As a native Californian, I am used to the sometimes silly stuff that seems to catch on in the Golden State with such frequency as to give people elsewhere plenty of reasons to roll their eyes and snicker.
As a person who has lived in the Deep South, I've seen eyes roll and have heard those snickers. This is probably why, when I came back to California four years ago with an old, arthritic dog in tow, I was not quick to act on a friend's recommendation that I take Andy to see a veterinarian who specialized in acupuncture.
Of course, there's nothing new or trendy about acupuncture, but the practice of it in veterinary medicine is anything but mainstream. It's part of a collection of healing techniques lumped together as "alternative" or "holistic," and traditionally not looked on with much favor in the nation's veterinary schools. The long-established Chinese medical practice involves the insertion of needles to stimulate the healing process or release hormones that help with pain or inflammation. In veterinary medicine, acupuncture is most often used on chronic health problems, not only pain but also chronic gastrointestinal disease, respiratory problems such as feline asthma, chronic skin conditions and kidney disease.
I knew all this, but wasn't much interested. I had -- and still have -- a good working relationship with my veterinarian, and I knew he was doing all he could for my then-14-year-old dog.
But it hurts to see a beloved old dog in such pain, and I came to realize that we'd reached the limits of what Western medicine could do for Andy. In the context of my having to consider putting Andy down to end his suffering, an alternative treatment seemed well worth trying.
And so, I went to see Dr. Signe Beebe, a graduate of Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine, an officer in the Army Reserve, a longtime expert in emergency veterinary medicine -- and a wholeheartedly enthusiastic practitioner of acupuncture.
She made my old dog feel so much better in just a couple of visits that he started demanding a daily walk again. And on those walks, even my neighbors noticed how much more easily my sweet old dog was moving and how much happier he seemed. The acupuncture turned Andy's life around and kept him feeling good until the night before he died of congestive heart failure at almost 16.
It was the kind of experience that gives you a fresh perspective on something you'd never much thought about before.
Beebe acknowledges that my type of pet lover is one of two she sees in her practice -- the person who isn't sure about non-Western medicine but who is driven by love to try anything that might ease an animal's suffering.
"I also see people who have had acupuncture themselves," she said. "It has helped them, and now they want it for their cat or dog."
Since many of the problems acupuncture works best on tend to pop up in older pets, it's no surprise that geriatric patients make up a large part of a veterinary acupuncturist's practice. Four years after first seeing how much acupuncture helped Andy in his last few months, I am now back seeking treatment for my nearly 11-year-old retriever, Benjamin. I know I can't turn back the clock, but I want for him what Andy had: a good quality of life until the very end.
This time, though, I need no convincing to try acupuncture.
Like Andy before him, Ben is already doing better with acupuncture, especially when it comes to managing the pains of old age. When you have an old dog, you know you won't be getting a cure or even much in the way of time.
But every day an old pet feels better is a reason to believe -- and to celebrate.
Where to find an acupuncturist
As with most specialists, veterinarians trained in acupuncture tend to be found in urban areas, or in communities near schools or colleges of veterinary medicine. The following organizations can help you find an acupuncturist for your pet:
-- International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (www.ivas.org, 970-266-0666)
-- American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (www.aava.org, 860-635-6300)
-- American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (www.ahvma.org, 410-569-0795)
Easter a problem for rabbit rescue
Q: Would you please say something about Easter and rabbits? Although we who foster unwanted rabbits are delighted to find great homes for them, we want to make sure anyone getting a rabbit is sure a rabbit is right for them.
At this time of year, a lot of people get rabbits as pets for their children without doing any research at all. Rabbit rescues think of Easter the way dog-rescue groups think of Christmas, as a time when people get pets they shouldn't, only to give up later. -- W.G., via e-mail
A: Before I get to rabbits, let me mention those Easter animals that are completely and utterly unsuitable as children's pets: baby chicks and ducks. These little fuzzies may be adorable, but they grow up into unsuitable pets for most urban and suburban families. That's if they grow up at all: Many baby chicks and ducks die in the first days after purchase because of improper care or handling.
As for rabbits, they can be wonderful pets, and it's easy to see the attraction. Baby rabbits, especially, are as cute as cute can be, with soft coats seemingly so perfect for petting.
A rabbit can be a good pet for a child, but generally only those children who are old enough to learn how to properly hold a rabbit to prevent injuries. As with any children's pet, the ultimate responsibility for proper care and supervision must remain with the parents.
Anyone who's thinking about getting a rabbit needs to know that these social animals are not happy spending their lives alone in small outdoor hutches. Many rabbits can be litter-box trained, and enjoy spending supervised time outside of their cages in the house. They like to be part of the family!
Do some research before considering a rabbit. Recommended reading: "Rabbits for Dummies" by Audrey Pavia (Wiley, $17), or "House Rabbit Handbook: How To Live With an Urban Rabbit" by Marinell Harriman (Drollery Press, $11). Another excellent source of pet rabbit information is the Web site of the House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org), which also offers information on how to adopt a rabbit. Shelters and rescue groups are always packed with wonderful rabbits who need a second chance at a good home.
