Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Starfish Story

One of my favorite inspirational stories. It exemplifies the way I feel about working with the wildlife cases.

We get a large number of wildlife cases and are always eager to provide the medical care, then turn them over to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for care until they can be released back into the wild. There are some kind, humane people out there who cannot walk past injured wildlife or pretend not to see them. They make the effort to seek care in an effort to save these poor unfortunates. The licensed rehabilitators make it their life's work to help these animals recover so they can be returned to the wild. Some cases are too far gone or have severe injuries which preclude them ever to recover well enough to lead a normal life and unfortunately they may need to be euthanized. But I feel it is always worth giving them a chance and I applaud the rehabilitators we work with as well as the kind hearted people who go out of their way to help these animals in need making the effort to bring them to us or the rehabilitators. Yes, it may be a daunting task, but it is truly fulfilling when you do make a difference and save one of these animals. I know we and the people we work with will always be dedicated to that goal.

The Starfish Story
(Original Story by: Loren Eisley)

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.

Approaching the boy, he asked, "What are you doing?"

The youth replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die."

"Son," the man said, "don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make a difference!"

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said,
"I made a difference for that one."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Last Yard Sale of the Year

The yard sales we have been hosting at Niles Animal Hospital have been wonderful successes as we have supported a number of worthwhile charitable causes involved with animals by helping to raise much needed funds. These events are a win-win for everyone because those who donate items to the sale are clearing the clutter in their homes plus gaining a tax deduction for supporting a not-for-profit organization. In addition, donors  feel good about helping a charitable group in need. Those who come to the sale are able to find various "treasures" at bargain prices and also with the added benefit of knowing that the money they spend directly supports these organizations. Of course, those who volunteer to help set up, run and clean up after the sale know that their time contribution is invaluable in helping to make these events a success.

Our last sale of this year is to benefit Chicago Pet Rescue, a charitable not-for-profit organization, which rescues pets, fosters them and finds loving homes.Needless to say, it can be quite costly to provide for their maintenance care plus any medical costs that may arise. The funds generated from this yard sale will go a long way in helping to cover these costs.

The yard sale will be held Sunday, October 16th from 10 AM until 3 PM in the Niles Animal Hospital parking lot at 7278 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Niles (just north of Touhy Ave.). Parking is available in the surrounding lots (Solar Heating just north, Marathon Gas Station across the street, Brunswick Zone across the street and on nearby side streets). There will be all sorts of items available including pet related, but many other things you could not even imagine! Check out two previous yard sales on the Niles Animal Hospital Facebook page "Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center." We have photos posted on the page from another Chicago Pet Rescue yard sale this summer and A Refuge for Saving the Wildlife bird rescue which was just recently held. As can be seen, a good time was had by all at both events with a wide variety of items available for purchase.

If you would like to donate items for the sale we will be collecting donations for the sale at Niles Animal Hospital during regular business hours up until the time of the yard sale. Donated items are tax deductible.Feel free to clear out your house and garage of clutter and bring it on by. Any questions call the hospital at 847-647-9325.

Most importantly, stop on by at the sale and make some purchases to support a worthwhile cause which provides needed care for animals. We hope to see you there!

Peter S. Sakas DVM

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Allergies to Birds and Bird Keeper's Lung

My previous blog about having your bird sleeping in the bedroom generated a lot of interest. I had several requests to explain a bit more about the different forms of "Bird Keeper's Lung" so I have taken an excerpt from an article I had written about Pet Bird Zoonoses (diseases you can get from your bird) which discussed allergies to birds and Bird Keeper's Lung.

Allergies to Birds
Clinical signs in people with allergies to birds include malaise, chills, fever, shortness of breath, myalgia and coughing. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis and interstitial pneumonia in humans have been associated with exposure to feathers, aerosolized droppings and other agents. Inhaled avian source antigens can cause severe disease in hypersensitive individuals. If there are exposures to avian antigens it can severely compromise health and quality of life. It is believed that the allergic response is due to bacterial endotoxins in fecal extracts. The conditions subside after no further exposure to the antigens.

Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (Pigeon Breeder's Lung, Bird Keeper's Lung)
Extrinsic, allergic, alveolitis ( EAA)- three forms, acute, subacute, chronic
Four to eight hours after heavy exposure to avian antigens. Dry cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills. No therapy needed. Resolves in 24 hours.

Diagnosis through clinical history, serum precipitin test, intradermal skin test ( feather, feather dust "bloom", fecal extract ), lung function tests, radiographs, bronchial inhalation challenge. Most commonly seen from exposure to pigeons. Large dose of antigen ( Cleaning loft ) in a short period of time. Feathers, dust, aerosolized droppings (bacterial proteins/endotoxins) common antigens.

