Saturday, June 11, 2011

Back at Last

Greetings!  I first want to apologize for the length of my absence.  As I am sure those of you reading this blog can understand, there are times that our canine and feline family members demand our full-attention.  So, I thought I'd share my story by way of explanation.  You can expect monthly posts (sometimes more frequent!) from here on out.

In January, my 13 year-old yorkie, Bose, fell gravely ill.  It began with an upset stomach (described in my previous post) and quickly progressed to collapse and severe bradycardia (slow heart rate).  His symptoms didn't seem to rule in or rule out a cause.  In fact, they had veterinarians across the country stumped. 

After Bose's diagnosis with cancer, we continued searching for the cause of his symptoms.  Still unanswered were the nausea, lethargy and bradycardia.  A couple of nights following Bose's ultrasound, he collapsed near death.  I rushed him to my clinic and administered treatment for systemic shock.  I began researching some lesser known causes for his symptoms.  Although he didn't fit the normal characteristics of a dog suffering from Addison's disease, I thought I should test him anyway.  Addison's disease is when a dog's adrenal gland fails to produce enough cortisol.  To my frustration, his test came back negative.  I continued to consult with fellow veterinarians, and we decided to run a more comprehensive test for Addison's.  This test looks closer at the levels which indicate Addison's disease, and in this test, Bose's levels were inconclusive.  Because Addison's explained all of his symptoms, I began treating Bose for Addison's, and he responded remarkably well.  He gets a shot once a month and meds every other day.  Slowly, he has come back to us.

When he felt a little better, we began chemotherapy for his bladder cancer.  Because of the steriods he takes for his Addison's, he cannot take the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory for his bladder cancer.  We hoped that his cancer would fall into the small percentage of TCC tumors that actually respond to chemotherapy.  Sadly, the chemotherapy did not shrink the tumor.  Bose is still asymptomatic of his cancer.  So, for the time being, we are just watching the tumor.  And I am cherishing every day I have left with my special guy.  That is the story of how I have spent the past few months nursing Bose back to health.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking Care of Our Own

Happy New Year!  I apologize for the gap in my posts, but like all pet owners, when one of my own is sick, my world comes to a standstill.  My little, elderly yorkie, Bose, came down with a severe case of gastroenteritis that has led to the development of an ulcer.  His first symptoms showed up the week of Christmas after he snuck a bite of a breakfast burrito.  Despite a bland diet, he has had a hard time bouncing back.  I took him to see the radiologist to check him for pancreatitis, and during the abdominal ultrasound, the radiologist found a mass in his bladder - a type of cancer known as transitional cell carcinoma.  While this type of cancer is typically slow-growing, it is inoperable and terminal.  This incidental finding added insult to injury and broke my heart.  Bose holds such a dear place in my heart, knowing now that he is dying has been difficult for me to process.  His GI tract is on the mend, and he has finally started taking treats from his favorite baker, Lisa at the Farmer's Market.  But, while he is not yet showing symptoms of his cancer, I know that it is lurking.  And I face the uncertainty that cancer brings with it.  Once Bose's tummy heals, he will begin a regiment of anti-inflammatory medication and chemotherapy to help stunt the growth of the cancer.  But for now he continues to heal and to fight.  And I am thankful for each day I have my perky companion by my side.

I wanted to share this experience because as doctors we often approach patients with clinical precision.  When our own pets get sick, it turns the "vet-side" of our brains off and we become like all of our patients - patients.  It is such an important part of my job as a veterinarian to empathize, and to know and personally experience how stressful and heart-wrenching the uncertainty of a pet's illness can be.  Walking with my pets into the twilight of their lives makes me a better doctor, I think, because it reminds me of how deep the emotional current is that runs beneath every relationship between a pet and a human.  

So, I have spent the past couple of weeks nursing my little guy back to health and have been the patient rather than the doctor - following medication regiments, strict dietary requirements and bestowing as much TLC as Bose will tolerate.

