Pain Management Options

Many of you know that pain management for dogs is of major relevance to me, because I live with Bumble the Special Child.  If you are unacquainted with my little boy, Bumble is epileptic, mostly blind, mostly deaf, and has joint deformities.  Now that he is getting up there in age, the joint deformities are causing him some problems.

Bumble has become less and less mobile, because his wide open hip joints make him wobbly.  His poor equilibrium, combined with minimal vision, makes him reluctant to walk outside.  In the house, where he knows where everything is, he wanders around at will, and stops to rest whenever he feels like it. 

Bumble has long gotten regular chiropractic to keep his weak joints properly aligned, and when he needed something more, he was taking Metacam, which is an NSAID.  However, with age and further joint deterioration, it wasn’t enough.  Since allowing him to suffer is NOT acceptable, I had a long talk with my incredibly patient vet about pain management options. 

He had a couple of new tricks up his sleeve.

First, we increased Bumble’s Glucosamine and Omega acid intake, and we changed his pain medication to Deramax.  Definite improvement.  The vet tells me that it is not unusual to have to switch back and forth between NSAIDs at intervals to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Second, we started doing cold laser treatments on Bumble’s hips.  Let me just say it.  I do NOT understand in a meaningful way why holding a box with red lights on Bumble’s backside makes him feel better.  But it does, and that’s all I really care about.

Here’s what I do understand.  The frequency of the energy generated by the cold laser stimulates healing in the body and encourages cellular regeneration.  It helps the damaged cells to repair themselves, and it reduces inflammation in the body.  Light has long been known to have healing properties, and this is simply a more precisely focused application of light therapy.

Bumble is also being treated with Alpha-Stim, or more formally, Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation.  I had never heard of this device.  It clips to his ears (which, admittedly, makes him look sort of like Yoda), and it apparently is useful for reducing pain and anxiety.  By the way, this device is also available for human use. You can check it out at www.alpha-stim.com.

As I understand it, this device basically stimulates some neurotransmitters while suppressing others; the effect on the brainwaves creates a reduction in pain and anxiety.  At that point, the technical aspect is officially over my head.  The bottom line is that it makes my little guy feel better.

The really nice thing about the laser and Alpha-Stim treatments is that they are not particularly expensive.  Some animals derive enough benefit from a single treatment; others require ongoing therapy.  Since Bumble’s problems come from an actual deformity of the hip joints, we assume that he will need ongoing therapy. 

Today’s Lesson

I’m not an expert on these new therapies; as they are still new to me, I only understand how they work at a fairly basic level.

What I want my readers to take from today’s column, more than anything, is this:  Your pet does NOT have to live with pain.  Ask your vet about alternative treatments.  If your vet doesn’t know about alternative options, or is unwillingness to discuss these less than traditional treatments, find one who will.  Explore options until you find one that will help your pet.

Keeping our furry family members as healthy, happy, and comfortable as possible is a serious priority.  Don’t be afraid to try new methods.  They’re definitely helping Bumble.

Heartworms

 A friend of mine recently told me that she didn’t know what heartworms were.

I am rarely stunned to silence, but that one took me a minute. 

There are so many commercials, ads, mail-outs, pop-ups, etc., all addressing heartworm prevention.  My first thought was “How can someone NOT know what they are?”

Then I realized that most of the ads presuppose that the target audience at least knows WHAT they are.  The ads focus on prevention of a known enemy, not on education.

I’m guessing that my friend is not the only person who knows heartworms are bad without really having any idea what they are.

Heartworms are really nasty, potentially fatal internal parasites.  They are transmitted by mosquitoes, and thus they are not contagious from one dog to another.  Since we live in Texas, mosquitoes are an inescapable fact of life.  Our winters are generally not harsh enough to kill the carrier mosquitoes off, so even in the cold weather, pets can still be at risk, although admittedly less so.  Texas has been documented as having one of the highest rates of infection, especially within 150 miles of the coast.

Step 1

When you adopt a new pet, your vet should test him for heartworms.  Actually, ideally, the place where the pet comes from should provide you with the results of the heartworm test they administered, so that you know what you’re getting.  But life isn’t always that tidy.  Some tests are less reliable than others, so it’s wise to ask your vet to re-test, just to be safe.  Heartworms can take up to six or seven months to manifest once the dog is bitten by the infected mosquito, so it’s a good idea to test again six months or so after bringing your new pet home.

Please do not assume that because your new pet “seems” perfectly healthy, he must be heartworm negative.  This disease is silent until it becomes quite advanced. 

Step 2

If your pet is heartworm negative, your vet will recommend a monthly heartworm preventative.  The hardest part is remembering to give the pill every month; you might try setting an alert in your smart phone or computer to remind you. 

If your pet is heartworm positive, the first question to ask is how severe is the infestation?  If your pet is low to medium positive, you may choose – or your vet may recommend – what we commonly call the “slow kill”.  This basically means that you put your pet on Heartguard or another Ivermectin based product, administered monthly.  Over a period of several months to more than a year, the Ivermectin based product will prevent the existing worms from reproducing.  It will take more than 18 months for monthly doses of Ivermectin to kill the adult worms, which is why this route is only acceptable for lighter, asymptomatic infections.