Wearing respirators/masks may help but dusts may still be present on clothes or still in the environment.

Long term continuous exposure. Fairly constant dry cough/progressive dyspnea.

Diagnosis more difficult as no "trigger event". Positive lab tests to avian antigens.

May require steroid therapy. Complete cessation of exposure to avian antigens. Prognosis is good but is a step in the progression to chronic disease.

Progressive exertional dyspnea. Non-productive cough, end inspiratory rales, hypoxemia at rest, worsened during exertion. Pulmonary fibrosis with decrease in lung function - at this point it is irreversible, terminate exposure to prevent further deterioration. Low dose exposure to antigen over long periods.

Diagnosis as with other forms. Hypersensitivity skin test. No readily apparent acute signs to show disease developing to irreversible pulmonary fibrosis. Early signs mimic flu or mild respiratory disease. No correlation between the severity of disease and the number of birds kept (one budgie can cause the same degree of pathology as 400 birds in home aviary of a hypersensitive individual). Chronic EAA is seen in individuals with more than two years exposure to birds. Older individuals have faster decline of lung function.

Seek medical attention for respiratory irregularities, especially non-resolving cough conditions and breathlessness upon exertion or even mild exercise. Smokers have a lower incidence than non-smokers in comparable bird owning populations as tobacco smoke reduces exposure of antigen to alveoli by contributing to airway obstruction. Impairs function of pulmonary macrophages lining the alveoli. Problems due to smoking may mask signs of disease and co-exist. Treat as above. Irreversible changes occur.

We have seen an increase in this condition throughout the years. Perhaps it is better recognized or due to an increase in birdkeeping. As can be garnered from the above discussion it is a very serious disease condition, unrelated to the number of birds kept, especially if the person is already hypersensitive. The best advice that can be given is to reduce exposure to the aerosolized material.
1) Keep your birds restricted in one room or a couple of rooms. You need the opportunity to get away from the antigens. If birds are in every room of the house you cannot get away from it, heightening your risk. The danger is even greater if the birds are in your bedroom as you will inhale that material all night long.
2) Clean the cages regularly (daily is ideal) because if you can prevent the feces from drying/aerosolizing your risk will be reduced. Also regular cleaning will reduce bacterial buildup and make the environment healthier for your birds.
3)Buy a quality air cleaner to reduce the disease causing material in the environment. There are many excellent air cleaners available and for a reasonable investment you can provide a safer environment for your family, human and avian.
4)If you must be around the birds or during cleaning and you have shown some sensitivity, wear a mask of some type, such as a surgical mask to reduce exposure.

I am glad many of you have read this and are concerned about the potential for this disease in hypersensitive individuals. With the implementation of the precautions listed above the risk of developing the disease condition can be minimized. If you or anyone in your family is exhibiting any of the above symptoms be sure to speak to your family physician about the possibility of this disease. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Should People Sleep in the Same Room with Their Birds?

Which room where people keep their pet birds is a pretty important decision. Obviously, the kitchen is a bad choice because, although it is an area with a lot of activity, birds are very sensitive to fumes, smoke and other airborne toxins present there. Their small size coupled with a very efficient respiratory tract makes that environment dangerous for them. Another room that would be a bad choice would be in the bedroom.

I know people like to have their birds sleep in the same room with them as it is comforting for both, however, there is a potential problem. I hate to be a spoilsport but a strong consideration is the risk of “Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis,” also known as “EAA” (extrinsic allergic alveolitis) or more popularly as “Bird Keeper’s Lung.”

I have spoken to the bird clubs, aviculture groups and veterinary meetings about this in the past in reference to zoonotic diseases (diseases you can get from animals). This condition develops in people who have a sensitivity to the protein in aerosolized bird fecal matter. There are various forms including acute (sudden onset), subacute (more low grade symptoms) and chronic, which is the type to fear. The chronic form develops slowly over time and can be caused by an exposure to even just one bird if you are hypersensitive. The danger is that due to the exposure to the fecal protein material the lung tissue in allergic individuals begins to undergo fibrosis (scarring) which is irreversible. Over time, lung capacity decreases and people suffering from this condition show respiratory problems including coughing, exercise intolerance, lethargy, chest pains and becoming easily winded. (One of our clients who had the condition said he felt like he was having a heart attack). Testing can be conducted to verify the diagnosis and treatment can be undertaken to prevent the disease from progressing, but the scarring is permanent and will never go away. Scary, huh?

Right now some of you are saying…..”I don’t have any allergies so I should be OK.” But this sneaks up on you. The people who are at risk are people who have birds in multiple rooms in their homes and they do not really get away from the birds. Why should the bedroom be an issue? Just think about it. How many hours do you spend in there and when you are sleeping you are sucking stuff into your lungs. If a bird is in there you are inhaling fecal protein (as gross as that seems).

