Life as a Veterinarian, Pet Care

Assigning a Voice.

DSC_2837pIt came up in a conversation at work this week. When you work with a crowd of similar animal lovers and you meet hundreds of animals a week it seems natural to want to assign them a voice. The question was “Do you talk for your pets?” “Do you share their inner dialogue?” “How accurate are we really in knowing that voice?” Besides our own pets we know and love well, we may even assign the voice and thoughts to our patients during their exam or hospital stay with us.

We often give clients an assumed dialogue from their dog’s perspective after their adventure with us. This can be after a brief stay for testing or when we return them to the owner after a quick trip to the treatment area for a blood draw. In a given day, I’d say I meet quite a few animals that would be up for making casual small talk if it were possible but I’d say there are a fair amount that we would talk thru a panic attack or grimace at the shouted explicits. I often wonder if our dialogue and “voice” given matches that which the owner may have.

In some ways, we create this inner dialogue for them to ease our own concerns for them. When your child is hurt you say comforting words and you hope they understand those words and respond with trust and feel safe and comforted. Our patients may understand the soothing tone but they don’t know the words “We are here to help.” or “It is really important we get this sample and it will only hurt a second.” We make verbal promises of care and relief from pain and fear they really can’t understand.

I think it is natural to want to know them better or question the inner workings of their minds since they are such a large part of our families and world. Voice and language are such a huge part of how we communicate. I sit in anticipation and sometimes frustration as I communicate with a toddler on the verge of language explosion. Sure they are words but we still communicate with grunts, gestures, pointing, and body language. In a year, I will probably be requesting a break from the chatter of the inner workings of a busy toddler brain but today I just want the words to come so as to open that connection.

Many of my pets have a “voice”, but especially my dogs. The dialect, pitch, cadence all contribute to the personality I have created and that which has come forth. Roscoe, our former Newfoundland, was assigned a simpleton, sort of dumb voice really. His name also alluded to that personality. He was goofy, comical, immature, and sometimes a royal pain in the you know what.

Roscoe Newfounland with ball
Roscoe’s first picture- forever thereon known as “Big Dumb”

This is the first picture I ever took of Roscoe so it is no wonder I didn’t assign him a voice of a British intellect. It was 2009 and he quickly got the knick name “Big Dumb”. But maybe I was wrong? Maybe he was an intellect with a large and impressive vocabulary. I just heard the demanding bark of a hungry dog that had us well trained to deliver dinner.

Cassy, our Lab Collie mix, is a bit of a frantic, anxious, overzealous pleaser. So we don’t have deep “conversations”. Most include a discussion of retrieving and balls, and throwing the ball again and again. I hear her voice as “Oh, a ball. I love balls. I really love balls. Please throw the ball. Please. Please. Please. Oh, you threw the ball. I love running to get the ball. Oh again, again!”. She isn’t a calm minded creature so when I hear her voice it is a high pitched, fast paced question, always a question….”What do you want me to do now? I can sit? Or bring you a ball? Did you want me to sit? Just tell me what you want and I will do it!”

DSC_1730

I meet a lot of dogs in a day and some very clearly have a voice and often it is associated with a breed. Call it stereotyping if you will. Well groomed Poodle. You probably get a classy snooty diva voice. Big Mastiff or overweight Lab. Sorry you probably get a slower paced simpleton voice with a focus on food. So do we create our pets voice or do they have a voice of their own we bring to life? Shelby, our miniature poodle’s voice has likely changed from her previous life with a Senior Citizen woman to her current life as the
“Rhinestone Cowdog”.

Ripp, the Australian Shepherd puppy… well he is finding his voice. He is this obnoxious testing teenager now so in a way his voice is being found and than changing just as I can see the voice of my own Kiddo changing. How it was always “Mommy” and now I hear “Mom” sneaking in that vocabulary more and more.

Does your pet have a voice? Are we accurate in our idea of that voice? What do you think…do you wish pets could talk? As a vet, there are plenty of times I wish they could just tell me already but I also know I would get cussed out and that may change my level of career satisfaction.  I think I like the world as it where we create the voice and build a relationship with our pets beyond words.

