Parting Ways with Your Veterinarian

I am fortunate to have a wonderful veterinarian. Part of the wonderful – ness is the freedom I feel to ask questions about his diagnosis and treatment approach. But over the years I have found a few red flags that make me sit up, take notice, and possibly rethink (or possibly just run as fast as I, with my short-legged bulldog friend, can) .
A less than clear reason that I would add to the points below is a lack of sensitivity. Sometimes it is hard to put your finger on it. Sometimes it is more egregious. A response to your dog’s malady on the order of “He’s doomed. No hope, just pickle him and move on” would clearly qualify as such. But I have also had a vet just shrug when breaking some very bad news to me and mine. After picking my jaw up from off the ground, I began the quest for another vet.

Clear Indicators A Change is Needed

Any of the following would cause me concern:

  • A paternalistic attitude whereby options aren’t presented for discussion but instead you are told what you must or should do.
  • If your dog’s condition is not  getting any better or is worsening, if your vet cannot arrive at a diagnosis , if a procedure is recommended that seems complicated and your vet has not had extensive experience performing and he does not recommend a specialist, it is probably time to seek another vet.
  • A recommendation of a protocol that you know is outdated. Probably the best example I can think of concerns vaccines. Laws relating to required vaccinations and the duration of protection afforded by many vaccines have changed drastically. If my vet recommended a yearly rabies vaccine I would be seriously concerned, as these laws and recommendations changed years ago.
  • A missed diagnosis or botched procedure. Accidents do happen of course but if either of these scenarios occurs it should be explained and thoroughly discussed. And if the account given does not fully restore your faith in your vet, it may be time to look elsewhere.
  • Follow your gut! If you are not 100% comfortable, for whatever reason,  I would begin looking around, and asking fellow dog owners for recommendations.

waving dog

Departing Gracefully and On Good Terms

Unless you live in a very small community and you cross paths with your vet socially, the chances are pretty good that you will never need to offer an explanation. Simply calling the office and asking for  your dog’s records to be faxed to the new vet is probably all that is needed. If asked why, my reply has been that the new vet has more convenient hours or location.

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Poet Cat Writes Haiku

This cute poet cat may have gone a bit crazy with the haiku in celebration of the cats dominance over the dogs. Which is your favorite?

Haiku Cat

Dear lesser species
Go drink your toilet water
While I plot your death

                     You go chase that ball
                      I will watch from the window
                      And find your weakness

Ha I took your bed
I do not even want it
But it is mine now

                      Watch me twitch my tail
                      Yes I want to play with you
                      Yes come closer. Fool!

What are you their slave?
They throw and you bring it back
Next time just bite them

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War

War is raging over here at DogBreedStore. Did you see what those mangy cats did to the site? #cattakeover #catsrule

 

War

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The Cats Have Taken Over!

The cats have taken over DogBreedstore and are wreaking havoc on the site! Take a look at the mess they’ve caused at DogBreedstore.com. #cattakeover #catsrule

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I’ve been replaced??

Buster finally realized that maybe the cat was more than a temporary guest.

 

Replaced
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Soon…..

Maybe it was just indifferent, but everything I know about cats would suggest that this one is peeved.

And probably plotting murder. Probably.
This cat is NOT happy

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Finding The Perfect Canine Match – or How Not To Run Amok

Don’t leave finding your perfect canine match up to chance. Breaking up is hard to do and  these tips may save you as well as your pup from heartbreak.

