By Dr. Chad Higgins
Currently, we are “down” to four dogs in the Higgins household. We have a Boxer and a Labrador Retriever that are both four years old. These two girls are best buddies and love to run around together outside and wrestle and play. We have a Shih Tzu/Bichon mix that is 12 years old. She would rather the two bigger dogs would just leave her alone, but even at 12 she loves to play ball and is very active. Lastly, we have Latae, a 10-year-old long haired Chihuahua. When many people think of a Chihuahua, they imagine a little lap dog that just spends their whole life lying around sleeping and responds to any stress in life by shivering and hiding. This description is definitely not true for most Chihuahuas, but it describes Latae exactly.
My 25 years as a veterinarian have helped me to be pretty perceptive when pets aren’t acting quite right. It is very obvious to me when our three normally active dogs aren’t feeling right. Anything out of what is ordinary for them immediately causes me to give them a good look over to try to determine what is going on and if there is something that needs done about it. Latae’s “normal” for years has been not playing, not eating on a regular schedule, and sleeping all day. How would I be able to tell when she was having a problem? Well, I couldn’t tell she was having a problem until it had gotten pretty bad.
A couple months ago I started noticing a few things that made me wonder if she was having some problems. She had always had a little bit of a cough when she would get a little more active, but it seemed she was coughing more often. She had always been somewhat heavy in spite of my diet attempts with her, but she had seemed to gain weight recently. I attributed this to her inactivity and a sluggish metabolism that comes with age. I figured the increase in coughing was even most likely due to this weight increase. Even though she had been gaining weight, it really seemed she was reluctant to eat. It finally got to a point a point where I decided to bring her into work with me to really look her over well and run some blood work.
An examination quickly revealed a few problems. She had definitely gained weight and was 50 percent heavier than she should have been. She had tartar, gum inflammation and bad breath indicating there was likely at least one abscessed tooth. Through the years I had done a dental cleaning three times on her. It looked like it was time for another one. She also had a prominent mitral valve heart murmur which isn’t uncommon in small breeds of dog at this age, but chest radiographs revealed an enlarged heart with some fluid in her lungs indicating she was in congestive heart failure. I then ran some blood work to look for other possible problems and it revealed a markedly elevated white blood cell count indicating an infection, which I hoped was just from the issues going on in her mouth.
After finding these problems, I began the process of treating them and getting her feeling better. I gave her a shot of an antibiotic that lasts for 14 days to deal with the infection in her mouth. I gave this shot because she is just about impossible to give her oral medications. I started her on a diuretic to clear the fluid out of her lungs. I had to use a liquid and just hope we could get it in her (it took two of us). I anesthetized her, cleaned her teeth, and extracted three bad molars. Immediately her bad breath was corrected.
Since then Latae has gradually gotten back to her normal. The coughing is under control and she is eating more normal. We have even gotten her to lose some weight which I am certain will help her heart out. Even though she is doing well now, I regret not checking her over better on a regular basis even when she seemed to be doing OK. Regular examinations are very important for your pets. Even when your veterinarian examines your pet when there are no problems, it is valuable. It allows your veterinarian to know what is normal for your pet so that when there are subtle problems starting they can be detected earlier. If your pet hasn’t had an examination in the past year, how do you know there aren’t any problems? I didn’t know about Latae’s problems, and I am a trained professional.
Chad Higgins, DVM has owned Amanda Animal Hospital for the last 17 years and sees dogs, cats, ferrets and other little furry critters.