Are You Sure You Want A Dog Like Marley?

John Grogan described his dog Marley as the World’s Worst Dog.  The truth is that Marley was not an innately bad dog, just one with a superior zest for life.  In my clinical work with sporting dogs, (Breeds used for hunting such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and German Short-haired Pointers) I have noticed there are two personality types; normal and super-charged.  The normal dogs are what we all think of . . . loving, gentle, calm and loyal.  Disobeying their human’s command is not an option.  I knew one Irish Setter named Hypo who exemplified this group.  While his family visited neighbors, his owner told Hypo to wait on the back step.  When the visit was over, they left through the front door without Hypo.  He waited on the back step until the next morning when his people realized their mistake!  He waited even though he could have walked home, entered the house through his doggy door and slept on a soft bed. 

A super-charged dog would never be able to do this.  Their energy would simply not allow them to stay put.  These dogs have a boundless enthusiasm for life and it never ends.  My own dog Susie is a super-charged Golden Retriever.  The first night in my house, she tried to jump into a fully loaded dishwasher.  When I called her to come, she streaked towards me at full speed.  I had to brace myself for her impact as she never put on the brakes soon enough.  Her stamina for retrieving is unbelievable.  Before osteoarthritis set in, she would fetch her toy out of the pool for hours on end.  She wore us out begging for throws.

Before adopting any breed of dog, do your homework and know what you are getting into.  Evaluate your situation and experience carefully.  In my view, super-charged dogs require owners with a flexible life-style, patience e.g., with the destruction of personal belongings and a lot of animal experience.  They are not good pets for first time dog owners.  Before adopting, research the dog’s background.  ‘Zest for life, high energy and endless curiosity’ are all code words for a super-charged dog.  With puppies, spend time with both parents and other relatives if possible.  Watch out for the puppy that is still playing when the others are asleep.  

Super-charged dogs like Marley can be wonderful pets . . . but only for the right people.  Most will not do well with a super-charged dog.   

Ear Cropping And Tail Docking In Dogs

On occasion, I have been critical of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).  So it is appropriate that I now commend them for taking the proper ethical stand.  In November 2008, the AVMA Executive Board approved the following revision to AVMA policy.

“The AVMA opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes.  The AVMA encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.”

As a veterinarian and generally a proud member of the AVMA, I am pleased to see the profession advance ethical standards.  It is not always easy.  Yet, as individual veterinarians and as a group we should always place animal welfare first.  

You Make The Diagnosis: Chihuahua Congenital Defects

During their first examination, I check puppies for congenital defects.  What is the most common congenital defect observed in Chihuahuas?  Will it correct over time?  Is it associated with any other medical problems? 


Answer:  Open Fontanelle (Soft Spot)

Open fontanelle’s occur when the bones of the skull fail to meet and fuse.  I usually find them on the pup’s forehead.  Most will close with time and are considered normal for the breed.  If the soft spot is large, I worry about the puppy developing hydrocephalus.  Hydrocephalus, which loosely translated means ‘water brain’ is an excessive accumulation of fluid within the skull.  Pressure from the fluid interferes with normal brain function and may cause severe neurologic disease.  If your puppy has a soft spot, be careful.  Since there is no bone to protect the brain, trauma to this area may cause serious neurological problems.

Unfortunately, open fontanelles are often consider acceptable to some breeders.  The beautiful puppy in the photo did not suffer from this condition.  I posted Bella’s picture because she is one of the healthiest and most well behaved Chihuahua’s I have ever had the privilege to examine.     

In addition to open fontanelles, I also check for several other congenital defects including cleft palates, umbilical hernias, heart murmurs and anal defects.  A common problem in all toy breeds is medial patella luxations.  In this condition, the pup’s knee cap rests out of the joint, on the inner side of the knee.  These pups often require surgical repair when they are older. 

For more information on congenital defects in other breeds of dogs, please see my upcoming post titled “Congenital Defects In Puppies”.

Animal Philanthropy

Recently, Congress extended the Pension Protection Act.  This extension allows people over the age of 70 to make contributions from their IRA or Roth IRA to charity.  Each donor must be at least 70 1/2 years old when the donation is made.  The maximum donation allowed is $100,00 dollars per person.  The gift is not subject to the 50% adjusted gross income (AGI) limitation and can be made as part of the required minimum distribution. 

Because of the poor economy, animal charities are suffering.  The hight rate of foreclosures leaves both animals and humans homeless.  Shelters are struggling to care for a large number of animals.  Sadly, this burden is growing at the very time animal non-profit donations are dropping. 

Since this opportunity will end for tax year 2008 on December 31st (it will also be available in 2009),  I encourage everyone to review their financial situation with a tax and/or financial advisor.  If you are able and fit the required criteria, I encourage you to consider a donation to a worthy animal charity.  If you do not match the criteria for an IRA or Roth gift, you can still help by spreading the word.  Tell your friends and family about this unique opportunity before it expires for this tax year. 

Note:  The above is provided for informational purposes only.  Neither Kristen L. Nelson, D.V.M., nor Veterinary Creative, L.L.C. offer tax, legal or financial advice.  You are advised to consult a tax, legal or financial specialist regarding your personal situation.

Billy The Elephant

Elephants are highly social creatures who live in complex family groups.  In an attempt to meet their emotional needs, the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) states the following in their Standards for Elephant Care and Management:

    “Institutions should strive to hold no less than three female elephants whenever possible. . . . Adult males (six years and above) may be housed alone, but not in complete isolation (opportunities for tactile, olfactory, visual, and/or auditory interaction with other elephants must be provided.”

Based on the above, I do not understand why the Los Angeles Zoo has refused to send their bull elephant Billy to another facility that complies with these guidelines.  Since May of 2007 he has lived without interaction with elephants  (that’s when the zoo’s other elephant Ruby retired to the Performing Animal Welfare Sanctuary.)  He engages in repetitive head bobbing as a way to deal with his loneliness and stress.  It is the only thing that seems to bring him comfort.  Compulsive behaviors in any species are abnormal and indicate the animal’s psychological needs are not being met.  

In 2007, the AZA accredited the L.A. Zoo even though Billy’s situation violated their own standards for elephant care.  Since the L.A. Zoo planned to build a new “Pachyderm Forest”, they were given full accreditation.  In fact, the AZA touted the new facility as an accomplishment even though it would only be 3.6 acres in size!  The fact that Billy would live in isolation for the time it took to raise money and build the facility was not mentioned.  I believe he should have been relocated to a facility that could provide for his emotional needs. 

On December 3, 2008 the L.A. City Council voted to stop funding the “Pachyderm Forest”.  Without City funding, it will at best take years for the L.A. Zoo to raise the necessary funds and finish construction.  These are years that Billy will spend bobbing his head up and down.  I ask officials of the L.A. Zoo to put Billy’s interests ahead of their own.  In my opinion, he should be moved to another facility that will provide the emotional support that only other elephants can bring.  It is also time for the AZA to stop accrediting institutions that fail to comply with their (minimum) standards.  Just think of the tragedy the AZA could have prevented had it required the San Francisco Zoo to comply with their enclosure requirements.  A young man and a young tiger might still be alive today.  

Please encourage officials at the L.A. Zoo and AZA to let Billy go to a new facility.  He does not deserve solitary confinement.