A real life example….We had a client who was at the hospital for an appointment with her parakeet and her daughter was accompanying her. I noticed she was coughing a great deal. I asked her what was wrong and she said she had been having respiratory problems and no one knew why. My advantage as a veterinarian is that I do know about zoonoses so I questioned her about where she kept the bird…..IN HER BEDROOM. The room where she studied, slept and spent a great deal of time. I recommended that she move the bird out of the room and have her doctor check for EAA. It was verified and she improved. So this is not a theoretical problem, it is real.

I hope I have your attention now. All of you with birds should follow these guidelines. 1) Have an area where you can get away from your birds or keep them in one room. DO NOT keep them in a bedroom with you sleeping with you. 2) Purchase a quality air cleaner. 3) Clean the cage papers/cage frequently to prevent the drying out of the feces and great risk of aerosolizing the material. 4) If you have allergies wear a mask when cleaning cages or have someone else do it for you. This disease can sneak up on you, I know several people who have had it and some of you probably are slowly developing it now unless you take precautions.

The best spot for the cage is a family room where there is activity to keep the bird stimulated but away from any potential airborne toxins or fumes. An area with adequate space and good ventilation would be ideal.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Microchipping Your Pet

Why Microchip?
Microchipping your pet is a very important step to insure their safety. Pets do unfortunately get lost. The AKC CAR estimates that there are approximately 8 to 10 million stray animals each year. Each year in the United States, one million pets are lost or stolen. One in three pets will get lost during their lifetimes. Cats are particularly vulnerable once lost. Shelters continue to euthanize unidentified, owned but lost pets. Only 20% of lost dogs and 2-5% of cats are reunited with their owners.

Leashes, fences and doors may not be enough to keep pets safe and secure. Accidents happen, and some things like natural disasters, can separate pets from their owners.

Tags and collars are a good start but they are not 100% dependable. Tags can fade; get scratched or damaged, rust, reducing legibility. Tags can fall off; collars can tear, slip off or get caught on something.

Microchipping is the only identification method that is permanent and individual to each animal. A unique ID code matches the animal with the owner’s contact information in a database. Pets can be microchipped at any age, however after six weeks of age is preferred. At Niles Animal Hospital we typically will microchip puppies and kittens at the time of neutering or spaying. Birds can be microchipped at any age; however, we do not chip birds smaller than small parrots or conures, due to their small size in relation to the microchip (the microchip is implanted in their chest muscles).

Microchipping is so very important in the recovery process of a lost pet. Virtually all veterinarians, police department (animal control officers) and shelters have microchip scanners so they can check a lost pet for the presence of a microchip. If the microchip has been registered and the information is current then the pet can be easily reunited with their owners. The goal of microchipping is to save pets’ lives.

Another reason for microchipping is that it is a means of proving ownership. With proper updated personal data registration information you will undeniable proof a pet is yours if it ever came into question. Microchipping is done extensively overseas so if you travel internationally with your pet it is important to have them identified for their own well-being. Some municipalities require microchipping for a pet to receive a license. In case of a disaster, microchips aid in reunification of owner and pet.

How Microchips Work
A microchip is technically referred to as a transponder and is not a GPS device. The energy transferred by the scanner to the transponder (microchip) generates electricity. Then the microchip sends out a radio frequency code which is read by the transceiver (scanner). Each microchip has one unique ID code embedded in it, that allows the individual animal to be specifically identified based on an alphanumeric (letters and numbers) or purely numeric ID code.

What makes up a microchip? The working parts are the aerial (a copper tube), capacitor and the microchip itself which contains the encoded information. These parts are all enclosed in a biocompatible glass encasement, which is typically not rejected by the animal’s body. The glass is medical quality, which is suitable for implants and FDA approved. Glass is able to withstand the harmful effects of body fluids and is strong enough to withstand the stresses and strains it experiences during the implantation process. The microchip does not contain a battery and need not be changed. Each implanted microchip will last throughout the lifetime of the pet.

Different Types of Microchips
A nationwide standard for microchip identification does not exist in the United States. Throughout much of the world, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard of 134.2 kHz for radio frequency identification devices (RFID) has been adopted and implemented as the preferred or sole RFID technology for companion animals. This has been endorsed also by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Society of Animal Welfare Administrators and National Standards Institute (ANSI). In the United States, however, the non-ISO 125 kHz microchip is still predominantly used. (The Home Again Microchips implanted at Niles Animal Hospital are the 134.2 kHz ISO microchips).

