Top Unplanned Summer Excursions to the ER

Summer is for ice cream, music festivals and playing outside with your dog. After months of dealing with ice and snow, we’ve got a lot of ball fetching to catch up on. But most good things come with caveats, and summer dog sports are no exception. Here are a few of the injuries that show up in the ER every summer.

Cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries. The cranial cruciate ligament is part of a dog’s knee.  Technically, CCL disease in dogs is mostly a chronic degenerative change, related to long-term factors like conformation and body condition. But, for many dogs, active play can be what makes the not-quite-perfect ligament actually stretch or tear.

Ligaments don’t heal as well as some other tissues do, so once the ligament has torn, the knee will never be quite normal. In some cases, scar tissue forms, serving to keep the knee stable enough to get by.  Unfortunately, these knees will inevitably develop arthritis. For young, large, or active dogs, a surgical repair of the knee is recommended to reduce the progression of arthritis. There are several different methods of repairing a torn CCL, varying in their effectiveness, their cost and their technical difficulty to perform. Unfortunately, a dog that has torn one CCL is at risk of tearing the one on the other side.
Stick injuries. Lots of dogs love to play variations on the game of fetch. They love to retrieve things or just to carry them around. Unfortunately, some dogs choose sticks as toys. Sticks come in awkward sizes and shapes, with rough ends and sharp corners. Many a veterinarian has been faced with the miserable spectacle of a dog who has managed to get a stick jammed into its mouth or, worse yet, down its throat. The resulting injuries can be life-threatening.

Your mother probably told you, “No running with scissors!” The equivalent for your dog is, “No running with sticks!” While there is no such thing as a 100 percent safe toy, sticks are one of the worst possible choices. If your dog loves to fetch or carry objects, choose a tennis ball or a toy designed for the purpose.

Footpad injuries. Footpad injuries are common in the summer. Sharp objects hidden in grass can cause serious lacerations. Increased hours of daylight and fair weather can mean increased time playing outdoors, and if that play includes running on concrete, asphalt, or rocks, the footpads can become blistered. The searing heat of summer adds to the simple abrasion from rough surfaces to make a recipe for very painful feet. Footpad injuries are very slow to heal and so some caution is recommended to prevent them. Most dogs are not fans of wearing booties to protect their feet, but some will tolerate it.  All dogs benefit from a gradual increase in outdoor exercise giving their footpads time to toughen up before a long hike or a day-long session of roughhousing around a concrete pool.  

Shoulder injuries. Agility dogs, and any others who do a lot of jumping, frequently undergo shoulder injuries affecting the biceps or supraspinatus tendons. These may be due to repeated movements or to a single traumatic injury. Tendon injuries can be challenging to diagnose because, when they are recent, X-rays may look completely normal. But over time, some mineralization or other changes in the tendon may become visible. Some dogs recover with strict rest and anti-inflammatories. Injections of steroids into the shoulder joint are sometimes appropriate, and sometimes surgery is necessary.  

Back pain. The number of bones in the average dog’s spine is 50. The number of ways that dogs have of injuring their spines, on the other hand, seems to be limitless. Dachshunds, along with some other breeds, have a high incidence of genetic flaws in the structure of the intervertebral discs that increase the risk of back pain, no matter what the dog may do. However, even a dog with a perfectly healthy spine can run into problems when sports don’t go as planned. Trauma can cause muscle strain, intervertebral disc herniation, or even bone fractures. Dogs that train or compete in agility, with its jumping and dodging movements, may have more problems than others. However, it doesn’t take a specialized sport to cause back pain. I once knew a dog that had to be treated for a broken back after a Pit Bull-type dog collided with her. Another form of spinal pain is a syndrome called “cold tail” or “limber tail” that is seen most often in Labradors, usually after an episode of vigorous swimming.  A painful injury to the tail muscles is present, and the dog is unwilling to move its tail. Fortunately, the condition usually resolves within a few days. Other spinal conditions may benefit from rest, anti-inflammatories, rehabilitation exercises, or surgery.

