No Bones About It

February is Dental Health Month for our fur babies. There are a great many things I could discuss in regards to this topic. For example, I could talk about all the reasons to brush your dog’s teeth. I could show you how bad your animal’s teeth can get when not cared for properly. Instead, I want to discuss the need for healthy items for our dogs to chew on.  

There are so many choices available for our dogs to chew on. I receive many questions from clients about what is safe. So many times, someone calls requesting information about whether their dog might have a bone lodged somewhere.

I first want to say that this is one opinion in a host of many. Obviously, you are free to feed your dog anything and everything you want. I just want to share what I see on my side that may make you think twice before offering that item for chewing.

“Dogs ate bone in the wild before we domesticated them.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that statement. That might be the case, but I question how long those critters lived and whether they truly ate the bones. Seems to me often the bones are the only remains left when a carcass is found.

Chewing is an important activity for dogs. You must offer appropriate items for them to chew. You must observe them with that item before assuming it will be okay to leave them unattended with it. For instance, a chew toy can be destroyed and pieces can be swallowed and get lodged within the stomach or intestines. I know many have seen crazy things pass through their pet’s digestive tract, but it only takes one time when it gets stuck and you will wish that you would have followed these suggestions.

This photo shows one complication of dogs eating bones. This dog was licking marrow out of the center and locked the bone over the lower jaw and canine teeth. The owner discovered the issue and brought him to the clinic. The dog was calm but frustrated since he could not close his mouth. Obviously, he was unwilling to let me remove the bone while awake. We gave him a heavy sedative and after a few minutes we were able to rotate the bone and remove it. It was a positive outcome, but a lesson learned about the dangers of bones.

Calls also come in from worried pet parents indicating their dog is vomiting. We discuss any changes to the animal’s diet or recent meals. Often, the client responds that they had offered the dog a soup bone, a chicken bone, or a steak bone. They have seen the dog straining and so are concerned that something is stuck. With the history given, we have to explore the possibility of an obstruction so radiographs are ordered and sometimes a contrast substance like barium is given to see if an obstruction is present. We do not always find an issue with the bones, but we have to explore it to rule it out as a cause of the clinical signs being observed. If bones had never been given, we would not have that initial expense and could have looked for other causes.

If a dog is coughing and gagging at home and the owner indicates they gave their pet bones to chew on. Again, we must rule out an obstruction prior to exploring other causes of gagging and coughing.

One scenario is this: A dog stops eating and seems hesitant to let the owners look into its mouth. The owner assumes the dog has a bad tooth since its breath is bad as well. The pain is so great that we are unable to open the mouth without sedation. The owners indicate they do give the dog table scraps on occassion. Bones had been offered earlier that week but the dog was fine until today. With sedation in place we are able to open the mouth and find teeth with a large amount of tarter but no indication of a bad tooth. Upon further inspection behind the lower arcade of teeth a sharp bone shard is removed from a red and swollen commissure of the mouth. This was the cause of the smell and the resistance to eating.  It had nothing to do with the teeth.

Another scenario is: A middle aged dog present for routine care and during the exam the teeth are inspected. One side appears to have healthy gums but the teeth are worn down.  The other side has a large amount of tarter accumulations on both the upper and lower arcade. The gums are red and swollen indicating gingivitis is present. Discussion takes place that for some reason their dog is chewing only on one side of the mouth. I ask about what they offer for chewing besides the dog food. They indicate bones from the locker are one of his favorite treats. I point out that the worn teeth on both sides is caused from chewing on bones. I suspect the dog will have a slab fracture on the side with all the tarter accumulation and gingivitis. Fractured teeth and flattened worn teeth can be caused by chewing bones as well.

The bones are harder than the enamel on dogs’ teeth. As dogs chew continuously on these hard surfaces their teeth wear down to a flat surface. This exposes the pulp cavity of the tooth and cause damage to the tooth itself. Not to mention the cracks, chips, and fractures that are caused by chewing on bones, antlers, hooves, and or rocks.