“Dogs do speak, but only to those that listen.”

-Orhan Pamuk

Motherhood, Pet Care, Uncategorized

Observations on the Raising of Puppies and Kids

DSC_9607pHaving kiddos brings its own kind of crazy to life. Add a puppy and it is borderline insanity!

Pregnant woman go into a nesting stage where they want to love and care for another creature and at around 6 months pregnant the urge is strong but there will be no baby for months. It seems the next best thing to love and cradle is a puppy or kitten. I myself grew up with a dog, Bud, that was just 8 weeks older than I. My mother thought “Well I will be home anyway. I might as well get a puppy to housebreak, train, and love while I have the baby.” Now as a parent the story sounds like a disastrous bomb waiting to go off and not the makings of a beautiful friendship between the family dog and a household of daughters.

IMG_5411
First family photo with “Bud” and “Skeeter” 1982

 

For many families the cute and cuddly puppy grows older, more boisterous and reckless. Keeping a tiny helpless infant alive while surviving on minimal sleep is hard and so the puppy child may get forgotten and the  training and direction promised isn’t given priority. The 6 month old formerly adorable puddle of wrinkles Lab is now a wild maniac teenager and becomes too much. Puppies as future parent trainers often fail.

IMG_5412
This is a big “Dog Bite Prevention” NO! Dogs as furniture is not recommended.

 

So when we thought of getting a puppy we looked at pros and cons. Our first dog, Brody, was a surrogate child. I didn’t say that then but now that I have human children it was pretty obvious. When my human children arrived I had to pick the camera back up afraid of the shame if they discovered the “dog child” had more baby books of pictures then they would have.

IMG_5425
Our first family photo with “Brody” 2006
IMG_5426
“Brody” the First Born Parent Trainer

 

Kiddo and dogs baby
We added a human first born to the mix in 2012
Kiddo and dogs
“The Pack” but no puppies

 

 

 

 

This new puppy would not be just our baby but a member of this new family unit that has been created since our last puppy.  We realized that this puppy would be the dog of childhood memories. We all remember our childhood dog and they are always PERFECT….never chewed or barked, as well trained as Lassie, and saved us from our certain destruction in childhood.  The connection to this new puppy would be different…not a surrogate but an addition.

DSC_9642 p
“Ripp”

 

We are about a month or so in and having a toddler and puppy at the same time is for fools I tell you. As if your hands aren’t full enough keeping a rambunctious and daring toddler from certain self-destruction, now you give him a side kick in crime.

IMG_5424

I have learned that puppies and kiddos can thrive on some common principles though:

  1. Feed them well. But here is the kicker…both Sidekick Puppy and Toddler love dog food and cat food is a delicacy for unrestrained gluttony. Forget those silly baby fruit-flavored puffs. If they made a complete baby kibble or adult kibble for that matter I’d buy it by the case. We have to keep the food locked from both pets and toddler. More than once both little creatures have shared the after breath of those disgusting faux bacon treats. Excuse me while I dry heave after doing a mouth sweep of kibble from Toddler and disgusting cow placenta jerky from Puppy!
  2. Consistency is key. Rules are rules until well the young ones look cute and you are tired and weak. Then rules are broken and you vow to be stronger next time. It is good to have a partner that will start to see the cracking and intervene so that consistency remains.
  3. Life is stimulating and sometimes you just need a time out or a nap. Both puppies and toddlers get cranky without!
  4. The best toy is the one you can’t have or that wasn’t even meant to be a toy in the first place. I just throw some boxes around the house and the cats and toddler love them. I bought that $30 Sophia the Giraffe teething toy because that is what good mothers do in today’s society. Guess what…Kongs rule in our house.
  5. Imitation is a step in learning. But it gets tricky when the toddler mimics the dog. The other night toddler brought a toy in mouth and requested a game of fetch. But there is hope that by watching older brother pee in the toilet and older dogs pee outside there may be a spark of discovery for toddler and puppy.
  6. What is mine is mine and yours is mine too. Sharing is hard. The other night toddler was sleeping with pacifier in mouth (and yes I was that mom that vowed no pacifiers at this age, ever, ever and then I decided sleep and peaceful living was more important than this pacifier war.) and puppy just stole it in one swoop. So lesson is: if puppy has a toy don’t steal and if child has a toy don’t steal. Teeth and/or tears could be consequences.
  7. Showing love can be a bit rough for the littles. Bite inhibition and hand inhibition training are real. Toddler please note pets don’t love hugs, especially if there is risk of a head popping off and Puppy please note we people don’t like your mouth on our flesh.