The current situation with microchip types in the United States is that the majority of microchips are functioning at 125 kHz; however recently, the 134.2 kHz ISO microchip as well as the 128 kHz microchip have been introduced, leading to three frequencies operating. In addition, the 125 kHz microchips can be encrypted, meaning that they are read with a different protocol than 125 kHz unencrypted microchips. With the introduction of multiple microchips operating at different frequencies as well as different communication protocols (encrypted vs. unencrypted), several universal scanners that can read all three frequencies have been introduced. (We have a Universal Scanner that can detect all three frequencies). The obvious problem is that with the multiple types of microchips with different frequencies and communication protocols, non-universal scanners may not be able to pick up the signals from some microchips. Based upon global dynamics and the introduction of the 134.2 kHz ISO microchip in the United States, many believe a move towards national adoption and implementation of the ISO standard is inevitable.

As useful as microchips are there are some problems. First of all there is a lack of standardization among all the types of microchips. There are a variety of microchips and there are multiple frequencies used by the different types. In addition, there is no link between the various sites where the microchips are registered. With a bit of effort it can eventually be determined who the microchip is registered to, but it would be easier if it were centralized.

Microchip Implantation
Microchip placement may vary per animal as well as the country of implantation. The accepted implantation site in the dog and cat is under the skin (subcutaneously) between (or just in front of) the shoulder blades along the midline of the body. This is the standard implantation site in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom. The typical implantation site in most of Europe is in the upper half of the left side of the neck, halfway from the ear to the tip of the shoulder. That is why it is so important to check extensively when scanning for the presence of a microchip.

In pet birds, the microchip is implanted in the pectoral (breast) muscles. Bird skin is paper thin and they have virtually no subcutaneous tissue so it must be embedded in the muscle. Size of the bird is a limitation to which birds can be microchipped. Conures and larger can be microchipped, however, in small birds due to the size of the chip itself, implantation would be too traumatic.

The microchip is already loaded in the needle of a specially designed syringe used for the implantation of the chip. The needle is of a larger diameter than the typical size used to give vaccinations because it must be large enough to hold the microchip, which is approximately the size of a grain of rice. The microchip is implanted in the same fashion as a vaccination or injection would be given to a pet subcutaneously. The microchips are specially designed to allow incorporation in the subcutaneous tissue to allow the microchip to remain in position.

Potential Problems with Microchips
A minor problem can be microchip migration and can occur less than 1% of the time. To minimize the risk, the pet should not be allowed to engage in exercise for 24 hours post microchipping. This allows the chip to anchor properly and reduce chances of migration. Some microchips have special anti-migration devices inherent in their structure that will allow soft tissue to grow into a porous cap structure, thus anchoring it to the subcutaneous tissues and skin.

If a chip does migrate, they typically move by gravity down the leg towards the elbow or to the lower chest or sternum. They will remain just below the skin and cannot penetrate into the body cavity.

Microchips are supplied sterile so it is very rare for a pet to develop a reaction or infection at the site of implantation. On occasion, as with vaccinations, a small amount of swelling may develop post implantation due to localized tissue inflammation. This should disappear within a few days with no medical intervention needed. However, if a reaction occurs or the swelling does not resolve veterinary care should be obtained.

If the microchip becomes visible hours or days after implantation, seek veterinary care. This indicates that the implantation was not done properly.

A microchip without registration is an ineffective means of pet reunification. Ideally registration should be completed immediately after the microchip has been implanted and while at the veterinary office. Registration involves linking the microchip number with the contact information of the owner including contact numbers as well as emergency contacts. Some registrations include additional perks for a charge and may have an annual renewal fee to maintain some of these services. However, once the microchip is registered, the information is always on file so contact can be made and this portion of registration does not require an additional annual renewal fee. Some people are under the mistaken impression that the registration is an “activation fee” to make the microchip “functional” and requires yearly fees to remain “active.” The microchip is already functional and will remain so, however by registering your information will be placed in the database so retrieval of your lost pet is much more easily accomplished by readily having contact information available.

Problems that exist are that people do not turn in their registration information and they do not update their registration information if there is a change of address or pet ownership. Owner contact information that is entered into lifetime registries is rarely, if ever, updated by pet owners. Changes that can affect registration information include: relocation, job change, phone service change, divorce, separation, email service provider change or transferring pet to another owner. To further complicate issues, at this time multiple registries exist for pet owner information due to the variety of microchips available. Hopefully, one day there will be a central registry/database for all microchips.

A study was conducted by Dr. Linda Lord from The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine to see how successful shelters were in finding owners for animals with microchips. They checked information from 53 shelters nationwide and evaluated 7,704 microchips. They found that 74% of the owners of dogs were found and 63.6% of cats. They also discovered that only 58% of animals had a current registration when the microchip registry was called and there was no difference between databases for finding the owners.