  • Take your time. This is a commitment. A dog’s average life expectancy  (13 years) is longer than the average length of first marriages (8 years.) Committing to a person after only one date would be insane. Making a commitment to a dog or puppy  after one date is equally insane. Plan to spend some time with the puppy or dog, whether n a home, foster home or shelter.
  • Size matters . But more important than size is your energy level and that of your prospective pet partner. Do not delude yourself that getting a Border Collie is going to make you a jogger because of their high exercise needs. Instead, better to be realistic and assess your current level of activity. M atch accordingly. If you are a couch potato, realize that you are likely to remain so. And there is no shame in that! There are plenty of dogs who are looking for a couch potato buddy. Consider an older dog, or a breed that is known for their laid back demeanor.
  • Personal Hygiene. Yes, some dogs are naturally easier to live with than others because of their fastidiousness and physique. If you aspire to being featured in House Beautiful perhaps you should not consider a breed that is heavy on the drool, spittle and shedding. Newfies, Mastiffs, and Bulldogs immediately spring to mind. Long haired breeds  also of course leave behind long hairs. So  if you don’t consider  slime trails  and long hairs a fashion accessory then these breeds may not be for you. Whether you consider these attributes design flaws or endearing  qualities may help  narrow your choices.
  • Look to the future. If you plan on a change in your family composite, be realistic about the impact it may have. Are  children a likely addition in the course of your intended canine friends life? A small nervous breed might not be the best choice. Is your boyfriend/girlfriend a fan of large breeds, if that is what you are considering? If your household might include elderly parents or grandparents  who are frail then a large breed that might knock them over might best be avoided.
  • Are you a gambler or do you like to minimize the risks? Any committed relationship is a gamble. But if you would like to minimize your risks consider an older dog who has been with a foster family.  They may be able to tell you whether the dog is good with kids. They may know whether they are good with cats or whether they consider them a delectable morsel. They may have experience with them around other dogs or on leash. A  purebred dog may minimize the risks as well. A Chihuahua is not likely to pull you down the stairs or eat you out of house and home. Some pure bred dogs will absolutely require grooming, which may best be handled by a professional, thereby running up the cost of maintenance. Others require little or no grooming. Some breeds have been bred for specific purposes and generalizations may be made about their temperaments, though bear in mind that yours may be the exception.
  • Are you a patient person? Puppyhood , though it may only last one year, can easily feel like five. Can you keep “that lovin’ feelin’” and are you prepared to love him even when no one else could, should or would? Puppyhood requires patience, preparation and more patience. Be prepared to spend time and money . The primary reason dogs are surrendered is behavioral so at the top of your must do list should be “seek professional training.”

 

Above all, before you walk down the  aisle with your new partner ask yourself if you are  truly being realistic and if you are prepared.

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Does Your Dog Do Halloween?

It is that time of year again, when the search is on for the perfect Halloween get up for our charges. begins If you, like so many of us, think that your dog is cuter in costume then now is the time to begin shopping or sewing.

Why We Do What We Do

What, I wonder, is the motivation for this? Did we not have sufficient time playing with Barbie and Ken as children? Celebrating with our dogs is something we do regularly from doggy birthday parties to Christmas. We include and exalt them, so why not Halloween. Fourteen thousand years of living with us has made them tolerant of our silly ways, and some, though not all, are at least tolerant.

The Sky Is The Limit

Aside from safety and comfort, what other factors should we take into consideration? Some of the funniest ones rely on the contrast between the size of the dog and the nature of the costume. It is somehow amusing to see a Chihuahua dressed as a lion or a mastiff as a mouse. Others choose to emphasize some physical aspect of their dog. Witness the dachshunds dressed as hotdogs. And then there are those that live vicariously and choose a costume based on their own aspirations. Perhaps dogs dressed as princesses or fighter pilots would fall in this camp. And of course sheer availability may enter into your choice as well. Some breeds are just difficult to fit with an off-the-shelf costume and have limited selection.

Inspiration

So if you are game to join in, and Fido is as well, look around the web for inspiration. Every year it seems there are new costumes available, and new variations on old themes. One character that inspires me is Zelda, who seemingly dresses up on a daily basis. With words to the wise, her audacious costumes and daily advice make me smile.

 

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Neutering News

Neutering (both castration and spaying) is one of those subjects that can be very divisive among dog owners. And when a friend mentioned that he and his wife were thinking about neutering their Bulmastiff , or as he put “making that visit to the vet where they go in as a man and come out as less than, ” I couldn’t stop myself from sharing some interesting new data with them which may affect their decision.  It confirms the findings of some  older studies and raises other issues as well.