IMG_5413

I think it is a start of a beautiful friendship and I hope that in the years to follow we look back with fond memories of their childhood dog. But for today I will just take a deep breath and vow to keep on teaching, guiding, and preventing mayhem and destruction.

“Got to go…Toddler is using the dog food bin as a tasty sensory bin and Puppy is torturing the cats.”

Anyone else crazy like me raising a puppy and a baby? How is your adventure going?

Pet Care

The Fat Cat Epidemic. How my cats got the weight off and will hopefully keep it off!

fat cat.jpg

Feline obesity is an epidemic. I dare say only 10-15% of the cats I see are an ideal weight, while many are overweight and way too many are just plain obese! National statistics indicate that over 30% of cats are classified as obese and over 50% are overweight.  My own cats have struggled with the “Battle of the Bulge”. 

Sonny, my big orange Garfield, came to me after being dropped off for euthanasia for inappropriate urination. He had bouts of idiopathic cystitis. Basically for some reason, often stress, he would have bladder inflammation and pee out of the litter box. He was fluffy, chubby, and well adorable. Sonny was fat and as a veterinarian surely I could get him to drop the weight. My dogs were fit and trim…how hard could this be.

Why do I even care that my cats are fat?

The #1 reason I don’t want a fat cat is because I don’t want to manage a diabetic cat. Just like Type 2 diabetic persons, fat cats can develop insulin resistance and full blown diabetes. Twice daily insulin injections and the management of blood glucose curves just isn’t something I want in my life. Often with diet change and weight loss, cats can go into remission but why not prevent it. Not to mention the increased strain on joints and bones not made to carry twice the weight they should or the risk of developing a fatty liver if they should miss a meal or two.

RC cat bcs

What didn’t work…

I tried portion control and failed. I tried a variety of great well marketed cat food and fed the set amount. Well my cats thought they were starved. I remember getting an automated feeder. I was so smart! No human error! Food delivered in a set amount and on  a schedule with no  worry of lack of human fortitude when those demanding eyes pierced my soul. We went away for an overnight only to return to the automated feeder disassembled, the entire pound of cat food consumed, and more diarrhea in the litterbox (thankfully) then I had ever seen.

So what worked…

Well I mentioned my fear of diabetes and thought well what is recommended for diabetic cat remission….a HIGH PROTEIN/LOW CARB diet! Basically “Catkins”. Here is the thing…unlike us or dogs cats are true CARNIVORES and they eat meat.

Why does a diet high in protein and low in carbs work?

Cats evolved as hunters. Their body evolved to handle meat protein not carbohydrates (grains, peas, potatoes, etc). The average house cat would hunt about 10-12 mice per 24 hour period. You know how many calories there are in a single mouse?  30-35!!!! That’s right! There are ~100 calories in a cube of cheese and 2-3 calories per kibble of cat food! How hard does the average house cat work to eat a bowl of food…NOT VERY and it is gone in a few minutes! How hard did the hunter work for that same amount of calories via mice, birds, rodents, etc. There was hunting, stalking, jumping, covering a territory, etc.

So not only do I feed high protein and low carb but I feed multiple smaller meals and use treat balls, hiding kibble in the cat tree, etc to mimic “hunting”. Do my cats still try to steal Cheetos out of the pantry…heck yes! Carb junkies I tell ya!

cat weight loss sheet

What’s best?

As  a veterinarian, I do believe in “All cats… all canned…all the time”. Cats do not consume large quantities of water and again evolved to ingest high moisture prey. Canned diets are naturally lower in carbs and higher in moisture. This not only plays a role in obesity and diabetes but in urinary and bladder issues too. Remember we can’t just look at the label comparing protein in a canned and kibble diet….we need apples to apples so they have to both be compared on a dry matter basis.

