Veterinarian, Heal Thine Own Dog

By Teresa Garden, DVM

Baby Love Garden came into my life five years ago courtesy of the Xolo Rescue League. Baby, a toy Mexican Hairless, was deemed a “special needs” adoption who required a home with no children and no other dogs. She needed a lot of time and attention since she was extremely shy and submissive and suffered from separation anxiety. The rescue group was reluctant to put her little picture on their website so I adopted her sight unseen. Her tongue hangs out approximately 3 inches from the right side of her mouth and they were afraid potential adopters would find her too ugly. I even had to sign an agreement as part of my adoption contract to never enter her into an “ugly dog” contest. I think my Baby is beautiful and most people we meet find her to be quite cute. Her behavior is now very funny and cartoonish. Baby is extremely buck-toothed, skinny, and long-legged besides being bald, black, and tongue-enhanced. She charmingly prances like a little pony when she walks. Over the years, she has learned to make friends with men and women and now even children. She is much more confident and out-going and her separation anxiety is well under control. Baby has made many dog friends in our neighborhood and will play with a couple of the little ones. Throughout our time together, Baby has made amazing strides.

Baby was (and still is) known as a “screamer”. If she is the least bit startled in any way she lets out a high-pitched blood-curdling scream Jamie Lee Curtis would envy. This happens occasionally on our walks if the leash dips and touches her rear end unexpectedly. Needless to say, I receive dirty looks from passersby who are convinced I just gave my own little 10 pound naked dog a swift kick in her rear. I also get my share of dirty looks in the hot summer. Baby’s normal 3 inch tongue will hang out about 5-6 inches when she is panting during a walk in warm or hot weather. Of course, it looks to strangers as though I am marching the little thing across the Sahara and she is about to succumb to heat stroke. I’ve learned to tolerate the dirty looks. But Baby’s screaming jags have severely curtailed the typical veterinary care I would like to provide her. Thank goodness for my holistic bag of tricks.

Just recently, after a long 12 hour work day, my staff and I were aghast to find an extremely large red raw bloody hot spot on Baby’s throat. A hot spot, as most dog lovers know only too well, is an area of acute moist dermatitis that comes on suddenly. The more the dog scratches the bigger it will get. Hot spots can become very large in just a matter of minutes or hours. The causes of hot spots are varied. Anxiety, allergies, fleas, or adverse reaction to topical products can all play a role. In Baby’s case, I believe it was a combination of anxiety and diet. Her anxiety may be due to the sometime presence of a feral cat around our home. Baby has been eating the cat’s food like a little sneak and the food may have caused an adverse reaction in her skin. I immediately cut off access to the cat food.

But now there was this huge ugly lesion on my little Baby’s neck. At times like this, I am only Baby’s mom. All my education, training, and 30 years of experience go out the window. I cannot think clearly. Thankfully, my wonderful staff Karen and Heather remained calm and thoughtfully suggested trying laser therapy on the wound. She would scream if anything was applied topically. She would scream and totally freak out if she were given a steroid shot. So we performed a series of laser treatments and kept the wound covered with a light stockinette. Baby does very well with laser therapy (since it is non-painful) and her skin responded beautifully.

At the same time we were treating the hot spot, the underlying anxiety had to be tended to as well. I installed a pheromone diffuser in my home close to the couch where Baby resides during her waking hours. At work I sprayed her bed and my office with a pheromone spray. Pheromones provide a nice calming effect on most dogs. The Bach Flower Essences Rescue Remedy and Walnut were added to her water bowls. Rescue Remedy is great for general stress and anxiety and Walnut is specific for changes in the household (visiting feral cat). I started Baby on Canine Anxiety and Stress Formula made by the Resources Company. It is a blend of several calming eastern and western herbs in a chewable tablet form. My plan is to keep her on it for several months to help with the transition of possibly sharing our home with Sweet Pea the feral cat. Baby is also taking the antihistamine Benadryl to keep the itchy hot spot under control and to lessen her anxiety.

As of this writing, the lesion has shrunk to a benign 1/2 inch scab. All in all, it has been a humbling experience. Caring for Baby allows me to feel the same frustration, anguish, and worry all pet owners must endure. It teaches me empathy and enhances my compassion for my dear clients and patients. And, I am truly grateful to be able to offer Baby holistic modalities that are so safe, gentle, and non-painful even a little “screamer” will accept them.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area.
AnimalHealthandHealing.com; phone: 314-781-1738.