Step 3

If your pet has a medium to heavy heartworm infection, he will have to go through heartworm treatment.  This is serious business with potentially ugly side effects.  The current approved treatment in the United States is three doses of a drug called Immiticide, administered over a two month period. 

Risk Reduction During Treatment

During the weeks following treatment, you’ll need to restrict your pet’s activity level.  If your pet is quiet by nature, this is not as big a problem.  If your pet is very high activity, then keep a close eye on him.  You may even have to crate him to keep him from over-exerting. 

The primary danger to your pet during heartworm treatment is that the dying worms will break loose and form a pulmonary embolism.  This can be fatal.  Keeping your pet calm and quiet reduces this risk.

Another recommended method for reducing the risk to your pet during treatment is the administration of an antibiotic called Doxycycline, which apparently kills an organism called Wolbachia.  Wolbachia lives inside the adult heartworms.  It is theorized that killing Wolbachia reduces the risk of embolism, and possibly sterilizes the female heartworms, which helps to prevent ongoing reproduction of heartworms within the dog’s system.  The bottom line is that dogs treated with Doxy seem to handle the Immiticide treatment better.

After Treatment

Dogs who recover from a heartworm infection can go on to live completely normal lives.  My own Lizzie, whom I recently adopted, underwent treatment for a severe heartworm infection shortly before she came home to live with me.  Lizzie is barely a year old, and it takes six months or more for the heartworms to manifest, let alone to advance to level of “heavy” infection.  This means that she was probably less than three months old at the time of infection.  My vet tells me that Lizzie is now a healthy little girl.

Leash Laws

The following column originally ran in August of 2010.  I’m running it again, because once again today I witnessed my idiot neighbors on the next block allowing their herd of small dogs to run loose.  This time, the loose dogs were harassing two leashed dogs walking with their people.  These are the same dogs that I personally have returned to their home more than once. 

I don’t know why it surprises me – their small children run loose too.  Sigh. 

I’ll be following my own advice directly and notifying the HOA.

***

My neighbor told me recently that she has given up walking her young, active dog because she is afraid of all the loose dogs in the neighborhood.

Me too. 

It is both frustrating and potentially dangerous to walk a dog on a leash in an area where careless owners allow their dogs to run loose.  A confrontation between a loose dog and one on a leash is statistically more likely to end in a fight; since you’re on the other end of that leash, you may well get injured in the process.  And then let’s think about the fact that children are often the ones to take the family dog for a walk, which means loose dogs can put children at risk.  Not to mention that loose pets are at risk of injury from cars, humans, and other animals.

In my case, Bumble is so small that when a loose dog shows up, I just pick him up.  He’s pretty quiet and not terribly observant, so I’ve never had a problem getting him away from a loose dog.  But Bunny, his predecessor, would make so much noise that every dog on the street wanted to come see.  There were occasional incidents, stemming largely from Bunny’s total lack of comprehension that she weighed 20 pounds of pudgy fluff.  Of course, if the other dogs had been on leashes too, there would have been no problem.

So what can you do about loose dogs in your neighborhood?  That depends on how hard a line you want to take.  You COULD try having a friendly chat in which you remind the owner about the existence of leash laws. (Most places have them.)  But to be perfectly honest, I don’t recommend that route.  People who are careless enough to let a dog run loose in a neighborhood are unlikely to be responsive to that approach.

Here’s what I suggest:

  1.  Notify your homeowner’s association.  Most neighborhoods with an HOA have strict rules governing pets running loose.  Sometimes a nasty letter from the HOA is enough to make a careless owner comply.
  2. Call Animal Control and file a complaint.  (One family in my neighborhood suddenly developed the miraculous ability to confine their large, aggressive dog after receiving a fine of $100 for allowing the animal to run loose one time too many.) 
  3. If it’s after hours, call local law enforcement.  They can write tickets to people who do not follow the law – even the leash law.

To get the best results, make sure you have a description of the dog, details of its behavior, and the street address where you believe it lives.  Pictures or video of the animal running loose are helpful, too.

If this seems harsh, remember: loose dogs are a risk to you, your pets, and your kids, as well as a major liability to their owners.  Not to mention that unconfined dogs are in constant danger from vehicles, dog thieves, and other animals.

Even though those owners won’t see it that way, you’re doing them – and their dog – a favor.

Adoptables Updated

Gabby: Adopted

Kiah: Adopted

Mandy: Still available

Lucille: Still available

Gramps Elliott: Still available and amazing recovery

Hope: Recovering rapidly

These are the special needs dogs featured on my blog throughout the month of January. 

Gabby is the blind senior Shih Tzu with E-Rescue Houston.  She was adopted by a wonderful family who has adopted from E-Rescue previously and has plenty of experience in dealing with Gabby’s needs.

Kiah is the blind and hearing impaired young Australian Shepherd who came from MCAS to a wonderful foster home.  Her foster family found her just the right home with a family of professional dog people who can keep her safe and happy.