Years ago when our pets lived outside and we offered them all the leftovers from our table, we rarely thought about what complications might arise from some of those items. We saw those outdoor pets live a good life but not necessarily a long life. Today our goal is to help pets live a long and healthy life with as few issues as possible. My suggestion is to avoid bones and other hard surface items. There are numerous healthy items for dogs to chew that will not lead to other dental issues. Look for the seal of approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council(VOHC) on toys and treats that have shown a reduction of tarter on your pet’s teeth. No bones about it, if you do not offer bones, antlers, or hooves, the concerns discussed above will not be an issue for your fur baby.

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Chiropractic for Animals

Since graduating from Veterinary School almost 30 years ago, I have sought routine chiropractic care for many different aliments for myself. The very first opportunity was when I was plagued with headaches often and in need of medication to be able to function. It was discovered that with all the years of book studies I had lost the curvature of my cervical neck vertebrae. This presented issues for myself and with routine care over the years I have been able to remain medication free for neck and back pain. In those early years in Minnesota, my good friend and chiropracter occasionally would treat an animal and tell me of the success he was having with his routine adjustments. These pets were of course his own since legally he was licensed to only treat 2 legged species. Over the years I started to recognize the need for routine chiropractic care in the 4 legged species and how much they could benefit from adjustments. My only treatment option when chiropractic was not available was offering pain medications that would not correct anything. The medications would reduce the symptoms noted by the client but once off the drugs the symptoms returned.

About 7 years ago, when my daughter was showing in the POA circuit, we requested the help of a Chiropracter to adjust her pony. I remember thinking how interesting it was to watch the process and see the pony respond to the different manipulations. The POA’s gait definitely improved after the adjustment. It was amazing to see the change so soon after the first treatment.

Then about 5 years ago, I discovered Dr. Lisa King. I cannot tell you how many clients I have referred to her as she travels around Central Iowa to many different locations to make adjustments and do acupuncture as needed to improve the lives of her patients. What I can report is all the positive feed back that I get once a client has taken their pet to see her. Their pets are jumping, running, barking, tail wagging, etc., after just a few treatments. Many have been able to come off their medications and have normal daily activity with no reoccurrence. I have had some unbelievers become believers. I have clients that schedule routine maintenance adjustments just because they have seen the importance of preventive maintenance in their pets.

Mobility is such an important part of our lives and that of our pets, so please enjoy the photos that were captured recently when Dr. Lisa King visited a barn in Madison County.

Max is a 6 month old Labrador Retriever that was surrendered to me in October for aggressive unpredictable behavior with its owners. They had been taking him to puppy classes and had enlisted the help of a pet behavioralist to determine the cause of his aggression. After countless hours of working with Max and the family of 4, to see if these issues could be resolved, it was determined removing him from the home was the safest solution for everyone involved. I was contacted and offered to take him in and work with him and determine if something could be done. He had 4 puppy sessions left and I used the Gentle Leader in class and when out for walks with him to make certain he had no opportunity to react aggressively without having a way to control him. On the first evening of class I was working with him on heeling and as I stopped I wanted him to sit. He did not, so I elevated his nose with the Gentle Leader and with my left hand put pressure on his hips to encourage him to sit. In that short moment he broke into a screech and I immediately tightened the Gentle Leader around his muzzle and told him no as I knelt down beside him. Within seconds he quieted and nuzzled up against me in the most submissive and remorseful way. My immediate reaction, “He is in pain.” He needs to see Dr. Lisa King.

Below is his first report showing the areas that were adjusted. Interesting side note, after I returned to puppy class with him 3 days later, 3 different people came up to me and said he looks and acts like a totally different puppy tonight. I had not even told them that he had seen a chiropracter. Dr. King’s comment after completing his treatments was, “He must have had one massive headache.”  I did contact the previous owners to inform them of our discovery and as we discussed the situation, I was reminded that he had fallen down some stairs around 8 weeks of age. Possibly some or all of his issues may have been related to that one incident.

