Saturday, August 11, 2012

When The Long Arm Steps In

I had an odd appointment the other night.

A couple in their early 30's, very informally dressed, somewhat nervous, and fidgety were sitting in the exam room with their black and white Cocker Spaniel.

The examination technician put the couple and the dog in the exam room, discussed the reason for their visit, (as we always do), then came out to talk to me about what they had discussed.

The exam technician primary tasks are to take the patients weight, temp, go over the owners concerns, if they have any and review the reason for their visit. This particular appointment she put the clients and my patient in the room, spoke to them for a few minutes and then came out with the patient file and a quizzical look.

My technicians are really exemplary. They in many cases can take care of over half of a clients needs without me. They can pull blood, trim nails, express anal glands, TPR, and get a good history for me. I up to help finish the few items they can't.

This appointment however, was not because the clients had a concern about their dog, it was because they had been ordered by a local official to bring their pet to see the vet.

I rarely receive an appointment with a letter. Before I could get my hands on the "reason for pet exam" the letter had made its way to every hand in the building. Everyone was curious to see what the letter said, and what the order was for.

The only thing that I was told, (because I am the last person on the totem pole to get to read the, or any, letter was that the letter was from the county animal control officer), and it simply stated that the owners had "7 days to get the pet to the vet for care" or they would be fined.

I was directed to the front desk to learn "the rest of the story," (should you ever need a kernel of information in a veterinary hospital go to the front desk. Those receptionists are the gate keepers to every tidbit of information about every piece of local gossip. They are the lifeline and the blood supply of every practice).

The rest of the story went something as follows; The somewhat estranged son of the couple had been begging his parents to get their Cocker Spaniel dog to the vet for care. After some time, and no action, he had decided to intervene on the dogs' behalf. It seems he felt she was being neglected and he wasn't going to listen to their excuses any longer. So he picked up the phone and called in a report of abuse/neglect on his parents. The following day a county animal control officer arrived. They looked at the dog, filed a report, and presented the parents with a summons.

Cocker Spaniels usually need to be groomed about every 6 to 8 weeks. They have a thick curly coat and if not kept clipped it will tangle. Many larger, flat-coated breeds, however, never need a bath or a grooming. For instance my beloved beagle Jekyl never needs a bath, (unless he finds ground hog poop a favorite cologne of his). Of the breeds that I see most needing routine scheduled grooming I would rank Cockers, Westies, Yorkies, and the hairless guys (they get so filthy it's almost hard to believe) highest. Many others get semi-annual baths just to cut down on shedding and keep the coat lustrous. In general the bigger breeds with the flattest coats almost never need water or shampoo,  but the smaller they get the dirtier and more maintenance they seem to have.

I also see a much greater incidence of skin disease in many of these "high maintneance grooming" breeds. So if you have one of the listed breeds above please talk to your vet about what kind of grooming products you use, what kind of skin lesions you see, how itchy your pet is, how they smell, how red their skin gets, and if you notice any allergy flare-ups. I tell my clients all the time, that "I know they do about 99% of the detective work for their pets ailments, it's just my job to help them recognize them, and understand what they can treat for at home, and how to hopefully avoid ever having to see me." I think many of my chronic skin guys can be managed in most part largely at home.

Cocker Spaniels are an intensively problematic skin breed, especially with respect to their ears. Those big floppy ear flaps cause a couple of things to occur in Cockers much more so than other breeds of dogs. I call it the "ear disaster perfect triangle," (you know like the fire triangle you learned in elementary school).

First, those big floppy ears may look very cute but they seal off the ear canals like  a bank vault door. Those thick heavy long ears mean that no light gets in or out. Unlike humans, (who have open erect ears therefore allowing us to get great air circulation, and sunshine), Cockers have these closed-off, dark, never see the light of day, ear canals. The lack of air flow, sunshine, and circulation causes the normal resident bacteria and yeast to go wild. They get their own little easy bake ear oven to just propagate away. And if no one ever lifts the hatch to look inside the ears just simmer away with their infections brewing away until you get a full fledged stinky, red, pus filled vat. Many Cockers get so used to the low grade ear infections that owners will come in and tell me that they had no idea the ear(s) looked so bad." I use the much repeated vet mantra advertising slogan, "flip the lip," penned by some marketing person to encourage owners to lift the lips of their pets and check out the teeth, (another ignored aspect of pet care that I will discuss later) and turned it into "flip the flap," to remind owners with floppy eared dogs to stick your nose under that ear flap every week or so. If you ever notice a red or smelly ear it's time for ear maintenance.

OK, back to the second part of the ear problem triangle.The second side of the disaster triangle is the ear flaps close out sunlight, and seal in moisture. So that dark moist environment with an already resident population of bugs only needs one more thing to "get it's party started."

The last side to the triangle is those bugs need food. Your pet provides this in the way of dirt, debris, and wax.

Those Cocker Spaniels tote around two portable incubators on each side of their cranium.

Wanna know the best way to keep your pets free from ear infections? Keep them super clean! For me that means use the heck out of a good ear cleaner. No scrubbing, no swabbing, just fill the ear and massage in. If your pet shakes out a whole wad of brown goop, just repeat the process.

I was expecting to give my "ear infection triangle speech" when I walked in the room. What I saw instead was a humongous hard to believe amount of black fur scattered in every corner of the exam room. The size of my Cocker Spaniel patient didn't seem to adequately reflect the amount of hair I was looking at. I was definitely having one of those "I can't believe what my eyes are seeing" moments.

I then understood the animal control officers letter. The mats behind this girls ears were indescribable. They were easily the size of her head, like grapefruit size, and in clusters of grapefruits.

The mats are bigger then my hand, cause her ear flap to be pushed forward,
and the mats are knotted to the skin.

Right ear mat

Left ear mat.

"How long did that take?" I secretly wondered.

Both ear pinnas shaved.

I spent some time in the exam room trying to impress upon my slightly embarrassed clients how important grooming was to these guys, and how detrimental matted hair can be. They agrred to and booked an appointment with the groomers next door to have a full head to toe beauty treatment performed, and then I asked the groomers to bring her back to me so I could finish her physical examination.

Luckily, she didn't have any skin concerns, and her ears were clean and normal. She did have some mild fungal infections between her toes that we only could identify after we have trimmed the massive amount of hair clumped between her toes.

I placed her on our 3 month reminder list. So now her parents will get a "grooming needed" post card reminder every 12 weeks. (It's a way to help them remember and an effort to keep them on the right side of the long arm of the law).

For those of you out there with a desire to own one of these "high maintenance" breeds, please remember that grooming is a necessary part of owning them. Budget accordingly, and be nice to your kids, they might rat on you.


  1. Hurray for the son who ratted on his parents!

    That says to me that the message of care and abuse to pets IS getting thouhg to our yourn and hopefully in the future, we will see less of this.

  2. So sad when things get this far ...

    I have to admit that while I love devoting time to my dogs I don't want to spend half my life grooming them. That's why I stick with short-hair breeds. Works out nicely as we love Rotties and they are quite low maintenance. Their coats as mostly self-cleaning; all mud and mess just dries up and falls off. So basic brushing/combing is plenty maintenance.