Mandy is the utterly charming little white terrier mix whose only “problem”is that she is deaf.  Since she doesn’t know any other way of life, it certainly doesn’t bother her!  She has also been de-barked.  The rescue group thinks it’s probably because terriers tend to be noisy, and being deaf, she would have been extra loud.  She is still looking for just the right home.  You can see her profile at www.smartpetz.org, or you can scroll down to the column from  January 5, 2011.

Lucille is the lovely senior beagle from the county shelter.  She carries her chew bone around, wags her tail, and loves to be brushed.  She’s in a great foster home, but still she deserves a permanent home in which to live out her years.  You can read her story in my column from January 27th.

 Gramps Elliott is the incredibly sweet senior basset featured in the same column with Lucille.  El was in atrocious physical condition when he arrived – starved, overgrown and embedded nails, bald spots, and the worst dental infection I’ve ever heard of.  A few short weeks later, Elliott has gained weight, recovered from dental surgery, and had his nails cut back to normal.  The holes in his pads have healed, and the bald patches are growing back.  My honest opinion (having met El in person) is that he is a little younger than they thought; his terrible physical condition aged him, but he has bounced right back.  This happy, happy boy is just so glad to be alive that his tail never stops wagging.  You can see more information about him at www.bbrtx.org.

Hope is the American bulldog cross who came into rescue in such bad condition that her survival was questionable at first.  She had been repeatedly bred and was desperately malnourished.  She was missing most of her hair due to acute sarcoptic and demodectic mange, and had a huge abscess under her jaw.  The vets think that it may have been an abscessed lymph node that somehow was a result of the severity of her skin condition.  A few short weeks later, Big Hope (as she is now called) has a shiny white coat.  She has gained weight and looks happy and healthy.  She’s not quite ready for adoption yet, as she still needs to go through heartworm treatment.  But it won’t be long now!

All of these dogs have wonderful personalities, which is so impressive in light of what they’ve been through.  They’re grateful to be loved and want nothing more than to love someone back. 

If you think that someone might be you, please either visit the website for the appropriate rescue group or contact me directly at me@shannonlhill.com.

Parvovirus and Distemper: Major Hazards of Puppy Season

As we move into puppy season, lots of people will be adopting new babies from shelters, and lots of foster families will be taking home entire litters of little guys.

Unfortunately, puppies do not have fully developed immune systems, which makes them very, very vulnerable to a host of illnesses that older animals either might not contract or might have a much better chance of surviving.

Two of the most common are parvovirus and distemper.  It is absolutely critical that any puppy or adult dog – especially those coming from a shelter environment, where they have probably been exposed to illnesses that other animals were incubating – be vaccinated with the DHLPP vaccine, which immunizes pets against both of these.

Be aware that other illnesses can produce similar symptoms to some of the ones produces by parvo and distemper.  I have had a veterinarian misdiagnose parvo, simply because she assumed that any shelter dog presenting with acute diarrhea must have parvo. 

Fortunately, I had enough experience to know that his real problem was depleted gut syndrome from having taken a course of strong antibiotics.  Laboratory tests confirmed my suspicion.  I also knew that the odds were low that this dog could have contracted parvo; it was an older dog that had already been vaccinated for almost two months and out of the shelter for several weeks.  He simply did not fit the profile.

The following is a quote from the veterinary chapter of my upcoming e-book, The Rescuer’s Handbook © on common medical conditions of rescue dogs:

“Parvo primarily affects very young dogs under a year old, especially puppies coming from a shelter environment.  If a young dog (unvaccinated or very recently vaccinated) begins to vomit and have diarrhea within about 10 days of arrival, RUN to the vet’s office. Immediate treatment is the only hope, and even then the odds are against you.  The dehydration from the constant loss of body fluids is the killer in this case.  Expect that the patient will need to spend several days in isolation on iv fluids at the clinic. Then go home and disinfect EVERYTHING to limit the possibility that your other animals might contract the disease.

Distemper is a virus which attacks the dog’s neurological system.  Again, it has a very high mortality rate and is very contagious to unvaccinated animals.  Early symptoms of distemper include fever, mild seizure activity, and eventually loss of neurological function.  A common neurological result is that the dog “doesn’t know where his feet are.”  Basically, the dog becomes increasingly less able to walk, chew, drink, and even breathe properly.  Treatment is only minimally effective.  The survival rate is less than ten percent, and many of the survivors suffer permanent neurological impairment, especially in the form of twitching and jerking.  Survivors often look like they have a canine version of acute Tourette’s syndrome, due to the prevalence of tics.  It is also very expensive to treat.  The combination of the high cost of treatment, in conjunction with the high mortality rate and the risk of contagion, means that most veterinarians will recommend euthanasia.”

This information is NOT a reason to avoid adopting or fostering shelter puppies.  I am providing it strictly to help you keep your personal pets, fosters, and new arrivals as healthy as possible.  In fact, as I write this, my own new rescue baby, Lizzie, is sitting on the sofa with me and Bumble.  

The more knowledge you have, the better you can care for your pets.  Know the symptoms, and make sure your pets are vaccinated for these deadly but preventable diseases.