General Questions

Submitted December 29, 2008

Q.) I have a quick question for you. I am having my six-month old pup neutered in a couple of weeks and I was wondering your thoughts on the pre-surgical blood work. Is it necessary? How often do the results show that the dog should not have the surgery?

A.) I am a big believer in pre-surgical bloodwork and am continually amazed at the number of times we catch issues in otherwise healthy dogs. Sometimes these issues are minor, or potentially just a transient change, that will only result in a delay of the procedure. Other times we uncover serious underlying diseases. It amazes me how otherwise healthy appearing dogs can have significant issues lurking in their bodies prior to any symptoms developing.

This won't be news to some of you, but I'm incredibly neurotic about bloodwork in my own dogs and will do full panels once, if not several times a year. If nothing else I have a healthy baseline of bloodwork to use if something should crop up down the road. Dogs age differently than we do and often times are much better at hiding symptoms of pretty significant health issues. By keeping tabs on their inner workings it allows for peace of mind when going under anesthesia, and a healthy comparison should issues crop up in the future.

I know often it feels like you are at a restaurant rather than at a medical facility when you walk into a vet's office, with the numerous options and menu items to choose from when all you're after is a simple neuter. Some of the other stuff may be window dressing, but things like bloodwork are vitally important and highly recommended by this veterinarian.

Submitted 10/12/2008

Q.) I have a 16-year old springer. She has multiple tumors, including several mammary tumors that are growing. I have her on a quality diet and exercise her regularly. What are some guidelines for when I have to put her down? I don't want her to suffer, but I also want to make sure I get all the loving from her I can before she has to go. She is a special dog and of course I will be conflicted, but I definitely want to do right by her.

A.) As you can imagine this topic ranks up there as one of the worst aspects of my profession. Growing up I had experienced the loss of several dogs and I had always given clients my opinion on how to make this decision; however, until we lost Emma this last spring I always wondered if I would be able to heed my own words.

To start off, there is no "right time." If ten different people had owned your dog there very likely would be ten different days that people thought were the right time. I truly believe that this is an individual decision made by the family or individual involved. It is an unwritten contract you make with each little bundle of fur brought into your house. And while it may reveal too much of my glass-is-half-empty attitude it is something I think about even as I'm giving my heart away to a new puppy. When those final days do arrive, certainly, you may seek guidance from veterinary professionals, friends and family members, but at the end of the day the decision will ultimately rest with you and what you feel is best for your friend.

I often tell clients that if you are still questioning whether it is time, or not, then it probably isn't. Having experienced this event more times than I care to recount, now as a veterinarian and an owner, I can truly say that when it's time you'll know it. After having this talk with countless owners, and then have them come back days, months or years later, once the decision is made, I know this to be true. I once had a client make the comment to me that you can't plan a death, and while she may have been right, I also believe you have to sometimes make plans for a death. When it became painfully obvious that we were nearing the end with Emma I had made those plans on five separate occasions before I truly knew in my heart it was time to say goodbye.

The difficulty with many of these older dogs is that their diseases are very slow to progress, or in some cases the dog is just getting older, and while age is not a disease we certainly see diseases that come with age. In these cases we look at our old friend and realize he's no worse than yesterday, or even last week, but at the same time he's much worse than a month or year ago. It is these dogs that slowly deteriorate over time that are difficult to evaluate when making these heart-wrenching decisions.

You asked for some guidelines in putting a dog down, and to be honest, even though I'm eternally pessimistic, this is one case where I look at guidelines for keeping a dog with us. I evaluate if the dog is still eating and drinking, able to go to the bathroom, how mobile is the dog, is there pain and to what degree, and most importantly does the dog still seem to enjoy life? With some of these old-timers simply having a full food dish and being able to patrol the backyard a couple of times a day is about as satisfying as chasing birds used to be. And while the quality of the enjoyment may not be to the degree it was when the dog was younger, it doesn't mean that life is no longer worth living... remember age isn't a disease.

