Your Pup's Post-Adoption Wellness Check &ndash

I think I’d know by now if she was sick.” If only that were true. I was endeavoring to examine a frisky 5-month-old pup named Lily, while dodging full-frontal face licks. So far, the only thing for certain was me being canoodled by the little Labradoodle.

“If I’d noticed anything wrong I would’ve brought her in sooner. I’m always checking the internet.”

Lily was one of millions of “pandemic pets” adopted over the past 18 months. Many had first-time dog parents such as Lily’s Gen Z mom, opening their homes to pets in need. Lily’s animal rescue had been clear she needed to be taken to a vet immediately, but somehow two months had slipped by. As healthy as Lily seemed, I was more worried about illnesses that are hard to notice or search on Google.

A dog’s first veterinary exam, no matter the age, is essential to uncover hidden diseases. Some dog parents believe the first visit is merely for vaccinations, but the real value is a thorough physical exam. In fact, if your vet doesn’t make a big deal about a first exam, it’s probably time to find a new one. You’d be shocked at the number of “perfectly fine first-timers” I discovered had heart murmurs, eye anomalies, joint abnormalities, oral disorders and a long list of other unexpected issues. In the majority of cases, these revelations.

It came as a shock to the owner who “hadn’t noticed anything wrong.”

So what are vets looking for? Let’s tour a typical exam to find out.

“Greeting” your dog

At first glance, it may appear your vet is simply greeting your dog. What they’re actually doing is carefully evaluating your pet’s overall health. They’re assessing behavioral issues such as anxiety, fear or aggression, general joint health and mobility, cognitive function and training, neurological status, hearing and vision, skin and coat, and overall energy and vitality. Many times when I meet a dog, decades of experience will warn that “something isn’t right,” prompting me to investigate further.

Body condition score (BCS)

If this is a new dog or puppy, establishing a current weight and body condition score (BCS) allows your vet to spot weight gain before obesity occurs or unexpected weight loss advances. For puppies, ask your vet to document your pup’s size on the validated canine growth curves to make sure she is growing at a healthy rate.

Coat, skin, eyes and ears

The skin is your dog’s largest organ, earning it priority on the first checkup. Studying your dog’s skin, coat, eyes and ears provides insight into parasitism, allergies, nutrition, hygiene and a variety of infections or hereditary conditions, including growths and tumors. A luminous, lustrous coat is the first indicator of good health, while bright, shiny and attentive eyes signal appropriate mental awareness. Dry, flaky, oily or dirty skin and ears are obvious symptoms to investigate further.

Not enough dog parents regularly check inside the ears, under the tail or the axilla (armpits), potentially missing important health clues. Make a habit of checking your dog’s skin and coat for any irregularities, and report any lumps or bumps immediately.

Mouth, nose and throat

An estimated 80% of all dogs over the age of 3 have periodontal disease, making the oral exam an important part of any wellness check. Many congenital diseases involve the oral cavity, and a puppy’s age may be estimated by tooth eruption patterns. Nasal discharge, especially if cloudy or discolored, is often associated with infections or allergies. It’s crucial to check a new dog’s mouth and throat, nasal passages and lymph nodes for any anomalies.

Heart and lungs

A thorough chest auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) is probably the most “doctor-y” part of a pet exam. It’s also one of the most fundamental. Heart murmurs, respiratory infections or conditions and proper anatomical development can all be evaluated with focused listening.

The tummy

There are more organs and vital tissues per square inch in your dog’s belly than anywhere in her body. That’s why a slow and methodical abdominal palpation (feeling with the hands) is indispensable during a post-adoption wellness check. Liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach, intestinal tract, bladder and more are all accessed by gently pushing and probing your dog’s tummy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt a “knot,” “hard spot” or “something’s not right” in a newly adopted dog’s abdomen that led to an early diagnosis and successful outcome.

Spine and joints

The hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and spine need to be extended and flexed, checking for discomfort or impaired range of motion. This is particularly important in larger dogs and breeds at risk for dysplasia, spinal injuries or other inherited musculoskeletal conditions.

As I explained each step of Lily’s exam to her mom, I could see her understand the urgency of the post-adoption wellness check. Other than signs of a few flea bites and roundworm infections, Lily was a perfectly healthy pup. We started her on year-round monthly heartworm preventive and scheduled her spay surgery. We discussed the best diet and supplements for Lily, proper shampooing and ear cleaning and ways to help with training.

“I’m glad I brought her in today, even if it was a little later than it should’ve been. Also, it turns out I really didn’t know what to look for in the first place. Being a new dog mom means I need to learn a lot more about being a dog mom, not just watching internet videos.”

With that, Lily joined millions of “pandemic pups” who found a fabulous furever home. And I felt even better about the next generation of pet parents.

Petting Dogs Boosts Thinking Skills &ndash

A recent research study of stressed-out college students found the simple act of petting therapy dogs proved to be more effective at enhancing thinking and planning skills than traditional stress-management programs.

