Universal Press Syndicate
Little attention used to be paid to animals after back and joint surgery. When the stitches were taken out, we veterinarians figured our job was done.
Looking back, I shudder to think of the withered limbs and stiff joints, and the weakened bones, cartilage, ligaments and tendons that resulted. With 20/20 hindsight, veterinarians now know we broke the most basic medical mantra, which is to first, "Do no harm."
But we're making up for lost time with our post-operative care of today's pets, with treatments that include physical rehabilitation.
Dr. Darryl Millis is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, and an author and an expert on veterinary physiotherapy.
Millis remembers witnessing the shift in human health care, where patients with back injuries were being encouraged to get out of bed and on their feet. He noted that at one time if an athlete blew out a knee, it was career-ending. But now with physical therapy, if the patient weren't back to near full function within a year, the treatment is almost considered a failure.
But it was a tank with swimming dogs at the Mississippi State veterinary school that turned physical rehabilitation for animals into the surgeon's life's work.
He watched dachshunds after back surgery be put into a whirlpool to swim. He noticed that these dogs seemed to recover quicker and regain motor function earlier than similar patients who were confined to their cages for rest -- an observation later confirmed by studies.
Millis said today's physical rehabilitation menu includes massage, stretching and therapeutic exercises ranging from leash walks to time spent in a water tank. Rather than just guessing what works, motion analysis and force-plate analysis have shown the true benefit from specific exercises. In veterinary settings where rehab is practiced, there are protocols to follow for a specific pet with a specific mobility problem.
Some rehabilitation can be simple and low-tech. For example, a veterinary technician will not just walk a dog after surgery, but will also get the animal to put weight on the affected leg with each step.
In more high-tech applications, rehab specialists can use an underwater treadmill filled with a certain temperature and depth of water specific to a dog's joint problem, with the platform at a certain incline, moving at a precise pace. Going a step further, the targeted joint is put at the level of the water so it has to break the surface tension, thus ramping up the degree of difficulty.
Specialists can also affect motion underwater by putting water wings on the animal's opposing good limb, forcing tremendous hip and knee flexion so that the stance time on the operated leg is about the same as the good one.
While rehabilitation is typically used as a powerful adjunct therapy with surgery, anti-inflammatory drugs and special diets, sometimes rehab is the primary treatment.
Millis vividly remembers an 8-year-old golden retriever, Maggie, who'd had two knee surgeries on both legs. When Millis looked at the post-operative radiographs, he noted that they were the most arthritic joints he'd ever seen; the surgeries had been failures. Maggie could barely get up and walk 15 feet and couldn't jog at all. Drugs didn't agree with her gastrointestinal tract, and the owner wouldn't authorize any more surgery.
Millis didn't think the underwater jogging treatment plan had a chance, not with knee joints that looked like cobblestone grinding against cobblestone.
But Maggie ended up walking. With about six weeks of therapy (five days per week), the dog was walking normally. By five months, Maggie was jogging, and force-plate analysis showed normal weight being carried on both rear limbs. With therapy, Maggie returned to near normal activity.
As more pet lovers are finding out, rehab is just as important for the full recovery of tiny Chihuahuas as it is for NFL linemen.
(Dr. Marty Becker will be on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday, Sept. 19, to discuss the latest and greatest in collars, harnesses and leashes.)
Tennis balls without the worry
Q: I have two dogs, an Australian cattle dog and a terrier mix, that came from the local pound and the SPCA. I read recently about the tragic death of one of Oprah Winfrey's dogs, and the article said you should never give dogs anything to play with "that will fit entirely into their mouth."
Well, I toss a tennis ball for my dogs' exercise, and they can both get the ball into their mouths. Was that advice unclear, or could my girls actually choke on the tennis ball? I would be as devastated as Oprah if one of them should die. -- F.E., via e-mail
A: A world without tennis balls? Perish the thought! It's a good possibility that more tennis balls are used to exercise dogs than to play tennis. While most dogs "make do" with used balls that have lost their ideal tennis court bounce, other pets enjoy any number of tennis balls made especially for dogs, including balls of different sizes and colors, and even some with flavorings (mint seems to be a favorite, with people if not with dogs).
But yes, tennis balls do present a hazard that requires they be used only in supervised conditions. The problem is that dogs have strong jaws capable of compressing a tennis ball. If that compressed ball pops open in the back of the throat, it can cut off a dog's air supply. Over the years, I've gotten letters from countless readers who've lost dogs this way.
You don't have to throw away all your tennis balls, but you do need to use them in a way that reduces the risk of choking. Tennis balls should always be put out of reach after a game of fetch, and no dog should ever be allowed to use them as chew toys.
In supervised play, insist that dogs fetch, return and immediately release the ball -- no games of keep-away while the dog works the ball in her mouth. And keep only one ball in play at a time, to minimize the risk of having your dog pick up more than one and getting the furthermost ball lodged back in the throat.