There are actually a lot of over-the-counter canned foods that are low in carbs (less than 7%). For my diabetic patients I recommend canned Purina DM (no kick-backs here) because of the success of this diet in getting my diabetic patients into remission.

I am going to be honest here…. I feed kibble…calorie dense, low moisture kibble basically for two reasons 1)I want to stay married…my hubby literally gags at the smell of canned food a mile away 2) I am lazy…if they made a supplemental baby kibble I’d by it. Throw down some kibble=easy.  But I do feed the lowest carb kibble available… Purina DM dry. It is calorie dense but I have found reasonable portions, increased activity, and low carb have really got the weight off.

WANT MORE INFO…Including lists of good low carb options check out.

What I have learned with a household of cats is just like people some really struggle to maintain a lean body condition score. Are all my cats a perfect 5/9 BCS? No but I remain committed. If you have a fat cat I urge you to recognize it and make the change. Not only will your cat be healthier and more energetic, but also less likely to have the many medical issues that come hand-in-hand with obesity (and the expense of treatment and management).

Life as a Veterinarian, Motherhood, Pet Care

Death Comes, Grief Follows

/DSC_9674 p

As a veterinarian, I help clients say goodbye to beloved pets nearly every day. There are those geriatric pets whose age or disease has finally got the best of them. I say things like “They enjoyed a wonderful and long life.” “When we open our hearts to know their love, so do we open our hearts to the heartache of their departure” “It is our final gift to give to relieve their suffering.”

Then there are the tragic unexpected losses where you just try to hold them up while emotions of disbelief, guilt, rage, anger, among others wash over them. Perhaps they want comfort to know their pet went quickly and without pain. You assure them it isn’t fair, that it was chance or poor luck.

maxx

I have been awash in loss this past year. Expected loss of dogs from cancer and heart failure to the sudden losses due to tragedy or an undiscovered disease. I don’t know if one is better or worse than the other. With the terminal pets I felt waves of anticipatory grief. As much as I held on to the idea of “enjoying every day given” where there was joy in that day there was fear that this day was the end, that I didn’t know that moment would come and couldn’t control the end. Here I sat a veterinarian and I couldn’t save my own.

With each client I felt the need to take away the pain of grief and put in on my own back to bear so as to reliever their own suffering. I put myself in their shoes and felt my own losses, either those that had happened or those yet to come. I couldn’t go on in that way as a veterinarian helping. Instead I started thinking of grief as blanket and it was my job to hold a space for them, to wrap a blanket of understanding and support around them. I could share the grief but I could not shoulder it.  My quote of choice became: “Grief is the final act of love we have to give to those we have loved. Where there is great grief there as great love.” And then loss hit again today….and a wave of anger and grief once washed over me knocking me over.

maxx 1

Maxx was a miracle, a PITA butthead, bully, and I loved to hate him. He would even spend time on kitty Prozac for his inappropriate marking behavior.

It was a typical afternoon at the clinic, when an older gentleman brought in an overly friendly overweight tabby cat with a thick red collar. Just 20 minutes after his exam and vaccines that tabby showed up at our strip-mall veterinary clinic doorstep in respiratory distress and vomiting blood. His owner couldn’t be found and we feared the worse. We couldn’t wait any longer and so radiographs revealed the problem- he had a diaphragmatic hernia…basically his diaphragm had torn and his abdominal contents including stomach and liver were in his chest threatening his life.

maxx 3

The owner was located and couldn’t commit to the necessary surgery to save his life. Maxx had jumped out the car window on their departure. He could have ran under a car or to another business location but he seemed to beg for help by coming back to our doorstep. Maxx seemed a survivor and was owed the chance to prove it. I had him signed over and swore to do the best I could.

His breathing during surgery was provided by manual ventilation by a technician. Each breath provided by the careful squeezing of the reservoir bag, passing oxygen and anesthetic gases thru the tube in his trachea to inflate his lungs.  The diaphragm tear was found and I saw his beating heart and removed what didn’t belong in his chest. I sutured his thin torn diaphragm back together. And he survived…and recovered…and I couldn’t let him go so he became mine.

