The Gentle Doctor

Patricia Lounsbury Bliss in her book Christian Petersen Remembered wrote,

The Gentle Doctor…reflects concern, affection, love, and the significance of life for all of God’s creatures—-great and small. The memory of Christian Petersen will live forever in the minds of the veterinary profession.”

In 1988, when I graduated from Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, I decided to purchase a Gentle Doctor Statue for myself. We were poor college students but as a young teen, my parents made a pack with each of their children that if they did not smoke by the time they were 25 years of age, they would give us each $250. Today that would not seem like much money, but as a teenager and a poor married college student, it was a BIG gift. Imagine how much money I have saved by not smoking, and I do have a treasured statue to commemorate my DVM degree and that pack with my parents.

When I decided to use the money for a statue, I did not want a bronze one. I had collected pewter pieces for years and wondered how difficult it would be to get one made out of pewter. I contacted the company that made the molds and was told to get permission from Iowa State College of Veterinary Medicine for a mold to be made for a pewter cast. I would pay for the mold to be made and it would then belong to me and I would be able to make additional statues with permission from the College of Veterinary Medicine in the future.   I followed through on all of these steps and did obtain a statue made from pewter with my name engraved on the base.

A few years after graduation my father called and asked if another statue could be made from pewter for a long time veterinarian named Dr. Forland. He had practiced in the area where my parents lived and when told about my statue, he was interested in having one made with his name engraved in the base as well.   I again requested permission from ISU College of Veterinary Medicine and with the help of my parents had it delivered to Dr. Forland. I never spoke face to face with him and do not know if as a young girl I ever met him but felt glad I could help him get a statue that he could have his name engraved on the base.

Fast forward a few years and I was sorting through items and ran across a letter I had been sent from Dr. Forland after he received his statue. This letter was written 4 months before his death I was later told and obviously I had felt it worthy of saving since it was a hand-written letter and these are treasures to behold. The words he wrote shared a side of himself that he indicated he had never spoken of. I had decided I would hang on to the letter and if ever I could find one of his children, I felt they should have the letter.   And to my dismay, GUESS WHAT……18 years after the letter was written my parents happened to meet Dr. Forland’s daughter in a random place. After talking with her for a few minutes, and telling her the story of the statue that I had cast for him out of pewter, she went to her car and came back with 2 books titled “Christian Petersen Remembered”, the man who is responsible for the Gentle Doctor statue. Her father had purchased a large quantity of these books and she had decided to pass them out to people she met that had a connection with her father. One book was for my parents and the other book for me.

My parents called me to tell me about their encounter and I immediately asked if they got her phone number or address. My mother said yes, since his daughter was hoping that someday she could meet me. I requested the information and then sent her the original letter so she could read the written words for the first time, 18 years after her father’s death.

So why is all of this worthy of a blog……well let me share with you the letter contents and then you can see how important is was for me to return this letter to the family.

Dear Dr. Lonna Nielsen

Vallie met your dad at Fallgatters the other day so she obtained your married name and address. Please accept my apology for not getting in touch with you before for your kind consideration in allowing us to have the use of your mold for the Gentle Doctor Statue. Thank you!!! It is especially nice that an inscription can be permanently etched at the base. We will have one for each of our children.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think when I was modeling that it would become such an icon for ISU and world wide.

It was ironic that it was crafted in the Home Economics building (McKay Hall) at a time when there were no women students taking Vet Med! The college couldn’t find any other place for Petersen to work and teach. Of course he wasn’t too welcome because of the mess and smell of wet plaster, clay, etc. (It was my job to keep things clean)

One day I asked him if the pile of clay he was working on would have any redeeming value in the future. His answer was,” Young man, if you live another 50 years you may be glad you have given me some of your time.”

Jan 11, 1986, I had a massive heart attack with a lot of damage. Had bypass at Mayo. In June I had recovered enough so I got a release from my cardiologist to attend 45th class reunion. I had lost 50 lbs and was allergic to almost all medications.

Our class took a bus tour of campus, with special point of interest “the old vet quadrangle” (it has been remodeled for classrooms). The Prof that was hosting the group was telling the story of the old building and where Bas Relief & Statue location was before it was moved to the new location. One of my classmates knew of my involvement and posed the question, “Does anyone know who Christian Petersen’s model was for it?” When it was known it was me, the Prof came with his microphone for the story.

I just fell apart emotionally and could not speak! (Embarassing) In my mind, I must have seen and heard Petersen telling me what I could expect if I lived another 50 years. It was within a month of 50 years.

God spared me some more time so that I could be around to see what it has meant for ISU and the world!! I was honored this last Homecoming in the unveiling at Rededication Ceremony.

Excuse all this talk about the above experience. I haven’t told anyone about this before.

Most sincerely,

L M Forland

You see in 1936-37, Dr. Forland, as a poor undergraduate student cleaning up the messes of Christian Petersen had modeled for him holding only a small pillow on his forearm in a position similar to a puppy. He later applied and was accepted to the Veterinary College and graduated in 1941. This humble man realized years later what his small contribution means to the world of Veterinary Medicine. This statue is held in high esteem within the heart and mind of every veterinarian that graduates because it represents the bond each of us shares with our patients.

This month I got to meet Dr. Forland’s daughter and she again thanked me for the hand written letter. One of her siblings has the pewter Gentle Doctor Statue with Dr. Forland’s name engraved on the base. Never did I realize that a mold made to commemorate my DVM graduation would also touch the heart of a man who was a model for the Gentle Doctor Statue back in 1936. I find it interesting how small gestures of kindness can come back and bless your life in ways you would never imagine. Dr. Forland never was paid for his time as a model and yet he found great joy and gratitude 50 years later when he was recognized for his small part in this world wide icon the “Gentle Doctor Statue.” And as they say…. the rest is history.

Ovariohysterectomy for my puppy or kitten before 6 months?

Why would we even consider doing such a major procedure on such a young pet? Women who have these procedures are not allowed to lift, drive, work, etc. for weeks after. Yet we are performing this procedure younger and younger for our pets. This movement began many years ago when shelters realized how few adopted pets returned for their spay or neuter at 6 months of age. This quote from the Fayette Humane Society really sums it up:

“An average cat has 1-8 kittens per litter and 2-3 litters per year. During her productive life, one female cat could have more than 100 kittens. A single pair of cats and their kittens can produce as many as 420,000 kittens in just 7 years.”

