Creature Comforts

(Editor’s Note: The following are “letters” to Kevin Daverio, Dr. Stephanie Daverio’s dog, from other animals.)

Dear Kevin,

‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin. My owner read on the internet that adding canned pumpkin to my food will make me healthier. Truth be told, I’m not super picky, but it’s not my favorite thing. It doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor. Now, make it pumpkin pie or a pumpkin muffin, and we’re in business. ‘Course, I only get a taste of those things when I can score them on the sly, like when I swipe stuff off the coffee table or use my mind powers to make her drop stuff so I can eat it off the floor. How come pumpkin people food tastes so much better than the stuff she gives me? What’s the deal with all the pumpkin, anyway, and how long must I endure?

– Fido Favors Flavor

Dear Flavorful Fido,

You’re absolutely right – pumpkin stuff is everywhere in the fall. I haven’t had any myself, but I hear some of it’s pretty good and usually sweet. The stuff your owner is putting in your food isn’t sweet because it’s just plain mashed up, cooked pumpkin. I’m told it’s supposed to be super high in fiber, which helps you move your bowels. My owners do NOT want me to move mine anywhere but outside, and I sometimes have difficulty remembering to do that, so adding extra fiber to my diet is totally unnecessary for me. Pumpkin would be likely to make things move a bit TOO fast, and give me (and any normal mammal) the runs. (You know, when you gotta run before you mess your pants with frequent, urgent not-so-solid No. 2s?) It also bulks up the poo, so if you’re a 120-pound Great Dane, your daily constitutionals may include stools larger than my miniature dachshund body. That’s quite a load, if you know what I mean. For some health conditions, extra fiber is very helpful, and so sometimes adding some extra fiber to the daily rations becomes medically necessary. A pumpkin latte would be my preference, but it’d have to be decaf, as dogs can’t handle caffeine. Whatever. I’m totally with you on the deliciousness factor. Here’s hoping you hone your mind powers and can score more dropped people food!

Dear Kevin,

I love fall. Rooting around under all those wet leaves on the ground, finding all manner of ripe, rotting things – oh, the cornucopia of smells! But lately, I’ve had this overwhelming urge to lick all four of my feet and rub my eyes and mouth. I’ve become slightly obsessed with it, to the point that I have some sores between my toes. I can’t seem to stop – so itchy! Help me!

– Sniff and Scratch

Dear Scratchy,

Oh, dude, you are headed down a long and uncomfortable road! You describe perfectly an allergic condition known as “atopy,” which is caused by allergens that irritate your skin and mucous membranes. Hay fever makes people get itchy, watery eyes and noses. Fruit allergies make people get tingly, itchy lips and tongue when touching the fruit skins. Your allergy is similar. For you, it’s probably something you’re encountering in the places you dig and sniff. Microscopic particles get on your face and feet, your body over-reacts to them, causing you to itch and get a rash. If it’s seasonal, you may do okay on some medicines temporarily, along with some topical treatments – sometimes just rinsing the affected areas with plain water every time you come in from outside is very helpful. Your vet, I’m sure, is full of helpful advice to get you through this.

Dear Kevin,

Running through the dry leaves gives me the “zoomies.” I’m 9 years old, but I feel like a pup again, charging through those crunchy piles at mach 10, doing figure eights all over the yard – it’s a blast. But, later, I feel sore all over and I can’t get up the stairs at bedtime very well. When I try to get up after lying down for a long time, I can hear my joints go snap, crackle and pop – like the crunchy leaves outside. It kinda hurts, but I can manage; it just takes me longer to stand up, especially on slippery floors. My owner looks at me with a sad face and says I’m just getting old, and that makes ME sad. Any advice?

– Crunchin’ Leaves and Joints

Dear Crunchy,

Nothing better than a pile of dry, crunchy leaves to get that heart pumpin’! Running around in the leaves is even better than the after-bath drying off zoomies, to be sure. Anyway, sorry to hear about your sore and crunchy legs. I know for a fact that there are things your veterinarian can prescribe: medications, supplements and even prescription diets can give you some much-needed relief. If you’re still getting the zoomies, you’re young at heart and still have some serious spunk – they shouldn’t give up on you just ’cause you’re slowing down.

Dear Kevin,

My owners always dress me up for Halloween and I feel very silly … it doesn’t help that they point at me and laugh, and then gush about how “adorable” I look. How can I keep up my “fierce jungle cat” persona dressed like a queen? I’m not prone to violence, but I may be forced to unsheath the claws! What should I do?

A Sight for Soon-To-Be-Sore Eyes

Dear Sight (Your Highness),

They’re just messing with you. They do it every year to me and my housemates, and, as most of these outfits involve some sort of ridiculous and uncomfortable head-gear (hats, hoods, goggles, whatever) it makes it even more hideous to be captured and forced to endure. We make it clear we are not amused, but they do it anyway. That being said, I have enjoyed some of the most exciting walks of my life while wearing a costume – people, dogs and monsters EVERYWHERE. It was totally worth it, but I’m kind of a thrill-seeker – love that stuff. Besides, I’m clearly unrecognizable in costume, and these excursions ordinarily involve some seriously delicious treats. It’s all in the attitude, and man, you totally rock that regal look. I’m not so sure about my banana costume this year, but I’m pretty sure with the proper motivation, I’ll “peel” pretty good.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column is published every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at life@sungazette.com.

