How do you know which veterinarian is the best choice for you and your pets?
Do you ask friends? Ask your old vet (depending, of course, on why you need a new vet)? Call the local animal shelter? Just go to the closest clinic?
All of those alternatives have been tried, of course, and with some success. But why are those successful ways to locate a new doctor for your beloved pet?
If you have a normally healthy dog or cat and only need to see your vet for annual exams and routine shots, etc, chances are if you are treated politely and the expense is reasonable, you will probably recommend that veterinarian to others. But what if your pet has a life-threatening or debilitating condition that stretches the veterinarian’s knowledge? Now the choice is of paramount importance. What do you do?
If you are new to where I live, you will find a plethora of choices in Lewisville and surrounding areas from which to choose. All of our local veterinarians boast the latest in equipment, clean clinics, and ample staff. And no, I’m not going to recommend a vet for you. This is where your work begins.
Google “veterinarians in Lewisville, TX” and see what turns up. Probably the first result you’ll see is a map with the locations of seven or more flags showing the locations of veterinarians in the immediate vicinity. Now, obviously, you’ll probably want to choose the clinic nearest where you live. That makes the most sense, particularly when your fuzzy friend has ingested something horrible or fallen down the stairs or suddenly starts having convulsions. You know what I mean. That awful moment when his life flashes before your eyes and you realize you could lose him forever.
That’s why it’s important to become acquainted with your new vet long before any of this kind of thing occurs.
Now that you’ve got that map in front of you, notice that in light blue to the right of the telephone number you see a link for reviews. CLICK THAT LINK. Really. Do it. And read every review. What you find there might surprise you, or even better, might save your animal’s life.
What you’ll see in these reviews will range from people who have used the same vet for generations and only wish their own doctor was as good, to those who lost a pet due to what is apparently the neglect or ignorance of either the staff or the vet himself.
While I find the positive reviews helpful, what I think is more so are the ones who tell the stories of bad experiences. (It’s interesting to note that the positive reviews seem to “gush,” while the negative ones present the facts of the situation.) What I found was in some cases heart-stopping. Figuratively speaking for me, but quite literally for some of the pets.
One of the reviews I read told about a tumor that concerned the owner but not the vet until it was too late. If you aren’t comfortable, go elsewhere.
Lesson: Follow your gut.
Another cited a story of a stray kitten that was pronounced healthy but then infected the rest of the owner’s cats with a fatal disease.
Lesson: Know your veterinarian’s practices for examining a new animal coming into your home.
Several reviews told of pets who died after being pronounced healthy by the veterinarians who apparently did not do more than a cursory exam when a more exhaustive one was indicated. Lesson: insist that the doctor tell you what he did in the exam and why. You’re paying for it—you have the right to know.
Money will always be an issue. I found it amusing that every complaint about money said that the veterinarian charged two or three times as much as “other vets,” but I didn’t read a single one that said that this was the “other vet” who charged reasonably.
Lesson: Ask your vet for a services schedule with prices.
Discuss his fees at each visit, for each visit. Don’t assume that because you paid a specific price once means that you’ll always pay that price. Make sure you know what tests will be performed and the cost of each, and leave a written letter in your file asking the doctor to call you to discuss any tests or procedures not authorized in the initial visit. (I write down—in front of my vet— everything he says he will do and which tests he will run, and then ask him to read it and make sure I understood each thing correctly. Believe me, he’ll be much less likely to do unauthorized procedures if he knows you are fully aware of what is being done.)
Reviews are very helpful, but don’t rely on them for all of your information. Before you need it, make an appointment to visit your vet of choice and have him (or her) do a tour with you. Be willing to pay for this appointment, as this choice could mean life or death to your beloved pet.
Should you take your dog on a hike?
That really depends. Where do you want to walk? Are dogs allowed on those trails? Do you have absolute control of your dog off lead, or do you plan to keep him on lead? Is he healthy enough to hike with you? Are you going with other hikers and their dogs, or just you two?
These questions are important considerations when deciding when and where to take your dog hiking with you. Dogs love the outdoors. They notice everything, not only with their eyes, but with their whole bodies. Watch Fido, and you’ll see him sniff, move his ears, cock his head, wag his tail, raise his hackles, paw at things, maybe even dig. And if he finds something really, really stinky, watch out! Chances are, he’ll want to roll in it.