Enjoy your girl while she's still here as too soon the time will come to say goodbye, and when it does it may be the worst decision you ever have to make, but in the end can be the greatest gift you give her.

Submitted 8/22/08

Q.) My dog was hit by a car last week when he bolted out of my yard. I just don't understand how this happened because for the last three years he's never left my property. What can I do to make sure he doesn't leave the yard after his broken leg is healed?

A.) I'll be honest, this is one of my biggest pet peeves with pet ownership; people who do not properly, or adequately, restrain their pets. I cringe every time I hear the phrases, "He's never left the yard before" or "He's never jumped out of the truck before." What most people fail to realize is that the reason this is only the first time it has happened is because it only needs to happen once. Too often it only takes the "first time" to result in the death of your dog.

I run and exercise my dogs most days in our small community, and unless I go extremely early in the morning, we almost always have one of these "highly-trained" dogs chase us into the street. The owner screams, yells and eventually has to chase down the exuberant dog, who "never" leaves their yard. Too many people feel their dog is trained, because it listens in the house or backyard, areas with no distractions. The fact is that while the dog may be trained for those situations it is not fully trained until it can perform those same commands in the face of all variables and distractions.

To the orinigal question, I have seen way too many dogs who have been hit by a car as they chased something off of their property, whether it be a rabbit, cat, or frequently a family member. The same is true for the dog riding in the back of the pickup. While many times these dogs are "trained" to stay in the back of the vehicle, at the end of the day they are still dogs, and if the temptation or distraction is great enough, they are going to jump because--as dogs--they have no regard for their personal safety or injury. Often times the intense pain and suffering of the dog, not to mention the multi-hundred or thousand dollar vet bill, could have been prevented with a $40 crate or $5 leash.

With the dogs that are allowed to be off leash or unconfined in the city, it also presents a hazard for other dog owners. While being hit by a car may be the worst-case scenario, a dog fight is not a pleasant experience either. Too often as the Labrador comes charging at me on my runs, with his hackles up and with a deep throaty growl, the owner invariably yells, "He's friendly," or "He won't bite!" This may very well be the case, but it isn't with one of the dogs at the end of my leash who happens to be fearfully aggressive towards other dogs, due to an incident she had as a puppy. Now when, your friendly dog gets bit by the dog he gleefully ran out to greet, we could have two dogs that no longer like to be faced with strange dogs after the ensuing fight.

I don't want to imply that I expect your dog to live its entire existence in a protective bubble or tethered to a leash, but I would strongly suggest protecting your dog while in town or around other dogs. While in town always keep your dog on a leash or in a fenced-in yard. I have seen way too many tragedies to allow otherwise. There is nothing macho or cool about a dog that has just been hit by a car, do your friend a favor and protect and restrain him.

Submitted 08/22/08

Q.) Should small umbilical hernias prevent one from breeding gundogs? Is there a difference between delayed closure and umbilical hernias?

A.) There are a number of factors that have to be considered when making the decision to breed. Certainly some imperfections crop up in our dogs along the way, and not all of these are serious enough to constitute eliminating a dog from a breeding program. In fact, one might argue that many of the problems that we are seeing show up in many of our purebred dogs are related to the fact we are creating too pure of a gene pool, or because we breed for too specific of traits and features. This is best illustrated in performance and show dogs when people essentially breed paper (i.e. dog names and titles) and not based on actually looking at the dogs they are mating to make those decisions.

I think the key in looking at whether to breed a dog with an issue is to evaluate the seriousness of the problem: how does it affect the dog, is it genetic, and can you, as a breeder, be ok with the fact you might be perpetuating this trait. In other words, are you ok with the ramifications that occur if the pups you produce have this faulty trait.