The three-year Washington State University study, published in May in the journal AERA Open, randomly assigned students to four-week programs with different combinations of human-animal interaction and evidenced-based academic stress management, then measured their executive functioning.

The students who petted therapy dogs were more relaxed and, as a result, coped better with their personal stressors, and continued to show improvements up to six weeks after their program ended.

Human-Dog Diabetes Connection &ndash

A recent study conducted by researchers in Sweden and the United Kingdom concluded that diabetes risk is shared between people and their dogs.

The study, published in December in the journal the BMJ, found that pet owners whose dogs were diagnosed with diabetes were more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes themselves when compared to owners of dogs that did not have diabetes.

The findings support previous research that demonstrated that overweight dog owners were more likely to have overweight dogs (obesity is one of the risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes).

How to Get That Pill Down &ndash

“Told you she wouldn’t take it!” There I was, sprawled on my exam room floor, desperately trying to coax a capsule into the maw of a beast known to many as Sugar Bottoms. I was losing this clash between canine and human that threatened to dethrone me as the Tamer of Tablet Takers. But this champion wasn’t giving up yet. I had yet to reach inside my left coat pocket.

The best medicine can’t help if your dog won’t take it. As Honey Princess (aka Sugar Bottoms) was proving, giving a dog a pill, tablet or capsule can be a challenge — and then some. Over the past 30 years of veterinary practice, I’ve identified three of the toughest tablet takers along with tips to get meds down the hatch where they can get to work healing your pooch.

Before we start, many of you are thinking, “I just pop the meds down, simple as that!” And to you amazing humans, congratulations. Even better when it’s the dogs who are awesome like that. For the rest of us, read on.

Prying open a dog’s mouth and shoving a pill down their throat can:

✤ Be terrifying for the dog

✤ Potentially cause injury during the struggle

✤ Create fear and distrust.

Did I mention it’s just not very nice? Let’s focus on less intimidating and more compassionate methods.

The Picky Pill Popper

Concealing your dog’s meds in a favorite treat is undoubtedly the easiest, and most successful, method. Coating capsules with peanut butter, spray cheese or honey or concealing them inside a veggie dog are my go-to tricks. Wrapping with cheese or stuffing in a banana or bread slice, baked tofu chunks or sausage also works for most puppers.

To amp the appeal for even pickier pooches, try burying the dose in a hunk of canned puppy food. Few can resist the aroma and flavors of a growth formula’s high fat levels. If that fails, try plopping in baby food or hiding within mixed-texture foods, such as a scoopful of rice and beans or meat. Sometimes by adding meds with mixed, crunchy consistencies and aromatic foods, they’ll forget a pill is in there.

The Spitter

The Spitter wins by either coughing up a pill you’ve worked hard to get down or after he dissects and devours whatever you hid the medication inside. If you know, you know.

The winning tactic with a Spitter is to make it nearly impossible to separate pill from pâté or make the taste so doggone irresistible, he wouldn’t dare miss a morsel. Most of the tricks used on Picky Poppers work here, but you may have to level up your game to win over a Spitter.

Sometimes, simply increasing the size of the food you hide the meds (half veggie dog to whole) helps discourage selective spitting (“It’s too much goodness!”) and other times a change in flavor profiles (more salty, sweet versus savory, etc.) is what the vet orders.

Regardless of your approach, always observe your dog until you’re certain the meds are on their way to the stomach. I once had a patient’s thyroid levels fail to budge after three increases in dosage. Turned out the clever Cocker was covertly chucking his meds behind the couch. Secret Spitters can be hard to spot.

The Clencher

The Clencher is without equal when it comes to refusing meds. He is infinitely picky, able to dig out the most cunningly concealed pills — and good luck if you try to wrest open these jaws of steel. This is when I reach into my left pocket.

Before I share my final measure to medicate, I’ve got to admit it’s not foolproof. I’ve found that if I try too many tricks, the Clencher becomes wary of my motives, and nothing will persuade that pill down. If this happens to you, I’ve discovered that giving a food reward (or three) without the meds and trying again in an hour or two is the only smart move. If you escalate your efforts and forcefully cram the pill down, you’re only going to make the next dosing more difficult.

When I’m out of options, flopped on the floor, unable to wipe the tears of defeat from my eyes because my hands are drenched in doggie drool, I crack open a can of the smelliest, goopiest, most succulent kitten food I can find. Rare is the dog willing and able to resist the wafting wonderfulness that awaits. I proudly proffer the pill in the tin of tastiness and move away. Nine out of 10, I exit the exam room a winner.

I hope these tips and tricks help you give your dog medication and crown you “Tamer of Tablet Takers.” Whatever type of dog you have or tactic you choose, make the experience as pleasant as possible. Many dogs needing meds may not feel well, making swallowing pills even more of a chore. Bring out your culinary creativity, take it slow, be patient, and always be kind when dealing with a tough tablet taker.