Neutering…Is it Beyond Questioning?

In the US, neutering is not only an accepted practice, it is virtually beyond questioning if you are a responsible owner of a pet dog. And the age at which these surgeries are being performed is dropping. Typically neutering before 6 months of age was referred to as “early neutering” but the ASPCA has suggested that the word “early” implies “prematurely” and so is suggesting new terminology. Most likely the new terminology will be either “juvenile spay/neutering”  or “pediatric spay/neutering.”

In Europe on the other hand, neutering is not typical and generally not promoted by veterinarians. In Sweden for example, nearly 99% of pet dogs are intact. The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act discourages the neutering of pet dogs unless it is clearly beneficial to the dog. The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act makes it clear that surgical procedures are not to be used to adapt animals to the needs of humans, unless strictly necessary.

Most other European countries range between 40 – 50-%, whereas in the US the figure is closer to 80%.

Gonadal Hormones and Development

Without question, the loss of gonadal hormones affects development. The effect of these hormones, and therefore the lack of them, is far – reaching.

The most recent study, which involved Golden Retrievers  showed that  the neutered (spayed and castrated)dogs  had a higher incidence of:

  • Hip Dysplasia and arthritic hip joints
  • Lymphosarcoma
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Mast Cell Tumors
  • Cruciate Ligament Disease

The rate of occurence was higher in both male and female  neutered dogs.

The Waters are Muddy Indeed

For me, this study brought up the question of cultural differences. As mentioned earlier, in some European countries, spaying and neutering is only considered if it is in the best interest of the dog. Note the emphasis on dog, not the dog population, or the owner, or society but rather what is in the best interest of that particular dog.
It is a tough question, but I do think we need to ask for whose  sake are we neutering.

In the US the impact that neutering has had on the overpopulation of shelters is significant and not to be minimized.

But if you are carefully considering whether to neuter or not, a conversation with your veterinarian, should encompass discussion of:

  • your dog’s breed and breed – related medical isues
  • your dog’s age and health
  • your goals
  • your level of training and responsibility
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Love, Science and Your Dog

At this time of year we often think of love. Do you ever wonder why you love your dog so much? Although you may enchanted by his winsome ways, let’s look at what science says aboput the subject.

If you are reading this, then I am probably bloggin’ to the choir. Most of us recognize that our love for our pets is deep and perhaps a bit of a mystery to us and others. I am often reminded of this when I explain how I don’t sleep very well unless I have my dog  snoring and drooling on my shoulder.  It isn’t the noise or drool I crave, but the contented look on her face when she takes that last big breath before she dozes off. It makes me happy and I have always suspected that there must be some sort of physiological response that occurs when we spend time with our charges. What is really going on here? Is there a scientific explanation behind those feelings? Yes, there is. And as you will read shortly, more studies come every day.

If asked why they love their dogs, most people will respond with some variation of the following:

  • They provide unconditional love
  • They are always there for me
  • They are always happy to see me
  • They don’t care if I have messed up at work
  • They comfort me

And of course there is truth in this.  But long ago and far away I was a biology major, and those four years of college forever shaped the way I look at things.  I want to know the science behind things and have been especially intrigued by the strong connections people feel with their dogs.  This has been driven in part by my own quest to understand my deep feelings for my dogs, but also the evidence all around of others’ feelings for their dogs.  I have known people to sacrifice a relationship because the other person involved didn’t love their dog, or pass on an opportunity to vacation when the dog couldn’t go along, or who have gladly sacrificed their home furnishings to the comfort of their Fido. So are we all crazy?

The more I read the more I have come to blame, or appreciate ,depending on your view, oxytocin . Oxytocin is a hormone found in male and female mammals. The experiments I will refer to shed some scientific light on the issue of why we love our dogs so deeply and in no way do they diminsh these feelings.

Oxytocin – The Hugging and Cuddling Hormone

There are reports of studies that show a relationship between oxytocin and long-term relationships. These were same species studies. But now there is a paper, soon to be presented in Sweden  at  The 12th Annuual International Conference on the Human Animal Interactions, linking increased levels of oxytocin when people interact, either petting or gazing, at their dogs. This research was done by Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg and will be presented in July.