With that lengthy intro I'll address your specific question on hernias. I feel that the vast majority of umbilical hernias that we see in practice are a side-effect of cord trauma at birth and not related with a true defect in the muscle wall. Much of the time the actual hernia itself is closed off and only a small remnant of fat remains outside of the abdomen. I do not get too worked up about these types of hernias, and I think you'd be hard pressed to convince me they are detrimental to the dogs. Now, we also see true hernias at the umbilicus. With these hernias there is a palpable defect in the muscle wall with a hole present at the site of the umbilical cord. These can range in size from very small, to one we saw in a wirehair this summer, which you could fit your whole hand into the defect. Dogs with a palpable defect in their abdominal wall would be very likely candidates for passing such a defect on, and I'd have a hard time breeding a dog with this type of problem.

At the end of the day, in either case, the decision rests with you as a breeder.

Submitted 9/13/04:
I’m looking for a versatile hunting dog. I want a dog that will hunt upland and waterfowl. I’m thinking about a Spinone or a pudelpointer. Do you have any experience with these breeds as far as temperaments? I would also like to show my dog in conformation. So I’m very interested in a breed that still has strong instinct and still fits conformation breed standards.

I am a big fan of the versatile dogs and even helped start a chapter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (www.navhda.org) here in Sioux Falls. They definitely are dogs that fit your bill when it comes to hunting upland birds and waterfowl and excelling with temperament and in the show ring. I will confess that I have very limited experience with the two breeds you describe, but the individuals I have seen were very pleasant dogs.

There are some downsides to these versatile breeds that I think get glossed-over, because many people assume they are buying the ultimate hunting machine when they get a versatile. One area I have seen some problems in is the upland training and the lack of commitment on some owners’ part to truly train and develop the pointing dog end of the equation. Too many owners hope for instincts to take over and end up with a flushing dog that may pause at bird scent. I bring up this point because if you haven’t trained a pointing dog, it is truly an art, and I would recommend educating yourself on it extensively before taking the plunge. Another downfall I see is the incredible fur tendencies of these dogs; I spend a lot of days each year in the field training and hunting my Chessie and Setter and, knock on wood, have never had them show more than mild curiosity if they flush a coon or porkie. On the other hand, the versatile dog owners I train and hunt with deal with these encounters on a regular basis, to the extent that it is uncommon not to have an incident with furred game while out in the field.

If you are not set on the pointing aspect, I would suggest looking at what you will be spending the majority of your time doing, and if it leans towards waterfowling, then I would consider a retriever, and if towards the uplands, I would look at the very under-utilized, in my opinion, spaniels... the springer and boykin in particular. These are two classes of dogs that would fit everything you are looking for in a dog…except if you want a point.

Now, that being said, if you want a dog that can do it all and point…and training is not an issue, then I think it is impossible to beat the versatile dogs. The things that would concern me with the two breeds you mention is the small population base they have in this country, and thus a limited pool to choose from. If you have your heart set on these, I would make sure to do A LOT of research on various lines available and be prepared to spend the extra money out of a proven kennel. You indicated you were interested in showing the dog as well...I don’t believe the pudelpointer is recognized by the AKC and is thus not eligible for those events.

Living in the northern half of the country, I have had a lot of experience with German Wirehairs (both AKC and VDD registered dogs), and continue to be overwhelmingly impressed with this breed. If you are truly looking for one dog to do it all, these would be my choice. The temperaments of the dogs I know are also unbelievable, as is their intelligence and ability to take training pressure. My experience is more limited with German Shorthairs, but if you lived further south they would probably present a similar solution.

Just as with anything, I think the most important step is educating yourself before making the leap.

Submitted 7/27/04:
I am trying to put together a list of vets with office hours in Northern Lower Michigan, but I am not having much luck in locating a listing of offices. Do you have a suggestion on where I should look for a complete listing of vet offices in Michigan?

I’ve been sending out some mailings relating to my business ventures, and I’m also finding out it isn’t always an easy task to find what vets are practicing in a given area and when.

My first recommendation would be a search engine like www.dexonline.com, as this allows you to perform searches based on a radius around a given location…though this method will NOT turn up all the practices in a given area (only those that advertise in the yellow pages). The other recommendation would be to contact someone at the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association and see if they have such a list already together. They can be reached via the web at http://www.michvma.org/ (the website has a Find A Vet feature) or via phone at 517-347-4710.