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How often should my pets be checked by the vet?

Q: How often should a dog have physical exams (considering that the dog is in perfect health)?

A: A puppy should be examined several times during it's first year of life. As a puppy grows, it is important to make sure teeth and bones are developing properly, and health remains optimum during the vulnerable first year. Since vaccinations are administered in a series of three or more to young puppies, this is convenient for veterinary examinations at the time of vaccination. From one to five, most dogs are healthy, and an annual examination is adequate. For dogs older than five, especially large breeds and dogs with a history of problems, one examination per year may not be adequate. Keep in mind, dogs age seven years for each calendar year.

One problem I see in my practice are the low cost vaccination clinics. Since the vaccination protocol for dogs approximates the examination need of most dogs, it used to work great. The veterinarian would examine all dogs at the time of their vaccinations. This also gave people a chance to have questions answered and problems solved. Many people now forget to return to the veterinarian for the annual physicals once the vaccinations are satisfied at the vaccine clinic.


I am pregnant and have pets. What do I need to know?

Q: I am eight months pregnant and am wondering if you can suggest ways of introducing my new baby to our family dog?

A: First, you should take your pet and it's stool sample to your vet for a thorough examination to insure your baby is not exposed to any diseases or parasites upon arrival. Initially, even with healthy dogs, newborns should be kept completely away due to their germ vulnerability and delicacy. Later, they will meet under constant supervision. The dog's reaction will let you know how fast to move forward and how trusting to be with him. Be careful to realize dogs become jealous, so reinforce the baby's presence as a positive idea by providing praise and treats to the dog when the baby is around. Keep as many of your pet oriented routines as possible. By keeping the evening walk, the morning stick throw and the Friday new chew toy, your dog will be more accepting to the other changes that will be occurring in the household.


DNA Testing in dogs

Q: I am a dog breeder and I am interested in any DNA testing that is available such as determining a gene that may cause epilepsy, hip dysplasia, cancer, etc.

A: Much research is done on genetics in animals and man. Many researchers have special interest in determining specific problem genes, and much literature is available on the subject. So far, there is no specific, easy test for problem genes in dogs. We can test for specific genetically based diseases, such as Von Willebrand's disease, common to Doberman Pincers. Testing for the gene itself is a different story. We can determine the degree of relatedness of two dogs, and can determine the source of blood or hair fibers using DNA testing. However, the best way to guess if a puppy is likely to develop hip dysplasia later in life is still to look at his pedigree.


Tips on selecting a vet

Q: Can you give me some tips for recognizing a good vet?

A: Your veterinarian and staff should be interested in your concerns and willing to spend the time with you and your pet. A good vet should be able to give you accurate and thorough explanations to all of your questions. Personal references are extremely valuable, but yellow page ads and pet shop referrals need to be considered more carefully. It is well worth the time to call a few of your local vets and drive to some of them, just to meet them. Your vet should be comfortable with your animals, and you should be comfortable watching the vet handle them. If your dog barks, or cat snarls, this doesn't necessarily mean you need to find someone else to care for them.


How do I know where to cut on my dog's black nails?

Q: My dog has black nails, and because of this I cannot see the vein that runs trough them and am afraid to hurt her by trimming her nails improperly. Our daily walks, on cement, seem to keep them filed; however, her dew claws never reach the ground and I'd like to learn how to properly trim them. Any suggestions?

A: The focus of proper nail trimming is on choosing the correct length, and not on the vein. The blood supply grows out as the nail grows. When the nail is trimmed, and blood is drawn, the vein recedes. This makes subsequent trims easier. If you avoid the vein on an overgrown nail, you will not gain ground, and will inevitably have to face cutting the vein in the future. Although the precisely correct length is subject to personal preference, and does vary between breeds, a nail length equal to the toe width is generally sufficient. Another rule of thumb (or rule of dewclaw) is to trim the dog's nails so they are just above touching the ground when he stands straight. Then, the dewclaw should be trimmed the same length as the nail on the neighboring toe.


Euthanasia timing

Q: My cat is 16 years old, has arthritis, a tumor and has now become incontinent. I feel that her quality of life is miserable and it deeply hurts me to see her in pain. I think the right thing to do is to have her humanely put to sleep. Is there a way to do this and make her feel comfortable? A friend told me that it's best if I were present to soothe her; I don't know if I could do it. What do you suggest?

A: Having your pet put to sleep is a hard decision. You should have your veterinarian examine your pet, and discuss all of your options first. Only a licensed veterinarian may perform the euthanasia. If you both agree this is best, you will have additional options. Most often a friend, family member, the veterinarian, or a member of the staff can provide the understanding and comfort a pet needs, so you do not have to feel obligated to be with her through the entire process. Sometimes a pet is given pain relievers or a sedative by the veterinarian to help relaxation. A pet may be anesthetized first, then allowed to gently pass away in it's sleep. Sometimes, just a single injection is given. If you wish to be with her, you may suggest to your vet to have her sleep (anesthesia) first, so you can soothe her as she peacefully falls asleep. Then, you can leave or stay when the final injection is given, for at that time she will already be unconscious and unaware of your presence. You may consider having a housecall veterinarian perform the euthanasia at your home. This is the closest to just falling asleep at home, and not waking up as you can get.