Maxx was really the worst…overly loving but on his terms, a food loving fatty I feared would become diabetic, a bully to the outdoor cats, and destroyer of my belonging with his potent urination. But I loved him.

So when he was gone for more than a day I feared the worse. Brad searched and found him…and since I had been texting for updates I got the call…and all the grief came back. I couldn’t handle another loss…just weeks after our beloved dog and months after other pets. I was pissed…I have clients that bring their cats in once a lifetime at the age of 18. I did everything for this cat. I saved his life…he beat the odds so why the hell now!

Nature is a cruel bitch! As I see the pastures come alive I know she brings life and beauty and she takes it away in one moment. Maxx had been attacked and the evidence suggested by a coyote. His wounds not survivable. I was fearful I won’t be able to find the answers I always need but when I saw him it wasn’t him…he was gone and this worthless body left behind.

And I said all the things I share to others…”You saved him. He had a great life. He loved the outdoors (He was strictly indoors initially but seemed to hate it and needed more. His first adventure outdoors I swept him up from under a bush after spending the entire 10 minutes he was outdoors convince he was acquiring feline leukemia virus). I don’t understand nature…I have the training to diagnosis, prescribe, and treat but in the end nature wins…she always does…whether it be when it seems right after a long full life or in tragedy we can’t understand.

I hold gratitude I have my family, children, and loved ones…that perhaps “He was just a cat. That she was just a dog.”. But my heart hurts and so once again death comes and grief follows.

maxx 4

Pet Care, Ranch Life

How to Name a Puppy

Ripp 1

As a veterinarian, I meet a lot of pets and so have lots of inspiration for naming…simple names, complicated names, funny names, names with sentiment.

There are the pet’s names inspired by looks…the Cocoas, Shadows, Reds.  Then the classics…Buddy, Max, Rover. Cats seem to demand the most creative names, maybe because they demand a title not a meager simple name so we see Prince Meowiwether the Third or Professor Snitchy. Owners seem to find inspiration from pop culture or Disney very commonly. You can tell when a Disney movie was popular based on the age of the 100s of pets named after the main characters. We might still see the rare geriatric Simba but we meet plenty of Elsas.

When we acquired our new little working Australian Shepherd puppy the task of finding a suitable name came front and center. Some families know the name of their new creature long before he comes home (as was the case for our human boy’s names) but in our house we must get to know the little furry creature- know his quirks, character, his purpose in this new life. We have a menagerie so naming is a common task. The job of naming of our most recent cats fell to a toddler learning his colors so we have “Black Cat/Penelope”, “Gray”, “Orange Cat”. We went thru a time of naming pets after up and coming children’s names. When we changed Roscoe’s name from Worthy, we departed that path as I felt no mother I knew would name their child Roscoe.

Ripp 3

Now naming a cow dog has its own rules. One syllable is best and it has to be a strong name. It is a “Call Name” and when it erupts from one’s lips it will elicit this little bundle of fur to fly across the barn or pasture, tongue flopping, eager to please his master’s next request. When this name is said everyone must know that this isn’t the name of a lap dog or mere bird dog, but the name of a cow/sheep working dog. His vocation will be know with the simple utterance of his name.

Ripp 4.jpg

So began the list of names and the requests for input. Many fine and suitable names came forth. For the first 24 hours, the little puppy was known as Jett. But his master didn’t feel this name was strong enough or suitable. Ripp was deemed a more suitable name for the little fluffy dog. But not to be said as “R-ip” but strongly and with intention “Ri-hipp”.

Jacob has struggled with the pronunciation of “Rs” so for the first part of the day it was “W-hip” and for myself I can’t stop singing “Rip, Rip It Off” to the annoyance of the master who found the most perfect name.

So meet Ripp, the 10 week old Australian Shepherd working dog, with a strong and suitable cow dog name!

Ripp (rip):

Noun: Old English: topographic name for someone who lived by a strip of woodland.

Verb:

  1. Move forcefully and rapidly
  2. Tear or pull quickly or forcibly away from someone or something.

 

Ripp 2