Dr. Lila Miller, Vice President, Veterinary Outreach—October 5, 2007
You had questions, she had answers! You wanted to know how to find a healthy shelter dog, you inquired about the health of shelter dogs vs. dogs from breeders, and you asked great questions about the health of your own precious pups. On hand to answer it all in a live, online discussion was Dr. Lila Miller, ASPCA Vice President, Veterinary Outreach. Dr. Miller co-edited the first textbook on shelter medicine, Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff.
Hi, Dr. Miller. I'm always hearing from naysayers who want to go to a breeder or pet store for their dog because they're worried shelter dogs won't be healthy. What can I tell them? Thanks!
Shelters are very different from each other, just as pet stores and breeders are. I recommend avoiding pet stores because many get their puppies from puppy mills, many of which maintain their animals in terrible conditions and just use the moms for breeding purposes. Many of the animals suffer from congenital health problems, not to mention poor socialization and numerous other complaints. Good shelters examine the animals carefully, vaccinate, deworm and neuter them and perform a behavioral assessment. They then use that information to try to match your lifestyle with an animal who may meet your needs. Pet stores typically just sell you the animal and that's it. Many shelters also provide follow-up if you are having problems and will take the animal back if things don't work out. It's a much better deal going to a shelter.
How can I tell if a potential pet is in good health? What are signs of a sick dog? Thanks.
In choosing a healthy dog, one of the first characteristics you want to assess is the dog's demeanor. They should be bright, alert and responsive to their surroundings. The eyes should be bright and clear with no discharge. The coat should be lustrous with no bald patches. There should be no distinct odors as this could be indicative of an infection. Watch him walk—the gait should be loose and even with no limping or favoring a foot. Listen for sneezing or coughing and run your hands over the body gently—if he will permit it— to see if you feel any lumps or bumps. If the person you are getting the dog from can open the dog's mouth, check to see the teeth are nice and white and the gums pink and healthy. The other important thing to do is make sure you talk to whomever you are getting the dog from to make sure the appetite is good and they haven't observed any vomiting or diarrhea.
I recommend getting your dog from a shelter first or a reputable breeder who should have checked the animal's health for you, and taking him to a veterinarian as soon as possible for a complete health check. Good luck!
What is the best age to have your dog neutered?
Neutering can be safely performed in animals as young as six weeks of age. There is no best age, but certainly before six months, especially for female animals. Females should be spayed before their first heat to prevent mammary gland cancer development later in life.
I work in a kennel where the water comes from a well. Occasionally, the water comes out orange (ranging from faint orange to very dark). If left sitting, the orange particles settle to the bottom and the water is clear. It is most likely rust. When the water is colored, I think it is unsafe for the dogs to drink, but my supervisor disagrees. She says it is fine to give the dogs. If I am uncomfortable with that, my other option is to give them water out of a huge vat of standing water, complete with algae growth.
Is she right that neither of these options are harmful to the dogs? If they are, what are the effects they could have? Which is safer to give the dogs? Thanks for your help!
I think the best thing to do is to have the water analyzed by a professional water testing company or check with a local water authority in your town to see about testing. You cannot assume the water is safe just by looking at it and there may be other things in the water besides iron and rust. I would definitely not use the algae-covered water. Shelter animals should have access to fresh, potable water.
After researching my golden retriever's strange behavior of snapping at invisible flies or gnats, I researched it on the Web and found that it's truly a neurological disorder. At this point, my dog doesn't have seizures, but snaps at flies every day. Should I be medicating or treating my dog for this disorder? Will it eventually turn into seizures? Thanks!
Since your dog is snapping at flies on a daily basis, I recommend you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to evaluate this behavior. Your vet can run some tests to make sure your dog is okay otherwise. The vet may decide to try a trial of phenobarbital medication, which is an anti-seizure drug. If the behavior stops, you will know it is part of a seizure disorder. Your veterinarian may advise you to see a specialist such as a veterinary neurologist to handle this problem.
I have a three-year-old German Shepherd dog who is female and spayed. She is not currently showing signs of hip problems, but I have heard about vitamin supplements as a preventative. Do you think it's worth considering for her?
Vitamin therapy has been advanced as a treatment for many different health problems these days, but if your three-year-old German Shepherd is healthy and on a 100% nutritionally complete diet I don't recommend a vitamin to ward off hip dysplasia. There has been some discussion about the merits of vitamin C but I don't think there is conclusive evidence that it helps, especially at this age and in a dog with no symptoms. I do strongly advise making certain you keep her weight at a healthy level, as an overweight animal is more likely to have a problem with arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders.
Every fall, in late September and October, my shorthair mutt contracts an allergy. His symptoms are: scratching, eye infection in one eye, dripping nose and specific "doggie" odor that only is present during the two months. What can I do to relieve his symptoms? My vet quoted $800 just to test for allergies. He prescribed eye ointment and Benadryl, which doesn't help the itching.
