Puppy Stuff

Puppy Stuff

Swimmer puppy and runny eyes

Question: Dr. Richards, Two questions: First, we have a 7 month-old pup which survived "puppy strangles". She had all the classic symptoms. Now she still has the runny eyes sometimes pussy eyes. Is there anything that can correct this trouble or do you believe there may have been damaged to her tear ducts? 2nd: Is the condition of a "swimmer" puppy (inability to walk without physical therapy) inheritable or is it an individual problem? Dianne Answer: Diane- It would be a good idea to ask your vet to recheck your puppy's eyes to be sure that there is not scarring that has led to entropion or ectropion which is irritating the eyes. If this isn't present, and no other problem is obvious, this may be allergic conjunctivitis (although your puppy is young for this). If that is the case it is possible that a soothing eye drop like Clear Eyes (tm) might help or an antibiotic/cortisone eye drop your vet can supply may help if milder eye drops do not. Unless there is a change in the thinking on the origin of swimmer puppy problems that I am not aware of, this is thought to be a problem that develops after birth. Most affected puppies are from low litter number litters and get too heavy for their immature musculoskeletal systems. Some just seem to be weaker than they should be. Using bedding that they can get traction on and supporting them with rolled up towels or other methods to get their legs a little use and a little relief seems to help them recover better. Most puppies do outgrow this problem and do OK. Hope this helps some. Mike Richards, DVM 4/29/2000

New puppy - early Calvin questions

Question: Dear Dr. Richards, I am a new subscriber with a new puppy. My wife has the following questions for you. Thank you in advance for your time and help! I just adopted an 8-week old brown and whiter Cocker Spaniel named Calvin. I think I actually more rescued him. I got him from a private party that has no business having dogs. He was covered in fleas (literally hundreds) he was very anemic and his coat was damaged from his constant chewing at the fleas. He is now flealess and seems to be very happy. I have not had a dog since I was a little girl and I have so many questions. I guess I am the typical "paranoid" Mom. The following is a list of some my most pressing questions. I would greatly appreciate your advice and it would most definitely put my mind at ease.

1) What are the odds that the first 8 weeks of his life affect his personality due to the poor living conditions he was in. I can only imagine what he really went through, but will a loving home remedy any lasting effects?

2) Calvin is already exhibiting sexual behavior. For example, he likes to "hump" his toys and our legs. I find this very distressing!!! How do I deter this. Will it help if I fix him at the youngest age possible. If so, how young? Also, should I keep these toys away when I am not there to monitor him?

3) I have a male cat who is 3 years old. He is very shy and only loving to me. He is NOT happy about the puppy. I have not forced them to spend any time together. My cat just ignores him. What is the best way to introduce them so they will be compatible. What if the cat swats at him or scares him at this age, will it imprint badly on him?

4) Since he is so young and a bit underweight, I am allowing him free access to food and water. How long should I continue this. I live in a condo and work long hours. He will eventually have to "hold it" for long periods of time. When should I begin to limit his food and/or water?

5) Everyone has me worried about his exposure to other dogs and the chance of him catching Parvo. They said I should also be very careful about any exposure to other dogs urine or feces, which is hard when you walk him. We live in a complex with a lot of other dogs. Is this true?

6) When Calvin plays he likes to bite a lot. Will rough play make him aggressive later on? That's all he seems interested in.

7) When he eats or sleeps his breathing through his nose sounds as if his nose is stuffed up and he SNORES! Is this normal?

8) We also have horses. Are there any diseases that can be passed from horses or other animals to puppies or are there any hidden dangers (other than getting stepped on) lurking in stables and barns?

Thank you so much for your advice in advance. I really appreciate it! Jennifer and Robert

Answer: Jennifer and Robert

1) You have adopted this puppy at a good time. The socialization period lasts until about twelve weeks of age, so you have time help the puppy socialize properly. While the conditions of his early life sound bad, they may not have much effect on behavioral problems. The biggest worry might be malnutition's effects, if it was a problem, because there do appear to be some problems with early malnutition and later behavioral or mentition problems. We really don't see a lot of problems with this in our practice, though.

2) Early neutering might help. There is reasonable evidence that it is safe at ages down to about 12 weeks (neutering) but I am still more comfortable with four months or older. Just old habits, probably. I can't explain why some puppies exhibit "humping" behavior at very young ages but it seems to correlate with excitable or aggressive personalities, to some degree. I really don't know of a good deterrent, either. It is easy for the puppy to find another object to use for this behavior so taking toys away doesn't seem to help. Your vet may have some suggestions on this. It can't hurt to ask. Sometimes this is a short lived phase that puppies go through, so I'll hope for that -- for your sake!