Keep the game of fetch fast and lively to keep the focus on the chase and the next throw. A product I couldn't live without (with my weak throwing arm and strong retrievers) is the Chuck-It, a tool that flings the ball much farther than most of us can throw. (Added bonus: The Chuck-It also keeps dog slobber off your hands!)
Nothing in life is without risk, sadly, but there's no need to deny your dogs the joy and needed exercise that a tennis ball can provide. Just be sure to follow a few simple guidelines to keep playing safely. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Quitting for a pet's health
-- A study at the Henry Ford Health System's Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention found that if told that secondhand smoke harmed their pets, 22.3 percent of pet owners would think about quitting, and 32.2 percent would try to quit. Even more: 42.5 percent would ask others not to smoke, and 33.1 percent would ban smoking indoors.
-- Virginia became the first state to post a Dangerous Dog Registry. With mug shots, misdeeds and home addresses, the Web site was modeled after the state's sex-offender registry. Texas has enacted some of the harshest criminal penalties for the owners of dogs deemed to be dangerous, making it a felony and possible 10-year sentence for anyone whose dog seriously injures someone while off the leash.
-- The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that $9.8 billion will be spent by pet owners on veterinary care in 2007.
-- Toxic tall tales. Myth: Giving your dog beer is no big deal. Truth: Even a small amount of alcohol can disorient an animal and lead to injury. Myth: Cats love milk. Truth: Some cats are sensitive to milk, which can cause an upset stomach or diarrhea. Myth: Mushrooms are poisonous for pets. Truth: Grocery store mushrooms are safe for pets and people. But watch out for the ones that grow in your yard, as some of those are dangerous.
-- The Great Dane was the No. 1 breed at risk for a sudden and potentially deadly health problem known as bloat (gastric torsion), according to a Purdue University study. When a dog bloats, his stomach expands and eventually twists, requiring surgical intervention. Male dogs are also twice as likely to bloat, and most dogs who bloat are between 7 and 12 years of age. When combined with other complications of bloat, it is the second leading cause of death of dogs, second only to cancer.
-- At the University of Florida, researchers put tarantulas on a treadmill, measured oxygen intake and energy output, and found out that spiders need 70 to 100 times less food proportionately than humans do, requiring very little energy to stay alive. -- Dr. Marty Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or visiting PetConnection.com.
A family car with room for the dog
At the corner diner where I often eat breakfast, the regulars and staff have a keen interest in the test vehicles I drive every week. (Part of this is shop talk, since the diner's on the edge of one of my city's top car-dealer boulevards.)
When I parked the Enclave, Buick's all-new 2008 crossover, in front of the diner, two of the waitresses hustled out to take a closer look. They loved what they saw, but then one of them shook her head in surprise.
"Are you sure this is a Buick?" she asked.
Yes, welcome to GM's latest comeback attempt. The week after I'd driven what has to be the most pointless of GM products ever -- the Hummer H3, all attitude and no space -- I had the Enclave, a sleek and stylish newbie with all the versatility one could ask for. Welcome back, GM.
While it won't ever be a serious dog-hauler -- it's just too nice for muddy paws -- the Enclave's fold-flat third-row seating makes it the roomy update of the classic American family station wagons that helped to raise a generation of baby boomers. Except that this update of the suburban workhorse is more comfortable and versatile than those wagons ever were, with oodles of add-ons and safety features.
You can pack it all in, in comfort: the kids, the gear and the golden retriever. There's room for everyone, at a price that's well in line with comparable offerings (starting at $33,000, although the well-equipped one I tested was a good $10,000 more). Fuel economy is 16/24 mpg for the front-wheel drive Enclave -- again, not great, but in line with others in the class.
The perfect dog car? Not hardly. But there's so much to like about the new Enclave that if your dog is part of your family's life -- as opposed to the center of your universe -- you need to check out this versatile winner. -- Gina Spadafori
(Gina Spadafori reviews new vehicles and pet travel products for the Pet Connection's DogCars.com.)
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
More keeping cats in
Years of trying to convince people to keep their cats contained seem to be finally paying off. A little more than half of cat lovers kept their pets indoors from 1998 until 2004. But in the most recent survey, for 2006, that number jumped to more than six out of 10.
Cats who are strictly outdoors, meanwhile, fell to below 10 percent, from a high of 18 percent in 1998. The breakdown for 2006, where cats stay:
Indoors 63 percent
Outdoors 9 percent
Both 28 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
New pet? Take some 'peturnity leave'
Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression, be sure to take some time to settle in with a new pet. Add a new pet when you can be home day and night for at least one week, preferably two.
You want your new pet to learn that life in your household is all about gentle handling, contented confinement, interactive play, learning a new vocabulary and understanding the house rules. By providing 100 percent supervision, a structure and a schedule, you can meet your new pet's needs in ways that shape good behavior for life.
In the first two weeks, even young pets can learn to come and sit for everything they want, to play with appropriate toys and to be relaxed in a kennel.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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