Why Is a Yearly Check-Up Important for Your Pet?

In Educational Articles, San Pedro Animal Hospital News // No Comments

When it comes to caring for our pets in San Pedro, something that is commonly overlooked is a yearly check-up by a veterinarian.  This is also known as a physical exam in veterinary terms.  We tend to look at our pets and say, “Well, he looks fine to me this year!”, and that is the extent of it.  While this may seem very practical, it is not necessarily the best way to protect our pets’ on-going health. 
So, what can a veterinarian tell by looking at your pet that you can’t?  Well, first of all, we are going to check to see that he or she is up to date on all vaccinations.  This is an important part of any yearly exam, but not the ONLY important part.  If your pet is up to date on his shots then great.  Next we take what we call a “history” for your pet.  How is his energy?  His appetite?  Vomiting? Diarrhea?  Is she drinking more water or urinating more than she used to?  Is he itchy?  Does he have problems with fleas or ticks?  What about his joints?  Is he an older dog?  If so, then maybe a lack of energy that you have attributed to “old age” is actually from joint pain.  Joint pain is generally very treatable. These are examples of some of the topics that may need to be discussed.
The next step is the actual physical examination of your pet.  Believe it or not the single most important aspect of your pet’s health is his weight.  Is he underweight or overweight?  Pet’s who are of the optimal weight live longer and are healthier than pets who are overweight.  Underweight pets typically have an underlying medical disorder or are being underfed. 
Next we look in his ears with an otoscope.  If he has been shaking his head he may have an ear infection you were not aware of.  Then we check his eyes.  Eye problems can also be a sign of more serious underlying diseases.  Next the teeth.  You may not realize that the health of your pet’s teeth can affect his overall health.  Dental disease leads to infections and painful teeth that cause an animal to eat less, as well as cause him to have a poor quality of life.  In geriatric animals, euthanasia is sometimes the only alternative when pets are not healthy enough to undergo anesthesia to treat painful, infected or rotting teeth.  Your veterinarian can discuss ways for you to maintain the health of your pet’s teeth so that he never has to suffer from painful dental disease.
There are many more aspects to the physical exam, but the final important example is your pet’s skin.  Parasites like fleas and ticks are difficult to control and can lead to skin problems as well as serious secondary infections from the bacteria they carry.  At your pet’s yearly check-up your vet can assess your pet’s skin and offer advice for controlling itching, allergies, infections, and parasites. 
Right now, at San Pedro Animal Hospital, we are offering a special promotion.  With any yearly check-up you will receive a FREE mini-panel for your pet.  What the heck is that? you might wonder.  A mini-panel is a small blood test used to screen healthy pets.  It checks the inside of your pet the same way your vet checks the outside.  With just a few drops of blood we can check the health of your pet’s liver and kidneys while you wait!  Liver and kidney tests are especially important for older pets or for pets who take medications. The panel only takes 15 minutes to run, and it also checks for diabetes, which pets can develop just like people.  San Pedro Animal Hospital is the only hospital in Belize who can run blood tests using a machine made specifically for dogs and cats, rather than for people.  This means results are not only quick, they are accurate.
So bring in your pet today for his yearly check-up.  You know he hasn’t seen a vet for at least a couple of years, and now you can get a thorough physical exam, including a blood test, for only $50.  This is a $150 value, and we only have 11 tests available before they expire on March 26th.  Isn’t the health of your pet worth $50 once a year?
As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s health, please come by San Pedro Animal Hospital or call us at 610-DOGS.  We have office hours Mon-Sat and we are available for emergencies after-hours.

Dog Might Provide Clues on How Language is Acquired

In Educational Articles // No Comments

Sit. Stay. Parse. Good Girl!

Published: January 17, 2011

Chaser, a border collie who lives in Spartanburg, S.C., has the largest vocabulary of any known dog. She knows 1,022 nouns, a record that displays unexpected depths of the canine mind and may help explain how children acquire language.