Microchipping is a valuable tool for protecting your pets if they become lost. However, unless you properly register and keep the information updated than the value of microchipping is diminished as it may be difficult to find the owner if their circumstances have changed. Microchipping is safe and easily performed.

This discussion is excerpted from several sources including an AAHA Webinar conducted by Dr. Linda Lord, “Microchipping Works: Best Practices” and an online course offered by AAHA “Microchipping and Scanning of Companion Animals.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Last Will and Testament of An Extremely Distinguished Dog - Eugene O'Neill

The famed playwright, Eugene O'Neill wrote a very moving piece about his aged dog Blemie. I wanted to share it on the blog for those of you who had never seen it. 

by Eugene O'Neill 

I, SILVERDENE EMBLEM O'NEILL (familiarly known to my family, friends, and acquaintances as Blemie), because the burden of my years and infirmities is heavy upon me, and I realize the end of my life is near, do hereby bury my last will and testament in the mind of my Master. He will not know it is there until after I am dead. Then, remembering me in his loneliness, he will suddenly know of this testament, and I ask him then to inscribe it as a memorial to me.

I have little in the way of material things to leave. Dogs are wiser than men. They do not set great store upon things. They do not waste their days hoarding property. They do not ruin their sleep worrying about how to keep the objects they have, and to obtain the objects they have not. There is nothing of value I have to bequeath except my love and my faith. These I leave to all those who have loved me, to my Master and Mistress, who I know will mourn me most, to Freeman who has been so good to me, to Cyn and Roy and Willie and Naomi and -- But if I should list all those who have loved me, it would force my Master to write a book. Perhaps it is vain of me to boast when I am so near death, which returns all beasts and vanities to dust, but I have always been an extremely lovable dog. 

I ask my Master and Mistress to remember me always, but not to grieve for me too long. In my life I have tried to be a comfort to them in time of sorrow, and a reason for added joy in their happiness. It is painful for me to think that even in death I should cause them pain. Let them remember that while no dog has ever had a happier life (and this I owe to their love and care for me), now that I have grown blind and deaf and lame, and even my sense of smell fails me so that a rabbit could be right under my nose and I might not know, my pride has sunk to a sick, bewildered humiliation. I feel life is taunting me with having over-lingered my welcome. It is time I said good-bye, before I become too sick a burden on myself and on those who love me. It will be sorrow to leave them, but not a sorrow to die. Dogs do not fear death as men do. We accept it as part of life, not as something alien and terrible which destroys life. What may come after death, who knows? I would like to believe with those my fellow Dalmatians who are devote Mohammedans, that there is a Paradise where one is always young and full-bladdered; where all the day one dillies and dallies with an amorous multitude of houris [lovely nymphs], beautifully spotted; where jack rabbits that run fast but not too fast (like the houris) are as the sands of the desert; where each blissful hour is mealtime; where in long evenings there are a million fireplaces with logs forever burning, and one curls oneself up and blinks into the flames and nods and dreams, remembering the old brave days on earth, and the love of one's Master and Mistress.

I am afraid this is too much for even such a dog as I am to expect. But peace, at least, is certain. Peace and long rest for weary old heart and head and limbs, and eternal sleep in the earth I have loved so well. Perhaps, after all, this is best.
One last request I earnestly make. I have heard my Mistress say, "When Blemie dies we must never have another dog. I love him so much I could never love another one." Now I would ask her, for love of me, to have another. It would be a poor tribute to my memory never to have a dog again. What I would like to feel is that, having once had me in the family, now she cannot live without a dog! I have never had a narrow jealous spirit. I have always held that most dogs are good (and one cat, the black one I have permitted to share the living room rug during the evenings, whose affection I have tolerated in a kindly spirit, and in rare sentimental moods, even reciprocated a trifle). Some dogs, of course, are better than others. Dalmatians, naturally, as everyone knows, are best. So I suggest a Dalmatian as my successor. He can hardly be as well bred or as well mannered or as distinguished and handsome as I was in my prime. My Master and Mistress must not ask the impossible. But he will do his best, I am sure, and even his inevitable defects will help by comparison to keep my memory green. To him I bequeath my collar and leash and my overcoat and raincoat, made to order in 1929 at Hermes in Paris. He can never wear them with the distinction I did, walking around the Place Vendome, or later along Park Avenue, all eyes fixed on me in admiration; but again I am sure he will do his utmost not to appear a mere gauche provincial dog. Here on the ranch, he may prove himself quite worthy of comparison, in some respects. He will, I presume, come closer to jack rabbits than I have been able to in recent years. And for all his faults, I hereby wish him the happiness I know will be his in my old home. 

