourselves or for our pets, the ideal time to treat predictable pain is before it begins. Investigational studies have documented that pain can induce a “kindling effect”. In other words, low-grade pain has the potential to self-ignite into a flare-up of pain that is more severe, therefore more difficult to control with medication. Far better to take proactive measures (medication, acupuncture, rehabilitation therapy, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, etc.) before the onset of predictable or anticipated pain than it is to attempt to douse the discomfort once it has already “caught fire”. It’s also important to keep in mind that many dogs, particularly those with stoic demeanors, may not demonstrate any overt symptoms until their pain has progressed well beyond what would be considered mild.

I suspect that my new friends Milo and Otis will be far more comfortable on their future camping trips! I must confess here- I also counseled their humans on the benefits of weight loss (both dogs were chubby) as a means of benefiting their arthritis pain. Those poor people certainly got more than they bargained for! Does your dog predictably become stiff or sore following increased activity? If so, please share what you do to prevent the discomfort.

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged best friend good health! 

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross