Saturday, March 27, 2010

How to Hold a Nippy Dog

We are learning all sorts of new skills from our experiences with my Min Pin, Taco, who has been battling severe gastro-intestinal illnesses since March 12th.

A very dear friend of mine has been helping me give Taco sub-cu fluids (I’ve learned how to hold the needle in place once she slides it under the skin).  Today we reviewed the process for the “Vet Tech Hug,” which allowed us to administer medicines (pills crushed and dissolved in distilled water and Hills Science Diet A/D food mixed into a thick slurry (20 ccs at a time, administered by mouth through a big syringe).  Taco’s severe pain has made him extremely bitey, and I’ve got bruises and small punctures from his sharp teeth.  Fortunately, he is a small dog, so the bites are small, but his jaws are very powerful.  It hurts like the dickens when he clamps down on a fingerful of Nutri-Cal.

The “Vet Tech Hug” method requires two people, a towel and a slip leash.  The towel is spread on the table to stabilize the dog.  The slip leash is for back up control at the beginning and end of the hug.  The dog is left un-muzzled for this process.  The holder encircles the dog’s neck, using the crook of the elbow like a vise to still the dog’s neck and lift the dog’s snout toward the ceiling.  With the other arm, the holder encircles the dogs body—I’m more comfortable putting my arm over the topline, but it can be easier to slide the arm underneath the dog’s belly.  You pull the dog toward your torso, hugging the animal in a firm squeeze.

I do the holding, and I have to get the grip right on the first go, otherwise, a dog Taco’s size can get leverage with his forelegs and pull his neck out of the grip or snap at my face.  I don’t have a photo, but you can get the idea of the position from the picture above, which I found on Flickr.

While the dog is in my arms, my friend or my husband can take a prepared syringe and squeeze liquefied pills or food into the dog’s mouth.  The key is to place the tip of the syringe in the small gap between the perimolars, as shown in the diagram below.  The dog may mouth the syringe with its canines, but it’s almost impossible for the dog to bite down.  Plus, this puts the syringe tip far enough back in the mouth that the dog is forced to swallow the liquid.

So far, we have given Taco half of his medication dosage for the day and have fed Taco 60 ccs of liquid food (20 ccs at a time, every hour and a half).  The third syringe of food went down with only minimal resistance on Taco’s part.  We’ll feed him again twice before bed tonight and give him his meds.

On Monday, Taco will have another sonogram.  My Vet reviewed the numbers on his liver bloodwork and she suspects sludge in the gallbladder.  A sonogram will confirm that and give us a clear look at the liver and other organs.  Yes, it’s another expense, but if the gall bladder has been affected, it’s actually one of the easier issues to treat.  There’s a possibility that Taco has developed pancreatitis, but we’ll have to wait until Monday.  For now, the key is to get him eating (hopefully on his own) and to get his meds down his throat without getting bitten.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Memories of Old Yeller

We all know what happened to “Old Yeller” in the classic book and Disney film, and we all bawled our eyes out. Of course, back in the days when Old Yeller fought bears and contracted rabies, advanced veterinarian treatments were non-existent.

Today, vet care is as sophisticated as human medical care—even if it is without a bitter Congressional fight—and owners can treat their animals for an ever-expanding range of maladies at an ever-increasing cost.

I’ve spent more than $3,000 on a rescue dog I’ve owned for 10 years. Back when we went to the PetsMart adoption event, we never visualized this, of course. We saw a cute, spirited Miniature Pinscher. We didn’t know he would be a dominant, nippy little twit, but after all these years, we love him, even with his drawbacks.

I was describing Taco’s recent illness to a group of friends, and an older man began describing how his family cared for the dogs of his youth: “We had dogs on our farm in Wisconsin,” he said. “And we never did much for them, but they were healthy and lived a long time. We didn’t even feed them fancy dog food. And we never took them to a Vet. We might have called a Vet for a cow, maybe, but never for a dog.” He was appalled that I had spent so much on “just a dog.”

I didn’t get into it with the gentleman, but 30 or 40 years ago, when he was a boy in Wisconsin, a farm dog might have lived for 3 or 4 years before getting injured, ill or hit by a vehicle. Dogs simply “ran off” never to be seen again. Even when I was a kid in the 1960s, if you had a dog that lived to be 7 or 8, that was an “old dog.” A very old dog.

Most Vets still consider a dog a senior at age 7, but vaccinations, spay/neuter programs, better food nutrition, preventive health checks and a growing list of drugs and treatment options have extended the life-span of our pets. Today, I meet people with 14-year-old Golden Retreivers who still take (slow) daily walks and 18-year-old Dachshunds who might be hobbled with cataracts and toothless, but they still have pep. Advances in Vet care today mean that if you want to spend the money, you can provide your ill pet with blood transfusions, open heart surgery, joint replacement and sophisticated cancer treatments.

Have I spent too much on my nasty little Min Pin? I don’t know. As I told my husband, the time to decide how much you want to spend is BEFORE you are involved in a full-bore treatment plan. I could have stopped, I suppose, after my first visit—skipping the pricey emergency care and nixing the follow-ups. My dog would be dead now simply due to system collapse and dehydration. I’m taking him to the Vet this morning, after watching him slip into a decline last night. However, this morning, his whole attitude seems better.

Still, I warned my daughter that we might have to make that big Decision with this dog. I told I needed to be honest with her—I needed to know if she wants to be with Taco when/if euthanization is needed. She said yes she did. Meanwhile, my conscience won’t let me just abandon this dog to death if reasonable efforts will help him improve. My Vet, at this point, believes he is a good candidate for total recovery. So for now, I will hand over my credit card.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Taco's Illness Worsens

What an ordeal. The last two weeks have gone by in a blur due to my Miniature Pinscher Taco’s fateful encounter with a dead squirrel.  Since I discovered him with a squirrel carcass, I have been to three different veterinarian offices, and have spent more than $3,000 dealing with his symptoms.

We’ll never know for sure, but my Vet thinks we’re dealing with Salmonella.  Taco went downhill the Saturday after our first Vet visit on March 12th, in spite of three injections (anti-bacterial, anti-nausea and pain medication).  He stopped eating.  His eyes grew squinty, his gums were engorged red but very tacky, and he bit at us while we tried to medicate him. 

On March 14th we took him to the San Antonio Animal Emergency Clinic, which is rated second in the state of Texas behind the facilities at Texas A&M.  Taco spent the night with IV fluids and antibiotics, along with heating pads to raise his abnormal and dangerously low temperature.  There were Xrays and a sonogram.  No sign of tumor, no sign of pancreatic distress, no damage to the liver.  Just sever inflammation all along the gastric track and inflammation around the liver.

March 15th and 16th were spent at Spring Branch Vetinerary Clinic, where my Mom takes her dogs.  We brought him home on March 18th and he saw his regular doctor on March 19th.  His blood work was improved and she gave him 300 ccs of sub-cu fluids, a powerful anti-biotic injection, and a full round of additional meds.  We fed him via syringe, but Taco became more balky and by Sunday, March 21st, Taco had bitten both  me and my husband so hard that we couldn’t give him anymore liquid medicines (muzzling him became an exercise in avoiding Taco’s teeth).

March 22nd, he went back to the Vet for more fluids.  He seemed to improve, making a poop and even eating a bit more enthusiastically on his own.  I found a way to get him to take his pills—a dab of whipped cream cheese worked wonders.  On March 23rd, a friend of mine helped me give him 200 ccs of sub-cu fluids at home to keep his electrolytes in balance.  Afterwards, Taco ate shredded boiled chicken and I/D dog food.  He pooped again the next day.  However, by afternoon on the 24th, he was refusing most food, except for a couple T/D kibbles.

Today, my friend and I gave him another 200 ccs of sub-cu fluids.  His temperature was normal, and his attitude seemed better.  He is still reluctant to eat—I have five open cans of special Hills Science Diet dog foods and he only sniffs at them.  He ate some kibbles, a bit of I/D and a  bit of rice.  However, tonight, his gums are pale and tacky, and he’s hunched over again.  Instead of letting him sleep with my daughter, I’ve tucked him snugly in his “Happy Place,: a bed in the closet.