3)If your cat is content ignoring the puppy and the puppy is persistent about annoying the cat, that is the best thing for both of them, probably. It isn't necessary that they become friends -- just that they work out a peaceful living arrangement that allows both of them enough freedom to be happy. My best advice is not to push this relationship if they are working it out OK by themselves. If aggression does occur between them, there are some other things you can do, so please feel free to write back.

4) I prefer for my clients to use a feeding schedule over free feeding puppies. When the puppies are less than twelve weeks of age, I usually like to see a three times a day feeding schedule (four in really small dogs) and then go to twice a day feeding at around 12 weeks. I prefer twice daily feedings even as an adult but have no real scientific reasons for this. I just believe that dogs are more content with twice daily feedings. I don't think that limiting water is a good idea unless a dog is really excessive in drinking but there are people that do this successfully (without causing harm). Dogs seem to be able to learn to resist urinating despite having access to water. But I'd start now on a feeding schedule rather than ad libitum feeding.

5) You do have to worry about parvovirus for some time. The vaccines do not reliably work until the one that is given at 12 weeks of age for newer vaccines and 16 weeks of age, or later, for some older vaccines still on the market. It takes several days (at least 5 to 7) for the vaccination that does work to achieve protection after being given --- so you're really looking at 13 to 17 weeks of age before the vaccinations can really be counted on to protect a puppy. In the meantime, try not to let him get exposed to too many other dogs. This is hard in your situation but do the best you can. Parvovirus is spread through fecal contamination but can survive in the environment for several months so it can be hard to avoid.

6) YES! Rough play and allowing a puppy to bite can lead to later problems with biting and aggression. You should discourage biting. Sometimes just saying "Ouch" loudly and convincingly and stopping play is enough to get the puppy to settle down. Sometimes a loud noise, like shaking a can with a few pennies in it can distract a biting puppy -- especially if done right when the puppy is thinking of attacking. Stopping play works well. The puppy wants to play and will learn acceptable ways to play, such as retrieving a thrown object, if encouraged. In any case, do not encourage aggressive play or biting.

7)Lots of dogs snore or have loud respiratory sounds when they sleep. I'm not sure I'd call this normal but it doesn't usually have to be treated, either. In really excessive cases it is sometimes necessary to consider surgery to reduce the soft palate size or increase nostril openings. Your vet can help you determine if this is necessary. Not likely, but possible.

8) I can't think of any common diseases shared by dogs and horses, off the top of my head. Rat poison is the number one hidden danger in barns, in our practice area. I have treat many dogs who obtained rat poison from feed rooms in barns. Getting stepped on is a real danger. We see one or two dogs a year with injuries from being stepped on or kicked by horses.

Hope this helps some. Mike Richards, DVM 3/24/2000

Puppy vomiting after eating - Calvin

Question: Dear Dr Richards: Hello, We have another question regarding our 9 month old cocker spaniel. He has problems with his digestive system. First and foremost, he often vomits after eating. He will not eat all day because he refuses his breakfast and then will eat his dinner very fast and vomit. It has become a routine with him and he has learned to tell us when he feels sick (he comes to us and whimpers) and we hold him over the toilet. He has always had a sensitive stomach but it seemed to get worse after we took him to the vet due to a "bowel blockage (he ate some plastic something??)." The vet gave him some very harsh medicine that made him vomit 12-15 times (this was 3-4 months ago). They gave us indigestion medicine to give him 30 minutes before we fed him for 2 weeks afterward and this worked with VERY mixed results (50%). His breath smelled like bile for about 5 days afterwards. Since then, he vomits his dinner 2-3 times per week. He does not vomit after breakfast. We have changed his dog food several times. We are sticking with the premium brands and just changed to Nutra in the hope that it would cure him. He just vomited the Nutra. We serve him his kibble with a little warm water and we have lately tried serving it with canned dog food. Also, we have tried plain white rice and cottage cheese as recommended by our vet, but that did not work either. Calvin does not seem interested in food (unless it's canned dog food). He does not get excited about treats and often buries them instead of eating them. We have a difficult time getting him to eat, and when he does, he eats so fast that he vomits. All the trainers recommend that we feed him on schedule everyday and them pick up his bowl. I, on the other hand, think that we should just keep a bowel of dry kibble down for him and let him eat on his own time. By the way, Calvin does not seem to be suffering due to his problems. He is happy, energetic and is not underweight (25 lbs.) On the other end, Calvin has recently been dragging his bottom on the ground. We were told that its his anal glands. I asked the groomer to take care of the problem but it has not seemed to help. In fact, the day after going to the groomer, he had a bad case of diarrhea and had his first accident in the house. My husband, however, believes he has worms but neither of us has seen any. Calvin did, however, have a terrible case of worms when we first adopted him. Can the worms recycle? My husband wants to treat him for worms anyway because he has heard the you cannot overworm a dog. If so, should we just worm him again? We have been told that Calvin will "grow out" of these problems because he is just a pup and his digestive tract is young. Is that a possibility or should we be concerned? Thank you very much for your help!!! Sincerely, Jennifer and Bob