One last word of farewell, Dear Master and Mistress. Whenever you visit my grave, say to yourselves with regret but also with happiness in your hearts at the remembrance of my long happy life with you: "Here lies one who loved us and whom we loved". No matter how deep my sleep I shall hear you, and not all the power of death can keep my spirit from wagging a grateful tail.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Do Animals Have Souls? (A Veterinarian's Perspective)

This was an article I had written for a pet column a couple years ago and recently posted on our website ( I had received many comments about it so I decided to place it on the blog.

Several years ago, shortly after we had moved into our new home, my wife had invited the parish priest over for dinner and also to bless our house. The priest was Father Murphy who is a wonderful man with a loving, compassionate and congenial nature. He and I would banter back and forth over the years because my wife is Catholic and I am Greek Orthodox. We would talk about our different faiths and one of my stock wisecracks was that I did not sacrifice lambs to Zeus in the backyard anymore so my wife was not subjected to any more of those ancient Greek traditions.

During our dinner, I came up with a question that has always haunted me for years. I had always struggled with the notion that animals do not have souls. Being a pet owner and animal lover my whole life there was no better therapy for me than interacting with a beloved animal companion. They sensed your moods and a warm, sloppy lick on your face when you were down was the best cure for whatever troubled your heart. You would look into their eyes and you could feel a special presence. If souls do exist you felt that animals definitely had them. When I was attending graduate school in Alabama I would engage in some fairly heated discussions as to the existence of animal souls with some pretty intense Southern Christians. They claimed, according to the Bible, animals were placed here solely for the benefit of Man, did not have souls and I argued against that notion. They usually dismissed me as a heretic Yankee, but I was unwavering in my contention.

Having a man of the cloth in our home, whom I deeply respected, I had to ask him this question that has always troubled me. I told him of my internal struggle with a nagging question and said I had to present it to him. He looked at me quizzically imagining what kind of strange question I could come up with in my fertile mind. I then asked Father Murphy what was the Catholic Church’s stance as to whether or not animals had souls. He gave me a bemused smile and said that only Man has a soul, animals have “anima,” the spark of life. I smiled back, stating that having pets my entire life and being a veterinarian, devoting my life to their medical care, my belief was quite a bit different. I told Father Murphy through my living with and caring for animals all my life, that when I gaze into those beautiful, loving eyes I see more than just a spark of life, I truly believe they have souls and they deserve to be in Heaven. I further went on to tell him that he probably thought that because I am a “pagan Greek” I was disagreeing with the Catholic Church’s stance, but in my heart this is what I believed deeply.

Father Murphy could have dismissed my remarks or reacted testily like some of my Southern friends did, but his answer demonstrated why he was so beloved by the parish. Father Murphy flashed his trademark smile and with a bit of twinkle in his eye he gave me a wonderful, thoughtful and simple response, “Well, Peter, one of these days we will both find out which one of us was right.” That response further endeared Father Murphy to me. Yes, one of these days we will find out and if I do make it to Heaven I am hoping to see all my pets and the animals I have cared for over the years as a veterinarian.

Will Rogers really had it right when he said, “If there are no dogs in Heaven then, when I die, I want to go where they went.” Even the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson had commented, “You think dogs will not be in Heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.”

For those of us who had the experiences of loving relationships with companion animals know there is so much more than just the spark of life. Animals make our lives whole and ask for little, yet give us so much. We pet people all feel that we will all meet our animal companions again in Heaven. And if Father Murphy is right, that it is anima, what a wonderful, loving and powerful spark of life it is indeed.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Spaying Dogs and Cats

The operation to neuter a female pet is called spaying or the more descriptive term ovariohysterectomy. When a pet is spayed both ovaries as well as the uterus are removed. The reason the ovaries are also removed in pets is because they produce hormones that can lead to complications later in life. It is essential to spay your female pets because of these potential complications.

There is a great deal of misinformation pertaining to spaying. Some people say that a female should go through a heat cycle or even have a litter before they get spayed. This is absolutely false. The female should be spayed BEFORE her first heat or no later than before her second heat cycle because by doing so it will virtually eliminate the risk of breast cancer. Veterinary research showed that cats spayed before 6 months of age had a 91% reduction in their risk of breast cancer compared to intact cats, and cats spayed before one year had an 86% reduction. Dogs spayed before their first heat cycle have a 0.5% risk of developing breast cancer, if spayed between their first and second heat the risk is 8%. After the second heat cycle the risk of breast cancer development is 26%. Dogs spayed after two years of age have seven times the risk of developing breast cancer compared to dogs spayed before six months.