Those are staggering numbers. For this reason, shelters began spay and neuter procedures prior to adoption of puppies and kittens. What was discovered was there were no growth issues and the younger pets recovered much more quickly than the older patients from anesthesia as well as the surgery itself. Clients are often surprised how playful and happy these younger patients are after surgery. We have less complication with swelling and incision redness. With young puppies and kittens very few “cones of shame” are needed to keep them from licking at the incision.   Most clients report that their pet is back to normal activity within 2 days.

Now we come to one of the most important reasons to spay your pet in the first few months of its life, BREAST CANCER. Having your pet spayed before her first heat cycle will remove the risk of breast cancer. Clearly, that is a great reason to spay your pet. After 2-3 heat cycles, a female’s chances of breast cancer are just as great as a pet that has never been spayed. Doing the spay early removes almost 100% of the risk for this clinical condition. Breast cancer is aggressive and spreads to numerous glands and to other internal organs as well. When a partial or complete mastectomy is performed, the recovery is long and painful for our female pets. Even with this surgical procedure, there are high probabilities that the cancer will return or be found in other locations in the future. Why put our pets through this if it can be avoided?

BEHAVIORAL studies have shown that a spayed or neutered dog is 3 times less likely to bite or be aggressive to humans or other animals. Awareness of behavioral issues is becoming more common. People realize that a dog that attacks humans or other dogs is not normal. We recognize that this is dangerous and make attempts to reduce the pets fear and anxiety. We remind people that if you wait for your dog to show signs of aggression and then you spay or neuter the pet, this may not change the situation. The success stories come from doing the procedure before the behavioral issues have begun. Therefore highlighting the positives of an early spay or neuter program.

BEHAVIORAL issues of wandering also come into play with an intact female dog. When her cycle begins, she will be driven instinctively to find a partner as much as the male will be driven to find her. With the first stage of her cycle, which can last anywhere from 7-10 days, she will have a large amount of valvular swelling and a heavy blood discharge. During those early days each time she urinates or drops blood she is sending pheromones out to all intact males in and around the area. This is why you will see stray dogs wandering into your yard or loitering around your home when your female begins her cycle. After the heavy discharge ends is when she is ready to stand for her mate. She may be in her standing heat for 7-10 days as well, so be prepared to keep her on a short leash while outside and never leave her unattended during those days. The final 7-10 days she may have a lighter colored pink discharge and still be swollen but will not stand for a mate. The dogs cycle will last up to 21-30 days. This is important to remember since she is driven to be bred instinctively and it is your responsibility to make certain that does not happen. They usually will cycle twice per year.

BEHAVIORAL issues for the feline are different. Cats are what we call induced ovulators. When bred, ovulation is triggered, without being bred the female cat can wax and wane in her cycle and cause a large amount of frustration to owners and other pets in the home. The female cat in heat is agitated and vocal and often attempts to get outdoors. This can last for days and cause the entire household to be at odds about what should be done. Female cats can have repeated heat cycles stimulated by daylight, warmer temperatures, and the presence of other intact cats. Spaying her before any of this begins can prevent frustration for every person and pet involved. Some cats will cycle as early as 5-6 months. Spay early and avoid the hassle!

Another huge health risk to our female intact pets is PYOMETRA. This condition is difficult to detect since many describe their pet as just not acting right. Maybe eating less, drinking more, laying around more, there may be a discharge but not always, some very vague symptoms. Most owners report that her heat cycle has been irregular and cannot remember the last time she cycled. When checking blood work, we see a very elevated white blood cell count that gives us concern for a possible pyometra. The photos below show an older dog with a normal uterus on the left and the one on the right is the same aged dog but with a uterus full of pus. These cases can have a uterus full of pus as large as a pregnant dog’s uterus. Of course, the infected uterus must be removed and the patients are already debilitated so the procedure is risky. Spaying your female pet can avoid this situation 100%.

Some common myths that we hear often when discussing a spay procedure are:

“I do not want my pet to get fat and lazy.” As with any pet, if feeding the appropriate calorie intake based on their daily needs you can control their weight. The trouble is many want to continue to free feed their young adult pet which leads to weight gain. Also, the age we used to spay a pet was around the time they were maturing and so activity levels were naturally dropping but we continued to feed them at the same level as when they were a growing puppy. We need to adjust their intake based on weather and schedules to avoid them gaining weight in the winter when no one wants to walk their dog and when school begins and we no longer have time to walk. Your dog will still want to protect its family and territory even after being spayed. Any behavioral changes noted after a spay are more likely caused by something other than the spay.

So, what are the disadvantages to a spay? As with any surgical procedure the risk of anesthesia is something we can never underestimate. Pediatric pets are sensitive to heat loss and blood loss so those factors must always be considered at the time of surgery and postoperatively. Your pet will never have a litter of kittens or puppies. That can be considered a disadvantage by some but I see it as a positive advantage. Are there increased health risks with age associated with early spay and neuter programs? Recent studies have indicated with some breeds of dogs they are seeing a higher incidence of osteosarcoma or hemangiosarcoma in altered dogs. I believe more studies are needed to verify these results since most pets we treat are altered so does this give a fair representation of the case studies. Where the study was done, how did they account for diet and environmental variations? Did they make certain that these dogs were not related since the study was done in Golden Retrievers? With all the research that is happening in humans studying our DNA and finding early links to different diseases, I believe this will help us learn more about the how’s and why’s of cancer in pets. So, the jury is still out, but I can definitely say that there are many great reasons to consider a spay for your pet to make them more family orientated and help avoid unnecessary pain and frustration for your pet and yourself.

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A Decade

August 7, 2017, marked my tenth year at Winterset Veterinary Center(WVC). On the one hand, that seems like a long time, but as I reflect on my years here, I am amazed at how quickly the time has passed. In 2007, I had 4 children ages 7-15 at home. Now my baby is a senior and within the next year, Dan and I will be part of the “empty nest” category. Our oldest 2 children have completed their college education and are adjusting to the work world in Omaha and Chicago. Our third child just started her freshman year at our alma mater, Iowa State University, to study Global Resource System/Horticulture. These are major changes from a decade ago when I started my employment at WVC.

A blast from the past: the WVC staff around 2009, complete with matching t-shirts.

A decade ago, there was no computer at WVC. Now, all transactions are being carried out on the computer to improve practice efficiency. The reality is we never got to a paperless practice but we certainly have a better record of purchases and medical notes. There are days that I am grateful for the computer when it works seamlessly, but over the last decade we did have one major crash that complicated our work day and made it apparent that we are helpless when the computer is down. Thank goodness for computer technicians that somehow find a way to retrieve data and get us back up and running again.