Cass Sapir/Nova Science Now

A NEW TRICK John W. Pilley, right, taught Chaser after reading about a dog whose owners taught him to recognize and fetch 200 items.

Chaser belongs to John W. Pilley, a psychologist who taught for 30 years at Wofford College, a liberal arts institution in Spartanburg. In 2004, after he had retired, he read a report in Science about Rico, a border collie whose German owners had taught him to recognize 200 items, mostly toys and balls. Dr. Pilley decided to repeat the experiment using a technique he had developed for teaching dogs, and he describes his findings in the current issue of the journal Behavioural Processes.

He bought Chaser as a puppy in 2004 from a local breeder and started to train her for four to five hours a day. He would show her an object, say its name up to 40 times, then hide it and ask her to find it, while repeating the name all the time. She was taught one or two new names a day, with monthly revisions and reinforcement for any names she had forgotten.

Border collies are working dogs. They have a reputation for smartness, and they are highly motivated. They are bred to herd sheep indefatigably all day long. Absent that task, they must be given something else to do or they go stir crazy.

Chaser proved to be a diligent student. Unlike human children, she seems to love her drills and tests and is always asking for more. “She still demands four to five hours a day,” Dr. Pilley said. “I’m 82, and I have to go to bed to get away from her.”

One of Dr. Pilley’s goals was to see if he could teach Chaser a larger vocabulary than Rico acquired. But that vocabulary is based on physical objects that must be given a name the dog can recognize. Dr. Pilley found himself visiting Salvation Army stores and buying up sackfuls of used children’s toys to serve as vocabulary items.

It was hard to remember all the names Chaser had to learn, so he wrote the name on each toy with indelible marker. In three years, Chaser’s vocabulary included 800 cloth animals, 116 balls, 26 Frisbees and a medley of plastic items.

Children pick up about 10 new words a day until, by the time they leave high school, they know around 60,000 words. Chaser learned words more slowly but faced a harder task: Each sound was new and she had nothing to relate it to, whereas children learn words in a context that makes them easier to remember. For example, knives, forks and spoons are found together.

Dr. Pilley does not know how large a vocabulary Chaser could have mastered. When she reached 1,000 items, he grew tired of teaching words and moved to more interesting topics like grammar.

One of the questions raised by the Rico study was that of what was going through the dog’s mind when he was asked to fetch something. Did he think of his toys as items labeled fetch-ball, fetch-Frisbee, fetch-doll, or did he understand the word “fetch” separately from its object, as people do?

Dr. Pilley addressed the question by teaching Chaser three different actions: pawing, nosing and taking an object. She was then presented with three of her toys and correctly pawed, nosed or fetched each one depending on the command given to her. “That experiment demonstrates conclusively that Chaser understood that the verb had a meaning,” Dr. Pilley said.

The 1,022 words in Chaser’s vocabulary are all proper nouns. Dr. Pilley also found that Chaser could be trained to recognize categories, in other words common nouns. She correctly follows the command “Fetch a Frisbee” or “Fetch a ball.” She can also learn by exclusion, as children do. If she is asked to fetch a new toy with a word she does not know, she will pick it out from ones that are familiar.

Haunting almost every interaction between people and animals is the ghost of Clever Hans, a German horse that in the early 1900s would tap out answers to arithmetic problems with his hoof. The psychologist Oskar Pfungst discovered that Hans would get the answer right only if the questioner also knew the answer. He then showed that the horse could detect minute movements of the questioner’s head and body. Since viewers would tense as Hans approached the right number of taps, and relax when he reached it, the horse knew exactly when to stop.

People project their expectations onto animals, particularly dogs, and can easily convince themselves the animal is achieving some humanlike feat when in fact it is simply reading cues unconsciously given by its master. Even though researchers are well aware of this pitfall, interpreting animal behavior is particularly tricky. In the current issue of Animal Behaviour, a leading journal, two previous experiments with dogs have been found wanting.

In one report, researchers say they failed to confirm an experiment showing that dogs would yawn contagiously when people yawn. Another report knocks down an earlier finding that dogs can distinguish between rational and irrational acts.