My daughter, who is almost 16, asked if maybe we had done the wrong thing by treating his illness—she wanted to know if he is in too much pain and needs to be euthanized.  At each stage of this process, I have asked the presiding Vet whether or not we’re trying to treat a dying dog.  Each time, I was told he was critical, but not dying.  We’ve spent more money on this dog to fight this than I’ve ever spent on one animal, but the problem is that once we started treatment, we were pretty much committed. 

Tonight I am concerned we are losing the battle.  I have an appointment for Taco in the morning.  Plus, I had a long conversation with Taco’s doctor this afternoon, and she was hopeful that his improvement would continue.  But his symptoms appear to be worsening.  I am not confident that we can save him.  Only time will tell.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Squirrels + Dogs = Not a Good Idea

“Dug” the talking dog in the Pixar loses all focus when it comes to “Squirrels!”  And so do my dogs, especially my Miniature Pinscher, Taco. Today I went out in the backyard—it’s Spring here in Houston—and saw Taco sunning himself. Then I realized he was guarding something. His prize?—the back half of a dead squirrel.

Yipes! I rushed into the house for a hunk of leftover rotisserie chicken and performed a bait-and-switch. I got Taco inside, picked up the dead squirrel, and realized that we were missing the head and forequarters. Not to mention the guts. The carcass was cleanly cut and fairly fresh, with red flesh and a white spot of bone. No shreds or tears. I think this squirrel got caught in the community association mowers’ blades or perhaps was a dropped by the big black vultures that take care of the roadkill around here in the Piney Woods.

I scoured the yard, letting Taco out twice. Each time, he led me to more squirrel bits—two piles of guts. It wasn’t a fun job. A little later, the barfing and pooping began. Because it’s Friday and because we’re traveling to my folks this weekend, I decided to take Taco to my Vet. I use VCA (it’s a complicated story for another post), which is a chain vet. My dog’s regular Vet had called in sick, so I had a different doctor.

You know the rest of the story—nothing you can’t throw money at. The first estimate was about $450, including a premium blood panel. The examining doctor was concerned about pancreatitis, but I vetoed that call. Taco has eaten all manner of things in the 10 years I’ve had him and has never had anything worse than a regular gastrointestinal upset. I brought him in to see if we needed to purge his gut, and to find out what prophylactic measures to take against Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection carried by squirrels and threatening to dogs. We settled on a less expensive blood-fecal-urine panel, along with a pain injection (my normally stoic dog was hunched and groaning and certainly not his bossy, nippy self) and then added an anti-nausea injection after he hurked up in the car before we could get out of the parking lot. I have the pain meds from a different visit, and so went home with antiobiotic (Metronidazole) and another drug to slow the loose stools. The bill was about $275 by the time we were done.

Taco is groggy from the pain meds and I’ve stashed him in a crate with comfy blankets. Hopefully, his system will settle down and we'll get a clean report on his bloodwork. We’ll take some Science Diet ID along with us before we put him back on regular food. I’ll touch base with his regular Vet, plus I’ve already talked to a Vet Tech friend just to make sure I wasn’t over-reacting. I suppose I could have played “wait-and-see” but I chose not to do that.

Squirrels are fine for chasing, but not good at all for dogs to snack on.

Top Photo:  "Dug" from the Pixar Movie, "Up"
Bottom:  Taco on the prowl for squirrels.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Volunteer Arms Race of Dedication

In the 10 years I’ve been doing animal rescue work, I’ve found that disputes and divergences are rampant among the rescue community.  Animal rescue work is a highly emotional enterprise, and it attracts tireless, but strongly opinionated people.  It’s extremely challenging to get people to sign on to a single course of action—which is why groups tend to splinter and re-splinter as people choose to pursue their own view of what needs to be done.

One core problem we have as volunteers is that we are not affiliated with a 501(c)(3) group.  We work as a loose network, with only minimal oversight provided by the County.  Registered 501(c)(3) groups do work with the Shelter, but we don’t have a dedicated (privatized) group that runs the Shelter. The County runs the Shelter.  The head honcho is a Constable, which gives the entire endeavor a police-law enforcement sort of mentality.

Our volunteers end up in an arms race of dedication—with the pressure to do more and more.  This weekend, I was at two events, and was gone from my own dogs from 8:30 a.m. to 9:20 p.m., except for a brief stop to feed and run my own animals.  

