Cancer and Early Detection – Conducting Routine Exams at Home

September 26, 2011 · Posted in Doggie Healthcare · 2 Comments 

I don’t know about you, but I am acutely aware of the sobering statistics related to large breed dogs and cancer. I try to examine Whistle on a daily basis just to make sure that he has no undetected lumps or bumps. And, if I do find something, I make sure to make an appointment right away with Whistle’s veterinarian for his professional opinion and assessment.

I came across a helpful article in a recent issue of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DOG Watch that I wanted to share with you regarding the importance of early detection of canine cancer.

Did you know that “it has been estimated that cancer is the cause of death in 50% of dogs over the age of 10 and that 25 to 30% of all dogs will be stricken with the disease at some point during their lives, regardless of their age”?

I don’t want to be an alarmist but I think we can definitely take some proactive steps to protect our assistance dogs. As we all know, the sooner a cancer is diagnosed, the better our dog’s chances that the cancer can be stopped and an assistance dog’s life can be saved or extended.

The folks at DOG Watch stress the importance of owner awareness to such physical symptoms as: “an open sore that won’t heal; an unusual lump or swollen area that doesn’t go away; mysterious bleeding from the mouth or anus; troubled breathing; difficulty in urinating or defecating; uncharacteristic lethargy; reluctance to exercise; sudden weight loss”. They also recommend that young dogs receive a yearly physical but dogs older than eight should have a physical at least twice a year.

Whistle is my third assistance dog. I have noticed that each of my assistance dogs’ health changed between the age of 5-6. After age 5, I began monitoring their health a little closer and regularly scheduling a physical exam with our vet every six months. The cost has been relatively low because he is just conducting a physical assessment in his office however it gives us a base line to monitor Whistle’s health as he becomes a senior working dog.

I routinely groom my assistance dog by brushing their fur at either the beginning or end of the day. Not only is this a good bonding exercise but it also gives me a chance to physically scan Whistle’s body for any lumps or bumps, changes in his skin or other physical signs of potential health concerns.

Dealing with health issues is never easy but I feel it is my responsibility to be vigilante with Whistle’s health care maintenance and overall wellness. Conducting routine exams at home with your assistance dog can be just what the doctor ordered!

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (October 2011) “Early Detection of Canine Cancer”. DOG Watch. 15(10): 1.

It’s All About the Bootie!

August 29, 2011 · Posted in Doggie Healthcare · 1 Comment 
Marcie & Whistle with booties

On a recent trip to Olympia, Washington, I noticed as we settled into our hotel room, that Whistle was chewing on his back foot. My husband, Franz, and I got him on the bed to inspect his foot. To our surprise, there was a blister in between the pad of his back foot.

The blister looked pretty angry and Franz and I both felt we should get a vet to look at it just to be safe. We had busy outdoor vacation plans and we wanted to make sure Whistle was up for the week.

The next morning, I located a veterinarian’s office online, Hawks Prairie Veterinary Hospital (, which was close to our hotel. I called to make an appointment and fortunately, they were able to get us in right away.

The vet inspected Whistle’s foot. She and her assistant cleaned and debrided the area and shaved the hair from around the spot. The staff was so friendly and helpful. They prescribed a topical antibiotic cream and a solution to keep the area clean.

The vet also suggested that we consider purchasing Whistle a set of booties. She was concerned that perhaps the blister was the result of the summer time asphalt or a hot rock that got embedded in his paw. Whatever the cause, we wanted to make sure that Whistle’s foot would be protected, remain clean and heal properly.

She directed us to a wonderful local dog supply store, MudBay (, in close proximity to the clinic. We went over to check out their line of booties. The first pair we tried were very rigid and durable for all types of terrain. Whistle was bewildered about these foreign objects and he was behaving pretty dramatically.

We decided to try another brand, Ultra Paws Traction Dog Boots. These booties were much lighter and surprisingly Whistle adapted very quickly to them. With the encouragement of a few yummy treats, he was quickly walking around the store and hardly even acting like he was wearing booties.

Another bonus was the price. These booties were much cheaper than the original pair he tried. For about $20.00, we were on our way and Whistle’s feet were protected. From there, we were ready to continue on our vacation.

We began the beautiful drive from Olympia, Washington up to Mount Rainier National Park. We stopped in for lunch as we entered the park. I must say that I was not prepared for the response Whistle received regarding his booties. Literally everyone we encountered wanted to know why he was wearing them, where we got them, and how we convinced him to wear them.

I have been partnered with an assistance dog for almost 20 years and I am used to people’s curiosity. But this was a whole new experience.

Whistle glided throughout the entire trip with his new slippers. I am happy to report that his foot healed quickly and I will definitely continue using the booties during the summer for hot pavement and in the winter time to navigate on snow. Actually, I anticipate Whistle will be wearing his new booties quite often!

Finding a Veterinarian While on Travel

August 26, 2011 · Posted in Doggie Healthcare · 1 Comment 
Vet Exam

I love to travel. And, traveling with a disability has presented me with many interesting challenges and situations throughout the years. So, of course, traveling with an assistance dog has added additional scenarios that I have had to address.

During my most recent out-of-state travel excursions, my assistance dog, Whistle, had some minor medical issues that required professional attention. On one trip, he developed a deep cough that was diagnosed as tonsillitis. On the last trip, I noticed him chewing on his back paw. He had a blister in between the webbing of his pad.