Ideally speaking, allergy testing to identify the allergen for once and for all would be the best way to design a treatment program that might include avoidance of allergen. Antihistamines are only about 30% effective in relieving itching in allergic dogs. You should consider regular bathing with a hypoallergenic shampoo or with colloidal oatmeal and adding omega 3 oils to the diet. This may help the antihistamines work more efficiently. You might also try a topical hydrocortisone product, which will be less absorbed into the bloodstream and less likely to cause side effects than oral steroids. If the problem is severe, you may have to resort to a short course of steroids. They can cause serious side effects, but if properly prescribed, these effects can be minimal.
My eight-month-old puppy tends to vomit in the morning—usually once or twice after drinking water. He is a fast drinker and I try to keep the water lukewarm. It is a clear, mucus substance that he vomits and hardly ever any food. Should I be concerned?
Is he vomiting or coughing or retching? Is he bright, alert and playful afterward? Is there any diarrhea or loss of appetite? Has be been dewormed? As you can see, there are lots of questions to be answered when assessing the problem, and the best person to sort them out is your veterinarian. Vomiting can be indicative of a variety of problems that range from just excitement to a more serious disease. This doesn't sound very serious to me, but you should have it checked since it occurs fairly regularly.
What is the best way for me to remove a splinter from my German Shepherd's paw? She got it while walking on the porch and now she won't let me touch her. Thank you!
If your dog won't let you touch her then you will have to take her to the veterinarian. If you try to remove it yourself she may bite you. Even if you can muzzle her, it will be a traumatic experience for both of you, and if she is struggling with you it is unlikely you will be able to remove it anyway.
I saw a blind poodle at my local shelter and I want her! She's only a year old and the sweetest girl. Do you have any tips on how to care for her? My mom doesn't want the extra work, so I need to convince her. Thanks!
I think it is wonderful that you are willing to adopt a blind dog. There are resources available to help you, but most blind animals adapt fairly quickly to their surroundings and will just need reassurance becoming familiar with the environment, and with feeding at first. The shelter should be able to provide you with information about the medical needs, if any, and any other information you may require to get started. You can also contact the ASPCA separately and we can provide you with some inspiring articles that have been written about the care of blind dogs. Good luck and thanks for caring
My Jack Russell/rat terrier has been licking and chewing his paws until they are so raw that they look like they are going to bleed. This started about a month and a half ago. I thought he might have a food allergy, so I switched foods, but there has been no change.
It's time to schedule a visit to a veterinarian. There are many substances that can cause allergies besides food. This could be an inhalant or contact allergy. There are other causes as well that should be ruled out like pododermatitis. Treatments are available that could make your dog more comfortable, but only your veterinarian can diagnose and prescribe them.
My 15-month-old golden retriever ripped his dew claw about a week ago. I have been keeping it wrapped, and I clean it daily with peroxide and Neosporin. Is this enough to help it heal, or do I need to bring him to the vet? I am worried about infection.
I am afraid I really can't tell you what type of treatment you need for this torn dewclaw. It depends on the severity of the tear. If it is a deep cut it may need stitches or it might be better to just have it surgically removed so it doesn't happen again. I think you need to schedule a visit to your veterinarian for assessment and treatment.
My six year-old Chihuahua has much brown build-up on his teeth along the gum line. He is not in any pain, and does not have foul breath, but he needs to have it removed. I have called many vets in my area for a price quote and was shocked! Most are ranging from $200-$400! I am being told that this is considered major surgery. Are these quotes reasonable? What is involved in this procedure and how safe is it? Is this the best way to go, or is there a better alternative?
I suggest that you follow up with your vet to have your dog's teeth cleaned. The vet will probably perform blood work first to make certain it is safe to put your pet under general anesthesia and then use special equipment to clean and polish the teeth. You will want to have this work performed before there is serious dental disease present, as this can lead to other health problems. I think the price quote is really reasonable for the amount of time and care it takes to perform dentistry today.
My Yorkie is 16 years old. He is beginning to have problems with his kidney function. He takes Hartgard monthly—does this interfere with his kidney function? Is there a bigger risk leaving him on the medication or taking him off of it? Thank you very much.
Deciding whether your 16-year-old Yorkie should remain on heartworm preventative or not because of his kidney disease should be discussed with your veterinarian. There are a few different products on the market and if the risk assessment determines that heartworms is still a threat, then your veterinarian can decide which one would be safest to use in your case.
Our three-year-old Bichon boy has a cracked tooth. I know it is not good for humans to go around with a cracked tooth, so does the same apply for the dogs? When we took him to his vet, he thought if it's not bleeding we can leave what's left of that tooth (there was a tiny piece left then, but now there is hardly anything).
You should have this reexamined. You may want to go to a practice that has a veterinarian experienced in dentistry to evaluate him. A cracked tooth can be painful and leave him open to infection.