Walking with your dog makes you much more aware of your environment.
And so it should be. You’ll need to keep your eyes out for hazards that might affect not only you, but your dog as well. Don’t let him drink from puddles, ponds, or streams, because he can get leptospirosis or giardia (which is sometimes called Beaver Fever). Both of these bacterial infections can make your four-legged buddy extremely sick. In many states, a dog in a pasture with livestock can legally be shot, just for being there, so keep Fido close at all times.
Not everyone appreciates dogs, and you must be sure that your dog has good manners before exposing the world to him. Don’t let him approach anyone uninvited.
Preparing for Your Hike
Be sure your dog is wearing a sturdy collar with a proper license. Today it is easy to have your dog microchipped, and many veterinarians and shelters have scanners to read them. This will facilitate getting Fido back to you if he should get lost.
You never know what you might run into on trails. Other dogs and animals are possible, so be sure your buddy is current on all his vaccines. Even if your state does not require rabies vaccine, if you are going to hike with him, it’s a good idea to vaccinate against rabies anyway. Watch for poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, etc. If you’re not sure what they look like, find out before you go. If in doubt, keep him out! Especially in areas where there is a lot of undergrowth or high grass and weeds, your dog may pick up ticks and fleas. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, so if that’s a risk in your area, consider vaccinating Fido against it.
• Keep your dog close
• Clean up after him
• Bring plenty of clean water and a bowl
• Bring a spray bottle of water
• Be aware of trailside hazards
• Bring along a first aid kit, and check paws often
• Don’t let your dog run around loose
• Don’t let Fido enter private property (even through wire fences)
• Don’t let him drink any water but what you bring for him
• Don’t let your dog approach strangers
• Don’t let your dog bark excessively
• Don’t let him eat anything off the ground
Three Best Hikes in Texas Hill Country
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Echo Canyon Trail
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Hiking time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate – dogs should be big and agile
High point: 1600 feet
Elevation gain: 100 feet
Best hiking season: Spring through fall
Regulations: Dogs must be on leash and are not allowed to swim in any water; scoop and pack out waste
Map: Texas Parks and Wildlife Enchanted Rock State Natural Area Contact: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, 325-247-3903 This park is one of the most popular in Texas. When it reaches capacity, it closes; therefore, plan ahead and walk early. Hot summer days are best, or try midweek.
Colorado Bend State Park, Spicewood Springs Trail
Distance: 5.2 mile loop
Time: 2.5 hours
High Point: 1300 feet
Best hiking season: Spring through fall
Regulations: Dogs must be on leash and are not allowed in the creek Map: Texas Parks and Wildlife Colorado Bend State Park
Contact: Colorado Bend State Park, 325-628-3240
Colorado Bend State Park is popular for bird-watching (more than 155 species have been identified in the park) and for fishing the white bass run.
South Llano State Park, Fawn Trail
Distance: 3 mile loop
Time: 1.75 hours
High point: 1968 feet
Elevation Gain: 188 feet
Best hiking season: Spring through fall
Regulations: Dogs must remain on leash
Map: Texas Parks and Wildlife South Llano River State Park
Contact: South Llano River State Park, 325-446-3994
Resources for hiking and backpacking with your dog
Dog play activities
Hike with your dog
Love the outdoors
Books and Videos
A Guide to Backpacking With Your Dog by Charlene G. LaBelle
The Canine Hiker’s Bible Hiking With Dogs
Where do you like to hike with your dog?
Healthy pets have healthy skin.
With summer here, many pets will have more skin problems than they experience in cooler months. It’s important to keep your pet’s skin as healthy as you keep his insides, and in order to do that, you need to educate yourself about skin issues in dogs and cats.
When your pet’s health is compromised, it is often seen first in skin problems. Itching, scratching, chewing and licking are all indications that something isn’t right. Many things—and combinations of things—can cause skin disorders, including:
- external parasites
- poor metabolism
How can you tell if your pet’s skin is in need of medical treatment?
Here are some common signs, and if you see them present, it is wise to take your animal to see his vet.