But many other studies have been done on the effects of oxytocin. It has long been called the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone.” It plays a big part in birth, sex , maternal behavior  and even commitment. Much of the research has been done on voles and rats, but more and more is being done with humans.  And there have been a number of surprising findings.  For example, “investors” are likely to invest more when treated with an oxytocin inhaler than not.

A Dog Can Improve Your Math Skills!

I bet you don’t believe me but it has been shown that the presence of our beloved dog can markedly affect our ability to do mental math! On the other hand, the presence of friends  has the exact opposite effect.  The same is true when it comes to giving a speech. It is theorised that when the pressure is on and we are stressed, friends and  are perceived as threatening and judgemental or “evaluative”,thereby increasing the stress. Karen Allen’s research involved only women and their pets. They were asked to perform some mental math and where tested under three scenarios – friend present, alone, or dog present. It wasn’t surprising to me that they performed significantly better with their pet present, less well if alone, and the worst if a friends was present.

Another interesting study was done on couples. They were asked to rate the level of “partner support” they experienced. They found that those who perceived higher levels of support from their partners also had higher levels of oxytocin in their blood.

One characteristic of autistic children is their difficulty in relating socially. If you are interested in how autistic children can benefit from actually training dogs, see my earlier post “How Can Autistic Kids and Dogs Work Together?” In 1998 a study was conducted comparing levels of oxytocin in “aloof” autistic children to normal children.  The data clearly showed significantly lower levels of oxytocin in the autistic group. Social impairment was related to lower levels of oxytocin.

So if oxytocin increases bonding and trust, as as the studies above indicate, how does this fit in with the whole dog thing and our relationships with them?

Mystery Solved – Or Is It?

Now, back to the research that Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg and her colleagues have done recently. Female particpants rated the quality of their relationship with their dogs. The women then interacted with their dogs both petting them and talking to them. Oxytocin levels were measured. Higher oxytocin levels correlated with higher positive ratings of the participant’s relationship with their dog. But even more interesting, if the participants ranked their relationship as positive, the dogs themselves also had increased levels of oxytocin.

This finding interests me on so many levels. First, it scientifically authenticates my strong feelings toward my dogs. Secondly, it shows that my perception of my relationship has some physiological bearing on my dog as well. But another thought comes to mind.  These experiments were done with Labradors. There are breeds which are considered more “neotenous” than Labs and I am wondering whether there might be a difference in the oxytocin levels in neotenous vs. less-neotenous breeds.

Neoteny is when traits that are baby-like or youthful are still present when they are adults. Think breeds with short muzzles and big eyes. A human infant’s head makes up 1/3 rd of the total length of the body.  An adult head averages 1/7 th of the heigth. Now imagine a Pug’s head or a Bulldog’s head . Much closer to 1/3 rd than 1/7 th. It is speculated that these baby-like proportions in humans evoke in us that “Ahhhh, how cute!” and protective, parental emotions. Some even speculate that our idea of feminine beauty is neotenous. Men are seen to be most attracted to women with large, round eyes, small noses and chins, relatively large head and so on.  All very debatable, but interesting nonetheless.

So if oxytocin is influential in lactation and maternal bonding and it is also released just by gazing into the eyes of our canine friend it makes sense that we have fashioned some breeds that are particularly neotenous. Neoteny could be one factor that enters into the release of oxytocin in ourselves.  With the release of oxytocin come those feelings of bonding and maternal care. And thus those positive feelings in turn could bring about the increase in the release of oxytocin in Fido and that in turn may increase their  bonding with us. A beautiful circular design! I wonder whether there is a difference in the levels of oxytocin released in humans when they interact with a neotenous vs. less-neotenous breed.

I wish I could be in Stockholm for the presentation of  Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg’s findings, though I am sure that we will hear about it from the animal behaviorists and ethologists who attend.

As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said ” We are in very deep waters”.

Photo Credit: Dunechaser on flickr

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