Tune in this weekend for my next blog post.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wishing You and Your Four-Leggers A Safe Holiday Season

Well, somehow the holidays are upon us.  If you are like me, they sneak up every year.  It is easy to get caught up in the swirl of activities this season brings with it:  holiday parties, religous and spiritual celebrations, lots of cooking and baking, and family and friends paying us visits.  While pets can be integrated into many, if not all, of these activities, they can also run into dangers.  As the holiday season kicks off, be diligent and make sure you know how to keep your pets safe.  Below are a few tips I have gathered over the years.

But, first I'd like to share a story of my own about my dog Frisco's brush with holiday danger.  I am a huge fan of southwestern design, so it is no surprise that I decorate with chili lights during the holidays.  Well, Frisco is also a huge fan of chili lights.  So, one evening, she picked the plastic chilis off each light and swallowed them whole!  Yes, each and every one.  Frisco was VERY lucky that the chilis didn't cause severe gastrointestinal problems, but she managed to skate through without any adverse side effects.  And I found the chilis strewn about the yard still whole several days later.  So, I speak from experience when I say - watch your pets during the holidays.  They can find trouble in places you'd never guess!

First, have your vet's number, the emergency clinic's number and the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline number handy - just in case.  If something happens, the last thing you want to be doing is frantically searching for phone numbers.  ASPCA Poison Control Hotline:  1-888-4ANI-HELP.

Many foods present dangers to our furry friends.  Alcoholic beverages, chocolate (all chocolate is toxic, but the less sugar and milk, the more dangerous it is), coffee, onions, grapes, macadamia nuts, fatty foods, salt, and yeast dough are several of the most dangerous.  'Tis the season for rich foods.  Rich and fatty foods can cause your pet's abdominal cavity to become inflamed.  While this can usually be treated, in some cases, it can be fatal.  So, it is really important to limit the "human food" your pet ingests during the holidays.

Just like yummy treats, plants and flower arrangements are part of the holiday season.  Many of the flowers that represent the holiday spirit are very dangerous to cats and dogs.  Plants can cause mild symptoms such as an upset stomach, lethargy or irritation in the mouth and stomach to more serious symptoms like kidney failure.  Some plants can even cause death.  If you own cats, lilies are a BAD idea.  I say this as a lover of lilies.  Even a small amount of a lily could cause your feline friend to go into irreversible and fatal kidney failure.  Other holiday plants to watch out for: pointsettias, misteltoe and holly.  You can spray a fine mist of hot sauce on plants to make them less enticing to your pet, or you can simply keep them out of your pet's reach.  For more information about toxic plants, visit the ASPCA's website.  For dogs,  For cats,

When you have guests visit, particularly when they stay with you, you are upsetting your pet's routine.  Make sure that guests know where your pets are allowed and where they are not.  You don't want your pet to wander out into the road or to get lost in the midst of activity and excitement.  If your pet is prone to stress, take this into account as you prepare for your guests.  Perhaps consider limiting your pet's exposure to the guests, or let your pets introduce themselves at their own pace.  Also be aware of the things your guests bring with them.  Animals are often curious about visitors' belongings and will often root out perscription pills, candy or personal items.  When guests are visiting, it is a good idea to keep the door to the guest room shut to prevent any unfortunate discoveries on your pet's part.

Holiday Decorations
Pets can be very curious about holiday decorations.  Any edible ornaments can give your pet an upset tummy.  Tinsel can cause severe gastrointestinal problems (for a depiction of this, see Sumis Says on my clinic's website).  Pets can ingest non-edible ornaments as well.  If your pets have a tendency to help themselves to fuzzy, wooden, plastic or otherwise inedible objects, consider decorating your tree only near the top.  While this may look a little funny, it will keep your pet safe and still give you the chance to enjoy your tree.  If you have a Christmas tree, be careful what chemicals you add to the water.  Often these chemicals contain fertilizers which are extremely hazardous, potentially fatal, to your pet.  For some reason, pets are intrigued by electrical cords.  Chewing on live electrical cords (that means plugged in) can cause burns in your pet's mouth and noncardiogenic pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs).  If your pets are particularly interested in the cords around your Christmas tree, you can feed them through a piece of PVC pipe.  Equally as dangerous are the candles used during Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.  Pets who are unfamiliar with candles may find the flame intriguing and try to play with it.  This can cause severe burns.