- scratching, licking, rubbing or chewing in excess
- ear infection or inflammation
- scabs or scaly patches
- dandruff or dry, flaky skin
- irritated skin
- unpleasant odor from the skin or ears
- swelling or hives
- bumps or lumps
- hair loss, baldness, or excessive shedding
- redness, inflammation or rash
- hot spots (areas of intense discomfort)
- drainage of blood or pus
- changes in hair or skin color
There is a wide gamut of reasons your pet may be experiencing discomfort in his skin. Here are some of the more common reasons:
- mange mites
- ear mites
- allergies to food or environment
- skin tumors
- grooming products
What will your veterinarian do to diagnose the problem?
First, a thorough physical exam. If the problem isn’t apparent with this exam, other diagnostic tests may be performed. Some common tests include blood tests to check overall health and hormonal situation, cultures to check for fungal infections such as ringworm, allergy testing to determine sensitivity to environmental factors and possibly a diet change. Additionally, your vet may check for yeast or bacterial infections via a skin impression, or a skin biopsy may be necessary to check for cancer.
There are some basic things you can do to make sure your cat or dog doesn’t have skin problems.
Here are some helpful tips.
- Bathe your dog regularly and be sure all shampoo is rinsed out of his coat
- Brush your dog frequently to remove mats and debris and to check for problems arising
- Feed your pet a diet recommended by a veterinarian
- Prevent parasites with a regular parasite-prevention regimen or flea-treatment program
- Use products your veterinarian recommends to help assuage problems before they become health issues
- Be sure the area where your pet sleeps is clean
A regular check up with your pet’s doctor is a key component to making sure your pet stays healthy. Our dogs get regular twice-yearly health checks and have their teeth cleaned once a year.
What do you do when your pet needs emergency care?
Although you usually can’t anticipate when your pet will need emergency first aid care, you can be ready nonetheless. What you need is a good general understanding of pet first aid. Of course, it isn’t a substitute for veterinary care, but what you do in an emergency may very well save your pet’s life until you can get him to a veterinarian’s office.
How to handle an injured pet.
The first thing to know is that when your pet is injured, even the most docile pet may bite. Take care that you do not get bitten! Here are important steps to handle your pet when he is injured.
- Remain calm. An excited owner will only exacerbate the pet’s anxiety.
- If the injury or illness appears to be life threatening, take your pet to the veterinarian’s office immediately.
- Approach injured pets cautiously. Injury or illness can cause your pet to behave differently than he normally does, and this behavior can cause further injury to the pet or injury to you.
- Call your veterinarian for advice and instructions.
- Do not tie or tape your pet’s mouth shut! This can cause the animal to be unable to breathe. If the pet is not vomiting, having difficulty breathing, or bleeding from the mouth, a muzzle can be used to prevent biting. Use it with care!
- If possible, confine your pet to a crate in your vehicle, or to a small space if not.
What to do in an emergency.
If your pet is bleeding, apply direct pressure to the affected area. A bandage might temporarily control bleeding.
If you think your animal has broken a bone, gently support the area, but be cautious; pain may cause your pet to bite.
If your pet is suffering from heat-stroke or exhaustion, cover it with a cool, wet towel and immediately get it to the vet hospital.
If your animal is suffering from cold exposure (hypothermia), cover it with a warm blanket and transport it to the nearest vet hospital.
Insect bites and stings can cause anaphylactic shock, which can lead to death. Get to the nearest veterinarian as quickly as possible.
If your animal has ingested something you think might be poisonous, call your vet and follow his instructions.
If your pet is having a seizure, leave it alone until the episode subsides. Remove anything from the area that might cause injury to the pet, and make note of the duration of the seizure.
If your pet is unconscious, attempt to clear the airway by sweeping a finger through the back of the mouth.
Use a towel or blanket as a stretcher and to keep the animal warm (or cool, see above) on the way to the vet.
Basic first aid supplies.
- Phone numbers for your vet, a 24-hour or after-hours emergency vet clinic, and animal poison control center.
- Current medical and vaccine history
- Current list of the pet’s medications, if any
- Nonstick bandages
- adhesive tape for bandages
- Clean towel
- Digital thermometer for rectal use
We are fortunate to live in a day when veterinary care is better than it has ever been.
Preventive care helps keep our pets healthy and makes their lifespans longer, so we can enjoy their companionship that much longer.
One of the most important aspects of preventive care is a regular schedule of vaccines for dogs. Your dog’s particular protocol is best determined by you and your veterinarian together. Some of the considerations that make this determination are the dog’s age and breed, his overall health, and his lifestyle. Do you travel with him? Does she play at public dog parks? Do you live on a farm or in the city? Are there opportunities for your dog to come in close contact with wild animals? These and other questions may be asked by your vet when determining what is the best vaccine protocol for your four-footed buddy.