The danger of Clever Hans effects may be particularly acute with border collies because they are bred for the ability to pay close attention to the shepherd. Dogs that ignore their master or the sheep do not become parents, a fierce selective pressure on the breed’s behavior. “Watch a collie work with a sheepherder and you will come away amazed how small a gesture the person can do to communicate with his dog,” said Alexandra Horowitz, a dog behavior expert at Barnard College and author of “Inside of a Dog.”

Juliane Kaminski, a member of the research team that tested Rico, was well aware of the Clever Hans effect. So she arranged for the dog to be given instructions in one room and to select toys from another, making it impossible for the experimenter to give Rico unwitting cues. Dr. Kaminski works at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Dr. Pilley took the same precaution in testing Chaser. He submitted an article describing his experiments to Science, but the journal rejected it. Dr. Pilley said that the journal’s advisers had made valid criticisms, which he proceeded to address. He and his co-author, Alliston K. Reid of Wofford College, then submitted a revised article to Behavioural Processes. Dr. Horowitz, who was one of Science’s advisers in the review of Dr. Pilley’s report, said of the new article that “the experimental design looks pretty good.” Dr. Kaminski, too, regards the experiment as properly done. “I think the methodology the authors use here is absolutely sufficient to control for Clever Hans,” she said.

The learning of words by Rico and Chaser may have some bearing on how children acquire language, because children could be building on the same neural mechanisms. Dr. Pilley and Dr. Reid conclude that their experiments “provide clear evidence that Chaser acquired referential understanding of nouns, an ability normally attributed to children.”

But the experiment’s relevance to language is likely to be a matter of dispute. Chaser learns to link sounds to objects by brute repetition, which is not how children learn words. And she learns her words as proper nouns, which are specific labels for things, rather than as abstract concepts like the common nouns picked up by children. Dr. Kaminski said she would not go as far as saying that Chaser’s accomplishments are a step toward language. They show that the dog can combine words for different actions with words for objects. A step toward syntax, she said, would be to show that changing the order of words alters the meaning that Chaser ascribes to them.

Dr. Pilley says he is working on just that point. “We’re trying to teach some elementary grammar to our dog,” he said. “How far we’ll be able to go we don’t know, but we think we are on the frontier.”

His goal is to develop methods that will help increase communication between people and dogs. “We are interested in teaching Chaser a receptive, rudimentary language,” he said.

A Nova episode on animal intelligence, in which Chaser stars, will be broadcast on Feb. 9.

As with other animals for which prodigious feats of cognition have been reported, like Alex the gray parrot or Kanzi the bonobo, it is hard to place Chaser’s and Rico’s abilities in context. If their achievements are within the general capacity of their species, why have many other instances not been reported? If, on the other hand, their achievements are unique, then either the researchers have lucked out in finding an Einstein of the species, or there could be something wrong with the experiments like a Clever Hans effect.

Dr. Pilley said that most border collies, with special training, “could be pretty close to where Chaser is.” When he told Chaser’s dog breeder of the experiment, “he wasn’t surprised about the dog’s ability, just that I had had the patience to teach her,” Dr. Pilley said.

Dr. Horowitz agreed: “It is not necessarily Chaser or Rico who is exceptional; it is the attention that is lavished on them,” she said

Second Patient Treated by San Pedro Animal Foundation in 1 Week

In Educational Articles, San Pedro Animal Foundation News, San Pedro Animal Hospital News // No Comments

“Papi” is an 8 year-old poodle mix who presented for a number of problems.  The most pressing issue to his owner was his aural hematoma, which is a painful condition in which the flap of the ear fills with blood.  His other issues included a severe and chronic flea allergy, fleas and discharge from both eyes. 

The owner had been using Frontline monthly but it was not controlling his condition.  For those of you in Belize with flea allergic dogs, never use Frontline.  It will not be effective enough to control your dog’s skin condition.  Promeris is the only effective topical product I have found for flea allergic dogs in Belize. 