Answer: Jennifer and Bob- I really think it is important to do at least some testing to determine what is going on with your Calvin. One condition in particular worries me. Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's disease) is not very common, but when it occurs it sometimes produces the symptoms that you are seeing. This disease is life threatening and it is worth trying to rule it out when symptoms suggest it might be present. A general blood chemistry exam sometimes indicates imbalances in potassium and sodium levels and that is a strong hint that hypoadrenocorticism may be present. An ACTH response (stimulation) test is needed to confirm whether this disorder is present, though. Even though the odds are higher that this disease is not present than that it is present, the life threatening nature of the disease makes it reasonable to test for when chronic vomiting and variable appetite are present in a young dog. There are a number of gastrointestinal problems that may be present, as well. Checking stool samples for worms or just administering deworming agents is reasonable. Looking for other intestinal parasites is a good idea. Tests to make sure that digestion is occurring properly, such as trypsin-like immunreactivity (TLI) testing, can be helpful. Bacterial overgrowth sometimes occurs and medications are often helpful if this problem is present. Pyloric stenosis (thickening of the exit from the stomach to the intestines) might be present with the signs seen. Porto-systemic shunts, a circulation disorder affecting the liver, could produce the signs you are seeing. Other causes of liver or even kidney failure could lead to inappetance and vomiting, too. There are a number of possible diagnostic tests to consider. A general blood panel can be helpful. Stool samples can be checked for internal parasites. X-rays might be helpful, especially if a contrast medium, like barium, is used to make a partial obstruction visible. Endoscopic examination of the gastrointestinal tract is sometimes very helpful. Again, I really do think that further testing is a good idea. I would be a lot more comfortable in this situation if I had ruled out hypoadrenocorticism but your vet may feel that isn't necessary. If your vet doesn't want to pursue further testing it would be a good idea to ask for referral to a veterinary internal medicine specialist. Good luck with this. Mike Richards, DVM 3/24/2000

Premature puppies

Question: One of your questions was concerning how premature pups could be. I believe that I have one of the youngest litters on record if not the youngest. My bitch went into labor at 43/44 days - she was only bred two days. She aborted a total of 7 pups over a two day period. I then utilized a uterine contraction monitor as well as put her on medications that had been used for less than 50 dogs to stop her contractions. We delivered 3 live pups by section several days later. The boy died at 10 days but the two girls -survived. This information was presented at a vet conference by Karen from Whelp Wise if you'd like complete details. Hope this helps and look forward to using your site. T. W. Cypress TX

Answer: Tracey- I think that your pups may very well be the most premature pups to live, or are at least very close. Thanks for sending this information. It is always good to hear of new possibilities in care for neonatal puppies since it is an area that has been largely ignored in veterinary medicine. Mike Richards, DVM 11/1/99

Puppy with cough-Australian Shepherd

Q: My 11 wk old Australian Shepherd has developed a very slight, throaty cough that almost sounds like she is trying to cough something up. She usually only coughs once at a time and does it fairly infrequently, but always has one cough when she drinks water. She exhibits no other symptoms that I know to look for. She is lively, stool consistency is good, no fever, and no vomiting. She has had the first two of the series of three vaccinations required here in Poland. She does eat "cow throats" and I wondered if it is possible that she bruised her throat? Any suggestions?

