Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teeth - A dog's communication tool

Dog body language is such an interesting language. Our dogs are so much better at reading us than we are them. Context is so incredibly important. Now, the context in which I see a lot of behaviour is the visit to the hospital. So many dogs have not had the best time at their vets.

My goal, as the white smock, is to make THE room a more enjoyable experience. I am constantly watching the dog’s body language and try to change my body/facial expressions accordingly. Since most owners watch their dogs as I enter, they may not see me giving the dog subtle side body language, softening of my facial features (making sure I am not frowning, smile without being too teethy) and using a ridiculously silly voice to change the emotional feeling of the situation. If we can change the emotional feeling of the dog in this context, everyone will feel better. This should also make the next visit and the ones after even easier. This is also where puppy “crack” aka Pill Pockets come in very handy as treats.

Once in a while, I run into a dog that is so scared that it can’t help but show aggressive behaviours. The behaviour I will focus on here is the agonistic pucker or the lip curl. No matter what you call it, you know you are on thin ice when you see it. When a dog bares its teeth, it is saying “back off” in no uncertain terms. If you try to punish this piece of communication you will likely get bit.

In the upper picture, the dog is trying to tell me it is scared, wants to get away but will bite if provoked. Got it!!! Since it will not take treats, it is hard to change the emotional context of the situation. The compromise is for the owner to hold the dog while I quietly and gently touch from the shoulders back.

Now, I want this on the record. This dog is NOT trying to dominate me! He is trying to back away, has dilated whale eyes, ears back and kinked. The list of stress behaviours goes on. He does not want me to come near him because he is scared!

The lower picture shows Reason (black Lab) telling Kodak (ECS puppy) to stop chewing at her feet. Her look and teeth were all that were needed for him to get up and walk away. A few minutes later, he brought her a toy so they played tug-of-war for a while. A much more appropriate behaviour.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Freaky feet

When I say this dog has freaky feet, I'm not kidding. It progressed over a couple of months from an area on one of the pads of the feet "not being right" to hard horny growths. We ended up having to anesthetize him to remove the thick horny growths as he was very painful just walking on that particular foot.

The picture on the left is the growth that I removed using both a dremel and scalpel. The picture on the right is how all the pads of the feet look on a regular basis.

So, you ask, what in the world is this condition? It has a nice long name - idiopathic nasodigital hyperkeratosis. Idiopathic (we have no idea), nasodigital (can affect both the nose and feet), hyperkeratosis (overgrowth of the keratin layer of the skin).

When dealing with a mild case (if the feet just looked like the picture on the right) then we would just need to monitor. When dealing with moderate to severe cases such as this one, the feet need to be trimmed back (easiest with a dremel), soaked and finally a softening agent like vaseline.

The positive aspect of this incurable disease is that it does not affect any other area of the body and it can usually be easily controlled.

Friday, November 18, 2011


I did something yesterday after my appointments that was fun but scary. I was interviewed by Pet Heroes. They wanted to get my opinion on some stories. I never have a problem giving an opinion but I have never had a camera focused on me while giving them.

The episode is about two dogs that did some pretty cool things. Both dogs had disabilities. One was deaf and one was an amputee. The prep questions really got me thinking. For me, the really cool thing about about a dog who has lost a leg is that they do not have any idea they are disabled. They have no psychological hangups about their looks. Once they have recovered from surgery, adjustments are made to their gait and off they go. They seem to have an easier time going quickly rather than slowly walking.

The other dog in the episode had lost her hearing due to old age. The other most common reason for deafness is congenital (born that way). One of the questions related to teaching dogs sign language. I have personally found it very easy to teach deaf dogs using operant conditioning. Rather than a clicker, a flash of light is paired with the treat. Plus, most of us unconsciously use our hands and body to signal different tasks to our dogs. If there is a toy on the ground, I can point to it and one of the dogs will get it. I have a certain hand signal to ask the dogs to come to me (at a joyful run).

A dog's sense of smell is their dominant sense so being deaf really isn't a big deal. Dogs can smell about 100,000 times better than humans. Let's put it in perspective, a dog can smell one bad apple in a billion bushels of apples. They can detect odours 40 feet down in the ground. Little wonder they are being trained to monitor underground pipelines, ovulation timing in cows, drug detection and detecting certain cancers. Some studies have shown the accuracy of cancer detection of hospital scanners is between 85-90%. Dogs trained for the same cancers have a success rate of 88-97%!

After the interview I was surprised at how emotional I felt. My own pet hero was Magic. I lost her about five years ago. I was finally able to put her picture up in the hospital this year without crying. The picture was taken on her thirteenth birthday. I had a flower collar made to look like the collar she wore as my flower girl at my wedding.

Magic was only nine months old when she protected me. We were out for a walk in Victoria Park (Truro, NS). I was in an area of the park that one shouldn't really be walking in by themselves. I also should have turned back when I saw the guy trying to hide behind some bushes just off the path. I started feeling pretty nervous. When we got within 10 feet of him, Magic hit the end of the leash, jumping and growling. She didn't try to get close to him, she simply stayed between him and me until I got past him. As we continued to walk (somewhat quicker) she trailed behind me and kept looking back. I hit the first path that went down to the main safe) part of the park and started running. I'm pretty sure I outran her the whole way!!!

I never again heard her growl like that yet I always knew I was safe when she was around.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

She's gonna blow!

This is the week of things that look like they want to blow up. Earlier this week, I had to do a lumpectomy on a dog. The owner and I had decided to monitor the mass instead of removing due to the dog’s age. Well, the mass looked like it had a mind of its own when I saw it. I know it’s a gross picture but I also think it is very cool. You can actually see the mass outgrowing the skin.

This morning we had a cat dropped off because she had white discharge on her vulva. These owners had been told their cat was too old to have an ovariohysterectomy (spay) two years ago. Well, the thing is that the cat (now seven years old) wasn’t told and now she had pyometra. I’ve previously blogged about this condition but I got a bit of a surprise when I started to bring out the uterus. There was a very large area on the left side of the uterus. If the owners had waited 24 hours, I would have been doing a much different (sadder) procedure.

I wonder what's going to walk in my door tomorrow!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Stumped but learning!

Periodically I get requests to answer questions from students. I always try to be accommodating as it is fun to share my passion for veterinary medicine. Well, I got completely stumped on Thursday by a young man in grade six. I couldn’t answer either of his questions!!

Question number one: how heavy is the human’s brain compared to a dog’s brain? Question number two: if human’s only use 10% of their brain, how much of their brain would a dog use? Holy cow!!!

Here is what I have learned:

The average brain size of a human is 3lbs or 1,400 grams. Dolphins have roughly the same size while elephants’ brains are five times larger. On average, the dogs’ brain is 72 grams in size. There is a large range on this as Chihuahuas certainly have a different brain size compared to Great Danes.

The concept that humans only use 10% of their brain is a myth. There has been significant research using brain imaging techniques such as PET (positron emission tomography) scans and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) showing we use 100% of our brain. So, dogs do too!!

Let’s compare our brain function to our muscles function. While typing on my computer I am only actively using my fingers and arms to type. When trying to do yoga, I use many different muscle groups during the hour (and feel many others the next day!). We use a variety of areas of our brain for different behaviours. Not a lot of brain power is required for watching TV but when learning a new language many areas of the brain are used.

I also learned that if you were to lay out all the neurons in your brain out end to end it would cover 600 miles.