States each have their own requirements when it comes to vaccines. Nearly all have some sort of requirement for the rabies vaccine, but some prescribe it yearly while others only once every three years. Your veterinarian will know what your state requires.
What are vaccines?
Vaccines contain antigens, which are properties that look like the disease to the dog’s immune system, but do not actually cause the disease. What they do is make the immune system recognize them as foreign invaders, which causes antibodies to be developed. Then, when the disease is encountered, the body already has its ammunition ready. It will either prevent the disease entirely, or at the least make it a milder case.
There is a core group of vaccines that most vets recommend for all dog’s over the age of sixteen weeks. These include canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies. Before the age of sixteen weeks, starting at six to eight weeks of age, a series of vaccines is given to puppies that includes a combination vaccine for parvovirus, hepatitis and distemper given in a series of three doses every three to four weeks, with the last dose at sixteen weeks. Many vets do not give rabies shots until the dog reaches four to six months of age.
Are there risks associated with vaccines?
Yes, as with all vaccines, those for animals have inherent risks, just like those given to humans do. The majority of risks are mild reactions, including soreness at the injection site, lethargy, fever, and sometimes hives or swelling. With any allergic reaction such as hives, it is wise to call your veterinarian immediately.
I admit it.
I’m somewhat of a breed snob. I prefer a purebred over a mixed breed, although I have shared my life with several mixed breeds that I loved deeply. There are so many interesting and intelligent breeds and I wish I could own them all! But how do you figure out how to pick a dog breed that’s right for your family?
I have a special way of going about finding a dog, when I’m in the market, which happens about every seven to ten years. We like to keep two dogs, an older one and a younger one, and right now we have a Miniature Pinscher and a Toy Australian Shepherd, respectively. Mac, the Pinscher, is a rescue that we got when we came back from living in Ukraine a little over seven years ago. We originally rescued a pair; our older female, Tosh, passed on two years ago. (Did you notice their names were Mac and Tosh?) We bought Bella, the Aussie, when she was just eight weeks old. (Update: Bella went on to the great beyond in 2016. She was just three years old, and died from lymphoma. I really miss her!)
Here’s how we go about it when we want to pick a dog breed we’d like to own.
First we spend a lot of time just looking at different breeds on the Internet or in books, and if possible, take in a dog show or (preferably) an agility trial or two. The shows allow us to see many dogs close up and talk to their owners about the breeds. Then we make a list. Here are the questions you want to know:
1. How does this breed do with kids (if you have them in your life)?
2. How much room does this breed require? Could it live in an apartment if that’s where you live?
3. How much exercise does it need? Are a couple of daily walks enough? Daily runs?
4. How destructive is the breed when left alone? Does it need companionship, and if so, could a cat work?
5. How is the dog with other animals?
6. How is the dog with strangers? Is it protective of its family? Would it be likely to bite a stranger?
7. Does this breed bark a lot? Dig? Climb fences (yes, some breeds are champion climbers!)?
8. How much grooming is involved, and could you do it, or would a professional be necessary?
9. What and how often does the breed need to be fed? Twice a day? Three times?
10. How easily is this breed trained? Would it require a professional trainer?
Make a list.
Now, armed with the answers to the breeds you liked most, make a new list. On this one, you are going to rank those factors in terms of importance to you, and assign each a value. For instance, if you have children in your life, being good with kids will rank higher than grooming. Give double points for those things you will not compromise on. For me, it’s biting. I will not own a dog that bites, no matter what the provocation. I have grandchildren, and my dogs must be willing to tolerate little ones poking and prodding, as small children invariably do.
Once you’ve tallied up the points on each breed, you can begin to see which one is more likely to fit within your lifestyle. As we’ve gotten older and no longer have kids at home, I have more time for grooming and training, so those elements are not as important as they were when my kids still lived at home.
Follow this method and you can be sure that the breed you pick will be one you can live with. Disclaimer: individual dogs within a breed are different from each other, and there is always the off chance that you might get a dog that doesn’t fit the stereotype of his breed. So remember: when you get a dog, you are making a commitment to him for his lifetime, not just until you lose interest or he becomes more of a chore than you expected. If that’s where you are, please… Get a hobby instead!