My husband, Franz, and I found ourselves on each of these occasions in a hotel trying to locate a qualified veterinarian in an unknown community. I am happy to report that on both occasions Whistle received excellent care. And because of this excellent care, we were able to complete all of our planned travel activities. But, it was a stressful situation until we were able to find a vet clinic and get the medical care and medicine that he needed.

I did learn a couple of things that I wanted to share with you. First, from now on when I travel, I will do some additional planning by checking with my local vet to see if he knows of a vet in our travel destination. If not, then it’s up to me to do some research and create my own resource list.

By simply searching the Internet, I can determine if there is a 24-hour emergency clinic in close proximity to our hotel. It should also be pretty easy to identify one or two veterinarians in the area along with a local dog supply store. I can then compile this information onto a one-page resource list.

The resource list can easily be stored in a plastic sheet protector and filed in my travel folder along with airline tickets, rental vehicle information, etc. Using colored paper is another tip that will make the resource list easier to locate when I might be stressed. Keeping a copy available in a backpack or some other carry-on luggage for quick access is important. However, just to be on the safe side, I will probably place a second copy in my suitcase as a back-up.

It does add one extra task to the packing and planning process but it will give me a sense of calm knowing that I have this information available to me in case Whistle has an urgent medical need arise.

Another quick tip that I wanted to share with you occurred during our first trip this summer. After we had identified a vet and while we were driving to that local vet’s office, I contacted Whistle’s vet and asked his staff to fax Whistle’s medical information to the attending vet in this city. That was very helpful to the new vet and enabled him to quickly assess Whistle’s health needs and overall health.

If you are a traveler with an assistance dog, it is inevitable that your dog might need veterinarian care while you two are on a trip. With a little pre-planning, you can respond to any situation and keep your assistance dog happy and healthy and your travel plans on schedule!

Play Dates are Fun for Assistance Dogs Too!

August 6, 2011 · Posted in Doggie Healthcare · Comment 
Whistle and Bueno

I have always felt guilty that my assistance dogs have been the sole dog in our house with the exception of the times when there has been an overlap with my retired assistance dog. However during those times, my retired dogs have been older, physically challenged and uninterested in playing with a younger dog.

For the past five months now, Whistle has been the sole dog in our house after my retired dog, Morgan, passed away. Whistle is one of those dogs who is full of energy. After working with me all day, Whistle still demands to go for a long walk around the neighborhood. When we return, Whistle grabs his toy and insists that my husband, Franz, and I play retrieving games with his favorite toys until bedtime.

I really felt Whistle needed some canine interaction and I was considering taking him to the local dog park so he could have some social engagement with other dogs. However, I had heard from acquaintances of their experiences that made me reluctant to do so.

Seeking a more controlled situation, I asked a friend I know and trust who has a rescue dog similar to Whistle’s age and athletic drive to bring him over to my house for a play date with Whistle.
She brought him over to meet Whistle one Saturday afternoon. At first, they seemed a little awkward and too energetic, but with a little supervision, they became fast friends. Now the two look forward to seeing each other and they both get to run and play in a safe environment.
We decided to schedule some regular play dates so Whistle and his new friend, Bueno, could spend more time together. Now, when Bueno’s mom and dad want to travel or go on an outing, Bueno comes over for a visit.

It’s so nice to see Whistle run around and chase Bueno like an average dog. And, it is amazing to see Bueno, who has had no formal obedience training, try to sit by my wheelchair and act like my assistance dog!

It’s a match made in heaven for everyone involved!

The Importance of Blood Work

August 4, 2011 · Posted in Doggie Healthcare · Comment 

As Whistle turned six this year, he is graying around his eyes and muzzle and I can definitely tell my athletic service dog is getting older. I recently took Whistle to see our veterinarian, Dr. Murt Byrne, for a wellness check. I try to take him to see Dr. Murt about every six months.

In talking with Dr. Murt, he thought it was a good time to do some basic blood work along with his regular physical examination. To date, Whistle has been very healthy and I have not had the need to do a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and chemistry panel on him.

However, since he is over six now, Dr. Murt and I agreed that it was important to establish a baseline as a preventative measure. With his blood work information on file, Dr. Murt and his staff can refer to it as Whistle ages and his medical needs change.

Using a small amount of his blood, the laboratory was able to measure Whistle’s white blood cells, red cells, platelets and plasma. The chemistry panel focused on the chemical components in the blood. All of these ingredients provided Dr. Murt with an internal picture of Whistle’s overall health and wellness.

I am happy to report that Whistle’s blood work was normal. However, Dr. Murt did note that his cholesterol was slightly elevated and he had gained 5 pounds. The weight gain was a wake-up call for me to lay off some of the high fat treats that I had been giving Whistle lately.

It also reminded me that I need to be mindful about how much Whistle consumes each day. Even though Whistle is active and healthy now, how I monitor and care for him on a daily basis will have a tremendous impact on his working life span and his quality of life during his senior years.

Have you done any blood work on your assistance dog lately? Do you think this information will be helpful as your dog ages?

Whistle is my third service dog and I am still learning how to care for him to ensure that he has a long and healthy working life and retirement. I would love to hear what lessons you’ve learned.

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