DEAR DR. FOX: I would love your input about a toy Australian sheepdog I purchased from a "breeder of merit" last September.
She was almost 4 months old when I brought her home. Four days later, my vet checked her and discovered she had giardia. It took four cycles of medications to treat over two months. After that cleared, my dog started hopping to avoid using her right rear leg; the diagnosis from the orthopedic vet was grade III-V lameness. After owning this dog for only three months, I am looking at $10,000 to treat both legs, including physical therapy and medication.
How is this breeder able to have a title with the American Kennel Club and sell puppies that do not have the health guarantee that she suggests? Many of my dog-owning friends have told me to turn in the breeder, but I don't know who to contact. I have had numerous dogs in my life -- my father-in-law was a vet -- but I have never had these issues or financial burden to deal with.
All ties with the breeder were broken after she reimbursed me for some of the giardia expenses; even then, I had to threaten her that I still had voicemail with her stating that she would pay for all of the expenses. How unfortunate that I waited more than a year to get one of these dogs for the timing to be right, and this is what I end up with. I love this dog, so I will plan on surgery next month. -- L.R., Washington, D.C.
DEAR L.R.: I appreciate your letter, which I hope will educate people to think twice before purchasing a pure-breed dog, especially of toy or miniature variety, because of the high incidence of costly inherited and genetic disorders.
As I stress in my article "Recovering Canine Health" on my website (DrFoxVet.net), buyer beware when dealing with a breeder. Consider buying a comprehensive pet health insurance policy if you get a pure breed. The best option is to adopt a small mixed-breed dog from your local shelter -- they generally have fewer health problems. For more information, visit hsvma.org/assets/pdfs/guide-to-congenital-and-heritable-disorders.pdf, by my friend Dr. W. Jean Dodds, and www.vet.cam.ac.uk/idid, "The Inherited Diseases in Dogs Database," compiled by Dr. David Sargan.
If you did not have some kind of sales agreement to the effect that your dog would be free of diseases of hereditary origin and developmental disorders, then neither you nor your dog have a leg to stand on. The AKC registration is no health guarantee -- the organization even registers pedigree pups from puppy mills. Inform the breeder, who should keep progeny records and stop breeding dogs who produce unhealthy offspring.
I understand your emotional commitment and financial burden, and I would like to hear from other readers in your predicament: What solutions did you find, and what restitution, if any, were you able to secure?
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 4-year-old Birman cat. Recently, he has started twirling in circles, always to the left. During these episodes, he becomes agitated and looks up as if he is hearing something or seeing something on the ceiling. When my husband or I pick him up, there is rapid eye movement.
We have taken him to the vet and he was thoroughly checked out, but the vet had no definite answers. Our cat is eating and drinking as usual. He uses his litter boxes, and there is no vomiting. The vet suggested some blood work might indicate something is wrong.
Can you give us any insight as to what might be the problem? -- G.N., Crosslake, Minnesota
DEAR G.N.: If your cat were very young, I would suspect a congenital condition called cerebellar hypoplasia, where the posterior part of the brain -- responsible for balance and coordination -- is malformed. Some cats learn to compensate for this remarkably well, but blindfold them as a test, and they fall over. With symptoms of weakness on one side or incoordination coupled with some circling, always on one side, plus the eye movements, called nystagmus, I would suspect a middle-ear issue. This could be due to penetrating ear mites and bacterial or fungal infection affecting the organ of balance deep inside the ear in the brain cavity. I trust the veterinarian did a thorough ear examination.
Other possibilities, more likely with an older cat, could be a brain tumor or a stroke. We lost our beloved Mark Twain to a massive stroke just a few weeks ago. Also a remote possibility, if the cat is fed the same tuna and other fish food daily, mercury poisoning or possible nutrient deficiency or imbalance should be considered.
So, aside from some detective work, I would lay off costly diagnostic tests other than some radiographs of the skull, and try a short course of anti-inflammatory prednisolone and an anti-nausea medication like Dramamine.
Keep me posted on your progress. In many instances, these conditions do resolve themselves.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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