In addition, spaying eliminates the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer, heat cycles, as well as unwanted pregnancies. Unspayed females run the risk of developing uterine infections when they are in heat. This can be manifested by a severe and life-threatening condition called pyometra (the uterus fills with pus). Surgical intervention is required to save the pet’s life but it is very risky due to the severity of the condition.

It is best to spay your female pet early in life; the risks of surgery are less when young and the development of complications from female hormone are reduced. Do not face the heartbreak of having a pet suffer from a condition that could have been avoided by having a simple procedure done safely early in life.

Neutering/Castration of Your Male Dog/Cat

Neutering is a word that refers to essentially making the gender of the pet “neutral,” so to speak, thus it does encompass both males and females. Popularly, however, the term has become used to designate altering the male, while spaying is the term used for altering the female, which we will discuss tomorrow.

Castration (or orchiectomy) is the proper term used for the neutering of the male dog or cat; as in the procedure the testicles are removed. Some people believe that a vasectomy is done, but that is incorrect. The goal is not only to prevent sperm release, but to also eliminate the male sex hormone, testosterone, and the effects it has on the body. Removing the testicles eliminates the risk of testicular cancer as well as sperm production and release. By eliminating the testosterone there is a dramatic reduction in the risk of prostate disease (cancer, infection, benign hypertrophy), perineal hernias (hernias around the anal area), perineal adenomas (growths around the anal area), reduction of the urge for urine marking, calming of aggressive tendencies and sexual behavior. It is recommended to perform the procedure when the dog is 6-7 months of age, before these hormonal behaviors become ingrained in the dog. In addition, the later in life the procedure is done, the risk of developing prostate disease, perineal hernias and adenomas increases. In some instances, especially in shelters, the neutering is done at a much earlier age in puppies/kittens before they are adopted out to guarantee the procedure will be done and not neglected by the adoptive owners.

Some people believe by neutering the male they become fat and inactive, however, this is not the case at all, it is how they are fed and exercised. The most important reason to neuter your male dog is to insure that he will have the best opportunity to lead a long, healthy life without the risk of diseases or complications related to the presence of the male hormone.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Impact of the Economy on Pet Care

I can only comment on what I see as a veterinarian in a small animal/exotics practice. I cannot give any hard numbers, rather my impressions and what I have heard from others. Generally, veterinary medicine shows reasonable growth every year, however, with the economic downturn recently, revenues are flat nationally. Client visits are down and many practices are showing slight to moderate decreases in revenue. This is what one would expect in the face of this difficult economic climate. It was thought, in the past, that veterinary medicine was recession proof, but current thinking is that it is recession resistant.

Moving from the broad view to a more personal view. The first thing I must say is that I am so heartened by the nature of people whom we see bring their pets to our practice. Although times are tough, they still manage to provide the care needed for their pets. In fact, some face major medical bills if their pet requires a visit to a specialty clinic for an advanced surgical procedure or involved medical workup. They manage to find the funds to cover these costs, as hard as it may be. That is why I love my profession and still enjoy what I do even after being at Niles Animal Hospital for over thirty years, as it is the wonderful people who care enough to bring their pets into the hospital that make what I do so pleasurable. I am so eager to help them and their pets.

Nonetheless, I have seen changes in what clients are willing to do. They are much more cost conscious and may forgo certain tests or procedures to economize. They may buy fewer preventatives at a time, six instead of twelve, picking up the remainder later. I understand perfectly. We are seeing more people obtaining shelter dogs instead of the purebred puppies, cost probably an issue, but also the desire to provide a home for a needy animal. People seem to be buying more small to mid-size birds instead of the large parrots, which can be quite costly.

As for people giving up pets; sadly it does happen. We have had animals abandoned at the hospital due to a tough economy. One person had lost her home, was living out of her car and she dropped two parrots each in their own cage with an explanatory note about her plight as well as particulars about the birds. She snuck the cages in when no one was looking and the receptionists found them near the front desk. We placed the birds in the hands of a parrot rescue organization who has found a home for one and is working on a home for the other. The former owner did call to see what was happening with the birds. She was in such dire straits she felt giving them up this way was the only hope. There are many tragic stories I am sure, especially as some people are not as concerned as this woman and just let their pets go. Thank goodness we have great animal rescue organizations that work tirelessly with no financial rewards who try to save these animals and find them loving homes.

Animal Hoarding

I received a request for my views on animal hoarding and I feel that it is a topic worth exploring. I should start out by explaining that although I took some psychology electives when I was an undergraduate at Northwestern University in the early 70's I do not profess to know the reasons why people engage in such behavior, rather I can look at it from what I am best at; the animal perspective. In most cases I believe that these people are not inherently evil, but rather are goodhearted. They probably do have a genuine love of animals but unfortunately it becomes extreme and eventually an obsession leading to this true mental disorder.

