DENVER, CO. -- These reader questions were answered at the 2012 American Animal Hospital Association Conference, attended by over 1,200 veterinary professionals, March 15-18 at the Denver Convention Center.
Q: My wonderful Border Collie/Chow mix was in good health and then he stopped eating. After 6 weeks and many tests, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The disease progressed fast. The oncologist said surgery would cost $5,000 and another $800-plus for chemotherapy. I'm a senior citizen living on Social Security and this treatment was financially impossible.
We euthanized the dog before he suffered too much. Now, I wonder what I could have done to save my pet. If I'd had the surgery done, would he have lived? I also wonder if the rawhide bones he loved caused the cancer. Although we lost him two months ago, I'm still devastated. -- P.P., Cyberspace
A: Dr. Mark Russak, president of the American Animal Hospital Association, says, "I am so very sorry for your loss. You must know that you did nothing wrong. I don't know if your dog would have lived or for how long with surgery and chemotherapy. I do know stomach cancer in people and dogs is bad."
Russak, of Starkville, MS, continues, "I've never heard of a link between rawhide and cancer. You are a wonderful pet owner. I can hear your pain and I've been there also; even veterinarians lose pets. You gave your pet a dignified exit without suffering."
Clearly, you had a special relationship with your dog. My online dictionary says to love is: "To feel affection for, to adore to worship and to be devoted to." This sounds pretty much like how our pets feel about us. And likely this definition describes how you felt about your dog. I'm here to argue with anyone who says losing a pet isn't like losing a loved one.
Q: My 6-year-old cat has scabs under his coat from his tail to the back of the neck. He's very sensitive when you touch him near his tail. He's an indoor cat, and I've never seen fleas on him. I rarely see the cat scratch, but I can feel those scabs. What can I do to help my boy? -- E.N., Cyberspace
A: "Fleas still need to be ruled out," explains Dr. Robin Downing, past president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management. "Even indoor cats can get fleas, and sometimes they are difficult to find. Also, I suggest a scraping (by your veterinarian) to investigate the possibility of other parasites."
If nothing can be found, think about allergies. Your veterinarian may suggest a limited antigen (novel protein) diet, or perhaps a visit to a veterinary dermatologist, whose only job is to sort these problems out. Typically, skin issues don't have one-step, overnight fixes.
Meanwhile, you mention that your cat seems to suffer pain when touched. Downing guesses gabapentin could be right for your cat's pain, but ask your veterinarian about appropriate pain relief.
Q: My Westie (West Highland White Terrier) has had an anal gland infection for 8 months now. He takes Cyclosporine orally, and I'm applying an ointment twice daily. Is there anything else that might work better? -- R.V., Woodbury, MN
A: The problem lies in the anal sacs. Nearby glands fill the sacs with a smelly substance which is emptied along with feces when the dog defecates. When this doesn't happen, the smelly fluid has nowhere to go and continues to fill in the anal sacs. Ultimately, an infection may occur, explains Dr. Mike Cavanaugh, executive director and CEO of the Denver-based American Animal Hospital Association.
Some dogs scoot on the ground or persistently lick as those filled sacs create discomfort.
Cavanaugh explains that the problem with oral antibiotics (such as Cephalxin or fluroquinolones) is that they don't typically get to where the infection is, though they may be of supplemental benefit. Another strategy is to have your veterinarian infuse a "pack" of antibiotics into the anal sacs, which will hopefully respond with three applications, every seven to 10 days. Westies are sometimes known to have anal sac issues as a result of food allergies.
If the drugs and/or the infusing don't do the trick, surgery remains an option. While the ancestors of today's dogs likely tagged their territory with feces, including what they emptied from their anal sacs, Cavanaugh says it's been a long time since dogs really needed to do this. Those anal sacs serve no other purpose and would not be missed if removed surgically.
Q: My husband and I have a rescued 4-year-old Newfoundland-Border Collie-St. Bernard mix. Mike is handsome and wonderful, but has only bonded to me and not my husband. My husband works, so I take the dog for runs and fix his food. Mike climbs up next to me on the couch and sighs. My husband wants Mike to bond with him, too, but so far, no deal. Instead, Mike runs away from him. The dog has decided my husband is a bad guy. How can we fix this problem? -- C.F., White Bear Lake, MN
A: "Your husband has to become Mr. Fun," says veterinary technician Ginny Price, of St. Petersburg, FL. "Fun stuff needs to come from him, so whenever possible have him feed the dog. Don't play as often with your dog; let your husband toss the ball or do whatever Mike likes most."
Price says that lack of previous exposure could play into this issue. If, for example, you husband has a beard or maybe he's very tall and towers over the pet. Some poorly socialized dogs are simply wary of men because of their size and strong, deep voices. Ask your husband to talk softly around Mike. Instead of watching TV from the sofa, he should sit on the floor (if he's able) holding some kibble. Don't push Mike, though; just let him come to your husband. Sometimes trying too hard becomes intimidating to an already fearful dog.
I have no doubt your husband is a great guy, and just as much fun as you are. In time, your dog will agree.
Tags: American Animal Hospital Assocaiton, anal glands, anal sacs, dogs and cancer, Dr. Mark Russak, Dr. Robin Downing, fearful dog, fleas, Ginny Price, impacted anal glands, International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, Mike Cavanaugh, pets allergies, pets and pain, Steve Dale archives