A decade ago there were 4 practices in Winterset with 6 veterinarians. Now we have 3 practices with 8 veterinarians. In the last decade we have lost some amazing veterinarians that were proud to call Winterset, Iowa, home: Dr. Gary Fisher, Dr. Craig Saveraid, Dr. Ken Henrichsen, and Dr. Robert La Follette. Each of these veterinarians had a long history of treating animals in Iowa. I think of the changes they experienced during their many years of practice. Change is a part of any profession and if one is not willing to explore new business philosophies, you cannot expect to continue to compete.

A decade ago, I never heard someone diagnose their pet’s illness based on Dr. Google’s wealth of information. People never attempted to do surgeries seen on YouTube or express their grievances on social media. WVC did not have a website, Facebook page or an online store. We never placed orders for products by using a computer. We did not have a blog. We realize that many of our new customers come to us through these different sources that have only been around about a decade. Many of these social media sites are helpful to share ideas and information about our practice. We share photos of any animals brought in by the city of Winterset to try to find their owners. We share photos of interesting findings in practice. We share the blogs I write to spread awareness of things happening in Veterinary Medicine or with animals in general. Since a majority of people use their phones now to search for veterinarians and phone numbers, our advertisement in phone books is at an all time low. Will phone books be a thing of the past in the next decade?

We’ve had some great times through the years!

A decade ago, Dr. Jim and Stephanie were on staff at WVC when I started. Everyone else has moved on to other adventures and that opened the door for new employees to start working at the clinic. We have been blessed through these years with great staff that help the clinic thrive and grow. Mary and Kristal do an amazing job answering the phone and waiting on customers. Our groomer, Carrie, is building her clientele one perfect cut at a time. Our kennel staff, Jessica and Lexi, keep the clinic and our in house pets in tip top shape. It is totally a team effort to keep WVC running smoothly. I cannot be more thankful that Dr. Ken retired right at the time I was seeking employment. The days and years have truly flown by. It can be challenging to work in a place that never has the same routine, but also prevents boredom and burnout. Each day is new and different since one never knows what will come through that door or call on that phone.

A decade ago, one thing was very evident with the people who came to WVC. They all had a great need to protect their livelihood or their furbaby from harm and needed us to treat and diagnose whatever might ail them. The clients have continued to be respectful and appreciative of our services. They recognize that we cannot turn back the clock or make time stand still to escape the tough decisions that present themselves way to soon in our minds. They always show concern and compassion to these critters in their time of need. They rejoice with each new life, whether this is their first litter of puppies or their last calf of the season.  We see our clients and their critters as part of the WVC family. We have rejoiced with them during happy moments and shed tears with them during the sad moments. Puppies that I watched grow up are now showing signs of age and maturity that gives me concern that to soon I will be looking into those eyes for the very last time. Yes, working at a business for a decade has the advantage of making long lasting relationships with clients. We reminisce about the past when our kids played sports together or how the kids got taller than us.   We remember loved ones that were present when they first brought that puppy home years ago. We attempt to make everyone that enters through the doors of WVC know that they are important to us. Without these clients, we would no longer have a reason to exist.

Thank you to all of our WVC clients for entrusting the care and wellbeing of your critters to us. We appreciate all of you now and in the future decades!

The staff at WVC, 2017

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Why a Vet?

Why did I become a veterinarian? I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that question. The other common response when someone finds out that I am a veterinarian is “ I considered that profession.”   When visiting schools for career days or educational sessions, we often have more interest from students than other professions. What is the attraction? Why is this career so coveted by people around the globe?

I cannot say that I have any simple responses to these questions but wanted to share my story as one example. My farm background certainly contributed to my desire to be a veterinarian. At age 10, I told my parents I wanted to be a veterinarian. That was in 1972, and at that time there were very few women vets. My parents were always supportive, but I cannot say the same for other people in my life. Up to that point I had been caring for baby pigs, baby kittens, and horses. Whenever the vet came to our farm my dad would make a point to let me join them to observe. I was a 4-H and FFA member involved in showing hogs and meat judging during my high school years. I was a County and District Pork Queen and educated people about pork in Iowa and California. I never had the opportunity to work with a veterinarian prior to veterinary school but always knew I wanted to care for animals. I completed my undergraduate college course requirements in three years and applied to the College of Veterinary Medicine in the spring of 1984. I was accepted for the fall of that year and had all intentions of being a large animal veterinarian, since I worked with horses and hogs prior to college and had no fear of cattle or other food producing animals.

What caused the change of heart? Why did I decide to go down the path of small animal medicine instead? Many factors affected this decision. While attending veterinary school, you learn all species so at the completion of your education you can chose a number of different career paths. This leaves one to ponder all the opportunities that present themselves during these four years of veterinary school. Many only think about private practice when considering a career in veterinary medicine. What people do not realize is research, food safety, academia, government, animal welfare, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, and military positions are other options that can be very rewarding career paths as well.

I recall during my senior year a cold winter night that I was on emergency duty and a male classmate returned from a cattle call. I asked him how it had gone delivering the unborn calf and he remarked, “I was stripped down to my jeans on the cold damp floor of the barn trying to reposition a calf in a cow that would not stand up.” My first thought was, I cannot do that. My second thought was, I hate the cold. That was when I decided I wanted climate controlled facilities to work out of and animals with fur and feathers that were not larger than myself. I also became aware of the physical side of large animal medicine and the challenges that would present themselves daily. I knew that one day I would want to start a family and working long hours would interfere. These are some of the reasons that I chose a small animal focus coming out of veterinary school. Now my kids have often asked why I did not take up zoo medicine or marine medicine since that sounds so much more exciting. I informed them that living in the Midwest the choices for those two areas would be limited. Especially, in regards to marine animals. I cannot think of the last time I saw a shark in Iowa.

