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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Early exposure

It is not uncommon for me to hear from a client, "I haven't taken him out yet." This refers to a puppy that hasn't been outside for the first 3-4 months of its life. It would be like having a newborn and taking her for her first stroll at six months of age.
Dogs need to be exposed to the outdoors, and all of its sounds and sights, at a very early age. In so doing, the risks of poor behavior (behavioral problems being the single greatest reason for which a pet is euthanized), is greatly reduced. Try to do this at 4, 5, 6 months of age, or older - forget about it: you'd be setting the dog up for a life of phobias and anxiety (devastating for both you and your pet).
A typical vaccine schedule for a dog is 8, 12, and 16 weeks. How do you ensure good behavior and protect the dog from infectious disease? The short answer: you don't. The risk of the dog acquiring fatal infectious disease is mitigated by the huge risks of your dog developing behavioral issues if she's not taken out early in life.
Have common sense: expose the puppy safely, to dogs whose owners you know, or are sure are vaccinated and not exhibiting symptoms (such as coughing, diarrhea,... you get the picture).
There is no excuse for the four-month-old puppy who cowers behind his owners upon
meeting another dog for the first time. At that age, it would be like running into this:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lameness/limping in dogs and cats

Lameness, or limping, is one reason a pet owner would seek a veterinary consultation. The causes are myriad, though some conditions are certainly over-represented.
A partial or complete tear of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), called the anterior cruciate ligament (or ACL) in humans, is one of the commonest clinical conditions seen in dogs with lameness involving a hindlimb.
The cranial cruciate ligament (from the Latin crux, meaning to cross) and the caudal cruciate ligament cross each other in the knee or stifle joint (see image below). Basically, they provide major stability to the joint. In humans, the ACL is often torn acutely from a injury. It is now thought the vast majority of CCL ruptures in dogs occur over time, from chronic instability, arthritis, injuries, or a combination of all of these. Partial tears are extremely common and essentially require the same surgical treatment, though long-term studies looking at orthotics/braces to prevent full CCL rupture in dogs with partial CCL ruptures have not been done (as far as I know).

Lameness in young, large-breed dogs, where the lameness "travels" from leg to leg, can often be attributed to panosteitis, a painful though relatively benign pathology of the bones - these dogs eventually grow out of it, the vast majority by a year of age.
Hip dysplasia, a genetically inherited disease of large breeds, is often diagnosed on the basis of pain attributed to the coxo-femoral joints (or hips), and radiographic evidence of this disease. It is treated surgically in younger dogs with severe disease and is managed with medication, mild-moderate exercise restriction, and rehabilitation in both surgical and non-surgical cases.

It must not be forgotten that neuropathies are often the source of limping in cats and dogs. This means that the cause is neurological, stemming from pathology of the central nervous system such as the spinal cord (e.g., intervertebral disc disease), or a peripheral neuropathy. See below for what a blown disc looks like - ouch.

Interverterbral disc disease is invariably associated with spinal pain, while acute unilateral lameness without spinal pain is commonly attributed to fibrocartilaginous embolism, a syndrome where a tiny fragment believed to be from a disc is caught in the tiny blood vessels of the spinal cord, and often causes severe lameness, though the prognosis of this syndrome in the vast majority of cases is actually very good!

Broken nails, splinters, abrasions, diseases of the nails and nailbeds, joint and muscle disorders, Lyme disease, and other infections, are other causes of lameness in dogs and cats.

Whatever the cause of lameness, in virtually all cases, the vet should be trotting the dog down a hallway or outside to evaluate the dog's gait. With a cat, the vet can omit the trotting.

Dog carts can be used for patients with severe hindlimb disabilities, though not this type of cart. Love, love, this photo.