This is only one story that I have written about today, but want you to know that this is just one of many.  Dr. Lisa King sees many horses in her daily life and has had just as many success stories with them as well.  Many feel there is no way a person could adjust a 1000# animal and make a difference. Yet when watching her treat the horses it is not about brute strength but rather the different angles and positions she uses to move the joints back into their proper location. It is about watching the horse become more alert and responsive after she has finished her work. The whole body shake that they do to thank her for her kindness. The owners returning at a later date for yet another treatment since they see remarkable improvements with just one treatment and hope for even more success if they see Dr. King again.

Our animals are not able to tell us when they hurt or why or where. If your 4 legged critter starts or stops doing a behavior, don’t assume that they are being “bad.” It could easily be pain or some other illness. We need to watch for the subtle signs like not jumping up and down anymore, not doing stairs or hesitating before going up or down, lying around and not playing with their humans or the other housemates, aggression that has suddenly appeared, hiding or laying away from everyone as signs that they are not feeling well or in need of some chiropractic care.   If you just observe your pet’s daily activities, you will be surprised how many times they run into objects or other pets, how many times they slip or fall when attempting to chase something, drop to the floor with little grace in a big thud, get pulled on their leash or collar while being contained, etc. All of these activities cause wear and tear on their bodies and in the end can lead to pain responses that vary from shaking, to crying, to not eating, limping, panting, acting out with strange behaviors, etc. These symptoms can mimic many other health conditions so it is not wise to assume all panting dogs need to see a chiropracter. Yet it is important to be aware of what a chiropractic treatment can do for your pet. Ask your veterinarian if they feel chiropractic might help your pet and then ask around who in your area may be available to help.

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History of Veterinary Medicine and the Winterset Vet Center

Often I am invited to schools to talk at Career Day about Veterinary Medicine. I enjoy the history and stories of the past before I launch into modern day medicine. I love to tell that the first veterinary school in the USA was Iowa State University, founded in 1878. It was a two year curriculum and was FREE. Now there are 29 vet schools, and a degree takes three to four years of undergrad, four years of grad school, and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I present an old leather doctor’s bag that holds glass syringes and books from the 1800’s that only contain 30 pages of all known diseases and treatments, like “sprain or cough or spavin”. The treatments or remedies (germ killer or tonics) include turpentine, belladonna, sassafras, Cayenne pepper, alcohol (liberal amounts), cocaine, and opium. How times have changed! Remember that aspirin was invented in the 1920’s, and sulfa — the first antibiotic — in 1932, and penicillin in 1943. The first four “girls” graduated as veterinarians in 1915 in Chicago. Now, female veterinarians outnumber men since 2009.

Curiously, a company called Scarless Gall Remedy Products Co. of Winterset, Iowa, produced and sold a salve that reportedly healed saddle or collar galls without any scar on horses in the first years of the 1900’s. It gained notoriety as the first class action lawsuit of false claims ever tried in Iowa courts. They never payed out any claims, instead closed down and re-opened as “Starless” Gall Salve Co.

Human research — tried on animals — has yielded breakthrough protocols for human medicine, and then have been easily adapted back into vet medicine. Now, modern veterinary medicine has a huge list of vaccines, antibiotics, and chemotherapies.

Serum chemistry to analyze blood is done in-house. Digital radiology, ultrasound, EKG, endoscopy, acupuncture, laser therapy, and chiropractic are tools that veterinarians use. Board certified specialists are nearly as common as general practitioners.

My favorite invention was the cell phone. No longer was I stuck at home to take emergency calls. I actually could have a life and sit in the bleachers at my kids’ school events, or go to a friend’s house. Now the cell phone instantly tells me directions to the farm, accesses records and all internet formulas, shares pictures of cases, etc. I also really appreciate the RFID pet microchip. Its national database reunites scores of lost pets with their owners.

Winterset Veterinary Center was started in 1983 by Dr. Ken Henrichsen, who retired in 2007. I joined him in 1988, almost 30 years ago! Dr. Lonna joined me ten years ago. Time flies!!

The future will hold even more inventions—sometimes hard to keep up with changing technology. I tell students on career day to study classes in STEM, reading comprehension, and computer ed. But the biggest asset for being a good or great veterinarian is the ability to listen and care. Can’t teach that, but it leads to a very satisfying career!

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