In my years of practice I have been an associate, solo practitioner. and a corporate veterinarian. I have worked out of a new small animal hospital, a mobile home, a store front rental space, a PetSmart store, and seasoned mixed animal practice. In each and every one of these spaces I have gained more appreciation for the field of Veterinary Medicine. It is a challenging field because we do treat multiple species, but more important, we have to care for the owners as well. There is a bond that is formed between that animal and its owner. We have to figure out if we are a veterinarian or a pet pediatrician. Is this animal an animal, pet, or fur baby? If someone wants to be a veterinarian because they like animals but not people, they need to rethink their profession or consider something other than private practice. We do spend time with animals, but without our communication skills with their owners, we could not be successful.   I have encouraged high school students to come and shadow me when they are considering veterinary medicine as a career choice. I want them to get a view of what a day in the life of a vet can look like. I would have to say that I have encouraged as many as I have discouraged. Many view our day as playtime with puppies and kittens. I want them to see that being peed on, pooped on, snotted on, anal glands expressed on, bled on, and scratched and chewed on are all in a days work. More often than not when I return at the end of the day to my home, I get a favorable response from my dog, but my family says, “you stink.” I enjoy my job and am thankful for each day that is brand new and rewarding. Never will a day be routine or mundane. I want these students to see the pain and suffering of some animals as they come to us needing care. I want them to feel the joy when we are able to cure or fix the problem and return them to their grateful owners. I want them to feel the sadness as we assist owners in their final request with an aged pet that no longer has a will to live. I want them to feel the warmth of a tongue on their faces and the smell of puppy breath when that new owner gets their first pet. I want them to experience the reality that some people do not have the financial resources to fix the problem presented and the difficulty surrounding those moments for us as veterinarians and the pet owners. I want them to realize that Veterinary Medicine is a career full of emotions with successes and failures. We cannot fix everything for everyone or for every animal. We have days where we want to walk away because it is hard to tell someone their pet has passed. We have times when we rack our brains trying to figure out why a pet is not responding to our treatments. We have moments we wish we could forget about having to run a business and just do everything at no cost because of our love for animals. We restrain from tantrums when we have to give the flea speech one more time. Then someone comes and thanks us for our care or compassion or attention to their concerns and we continue on. Never forgetting those moments because if we stop feeling the good and/or the bad our effectiveness is gone. It is a constant balancing act within the walls of a veterinary practice.

So what advice would I give someone that is considering a career in veterinary medicine? Take as many science and math courses as you can during high school. Get involved in FFA or 4-H and learn as much as you can about the different species of animals. Volunteer or work in a veterinary facility or a rescue program to learn how to handle animals. Take classes in speech and communications so you are able to talk with people and make good eye contact. Once in college get involved with organizations that will expand your communication skills. Be attentive to your studies and get high marks. If you can manage to work or volunteer along side your studies and still get high marks that will be favorable when applying for veterinary school and or job hunting after college. Many employers, in numerous professions, are more interested in your people skills, communications skills, and your time management skills than your book smarts.

When applying to the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine the average GPA of those accepted into the program was 3.53. When looking at the financial committement annually for the four years of veterinary school, it currently runs $20,014 for in state tuition and greater than $44,000 for out of state tuition. Last year 63.5% of the class were out of state students and 36.5% were in state. Each class is approximately 148 students and currently 80% are women and 20% men. The average yearly salary in Iowa is $78,040 for all veterinarians. The range is $48,310 – $134,560 annually. A new graduate veterinarian making $48,310 annually calculates out to $23.23/hour. A medical doctor easily earns 2-3 times this amount annually with a similar debt after graduation.

After considering all of these factors about veterinary medicine, if this profession still sounds appealing to you, I encourage you to follow your dream. I am glad that I chose to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine 45 years ago. I will be celebrating 30 years as a DVM next year and cannot believe how fast this time has gone. Many things have changed during these years but one thing remains constant, people will always need someone to care for their animals, pets, or fur babies. That is job security and I am grateful to be able to work each day in a profession that helps promote the human-animal bond.

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What to Do About Hacking Cats!

It appears I have neglected our furry feline friends as I review the different topics discussed over the last year. Therefore, today I feel compelled to discuss the ever-present concern about cats and hacking — why they do this and what are the causes are.  This topic comes up often in conversations with clients about their cats. It is never a fun one to discuss, since it can have some very undesirable side effects. The causes can vary, but a large percentage are related to excessive hair consumption associated with normal grooming behaviors.

A cat’s ability to groom themselves is an important trait to have. We are all amazed that they can get into something sticky and/or messy and after a few hours return to find everything cleaned up. Also being able to groom under their tail is an important attribute to have.  If your cat cannot clean under their tail or over the top of their back, it can indicate they are overweight or having arthritis, making it painful to reach those areas.  We also see cases where a kitten that was orphaned at an early age will not be the meticulous groomer that we would like. The grooming behaviors are learned from their mother at an early age, and if she is not present those kittens may never be good at self grooming.

If your cat is hacking there are important things to consider. We have a number of upper respiratory conditions that can cause drainage in the back of the throat which can lead to a hacking sound.  We have foreign body ingestion that can have a similar sound, but usually the continual attempt to dislodge the foreign body gives clues indicating the need to seek veterinary care.  We can have asthma-like symptoms that may have a hacking sound associated with environmental items such as smoke, dust, pollens, certain aerosol sprays, etc. The challenge is always to determine what the causes are and then work to treat or prevent them in the future. Most cats, if hacking is associated with hairballs, will eventually get the large, ugly, slimy, moist, tubular hairball vomited up. They may make one giant attempt to remove it or multiple attempts with small bile partially hair filled vomitus.

WHY do these hairballs occur? From my experience it appears that younger cats have more natural ability to keep the hair moving and not vomit up hairballs. Now, that also could be related to the increase in shedding as the cat ages, since we seem to be less likely to spend hours brushing and removing all the excess hair.  We have cats that groom not only themselves but other cats in the household, thereby increasing the amount of hair they take in daily. Bathing cats can help remove unwanted hair as well as doing a “Lion Cut” on long haired cats to help prevent matts.

We know that diet can affect the hair coat and increase or decrease the amount of shedding. If you are interested in finding a diet that helps decrease the amount of shedding, speak with your veterinarian. Many diets are not nutritionally complete and therefore skin and hair conditions are affected. When changing a diet it will take at least 6 months to notice a difference in the hair coat and shedding. Diets that indicate “hairball formula” often times will have an increase in fiber and/or omega 3 & 6 nutrients. These ingredients can have a beneficial affect on moving the hair through the intestinal tract and preventing hairballs.   The debate on whether canned or dry diets are better for cats continues, with many feeling a combination of the two is best not only for hairballs but the increase in moisture content as well.

WHAT should you do when your cat vomits a hairball? First, many homes are multi-cat households so you must determine who. This can be difficult, so sometimes it involves separation and evaluating eating habits and stool habits to determine who may be responsible. If that is not possible, it will not hurt a cat to be treated for hairballs if you decide to treat everyone. Often times cats having issues with hair will also have abnormal stools. The stools will be more round and small in size. They should be more like a “tootsie roll” if they have a healthy digestive tract. I realize it is not fun to evaluate stool, but one can learn a lot from what that stool looks like. Once you have determined who is responsible, take a good look at the cat’s hair coat. Are there matts, rough and unkept areas of body, shiny or dull coat, and excessive amounts of hair removed with petting, bathing, and/or brushing? If you see a number of these conditions it would be wise to speak with your veterinarian about the skin and hair coat. It is an important organ just like the liver or kidneys and needs special attention as well.  If the coat and skin appear to be healthy, then you need to consider ways to prevent hairballs.