A: Bev- Sometimes puppies do seem to cause pharyngeal inflammation by chewing on stuff. This does result in a soft cough in some patients. At least that is what I think based solely on experience. I can't recall seeing anything about this issue in the literature. Probably more commonly puppies with coughing have tracheobronchitis, which is usually caused by the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica. Sometimes, puppies that have been vaccinated for this disease will develop a soft cough for three to five days that follows vaccination. It might be worth checking to see if your Australian shepherd was vaccinated for this disorder in the last set of vaccinations. If all that is present is a soft cough and the puppy feels fine otherwise, it is usually OK just to wait and see if the cough worsens or gets better. If the cough persists more than 10 days or gets worse (or the puppy's overall attitude gets worse), then a recheck at the vet's should be scheduled. If the condition clears up then there is no need to worry. Some puppies have anatomical problems that lead to soft coughs, such as soft palate abnormalities or congenital heart disorders. So it is a good idea to mention that this happened on your next vet visit, even if it has cleared up. So to sum this up -- if the cough isn't bothering your puppy it is OK to wait a few days to see if it will clear up. But if any indication of more severe problems shows up it would be best to have a recheck with your vet. And you might want to check and see if she was vaccinated for kennel cough (tracheobronchitis) since that will sometimes produce a soft cough for a few days and knowing that would make the situation less worrisome. Mike Richards, DVM 8/22/99

Puppy sleeping habits

Q: Hello Dr. Mike, I just bought a cocker spaniel puppy on saturday (today is monday) and she has been sleeping a lot! is this normal? The place where i got her told me she was 7 weeks old, but when I called them this morning and asked them the actual date of birth they told me they did not know it. She is really tiny and i think she may be younger than 7 weeks, would this explain the sleeping? Sorry for taking your time, If you can't answer I'll understand. Thank you, Katia

A: Katia - It is not uncommon for puppies to sleep for long periods of time. As long as your not seeing other clinical signs such as vomiting or diarrhea and not wanting to eat, I wouldn't worry about the sleeping. Remember your puppy is just a baby. The older she gets, the more awake and playful she'll become. If your still concerned about her, a trip to the vet might be wise. Your vet should be able to give you all the information necessary on raising a small puppy. Enjoy her! Mike Richards, DVM

Flaky skin in puppy

Q: I do the Yorkie rescue for my area and I had a call about a puppy with a lot of dandroff in spots they want me to take the puppy and find a home for it but I want to know what I should use to clear up this problem before bringing it in to my home and finding it a new home; Thanks Denise

A: Denise- My best advice to you is to bring the puppy to your regular veterinarian for an exam. "Dandruff" in puppies can be as simple as dry skin flakes which bathing and good nutrition and care may help with (if the puppy has been neglected) or it can be other conditions such as mites, lice, or seborrhea and skin infection which is best treated by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian should be able to help sort through all the possibilities and provide you with the best possible treatment for the correct diagnosed problem. Mike Richards, DVM

Tail docking and care for pups

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, thanks for this neat service! At what age should a rottweiler pup have its tail cropped? (i hope that's the correct term) Also, what shots do rotty pups need before they are sold? Thanks--Margo

A: Margo-The optimum time to dock puppy tails is between 3-5 days but it is best not to wait longer than 7 days of age. This timeframe appears to be the least traumatic for both mom and pups. Dewclaws usually are removed at the same time as tail docking and some rott puppies have dewclaws when born so you may want to check on this as well. Most puppies should be dewormed beginning 3-4 weeks of age and repeated at 3 week intervals for several dewormings. Vaccinations (distemper, parvo, hepatitis, adenovirus) should be started at 6 weeks and repeated every 3 weeks - the usual schedule is 6,9,12,16 but can vary slightly depending upon the age of the puppies when vaccinations are started. We don't vaccinate for leptospirosis in our practice because first, most of the reactions to vaccination are from the lepto portion of the vaccine and second leptospirosis is rare in Virginia. Rottweiler puppies should have the parvo portion of the vaccination boostered again at 20 weeks and even 24 weeks since they appear to be a breed more susceptible to the disease. Your regular veterinarian should be able to set up a vaccination schedule for your puppies as well as help with the tail docking and dewclaw removal. Mike Richards, DVM

Puppy pediatric visit

Q: Dr. Mike, I have an eight week old lab and would like to start a heartworm prevention program for him. Is it posible for me to avoid a costly vet visit? Is there a shot availible for puppies? Mosquitos and fleas and ticks OH MY ! ! ! There are plenty here on Cape Ann, MA. Please advise. My breeder is giving him his 4-1 distemper shots. Thanks.