Papi’s treatment plan was a little complicated.  Originally, we planned to perform surgery on the ear.  But upon listening to his heart it was evident that he may not be a good anesthetic risk.  He also suffered from a heart murmer as well as a slight arrhythmia.  Papi’s owner gives him and her other four dogs heartworm preventative, but heartworm disease is still a possibility.  Other heart conditions are a possibility as well.  For Papi, our goal was to get him as comfortable as we could with as little risk as possible, as cheaply as possible.  Papi’s owner had expected to be able to go to the humane society for help, but they no longer have a vet on staff.  She was a little distraught because she wanted to help her dog who was clearly suffering, but she did not have a lot of money. 

Papi was very itchy, scratching constantly during his exam.  He had multiple bald areas of skin showing where he had chewed out the fur from his flea allergy.  In addition, his eyes appeared painful.  Further tests showed that his right eye suffered from a condition called “Dry Eye” or keratoconjunctivitis sicca.  His left eye contained a corneal ulcer.  Both of these conditions can be quite uncomfortable or even painful.

Due to Papi’s multiple conditions and obvious poor quality of life, I discussed using donation money to treat him.  Papi’s owner recognizes that she has too many dogs and she cannot afford them all.  She has done the responsible thing and had them all spayed and neutered.  She also says that after these dogs she will not be getting more because they are just too expensive to care for.  A large amount of her income goes just to pay for their food every month.  I told her maybe in the future she could afford to have one dog only.  I think this is a big issue for many of San Pedro’s residents.  I know we love dogs, but we have to limit ourselves to those we can adequately care for.  Many residents have 2, 3, 4, or 5 dogs, and they are in tact, breeding with each other to produce even more.  This is where education needs to come in.

Since Papi’s owner was being as responsible as she could she qualified for funding from SPAF.  SPAF does not have a lot of resources to draw on, so we have to be very choosey about who we give our funding to.  I made up an estimate for the owner.  She had brought 70 dollars and it was agreed that if she could come up with 80 more we could treat all of his ailments.  She was able to do this and the next day we went to work!  First on the agenda were the tests on his eyes.  His tear production was tested and the stain which found the ulcer on his left eye was performed.  He also has a cataract in his left eye, but alas, we have no laser for cataract surgery!  He will have to live with this condition, but it is not painful.  Next in the plan was a flea and tick bath followed by a soothing oatmeal shampoo and conditioner.  Promeris was applied for flea and tick control.

Next we addressed the actual problem he presented for, the ear hematoma.  We sedated him and placed a drain instead of performing a full anesthetic procedure and surgery.

Then we placed an E collar on him so that he could not scratch at his drain and medicated his eyes.  For the eye with Dry Eye I am recommending artificial tears over the counter.  There are better medications, but they are too expenisve.  Artificial tears should keep his eye comfortable if applied often enough.  For his left eye an antibiotic ointment.  He was sent home with a good allergy medication for his skin to make his skin comfortable as well as an oral antibiotic called doxycycline.  Many animals with corneal ulcers in Belize are carrying a tick-borne disease called Ehrlichia, which the doxycycline will treat.  Ear ointment was dispensed to treat the underlying ear infection which often accompanies aural hematomas.

All of this was done for a cost of 150 Belize dollars for the owner.  (For U.S. dollars divide by two.)  San Pedro Animal Hospital offers a 30% discount for animals who receive SPAF aid.  The amount of SPAF money used to treat him will be 171 Belize dollars.  Due to the number of Papi’s ailments and the expense of the treatments I waived his exam fee of 50 Belize dollars.

All of us in veterinary medicine hate to see an animal that is suffering not receive the care he needs due to finances.  Due to the generosity of those who have donated to SPAF we have so far been able to avoid this situation.  Thanks again so much for your support.  A full financial report for 2010 and up to the present will be coming soon from our Board Member and Registered Accountant.  Please give if you can. 

Thank you!



Love For Our Pets Not Limited to Dogs and Cats

In Educational Articles // No Comments

Article from Chapel Hill News, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

BY DEBORAH MEYER, Correspondent

CARRBORO – Seventeen years ago Zandra Talbert’s son Patrick got some goldfish. Three years later he added some more.