Hairball prevention is best treated with diets that are complete and well balanced as mentioned earlier.  You may pay more for these diets, but it will save you money in the prevention of hairballs as well as other health concerns that develop over the lifetime of your cat related to poor quality nutrition. There are a number of lubricants that can be used to treat hairballs. The use of these products will help keep the hair moving in the digestive tract and avoid the “hacking up” of a hairball. The recommendation is to use daily for 3-5 days after a hairball has been presented and then use daily, every other day, biweek, or weekly as needed to keep them from developing. There is no exact science in these preparations. Many factors affect how often you should use them. For instance if someone bathes and combs their cat regularly, they will have less need to use the lubricants for hairballs. If the cat grooms themselves and other cats in the home then they may need it daily. The goal is to use these products as often as necessary to prevent hairballs.

I have often suggested adding canned food into a cats diet if hairballs are a concern. The additional moisture and oils helps lubricate the intestinal tract and keep the hair moving. Since elderly cats are more prone to hairballs, the additional calories daily can help weight loss issues and dental concerns as well. Some cats will refuse canned food since they are very cautious when something new is presented to them. It is important to warm the canned food if they do not like canned food after it has been refrigerated.   Purchase the proper sized can to avoid refrigeration after 4 days or more. Many canned diets become stale and undesirable to the cat when open for extended periods. If you find your cat refuses the canned food initially, you can cut back on the volume of dry offered each day to encourage them to eat the new diet. Mix a small amount with some of their dry kibble but make certain to discard any uneaten food since it will not keep until the next meal. Introduction of canned food at a young age can make it easier to offer canned food later in life.

Start early in life with combing and bathing your cat. A kitten can learn to tolerate baths and combing much easier than teaching an older cat to appreciate these events. The following video is Hemmingway, our Winterset Veterinary Center cat, who was brushed early on in his life since we knew he would be a long haired cat. As you will see by the video, he loves his grooming time and purrs during the entire session. It is so much easier to groom a cat that is content than one that is agitated or angry. Make certain you purchase a COMB if you own a long haired cat. Brushes have a tendency to brush the top of the cat but not remove the thick under coat that needs to be removed. The fuminator and zoom groom are two products that can be helpful in removing excess hair from cats.

Click to see video: Hemmingway at Winterset Veterinary Center

A professional groomer is trained to shave cats that have continual issues with hairballs or owners that want to reduce the household hair issues. We call it a “Lion Cut”. They have a very short body and a mane around the face and a tuft on the tail. Some of these cats are groomed like this twice per year and others are done annually depending on the owner. Often times the cats are sedated for this special cut to avoid cutting their extremely thin skin and preventing injury to the groomer. If you would like more information about this Lion Cut feel free to speak with our groomer, Carrie, at Winterset Veterinary Center. The phone number is 515-462-2650.

Hacking cats can mean different things at different times. Always be aware of their eating and drinking habits since that can also give you insight to what may be causing the problem. The more information you can share with your veterinarian about your cat, the more they will be able to do to solve your “hacking” issue. Have a wonderful July 4th.

Is this all MY hair?

Junior

Years ago when I started to realize that all living beings have a time to live and a time to die, I started to process the loss of my pet cats, pet dogs, and the runty baby pigs that I so desperately tried to save. I would shed tears as I laid them into my pet cemetery behind the old garage. I would fashion a cross out of a few sticks that I could tie together with some twine. I collected large rocks to place around the location the body lay so not to disturb this ground the next time I had an informal burial. During all of my years I never had to say a forever good bye to any of my horses for one reason or another. That changed today.

In 2004 we moved to the Winterset area after over 20 years of marriage. During this time we were never able to live where we could have horses so after our 4 children were well on their way of becoming able to care for horses, we bought Junior. Junior was a 12 year old gelding that had belonged to a young lady going off to college and in need of a car. We met him in a pasture along I80 at the Menlo exit. Our oldest daughter, Jaclyn, had decided she wanted to have a horse that she could learn to barrel race on. We had already purchased one other horse named Morgan, that was hers for trail riding and he needed a companion. Since it is never fun to trail ride by oneself, Junior was the perfect fit. Both of these boys, I considered gentle giants. I never had to be concerned about the safety of our kids while spending time with them in the pasture or riding. Junior was never out of control when entering the arena to start his race. He was a proven pole and barrel horse that always took care of his rider. Jaclyn’s first year in 4-H she won both the barrels and poles in her intermediate age group. We spent many hours riding these two boys on our property through the years and he became a member of the family just like any dog or cat we had ever brought home. I know over the years he had heard more secrets and stories than he will ever let on as our kids grew into teenagers and young adults. He was always willing to be ridden with or without a saddle. He never showed any ounce of aggression or anger no matter what was going on around him. As with all good barrel and pole horses the years of racing took a toll on his legs. We retired him from racing and he became a second trail horse and a loving member of the Nielsen family. With “natural” hoof trimming he has done extremely well through his senior years. We always allowed him to run free when moving them between pastures over the years and were amazed at how he would kick up his hooves and run like the wind with his tail held high and mane blowing in the wind. It was always one of my favorite things to watch and will be the way I remember our Junior.

I reminisce about all that our kids have learned by having horses. The following link has been special to me since I have daughters that have shared my love for horses.

Because My Daughter Grew Up With Horses – Breyer Horse

We have so many wonderful memories of time spent with Junior that will give us great joy in this time of sorrow. It is never easy saying good-bye but when the suffering was great, and the twinkle was gone, it was time.

As a veterinarian, I am so accustomed to saving our furry friends that when it comes to my own family from 4 legged to 2 legged and I cannot stop the pain and suffering it takes on a whole new meaning. These moments tug and pull at my heart and mind and the tears come flooding through. Age is just something that I cannot turn back the clock on. Medical conditions start to deteriorate the body and sometimes, our pets show no response to treatment. When this happens there is no hope for quality of life. I want to protect my children from feeling this loss but I know that is not possible. If we have pets, there will be pain when these decisions must be made. There is such a mix of emotions surrounding this decision, from the peace that I know has come to Junior as he took his final breath, to the tears of sadness from my myself and my family as we said goodbye to Junior, to the joy of having him in our lives for the last 13 years, for the loss that Morgan has as he searches the hillside for his companion of 13 years. Death is difficult no matter what the circumstances are. In that circle of life as every living soul lives and dies we must find the peace within ourselves to be grateful for the years, days, hours, and minutes that we have shared together. Rest in peace Junior. You are forever in our hearts and minds.