Q: For a couple of months, my dog's eye has been dry with a colored discharge. We saw the veterinarian, and he sold us some pricey ointment that hasn't helped.
I don't want to go back and pay for another exam, because the first time didn't do squat to help my dog. Can you recommend something that will help? -- V.S., via e-mail
A: Whenever a medication your veterinarian gives you doesn't do the trick for any reason, you need to go back for further assistance.
Follow-up care is perhaps the most neglected part of veterinary medicine. Every day I hear from people whose pets are still living with problems that would be treatable if their owners had followed through with their good intentions. A medication may need to be stronger, be given longer or may need to be changed -- decisions that can be made only by a veterinarian. Don't discount the amount of discomfort or pain your pet is in while you try to figure out what to do next. Get help!
Since those of use who are not veterinarians are often way off the mark when it comes to a proper diagnosis, I advise that over-the-counter remedies be purchased and used only as part of treatment program recommended by your veterinarian.
If you don't know what you're treating, an over-the-counter remedy could be a waste of money and could possibly do more harm than good.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ON THE WEB
One-stop shopping for special pets
Almost 20 years ago, I got a call from a woman who wanted me to meet her dog, a dachshund mix whose hind end was paralyzed as a result of the kind of spinal injury so common in long-backed dogs. The dog had been fitted with a wheeled cart, and she wanted me to write about how the cart was better choice than putting a paralyzed dog to sleep.
I had my doubts that the dog's quality of life could be very good, but I went out to visit the family and their dog, Mo.
Mo's happy barking could be heard as I approached the door, and when I met the dog, I knew his owners were right. This was a dog who was not slowed down at all by his paralysis, and he was living a life as happy as any able-bodied, well-loved pet.
I became a firm believer in "doggy wheelchairs" that day.
The folks at the Handicapped Pets Web site (www.handicappedpets.com) are firm believers as well -- not only in carts for paralyzed pets, but also in other products and services that can maintain or improve an animal's quality of life after an injury or as he ages. Perhaps just as important: discussion groups, articles and images that can help people cope with a pet's special needs.
Heartworms can infect cats, too
Although heartworm disease is primarily seen as a problem in dogs, cats can also be infected with the parasites.
Symptoms of heartworm disease in cats include difficulty breathing, chronic coughing and vomiting. Because these symptoms can be signs of other diseases, heartworm infestations in cats can be incorrectly diagnosed as another health problem, such as feline asthma.
The first sign of a heartworm problem might also be the final one: As with dogs, sudden death can be the only noticeable sign of a severe heartworm infestation in cats.
Because the presence of heartworms can be so difficult to diagnose in cats and the consequences of infestation are so severe, preventive medication is recommended for cats living in areas where the parasites are prevalent.
Talk to your veterinarian about what's best for your cat when it comes to preventing heartworm disease.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
Sturdy beagle a popular choice for families with kids
One of America's most popular dogs for generations, the beagle is friendly, independent, inquisitive, great with kids and a bit of a barker. His easy charm, compact size and minimal grooming requirements make him seem like an ideal lap dog, but beagles can be active and challenging pets.
Young beagles play hard and need lots of exercise, but even older couch-potato beagles needs to be kept active physically and mentally. Beagles are insatiably curious and highly social dogs, and can suffer from boredom and loneliness. A beagle needs a life full of fun outings that will exercise both his mind and body.
Beagles are wonderful family dogs -- handsome, active and outgoing, with a deserved reputation for being good with children. So why are beagle rescues flooded with these dogs? Because of the beagle's popularity, many irresponsible breeds are turning out dogs with problems. In particular, poorly bred beagles have a reputation for being almost impossible to house-train. As with any purebred dog -- but especially with a popular breed -- it's essential to get a beagle from an ethical breeder or rescue organization.
Forgetting that the beagle is first and foremost a hound can lead to some serious misunderstandings, especially when the dog is off-leash. Beagles hear the call of the wild -- or maybe smell the scent of the wild would be a more accurate way to put it -- and when they do, it's not likely they'll listen to you calling.
Obedience training is not just a good idea with your beagle, it's a must. Few beagles can be trusted off-leash in an unfenced area, and most beagles are infamous escape artists. For those reasons, they are not suited to be outdoor or backyard dogs. They need to live as a member of the family, in the house. -- Christie Keith, doghobbyist.com
Amazons, grays best avian talkers
The only way to be absolutely sure to have a talking parrot is to adopt an adult who's already talking. If you want to start with a hand-raised, weaned baby from a reputable breeder or bird shop, though, you can choose from among a few species known for their gift of gab.
The best talkers are generally yellow-naped or double-yellow-headed Amazons, and the Congo and Timneh varieties of African gray parrots. Most birds of these species will learn quickly and will develop a large vocabulary of words and phrases if paired with owners who take the time to work with them.
Other large parrots such as cockatoos and macaws can be good talkers, too, but many of the smaller species just aren't that interested in learning to talk. The exception: the tiny budgie, proven capable of developing a vocabulary of more than 300 words and phrases.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to email@example.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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