When You Gotta Give It

Inevitably there are times you have to “pop the pill” due to urgency or emergency.

With one hand, gently grasp the muzzle from above, being careful not to place the dog’s lips or your fingers underneath the teeth.
Gently tilt the head back, releasing the lower jaw. With the medication held firmly between index finger and thumb, use your remaining fingers or lower edge of your hand to softly open the jaw.
Place the pill as far into the mouth as possible, aiming to drop it on the back third of the tongue. Immediately close the mouth, holding the jaw closed with your hand.
Softly massage the throat to encourage swallowing and allow you to verify the pill is “bottoms up.”
Finally, win the experience by offering a high-value food reward.

Aid for Acute Pancreatitis &ndash

The holidays are a wonderful time to spend with our furry friends. It can be tempting to not only share the love but to share the wonderful holiday food, too. But be warned! Veterinarians know this time of a year as a bad one for pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis is a common condition in all dogs, although some dog breeds, like the Miniature Schnauzer and Cocker Spaniel, are particularly prone. It occurs when the pancreas, the digestive organ that lies alongside the stomach and small intestine, becomes inflamed. This is a problem because the pancreas is filled with digestive enzymes that are inactive. When inflammation occurs, those enzymes become active and can start to digest the pancreas itself.

Acute pancreatitis can often, although not always, be traced back to an inciting cause such as eating rich, fatty foods like red meat or an incident of dietary indiscretion — for example when you turn your back on your turkey-loving dog, and he helps himself to a turkey carcass. In other cases, a cause may never be found.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

If these symptoms happen, it is best to seek a veterinary visit. The initial symptoms are usually lethargy and lack of appetite. That can progress to abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting and diarrhea. Fever may or may not occur.

After a physical examination, your veterinarian may recommend some diagnostics. Initial testing for suspected pancreatitis usually includes:

✤ a complete blood count

✤ a chemistry panel

✤ a “snap” pancreatitis test.

Also, X-rays may be done to rule out other causes, such as a foreign body ingestion.

Findings that can be consistent with pancreatitis include elevated lipase and/or amylase, an elevated white blood cell count and electrolyte abnormalities. These are not definitive for pancreatitis, however. Ultrasound has also been used to evaluate the pancreas, but it can be very difficult to accurately diagnose, even when done by a specialist.

Pancreatitis can be a tricky diagnosis, so it’s important to look at the diagnostics, as well as the clinical signs, breed, age and history of the patient. In most cases, pancreatitis is heavily suspected but not completely confirmed. Treatment is generally similar to that for severe gastroenteric disease, so it can be started without a confirmed diagnosis.

©JoopS | Getty Images

Treating Pancreatitis

If your dog is not severely ill, the veterinarian may start with outpatient treatment. This could include subcutaneous fluids, a bland diet — usually chicken and rice based — anti-emetics like Cerenia, antidiarrheals such as a probiotic, pain medications and close monitoring.

Antibiotics were once a mainstay of therapy, but it was discovered that, in dogs, pancreatitis is usually an inflammatory but NOT infectious condition. As a result, to preserve antibiotics, they aren’t used frequently anymore. If symptoms do not rapidly improve, your veterinarian should be more aggressive.

If your pup is already very ill, hospitalization is required. During hospitalization for pancreatitis, you can expect that your dog will receive IV fluids and IV medications to control nausea, vomiting and pain, as well as possibly antibiotics. Your dog could be in the ICU for 1 to 5 days (or even longer), depending on severity. Your veterinarian may recommend transfer to a specialty or emergency hospital for more advanced care.

Take Your Dog to the Veterinarian Stat

In some cases, this illness can turn fatal quickly. This is called necrotizing pancreatitis, in which the pancreas is rapidly destroyed by its own digestive enzymes. This can progress in a matter of hours, so it is critical to have your dog checked out ASAP if you suspect pancreatitis. In cases of necrotizing disease, hospitalization can be prolonged. Your dog may develop blood clotting abnormalities, abdominal effusion (fluid collecting internally), heart arrhythmias and/or sepsis.

Recovery from pancreatitis depends on the severity and inciting cause. Some dogs develop long-term changes in the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis), while others fully recover. In some cases, a dietary change to a low-fat food is recommended, as well as daily probiotics to maintain gut health.

©yanjf | Getty Images

Breeds Prone to Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis occurs in all dogs, especially in dogs who are older or overweight. Breeds with increased risk to either acute or chronic pancreatitis:

Boxer
Briard
Cavalier King
Charles Spaniel
Cocker Spaniel
Collie
German Shepherd
Dog
Miniature Poodle
Miniature
Schnauzer
Shetland Sheepdog
Silky Terrier
Yorkshire Terrier

For more online about canine pancreatitis dogster.com: The Dreaded Chronic Pancreatitis

Dogster’s sister publication whole-dog-journal.com: Canine Pancreatitis