By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill

is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.

For here, between this world and the next

is a place where heavenly horses find rest.

And on this beautiful green land JUNIOR will play.

He will have no pain, God takes it all away.

Junior will trot through the grass, without a care,

until one day he will stop, whinny, and sniff the air.

Suddenly he will see you, as you run to your old friend

One person and one horse, together once again.

And the sadness that you felt while you were apart

has turned to joy once more in both of your hearts.

Spring Has Come…

With springtime comes many outdoor activities. We are seeing people snap photos of their morel mushrooms, play outdoors sports, do yard work, and of course, head out into the great outdoors to spend time with their pets.   Along with all of these outdoor activities we need to be aware and attentive to the danger of wood ticks during the springtime. Numerous people and pets are being diagnosed with tick borne diseases. My focus this month will be on some important information about ticks and how to protect yourself and your pets.

Growing up on an Iowa farm, our dog had more ticks than I could count on any given day. It was a job to check the dog over daily and remove any ticks that were found. The number of products available back in the 70’s to use as prevention was limited and so every pet and person got a good tick check at the end of the day. We never heard about Lyme Disease or Erlichiosis in those days. We just knew that one large tick leads to many baby ticks and did not want that to happen so we flushed the ticks or squashed them. Today between social media, television, friendly conversations, etc., it is rare not to find some new information about tick diseases or hear about another person diagnosed with a tick borne disease. These diseases are in every state except Hawaii. It is important to educate yourself on the best way to protect your family and your pets.

I first want to discuss Lyme disease in dogs. Most people are familiar with Lyme disease and know that a very small deer tick transmits this disease to its host. What is not talked about is that mice, turkeys, birds are also hosts for the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that deer tick transmit. Therefore any person could be at risk for contacting Lyme disease no matter where they live or play.   Deer ticks also have a very active stage in the fall. This is not common knowledge and therefore people that hunt and hike in the fall are not protecting themselves.

Dogs have some great advantages over humans when it comes to protecting themselves against Lyme disease.   There are vaccines that can protect our canine friends from Lyme disease and if vaccinated prior to exposure they have greater than 95% success. The first time it is given there is a series of 2 vaccinations and then it is an annual shot after that. Puppies can be vaccinated as young as 12 weeks of age. Discuss the risk your pet may have to Lyme disease with your veterinarian and see if you should start this immunization today.

We have had flea and tick products for many years that when applied topically would prevent many ticks from attaching and taking a blood meal.   Then about 3 years ago some oral products came to the market that gave 100% body coverage but do require a bite for a blood meal. So the debate still continues, bite or no bite, which is better. I believe that both products when used properly and used 9-10 months out of the year, can do a great job at preventing tick infestations. Now you will notice that I suggested 9-10 months out of the year. In Madison County, we have seen some extremely mild winters where we get minimal snow and often have days during December – February where we are above freezing. It has been discovered that ticks will still be out “questing” for their host even at freezing temperatures if the ground is not covered with snow.   For that reason, you must consider protecting your pet longer and/or consider year round prevention.   Many infections of Lyme Disease will not be discovered until 4-6 months after the tick bite. This is related to the Borrelia life cycle once it is injected into the host.   Dogs do not get a bullseye skin rash so the first indication your dog has been infected may be fever, extreme joint pain, lethargy, and no appetite. Exposure to Lyme disease can be diagnosed with a simple laboratory test done in the clinic. These tests can also indicate exposure to Erlichiosis and Anaplasmosis which are two other tick borne diseases. We have been seeing many positive test results with Erlichiosis and last month I had my first positive Anaplasmosis in a dog that moved here from Wisconsin. The owner indicated 4 years ago the dog was ill and treated for Anaplasmosis. It was still positive when it presented to Winterset Veterinary Center for a routine screening. The dog is no longer clinically ill but may always be positive on the screening test. Anaplasmosis has often been considered a disease of the South, but this dog had never left Wisconsin.

Erlichiosis and Anaplasmosis both cause similar symptoms to Lyme’s disease. We do not have any vaccines to protect against these two diseases, so your best protection would be tick control and checking for ticks at the end of the day.   We do not know how long a tick must be attached to transmit these organisms. For Borrelia that transmits Lyme Disease we know it is more then 24 hours, but the research is still ongoing for the other two diseases. Researchers know it is quicker than Borrelia but is it 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc hours we still do not know. We are also aware that once positive for any one of these tick borne diseases, treatment or no treatment, they will most likely remain positive for the rest of their life. There is concern now that some of our joint disease issues may stem from a chronic (long term) infection of tick borne diseases. These organisms can also infect the kidney which can be detrimental as the pet ages. It has been shown that infection with Erlichiosis can produce clinical symptoms much faster than Lyme Disease. Therefore it is important to remove ticks quickly to prevent transmission of the bacteria.

Lyme Disease was first diagnosed in Lyme, Connecticut in the mid 1970’s and a scientist, Willy Burgdorfer, in 1981 made the connection between deer tick and the disease. The first dog case of Lyme disease in Madison County was diagnosed by Dr. Jim at Winterset Veterinary Center in 1989. Since that time cases have been increasing in humans and animals.   This link gives information about Lyme Disease: History of Lyme Disease | Bay Area Lyme Foundation

The following link indicates that Erlichiosis has now been discovered in Minnesota and Wisconsin in humans and will only be a matter of time before Iowa is on the map. We are finding Erlichiosis in Iowa dogs so I am certain it will be diagnosed in humans very soon.

new-tick-borne-disease-identified-in-minnesota-wisconsin

If we know a dog has any one of these tick borne diseases the use of antibiotics can knock down the clinical symptoms. The problem is knowing how long to treat and if the bacteria will actually be cleared from the body. Studies have shown that even with treatment the organism may remain in the body and surface at times of stress such as pregnancy or treatment with immunosuppressive medications. This is what makes these diseases such a mystery to treat. We are still learning new information daily on the life cycle of these tick borne diseases.

So if you are headed out to enjoy the great outdoors, please take precautions not only for your pet but yourself as well. This is the time of year when ticks are out in full force and it only takes one tick to start a long illness that may always plague you or your pet.

Do not take a chance on this because it is a life changing disease and anyone who has contacted it will tell you……I wish I would have known then what I know now about these tick borne diseases. Their lives will never be the same. Learn from their words of wisdom and take all the precautions you can and protect your pets with vaccinations, flea and tick products, and regular tick checks.

Is This a Service Animal, Therapy Animal, or Pet?