At the second event, a large off-site event, I did not stay to the bitter end with the Off-Site Coordinator, who still had to oversee the return of about 20 animals to the Shelter, plus finish paperwork.  Not mention she had the two or three loads of stinky blankets shoved into her van.  My guess is that this volunteer didn’t get home, whereupon she still had to tend to her own foster dogs, wash the dirty blankets, and take care of her own needs.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she collapsed into bed about 1:00 a.m.

When new people begin doing off-sites, they plunge in full force—one twenty-something man and his girlfriend hauled 12 large dogs to a Wine Festival and adopted 7, with a “promise” from someone to come on Sunday for one of the 4 remaining dogs.  The couple expressed amazement that everyone couldn’t have this sort of “success”—after all, the man told me, they took photos of each dog and made up professional flyers for each animal, plus they bathed all their dogs before the event. 

I felt like such a slacker—I don’t bathe my Shelter dogs and only make up flyers for my individual fosters.  I did keep my mouth shut, though, and didn’t comment on how many dogs might be returned from that event once the festival-attendees lose the glow from their wine-tasting.

Between the volunteers who bathe and haul, the ones who spend hundreds of dollars out their own pockets to provide outside veterinarian care for the Shelter dogs, the ones who hijack their family’s bathtubs and fill them with newborn puppies, and the ones who create “kitten hotels” in their spare bedrooms, we aren’t lacking for dedication.  But sometimes I wonder if our volunteer work is actually hurting more than it helps.

Certainly the animals benefit, but one fact remains:  no matter how much we do as volunteers, the dogs and cats, puppies and kittens keep coming in to the Shelter.  Our local Craigslist brims with animals up for sale or re-homing.  Backyard breeders park their pickups on busy roadsides and offer purebred puppies for sale.  We have a “Puppy Store” in the area and another pet store that sells puppies and kittens in the local shopping mall.  Our newspapers are chock full of classified ads peddling animals.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep plugging along—I may not bathe the big dogs I haul to Off-Site Events, and I don’t take home litters of puppies to nurse along,  but I’m in this for the long haul.  Pacing myself is the key.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Home Safe!

Home Safe!
Originally uploaded by Calsidyrose
My parents found their youngest Chihuahua this afternoon, about a city block (although they live in the country) from their house, hiding under an shed's risers near a neighbor's pool.

The neighbor saw her as she was trying to warm herself on the pool deck and called my folks. Megan Marie darted back under the shed but came out when my Mom got own and called her.

She was stinky but in good health and spirits. My parents are so relieved.

When searching for your lost dog, you need to consider widening the distance in blocks (or miles) you will search for your animal. This tiny Chihuahua was about a quarter mile from my parents and roamed even further, based on sightings by neighbors.

I made a flyer for my parents, using the triptych collage photo featured in the previous post about this dog.  My folks submitted the flyer to their neighborhood association website, which featured it prominently on the site's front page, with the header "Have You Seen This Dog?"

I encouraged my folks to talk to EVERYONE in their neighborhood, and to give them the flyer.  My folks received word about sightings of the dog within hours and the man who found her had seen the flyer, plus talked to my Dad the day Megan Marie got lost.

Not all "lost dog" stories have happy endings, but I'm sure glad this one did!

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Mom's Lost Chihuahua

My Mom's Lost Chihuahua!
Originally uploaded by Calsidyrose
This is Megan Marie. She is a one-year-old tan or light brown Chihuahua. She got out from my Mom's house, this morning, March 1st and hasn't been found yet. My folks have worn themselves out looking for her.

My folks live in Spring Branch, Texas. Their subdivision, Whispering Hills, is on Texas 46, just across the street from Smithson Valley High School.

Megan Marie didn't have on a collar, but is microchipped. She is a typical skittish Chi.

This is a good time to remind all pet lovers to take and keep handy up-to-date photos of your pets. I had more photos (and these are not the best for ID purposes) than my folks.

I recommend that you take a head shot, and body shots from each side, with good lighting and few background distractions.

I used this collaged photo (made in Picnik) as the focal point of a Lost Dog flyer I mailed and emailed to my folks. A lost or missing dog is every owner's nightmare. I see the anguish on people's faces every day I'm at the Shelter.