My Boxer is prone to cancer, what can I do?

Q: I have a four year old male boxer. Our vet took a sample of a small bug bite on his stomach and said it had one to two mast cells in the sample. They said we should have the area removed with a two inch radius. Is this really necessary? He already had a tumor removed 11 months ago that was a grade one with mast cells. If this area is removed, is there anything that can be given to him to prevent any further growths in the future, i.e. medication, food, herbs? I fear that they will want to take many more chunks out of my dog to control these mast cells, which I understand are common in boxers. Also, are these similar to basal cells found in humans?

A: Mast cells are normal in all dogs. These cells produce histamine in response to irritation, such as insect bites. A pathologist expects to find mast cells at the site of a bug bite. Cancers are more common in Boxers than most other breeds of dogs.

Mast cell tumors are abnormal growths of the cells, as with all cancers. It is always wise to remove suspected cancers with a wide margin, to decrease the likelihood of leaving any cancer cells behind. Dogs known to have had cancer should be fed good wholesome food, with little or no preservatives.

Certain vitamin supplementation may or may not be beneficial, depending on the completeness of the diet. I prefer to recommend specific diets and supplementations on a case by case basis, for all dogs and cancers are different. In general though, Vitamin C is safe to supplement and beneficial to the immune system which fights cancers. One to two grams daily of active Vitamin C is a good start. Vitamin E is also beneficial for any disease involving the skin. Overdosing Vitamin E is detrimental, so care should be taken in dosing this vitamin. Most top brand dog foods have the appropriate amount of Vitamin E, and thus do not warrant supplementation.

Many herbal extracts and holistic medicines achieve testimonials, but few are proven. Many cancers can be treated with chemotherapy, just as in humans. These treatments need to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

The best protocol of dogs recovering from prior cancers is to feed natural, wholesome, top name dog food. Avoid treats that may contain excessive preservatives and additives. Avoid excessive sunlight. Check your dog regularly for funny growths, and have your veterinarian examine at least annually. Such exams may include chest x-rays and blood panels.


I am not comfortable with my vet

Q: Last week I took my mom's poodle to our local vet for his annual booster and vaccination shots. Her poodle is seven years old and he does snap at people sometimes. This vet made a comment that he was a difficult dog to work with and AFTER he gave the dog his shots, he asked me to step outside the room for a minute. I was in the hallway for just a moment when I heard the dog scream, bark and growl, and then the vet came out and left, I picked up the poodle and went to the receptionist to pay my bill.
I suspect that this vet has a sadistic, cruel streak and I will NOT be taking our pet back to him. Since I brought the dog home, I can tell something is different about him. He was really sick and feverish that night. He wouldn't drink water, but he licked an ice cube until it was gone. Also, everyday now he is losing some hair. I find a small patch of white hair everyday. My question is this: what could that vet have done to cause this?

A: There are many veterinarians around. If you are unhappy or uncomfortable with your veterinarian, then move on to another. You and your pets should be very pleased with their veterinarian. We choose to service our patients with housecalls through Mobile Vet. Housecalls are usually much more pleasant for owner and pet, and do not expose your pet to the diseases and stresses associated with the animal hospital. Also, you will be able to be with your pet the entire time with a housecall service. See if you have a housecall vet in your area.

As far as the hair loss and color change, it is unlikely the veterinarian did anything to cause this. As poodles age over five years, they loose hair and get white hair, just like us humans. Of course, if the hair loss is excessive, non-symmetrical or associated with itching skin or rash, then the dog may have dermatitis.


Why is my cat losing weight?

Q: My cat is losing weight. The same thing happened last year at about this time of year. My vet could not find anything specifically wrong with him and when he began to gain weight, we thought that the problem had sorted itself out. Any ideas?

A: Weight loss can occur for many reasons in cats. It may be behavioral or disease related. Cats that are upset for some reason often decrease in appetite. Evaluate recent changes in your household that may be affecting your feline friend. A tom cat new to the neighborhood could be the cause.

Cats are vulnerable to a multitude of internal and external parasites. Check your cat for fleas. Fleas transmit tapeworms. Have a stool sample evaluated by your veterinarian to make sure he didn't eat a bug or rodent carrying roundworms, whipworms, coccidia or other parasite.

Hormones such as testosterone and thyroid hormone affect a cats appetite, weight and activity level. Consider a blood panel and a visit by your veterinarian to help you in this area. See other articles in our Ask the Vet section on hormones for more information.

Cats are notoriously finicky eaters. They grow tired of certain foods. Try a variety of foods, rotated to keep him interested. Consider a vitamin supplement, such as Vita Gravy.

Be sure to check his teeth for dental problems. The next visit by your vet may turn up something new, especially if diagnostic test are performed, such as a blood panel.

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