It has become apparent that pet owners are interested in taking their pets with them everywhere they go. Some hotel chains are making exceptions for pets. There are pets in businesses and public venues that I have not seen before. I believe that we are going to see more opportunities for pets in public places in the future. Yet we must be cautious not to infringe on the rights of those working dogs that are essential for the disabled and/or handicapped to carry out their day to day routines.

We are seeing an increase number of people indicating their “pet” is a therapy animal, service animal, or emotional support animal. Yet there is much confusion and misunderstandings about what the differences are. I am going to share some basic information and then encourage you to ask more questions and find out more details if there are situations that you are finding yourself or someone you love in. A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. A disability can include a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that a medical professional (licensed mental health professional) has determined provides benefit for an individual with a disability. A therapy animal has been obedience trained and screened for its ability to interact favorably with humans. Their primary purpose is to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, etc. At Winterset Veterinary Center we have been asked to write letters indicating a pet is an emotional support or therapy animal. We are not licensed to make that decision so we cannot write such a letter. There are trainers that offer many different levels of training. One must educate themselves on what are the needs of the person desiring the animal. How do you select the animal and is that even possible? What are the expenses necessary to train the animal? If we train this animal, where are we allowed to take the it at the end of the program? The following link has an excellent chart describing the differences between service, emotional support, and therapy animals. The article is associated with a news team that realized how easy it was to turn a family pet into a service dog just through an online purchase. Of course that is not legal and is punishable by law if someone is caught passing their dog off as a service dog.

http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story/34580139/kold-investigation-is-that-really-a-service-dog

I reprinted the chart below so if you are interested in learning the comparison’s between service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs it is there for your information. I found this chart at orvis.com titled, “Is that a real service dog?”

There are very high standards and guidelines that must be followed with service animals. These requirements take a large number of hours in training and gaining experiences that can often times only be accomplished through programs like Paws and Effect, Puppy Jake, Guide Dogs of America, etc.   Even in these programs sometimes up to 50% of the puppies that begin training never complete the training or retire early. The cost to train a dog in one of these programs can range from $10,000-$20,000 or more. The training can span more than 2 years depending on what tasks the animal is being taught. Attempting to adopt a dog or purchase a dog and start the training process yourself can be a great expense and at the end a dog may not have the skills or mental capacity to be a service dog. Often times a trainer agrees to help you train your dog but there is no guarantee that you will have a dog that can truly be a service dog for you or your loved one. Take time to look at this link and recognize the great challenges that lie before you and your pet. The investment in time and money will be substantial. The following link lists requirements of service dogs in public and will be a good source of information.

http://www.psychdogpartners.org/resources/public-access/public-access-standard

If after reading this you are still interested in training your dog to be a service dog, emotional support dog, or therapy dog. A good place to start is working toward a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) award. A CGC award is for dogs that pass basic social and behavioral classes. There are 10 basic steps to this award. It is a noncompetitive test for all dogs and can be used as a prerequisite for therapy dogs. Some homeowner insurance companies and apartment complexes are looking to use these tests to encourage good manners in the dogs and teach responsible pet ownership to their owners. The following link gives you more information on what this CGC test is all about and what the test items are. This is a great place to start with any dog and if it receives this award then you are able to move forward with additional training and tasks. If it fails this CGC test then you need to realize this dog will never be anything but a very special pet that can give you great joy and happiness.

https://www.akc.org/dogowner/training/canine_good_citizen/

This last link just points out the great injustice to those people who do have service dogs and how it affects them in their daily lives when others try to pass their pets off as service dogs. Please consider the danger of “Imposter Service Animals” to the general public. We need to protect the true service animals and their owners by keeping our companion animals only in public places that allow all pets.

Easy-to-Obtain Vests Can Make an Untrained Pet Look Like an …

March is Pet Poison Awareness Month

Pet Poison Prevention Awareness Month during March is fast approaching. It is always a good time to refresh our minds about common items that are a huge danger to pets.

My goal this month is to encourage pet owners to pet proof their homes when it comes to some of these common products. The number of calls we get around holidays about pets eating chocolate is just one indication of how awareness is important at all times.

We also see a rash of calls each fall about accidental rat poison exposure. As warm weather returns the calls can switch to outdoor exposures of new plants and shrubs that are available for chewing on.   Every season or holiday has risks lurking for our pets. Stay aware and alert to what is in and around your home.

Foods that we eat can be a problem for our pets. Chocolate is one that most people are aware of its toxicity to pets. Dark chocolate is more toxic than milk chocolate, but depending on the size of the pet and what volume they consume, symptoms can range from vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, and even death. What people are not as familiar with is raisins, grapes, and currants causing irreversible kidney damage to our pets when ingesting even a small amount. Onions whether cooked or raw can cause anemia and only transfusions can save pets once this process of destruction begins. Raw bread dough can cause distention of the stomach and ethanol intoxication develops as the yeast ferments. Macadamia nuts can cause clinical symptoms of vomiting, weakness, depression, but has not shown to be fatal.

Avocado fruit, leaves, stems, and seeds have all been shown to be toxic to multiple animals but less so for dogs and cats. There are a number of people who have hobby farms and may not be aware of its effect on the heart muscle or its ability to cause severe mastitis in lactating animals such as cattle, goats, sheep, rabbits, horses, pigs, etc. The following article has more information on risks to animals.

Avocado – Toxicology – Veterinary Manual

Edibles and/or Medibles are cannabis infused, food products. Homemade or commercially prepared marijuana infused foods and drinks have increased the number of accidental pet poisoning by greater than 330% in the last few years. The following article is a great resource for anyone wanting to know more about this new risk to our family pets. If your pet has been exposed to THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) please contact your local veterinarian and tell them exactly what they ate and how much. The package from the product would be of great help if it is still available.

Pets and Pot: Poisoning Cases at an All Time “High” | Pet Poison …

Mouse and rat poisons are high on the list of items toxic to both dogs and cats that many people are very familiar with. In the last few years a new rat poison called Bromethalin has been replacing the previous poison called Brodifacoum. Bromethalin causes severe brain edema and affects the pets nervous system. It does not have an antidote like we have with Brodifacoum offering the Vitamin K to stop bleeding disorders. There are multiple products that contain these different poisons so make certain you know what you are purchasing and keep them away from pets. Including the dead mouse or rat to avoid any secondary poisoning situations.