Patrick is now a vet tech at Carrboro Plaza Veterinary Clinic, and one fish, a comet named Frank, is still swimming in his 55-gallon tank in Talbert’s Chapel Hill home.

“He is cute and has big googly eyes. He comes up and says hi if you come to look at him, and he knows when suppertime is,” said Zandra, who also has a dog, two very old cockatiels and three cats along with a husband, Richard.

In September Zandra noticed a dime-sized bump on Frank’s left side.

She contacted veterinarian Erik Dorsch of The Animal Hospital of Carrboro who had advised her in the past on how to transfer Frank into new tanks.

Dorsch is a lifelong fish hobbyist.

“I’ve always had an aquarium and when I went to Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine, I entered with the intention of becoming an aquatic veterinarian,” he said.

He spent his fourth year shadowing aquatic veterinarians at Baltimore’s National Aquarium and other places. Along the way he also learned from N.C. State University College of Veterinary Medicine Professor Greg Lewbart, who specializes in aquatic, wildlife and zoologic medicine.

Dorsch told Zandra that Frank’s growth could eventually affect his swimming and quality of life.

“When she asked what we could do about it I told her we could try and take it off,” said Dorsch, who had never operated on fish but learned in his internships how to anesthetize them.

Surgery was scheduled for Oct. 15.

Dorsch called N.C. State and Shane Christian, the aquatic animal medicine technician, sent him an article on anesthetizing fish. He and Lewbart donated the anesthesia for the procedure, a powder put it in the water containing the fish. The fish falls to the bottom as the anesthesia takes effect.

“It is trial and error since different species have different sensitivities,” Dorsch explained. “There are a lot of factors. But once the fish is on the bottom and its respiration rate slows, you have to feel how anesthetized it is.”

Per Dorsch’s instructions, Zandra carried Frank the day of the surgery in a 5 gallon bucket lined with a plastic bag partially filled with his aquarium water. Dorsch sprinkled the powder in a bit at a time until he knew Frank would not flop or wiggle on the operating table.

Before cats and dogs go into surgery, blood tests ascertain whether they will have problems with anesthesia. This was impossible with Frank.

“My greatest fear going into the surgery was that Frank wouldn’t wake up,” Dorsch said. “I didn’t have any worries about the surgery as it was very straightforward.”

Once Frank was sedated and safely removed from the water, Dorsch used a carbon dioxide laser, which has a beam of invisible light, to remove the tumor. It cuts tissue like a scalpel.

“But it cauterizes as it goes so there is less bleeding and it cauterizes nerve endings so it doesn’t hurt as much as a scalpel,” he said.

Dorsch cut the tumor off at scale level, flush with Frank’s body. He didn’t want to cut into the fish’s body cavity because he wouldn’t be able to stitch him up afterward.

Technician Taylor Kennedy helped Frank breathe by squirting water from his travel bucket into his mouth.

“Frank was out for two minutes at the most,”‘ Dorsch said.

The three-quarter inch tumor turned out to be a fibrosarcoma, which is a malignant tumor in people, dogs and cats. Dorsch asked Lewbart about Frank’s prognosis. There is little data, but Lewbart said some fibrosarcomas are superficial and fish do well for a long, with only a recurrence on the outer surface.

When Zandra’s friends heard of the impending surgery, they were amazed fish could be operated on. Some teased her about the expense, even though in the end it cost just $260.

“I said if all you are thinking about is the money, you get far more bang for your buck with a fish that lives longer than most dogs, she said. “I’m fond of him even though I can’t pick him up and hug him. People behave as if when animals get smaller they are less important. That seems wrong, doesn’t it?”

Before the surgery, Zandra had a speech prepared for the operating room, in case Frank didn’t make it. “I knew I must not cry. I must be brave.”

Dorsch checked to see how long goldfish usually live and found the oldest one on record was 42.

Frank now has a chance to break that record.