Creature Comforts

Rehab for animals. No, I’m not referring to animals with drug addictions, silly. Though exposure to and intoxications from illicit and prescription drugs certainly is a serious danger in animals – animals tend not to become addicts needing THAT kind of rehab. I’m referring, instead, to rehabilitation in the form of physical therapy for orthopedic and neurologic problems.

Yes, animal physical therapy is not only a real thing, it is a rapidly growing field of specialty practice, and with its use, many seemingly hopeless cases have found healing and seen rapid improvement for their conditions.

Bed rest in human medicine is becoming a thing of the past these days, even after spinal and orthopedic surgeries. It has become the norm to begin physical therapy almost immediately after surgery has been performed. The same is true in veterinary medicine. Gone are the days our cruciate ligament surgeries go home with a giant, restrictive bandage on the leg.

Now, the patient is asked to begin using the surgically repaired limb right away, and with some passive stretches and gentle exercises guided by the owners, recovery is more rapid and more complete than ever before.

My experiences with physical therapy for my own injuries and ailments has been nothing but positive. Just performing some simple stretches in my case made a world of difference to my recovery, when other things I had tried at home simply were not enough.

I am a big proponent of trying physical therapy modalities with dogs for recovery after injury or surgery, or to help them stay limber and strong in cases of arthritis. Gentle massage therapy is very effective for not only dogs, but also cats (though, not all cats enjoy this as much as others!)

Owners who are willing to try some of these things rarely are disappointed with their efforts. Probably the most difficult part of doing physical therapy at home is making the time to get it done. Most of the patients are willing (especially dogs) and enjoy the attention.

When my parents adopted their Labradoodle, Niles, he was in pretty rough shape. A kind policeman had found him lying in the street bleeding and in shock after having been hit by a car.

The accident caused some serious injuries and Niles was left with nerve damage in his right front leg. Immediately after the injury, he was unable to bear weight on the leg, though he occasionally would try, and stumble, dragging the foot on the ground and causing a wound to develop on the top of the carpus (wrist) area of the leg.

We gave him some time to heal his wounds – various lacerations on his skin – and to see if he would regain any of the function of the damaged limb. But after about a month, it seemed clear that he would continue to damage the leg if we didn’t amputate it.

On the day of the scheduled amputation, he walked into my operating room as we were preparing to administer his anesthetics, something unexpected happened. Niles placed his foot on the floor in the appropriate position and bore some weight on it without falling.

I looked at the technician and she looked at me, both of us wide-eyed and excited. Did he just do what we thought he did?! And as if he understood our question, he demonstrated his new skill very cheerfully. Niles does everything cheerfully, FYI. We watched him limp around the room on his own and sure enough, with every third or fourth step, he would flip his damaged front paw over and put it down on the floor, using it correctly to take a step without falling – something he had not been able to do a week earlier.

We decided to postpone the amputation, and my parents excitedly pursued rehabilitation therapy to help Niles regain use of this atrophied front leg. His veterinary physical therapist prescribed various treatments.

Some people who have gone to a state-of-the-art physical therapy facility themselves will find many of the treatments offered at animal physical therapy facilities very familiar. The application of a therapy laser is one example.

A special frequency laser is applied over the injured area of the body in an attempt to decrease inflammation and help break down scar tissue that may be hindering movements or causing muscle stiffness or pain. Niles’ injuries were of the type and in locations that would benefit from this form of therapy. Niles was only required to hold still for a few moments each time this procedure was performed, which was about once a week for several weeks. Niles, then just 6-months-old, was an excellent patient, which is saying a lot about his temperament. He’s an old soul – very calm and gentle, a model patient.

Niles also worked on an underwater treadmill. An underwater treadmill is a specialized piece of equipment that essentially is a giant, clear acrylic-sided tub that can be filled to various depths with warm water, with a treadmill submerged at the bottom.

The patient is placed in the tank, with the water level being adjusted to shoulder height when the patient is standing. The buoyancy of the water allows even paralyzed patients to assume a standing position, and the gently moving treadmill stimulates those able to sense its motion to begin moving their legs and feet in a purposeful way, while partially supported by the water. It is remarkable to see function that appeared to be totally absent return by degrees as animals progress week by week with this therapy.

Niles was a real trooper, and loved his work on the treadmill, as most dogs seem to do. The physical therapists and my parents were pleased with Niles’ progress and it was clear that with each session, he was becoming stronger and more sure of his footing on the affected leg.

Is going to these lengths to heal injured pets going too far? I suppose it’s a matter of perception, but in my parents’ dog, Niles’, case, I feel pursuing physical therapy was time and money well-spent.

Though he still gets occasional rub sores on the foot of his affected leg, they are minor and can be avoided in most situations. And better, he appears to feel no pain and can use his injured limb purposefully and reliably.

View a short video of Niles and his road to recovery on YouTube at youtu.be/_u3VBOEWik8.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column is published every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at life@sungazette.com.