Remember that dogs and cats have pretty powerful sniffers.  If you are giving a gift that might smell enticing to your pets, restrict their access.  They will feel free to help themselves if given the chance.  Also, be careful with wrapping.  Just like tinsel, ribbons and bows can severly damage your pet's gastrointestinal tract. 

I hope you and your four-leggers have a wonderful holiday season filled with the blessings of good company, good food, and lots of love.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chip Off A Good Sam

Late last week, a Good Sam brought a stray dog into our clinic.  The dog had, somewhat surprisingly, jumped into the Good Sam's car without hesitation.  He did have a little more hesitation, though, about getting back out of the car.  In fact, this dog was quite adamant about staying in the Good Sam's car.  After some coaxing, he finally agreed to come out.  We brought the dog, who was a bit out of his element and a little scared, into the clinic, and to our delight, he had a microchip.  We retrieved the owner's contact information from the database and left a message.  The following morning, the dog was reunited with his human.  And the story had a very happy ending.

This experience reminded me that not all such mishaps end so happily, or so quickly.  Even owners who take the time to make sure their pet wears a collar with a tag may not end up being reunited so quickly with their pet.  Collars come off and then all identifying information is lost.  This is not to say that collars are not important - they are!  Collars and tags are the most visible identification a pet can wear.  They are often a clear sign to those who come in contact with a pet that the pet is well-cared for and loved by a family.  But microchips are a foolproof and permanent way to make sure that if your pets end up in either a shelter or a veterinary hospital, they will always have identifying information on them.  In the end, it is always best to have both forms of identification for your pets.

Microchips are inserted under the skin between your pet's shoulder blades through a quick injection.  The chip contains a number that is kept in a nationwide database.  Your pet's microchip number links your pet's information to your contact information.  The chip will remain under your pet's skin permanently.  Nearly all shelters and veterinary hospitals have microchip scanners.  We just hold the scanner over the cat or dog's back and wait for the number to appear.  And then we make the very call I made last week - to the owner to let her know that her pet was safe and sound.

While there is a lesson in this mishap, I cannot ask for a better note to end the week on - a happy owner reunited with a lost pet!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Gift of Pets

Next week, I promise to tell a story.  This time of year, though, brings so many good opportunities to make thoughtful commentary on pets and their places in our lives.  'Tis the season to give, and often pets are among those gifts.  Pets are unlike most gifts, however, and so, before deciding to give one, you should carefully consider what it means to have a pet.

First, pets are a long term commitment.  My Golden Retreiver, Frisco, has been with me for over 14 years, and she is still truckin' right along.  Both cats and dogs can live into their teens, some even into their 20s.  While some pocket pets, birds and reptiles have relatively short life spans, many of them live much longer than you might expect.  Chincillas, for example, can live 10-20 years when kept as pets.  Some birds outlive their owners by a long shot.  Make sure you are ready to commit to your pet for his/her entire life.

Second, different pets fit different people.  All puppies and kittens are over-the-top cute.  Both Mastiff puppies and Chiuahua puppies can melt you with their eyes.  But each of these dogs will grow up differently, with very different needs.  When selecting a pet, consider the type who will fit your family best.  Think about how much time you have to dedicate to meeting your pet's needs.  Will you have enough time to run or walk a Dalmation, Visla, or Retriever every day?  Enough time to train and challenge an intellectual breed like a Jack Russell Terrier or an Australian Shepard?  Or do you need a mellow dog?  Don't forget that there are a lot of adult, even older, dogs, who need homes and make great companions.  I adopted my Yorkie, Bose, when he was 9.  Even though I have only had him for 4 years, I can't remember a time without him.  If you are looking at a cat, are you ready to take on the constant playfulness of a little kitten, or do you need an adult cat who has already passed the terrible twos?  Sometimes adopting a pair of kittens helps redirect their crazy playfulness at each other, rather than your bare ankle coming around a corner.  Shelters have become increasingly aware of the need to match humans with pets, and many now offer pet counseling services that will help you find the pet who is just right for you.  This helps not only the pets and prospective owners, but it also helps the shelters decrease the number of pets returned because they just didn't fit into their new families.