I have seen cases of animal hoarders through the years and one case was particularly disturbing to me, not because of the degree of hoarding but rather seeing a highly intelligent, talented and articulate woman descend into what one might call almost madness. I had dealt with this particular woman for many years with her pet birds she would bring into the practice. She lived over an hour away from the hospital but she was always punctual for her appointments. She was a very interesting person who was an artist and author. We would engage in great conversations and she was always encouraging me to get involved in writing books for children related to veterinary medicine. I never had any inkling that she was engaged in hoarding at that time because she would bring in the same birds for their regular check ups. For whatever reason she did not bring her birds in for their checkups anymore and I did not see her for many years. When I did she her again it was on the news. Her house was being cleared out of the animals she was hoarding. The image I saw of her on television was frightening as she was not the same person I once knew. She was unkempt and disheveled. She truly appeared to be mentally unstable. How could such an intelligent woman who was providing the best in care for her pets descend to this level? I believe she initially felt that she was doing the animals a favor by providing for them but it then gets to the point where the line is crossed and the hoarding behavior begins.

The tragedy in the hoarding stories is that the animals suffer. Our pets provide us great companionship but as the number of pets increases the time one can spend with them individually is obviously limited. They deserve our attention and interaction so it is frustrating for them as it is reduced. They may then begin to engage in various types of abnormal behavior. Dogs may become aggressive, cats may engage in inappropriate elimination behavior or overgrooming, birds may become feather pickers, mutilators or screamers. These and other actions demonstrate the unhappiness they are experiencing. In addition, as we have all seen in the hoarding cases the home is usually disgustingly filthy, exposing the animals (and people) to a unhygienic environment. Another consideration is frequently these animals are poorly fed as there is a lack of funds to purchase enough food or because there is too much work involved in caring for a large number of animals their feeding is haphazardly done. Lack of cleaning leads to the development of bacterial and fungal/mold overgrowth putting man and beast at risk of contracting disease, which invariably happens. It is heartbreaking when you hear of a hoarder's home being cleared out with a number of animals found emaciated, dead or dying. These poor creatures do not deserve such a tragic fate.

As I stated earlier, the hoarders probably started out with good intentions but it eventually spirals out of control with the resultant suffering and death of the animals. Be vigilant if you know or suspect someone may be hoarding animals. Try to get them help because we all know what will result if the hoarding continues unfettered.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Yard Sale

Just a reminder about our yard sale for charity. It will be on Sunday September 18th from 8AM - 2PM at the Niles Animal Hospital parking lot. There will be plenty of parking in surrounding parking lots and side streets. It will be benefiting "A Refuge for Saving the Wildlife" a parrot rescue not for profit organization. There will be all sorts of treasures there for pets and people alike. So stop on by and take a look.

If you would like to donate items drop them off at the hospital. We have been placing them in the back offices and storeroom. We are planning to do some set up Saturday between 2 PM and 4 PM so you can stop by then if you like for drop off. If you want to drop off on Sunday we will be there before 7 AM for early set up so please come before 8 AM.

Hope to see a good turn out.

Senseless Tragedy

I was shocked to hear about the murder of a man on the Northwest side of Chicago, Michael Justo. He and his pets were regular clients at Niles Animal Hospital. Mr. Justo was one of the kindest people you would ever want to meet and our staff absolutely loved him. He had a warm, engaging personality, was very gregarious and treated our staff wonderfully. But one of the most endearing qualities he had was the deep abiding affection he had for his beloved pets. He put the care of his dogs above anything else and provided the utmost in care for them. He would do anything to make sure they remained healthy and not be in discomfort. Any death like this is tragic, but the loss of a loving man like Mr. Justo makes it all the more heartwrenching. He will be sorely missed.

A tragedy like this also shows what a cruel place this world can be. I had heard that there had been a rash of armed robberies in that area so as more information is learned about this incident there will be a better understanding of the circumstances. If it is indeed a robbery gone bad it just shows, how to some people, how "cheap" the life of another human being is if they can just kill someone so brutally.  I hope and pray that the perpetrators are found and justice is served.

Welcome to My First Attempt at Blogging

People have been remarking to me that I should publish a blog so here goes. As I am of a bit older vintage there are some technological advances I have not eagerly embraced, such as texting. However, I decided to give blogging a go as it seems intriguing ans I believe it can create  meaningful dialogue as we can hopefully generate more users.

It will indeed be a work in progress so I welcome any input from those who are more experienced than I at blogging. I know as I learn more this site will continue to evolve.

My hope is that I will put up various animal related topics and engender a discussion. But I am also hoping that users will also post questions, inquiries to me, which I can then respond to/address.

I am looking forward to this new adventure.