Indoor and/or outdoor plants are often a cause for concern for our pets. With Easter approaching it is important to keep all Lilies away from our pets. This link will take you to a sight to explore whether you have any plants that could be harmful to your pets. Be aware of any flowers delivered to your home since they are a source of curiosity for your pets, especially cats.   Outdoor landscape plants such as the Yew plant, which is cardiotoxic to all animals, are important to consider as well. Unexpected death is often the first symptom seen when animals are exposed to Yew.

Top 10 Plants Poisonous to Pets – Pet Poison Helpline

Xylitol is toxic to your dog and this is one that is becoming more of a concern since we have a large number of products that contain it.   Everyone knows chocolate is toxic but the risk with xylitol is even greater since the volume needed to cause death is much less. The article below describes in more detail the dangers with xylitol. It has a great photo showing the amount of chocolate verses the amount of gum it would take to kill a dog.   Cats have not shown to be as sensitive to xylitol but I would still suggest avoiding consumption.

Xylitol: The “sugar-free” sweetener your dog NEEDS you to know about

Human medications are a huge concern for pets as well. The list is endless on how these medications can affect our pets. So often the accidental poisoning occurs when a dose is dropped or a bottle is not returned to a safe location. Please put all medications and daily pill dispensers in tightly secured locations where pets cannot chew or play with the containers. A purse or bag are not considered secure.   If exposure has occurred please have the name and strength of the drug and an idea of how many may have been consumed and how long ago. This information can be helpful in determining the treatment and potential side effects.

As springtime draws near we will once again need to protect our pets from fleas and ticks as we start enjoying the outdoors again. Flea and tick products can be a source of toxicity to our pets. This usually occurs because the wrong product was used on their pet. Most dog products are toxic to cats. Do not attempt to treat your small dog with just a drop of the large dogs’ flea and tick product. Avoid your pets ability to lick the area where the product was applied and from licking one another. You can remove most topical flea and tick products using Dawn dishwashing detergent. Then it is important to have your pet seen by your veterinarian if they display signs of vomiting, depression, tremors, seizures, etc.

Pets are family and one needs to consider the importance of being aware at all times of what hazards are present in and around your home or that of family and friends. Pets should always be seen as toddlers when considering how to pet proof every location. If you ever find yourself wondering whether something is poisonous or not, or what symptoms to look for, the following link to the Pet Poison Helpline is a great source of information. If you need more advice they do work directly with you and your veterinarian for a fee.   I hope spring comes early and we are able to have a warm and safe March, free from accidental poisonings.

Pet Poison Helpline | Animal Poison Control Center

10mostcommontoxinsposter18x24

Is it That Time?

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scan-752Growing up on a farm gave me insight to the circle of life at an early age. I saw crops planted and harvested each year to feed the hogs that were raised to supply food for the world and our immediate family. I was introduced to baby pigs as I helped my father give iron shots to prevent anemia and clip baby teeth in order to protect the mother sows udder. I was in charge of caring for the runts that were not able to fend for themselves in those large litters. My younger brother and myself would fix milk replacer for them and then transition them to creep feed and offer all the TLC a young pig could handle. I snuggled with pigs more than I care to admit during my younger years.   The ones that did not survive were carefully buried behind the barn and we rejoiced with each one that was able to move to the feeder pig facility.

I had a number of outdoor cats that would have litters every spring and those little kittens always seemed to get the “kitty cold” and would start doing poorly. My dad told me that if I wanted to help them, I could give them a shot of penicillin and see if they improved. Some responded immediately and others continued to decline and eventually passed away. Yet each of them were loved every moment of their lives by a young girl that learned there is a time to live and a time to die.

I had farm dogs that worked side by side caring for the livestock and others that were there as protectors and/or companions.   Attachment to each of them ran deep and as they aged, it became apparent that soon we would have to say good-bye.

I guess you could say that all of these experiences set me up to be a veterinarian. These experiences also made me more aware of the circle of life. I saw life and death often in nature and realized that there is no fear in death. I would see the peace in an animal’s passing and that there was no longer any pain or suffering. I would remember the joy that they had brought to my life, even if it was only for a short period of time. I would realize that my life was blessed because they had been special to me.

As I spend time with clients at Winterset Veterinary Center during the difficult moments surrounding euthanasia, I am reminded of the peace that comes in the end when our furry friends have taken their last breath. I can remember the joy they have brought to their forever family and know that these humans have been eternally blessed to have had this time with this special furry friend.

Please understand that as a veterinarian, these situations are some of the most difficult parts of my job. Yet, I would not choose to be anywhere else when that time comes for a pet-owner. I have been with them during the good times, and I would never abandoned them during these final moments when facing the most agonizing decision they have ever had to make for their special friend.

I find myself counseling often on “Is it that time?” Only you as a pet owner can know and decide if it is that time. People ask me, “But how will I know?” I tell them, “You will know.”   We were given a greater intelligence to be able to sense pain and suffering. Maybe by using our 5 senses we can relate to the struggles they endure during those final days. No more twinkle in their eyes, lots of moans and sighs, lack of interest in food and water, avoidance of affection and interaction, and/or unusual smells. Maybe it is the physical challenges they face such as incontinence, nerve deficits, joint diseases, heart disease, etc.   Sometimes these issues can present in combinations that make it apparent that successful return to a quality lifestyle will be next to impossible.   We all can hope that one morning we awake and find our furry friend peacefully passed in the night. Yet I must say, that gift is not granted nearly enough. If you have been given that gift in the past count yourself BLESSED!

I want to make certain my clients know that they will not be judged on what they decide is best for their furry friend. Only they can sense what has changed in their pet’s life that makes it apparent that this is the right time. I recall a day when I was asked to go outside to a pick-up truck to administer that final injection that would end the painful day to day struggles their furry friend had endured. I climbed up into the bed of the truck and sat in front of this very special dog that I had had the pleasure of caring for. No struggle was given as I placed my tourniquet and found that vein. I began injecting the solution and in her final moment of consciousness, she laid her head ever so peacefully in my lap. It was a moment I will never forget because I understood how much this final gesture had given her freedom from her pain and suffering.

Our furry friends deserve to have their final days be full of love and attention to their every need and comfort. The unconditional love they bestow on us daily is something that we will always hold most precious and dear. If you are coming to an end in the life of a furry friend, just always keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity. If each day is a struggle for your pet and they are having more difficult days than good days it may be time. If the sparkle has gone from their eyes, they no longer greet you at the end of the day, and they rarely seek you out due to the constant struggle they have to get around, it is most likely time. Know there is peace in their passing and joy in the remembrance of the blessings they have been in your lives.   My favorite saying when it comes to this topic is, “A furry friend’s only fault is they do not live long enough.” These words ring true for me and for all those who have had the pleasure of loving a pet.

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