Third, and although this is probably a no-brainer to those of you reading the blog, I think it is worth saying: pets are not accessories.  They are living creatures with needs and emotions.  If you adopt a pet, be ready to welcome that pet into your home as a part of your family.

Finally, remember that the gift of a living creature should never be done on a whim.  Taking care of a pet over the course of its entire life is a huge commitment and requires planning.  You should plan to set aside money for veterinary care.  Find a good veterinarian in your area and find out where the nearest urgent care or emergency clinic is located.  You can even meet with your veterinarian before you bring your new pet home to discuss preventative care and diet/nutrition.  You should have all the necessary goodies for your new pet before bringing him/her home: food, a bed and/or crate, a food dish, a water dish, a litter box (for the kitties), toys, a collar and a leash.  For dogs especially, have a training plan in mind.  The first few months of a puppy's life are the most impressionable, so take advantage of his/her brain power.  If you want a well-behaved dog, start training early.

In this season of giving, remember that pets are amazing family members but they do require a huge commitment.  When welcomed into a family who is ready to embrace them and who has planned for their needs, these furry four-leggers are sure to warm many hearts.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Forgotten Needs

Today I was wrapping a box our clinic uses to collect dog and cat food for a local animal shelter, Castaway Treasures.  As I was doing this, I began thinking about needy pets and realized that there is a population of needy pets who don't get much press:  those pets owned by families struggling to make ends meet.  While shelter animals will always need a lot of support from our community, pets whose families have hit hard times also merit our thoughts and our donations.  While struggling families want to keep their beloved pets, they often have to face the harsh reality that they simply cannot afford it.  They want to make sure their pet is well cared for, well-fed, comfortable and happy.  When they can no longer provide all this, they either surrender their pet to a shelter or rehome their pet.  Families losing pets to tough economic times is a loss for us all.  Not only does it increase the population at already full shelters, but it also divides families.  The ties between animals and their humans are always worth preserving, for they run deep and strong. 

What many people do not realize is that community food banks that collect human food for families in need also collect pet food.  As you gather items to donate to your community food bank, please include dog and cat food along with your other donations.  This will enable families who have hit hard times to continue to feed their four-legged family members, and keep their entire family together.

Happy Holidays!  Thank you for your generosity.  Check back next week for more.

Signing On

Greetings!  My name is Dr. Linda Lueth.  I own and operate a full-service small animal veterinary hospital, Cortaro Farms Pet Hospital, in Tucson, Arizona.  Everyday I have the pleasure of working with cats and dogs of all shapes and sizes.  Many of my patients I begin seeing when they are youngsters, and I continue to see them all the way through their golden years.  During this time, I get to know my patients and their humans very well.  I see lots of funny antics, experience many tender moments, and am able to marvel daily at the capacity of both humans and animals to love.

While I have some experience at veterinary medicine, I am pretty new to online media.  In fact, as I write this blog, I am just beginning to understand what exactly a blog is.  But, I think this blog will give me the chance to share some thoughts and insights on my practice, some helpful resources and some heart-warming stories.  I will update my blog weekly and expect that the topics will wander between informational and narrative - depending on what each week brings.   I am excited to have the opportunity to share with you. 

I must begin, though, with a warning: the information contained in my posts should never be used as a substitute for veterinary care from your family veterinarian.  Because our patients cannot talk to us, we veterinarians must rely on our senses - sight, sound, touch, and smell - to help us figure out what ails our patients.  So, in order to really tell anything, we must see and touch our patients.  Also, while something I might describe may seem to describe what your pet does or has exactly, you should never try to treat your pet on your own.  Many treatments and medications reach from human medicine across to veterinary medicine, but many do not and carry with them deadly consequences.  So, I hope you enjoy my stories and insights, but remember that there is no substitute for your family veterinarian.

Welcome, and I hope you will check back next week!