It can be worrisome to think about all the things that can go wrong with your summer fun. It’s tempting to wrap your dog in bubble wrap and keep him in his kennel where he’s safe! However, against the risk of injuries we have to weigh the risk of missing out on what is likely to be your dog’s happiest moments ever as he enjoys fun in the sun with his favorite person—you. Keep your dog at a healthy weight, stay away from sticks, watch carefully for problems and carry the phone number of your friendly neighborhood veterinarian, but don’t miss the chance to enjoy the summer while it lasts.

By Megan Tremelling, DVM, LVS

Photo By Blue Ivy Portraiture

Photo By Blue Ivy Portraiture

Benefits of Acupuncture

What is acupuncture? Acupuncture is one aspect of Eastern Medicine that has been around for thousands of years. Unlike traditional Western Medicine, which is based on the scientific method, Eastern Medicine was developed by trial and error. In other words, it was developed through trial and error and what worked. Acupuncture needles are placed in special points along the body. These points are called acupoints and are located within several channels or meridians running through the body. An energy called Qi (pronounced “chee”) runs throughout the body to keep the animal healthy.  

According to Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, when the Qi is of balance through blockage (stagnation) or depletion, that is when our pets become ill. There are 12 meridians that are typically used. Each meridian is associated with an organ. The organ systems are very complicated and represent more than just one organ. For example, the liver also governs the eyes, tendons and ligaments. The heart also controls the mind. The spleen controls muscles. The lung also governs the skin. The kidney controls bone.   

The veterinary profession has caught on to the benefits of TCVM, and it is becoming a more common modality of treatment for our pets. It can be used on many species including, dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds, reptiles, and rodents. It can be used in zoos on wild animals like elephants, lions, and camels. It is even used in marine animals like dolphins.  

What happens when you go to a TCVM practitioner? The TCVM practitioner will examine your pet just as your Western veterinary practitioner. In addition to the routine examination, this practitioner will pay special attention your pet’s tongue and pulses to help diagnose a pattern. He or she will also take into consideration your pet’s constitution and will formulate a treatment plan consisting of certain acupoints to help your pet’s condition.  

What is a constitution? A TCVM constitution is a personality that is associated with one of the five elements. The five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each element is associated with an organ system. Wood is associated with the liver/gallbladder. Fire is associated with the heart/small intestine. Earth is associated with the spleen/stomach. Metal is associated with the lung/large intestine.  Water is associated with the kidney/bladder.

Each element has a personality

• Wood animals tend to be dominant & assertive.
• Fire animals are very social & love attention.
• Earth animals are content & laid back.
• Metal animals tend to be aloof & indifferent.
• Water animals tend to be timid & fearful.

Each constitution can be more prone to certain patterns of illness associated with their corresponding organ system. This means that wood animals may be more prone to illness of the liver and eyes, fire animals may be more prone to heart disease and anxiety, and water animals may be more prone to kidney issues and arthritis.   

How much does acupuncture cost? How many treatments will my pet need? Well, it depends on the problem. Early superficial problems can take just a few treatments. Chronic deep problems usually take multiple visits and may require maintenance sessions. It depends on your pet’s constitution. Earth animals are usually very amenable to acupuncture while wood and fire animals may be somewhat resistant. Because earth animals are more laid back and easy going, they tolerate more needles in one session than a wood animal. That is not to say that if your pet has a wood constitution, they cannot have acupuncture. It may mean that the wood pet may do better if the treatments are more spread out with gradual increase in the number of acupoints.   

Acupuncture is very helpful in the treatment of many disease processes. Maladies involving bones like orthopedic injuries and arthritis respond quite well to acupuncture. Acupuncture helps to control pain associated with these conditions. It can treat digestive disorders like chronic diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting. Animals with behavioral problems like separation anxiety, house soiling, and thunderstorm anxiety can benefit from acupuncture and TCVM. There are even acupoints to help skin conditions and allergies.

In addition to acupuncture, your TCVM practitioner may also use herbal therapy. Herbal therapy is another branch of TCVM that would require another article to fully explain.   
Acupuncture and traditional Chinese veterinary medicine are other tools to use in conjunction with western veterinary medicine to help give your pet the best quality of life. If you are interested, your veterinarian may know of a TCVM practitioner that can do a consultation on your pet. The TCVM practitioner will likely use the Eastern method of treatment while your regular veterinarian will use a Western method. The two types of medicine are not meant to compete but work together for optimum health and balance.  

By Michael J. Shimon, DVM, MECA