A: LilyEli- Heartworm preventatives are prescription medications and it would be illegal for your veterinarian to dispense a heartworm preventative without a "doctor - patient" relationship. It is safer to use the prescription heartworm preventatives than any other formulations of ivermectins. Your vet will also examine your dog, providing you with some assurance that there are no congenital defects or pediatric illnesses. Sometimes, skipping the entire pediatric series of veterinary visits is a costly mistake. Mike Richards, DVM Vaccination schedule Most veterinarians suggest beginning the vaccination series at 6 weeks of age. With the new vaccines available now, it should take three vaccinations spaced about 3 weeks apart to ensure vaccine success in most puppies. A convenient schedule is then 6, 9 and 12 weeks of age. While it may not be as necessary with the new vaccines, a cautious approach would be to vaccinate one more time at 16 weeks of age, too. Mike Richards, DVM

Housebreaking a puppy

Q: How long should it take to housebreak a puppy? We have an 18 week old English Setter that we got at 11 weeks. He is very erratic in his bathroom behavior. Last week, he went the entire week without an incident. This week, he hasn't gone a day without one. We are using an 8'x8' exercise pen instead of a standard kennel. Are we giving him too much room and therefore not encouraging him to hold on a little longer? He is never left in his pen for more than 5 hours usually more like 3-4. He will go through the night from 10:00 or 11:00 until 5:30 - 6:00.

A: Most puppies have a pretty good idea about what is expected of them after a week or two of training to urinate and defecate outside. It is necessary to catch them "in the act" several times and scold them just harshly enough to startle them, then take them outside and wait around until the have a bowel movement or urinate outside and praise them immediately. Puppies will usually make a few mistakes after this time but most have caught on. A few puppies are very hard to housebreak and many owners do not realize the importance of following the puppy around persistently enough to catch him or her urinating or defecating. Without doing this, it is very hard to housebreak a puppy. The pen is too large to work to prevent him from urinating or defecating in it. If this is happening it would be a very good idea to consider buying a crate that is just big enough for him to stand up and turn around in comfortably. This is usually small enough to discourage elimination behaviors in it. You are not leaving him alone too long for crate training to work so it is probably another good option for you. Hope this helps. Mike Richards, DVM

When to stop crating a puppy

Q: Dr. Mike: Our lab Missy is approx. 1 1/2 years old. Upon the advice of our vet, Missy is kept in a large crate when we are not home or at night when we are sleeping. During the last two weeks, we have allowed her to sleep outside of her cage at night (although we often catch her in there, I guess she is used to it). I would like to let Missy roam the house during the day and not have to be caged. My husband says she is too young still (he is afraid she will chew). Help?

A: Many dogs do like their crates. They seem to view them as a safe haven. If she doesn't exhibit destructive chewing behaviors in her crate or when she is out when you are home, it isn't all that likely that she will suddenly develop them with more freedom. Of course, if she eats your shoes while you are wearing them, she'll do it while you're away too! Mike Richards, DVM Submissive Urination. Puppies that have very submissive personalities tend to urinate small amounts when greeting people or when someone makes sudden movements or assumes a dominant position, even inadvertently. These puppies are generally showing other submissive signs, such as head down postures or rolling over. It can help to just ignore these puppies at first and let them get used to your presence in the house prior to greeting them. Many dogs will outgrow this behavior but some do not. For some dogs, treatment with anti-anxiety medications or phenylpropanolamine can be helpful. Unfortunately, not all dogs will respond to medical therapy or behavioral therapy for this condition. Strategically placed throw rugs or plastic runners are the next line of defense since the behavior often occurs at predictable times and places. Mike Richards, DVM

Excitement urination

Some puppies can not control urination when they are very excited. They just get so worked up that they leak urine. Most puppies will outgrow this problem, too (at least based on the ones we see). Some dogs don't, though. We have some success treating these dogs with phenylpropanolamine. It seems to give them just enough control to get them through the excitement. It doesn't always work, though. I have never tried any other therapy for this condition. I think this is because I practice in a rural area and it is easy for my clients to adjust to making these dogs "outside dogs" and living with the problem. If there is an animal behaviorist in your area, your vet may be able to refer you to him or her for help with this problem. Mike Richards, DVM

Puppy eating own feces

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, We have a two month old german Shepard puppy. This may seem like a bizzare question but I'd like to know if it is safe for a dog to eat its own feces? Is there a reason that dogs do this and how do I get her to stop when she does? She also eats rocks and leaves should she be doing this? thanks

A: It probably does not harm a dog to eat its own feces. It may harm a dog to eat other dog's feces, cat feces, etc., since these may contain organisms the dog has not already been exposed to. It can be harmful for dogs to eat rocks but I have not seen a problem relating to eating leaves that I can remember. We have had to remove rocks causing intestinal obstructions in three dogs in the last few years. It can be very hard to discourage this habit but firmly and consistently telling the dog "NO" and doing something to distract it from rock hunting may be helpful. Teaching a dog to "give" (to drop something it is carrying in its mouth) can be very helpful as well. Most dogs will learn to associate the "give" command with a treat really quickly -- say "give" and then offer the treat. When the dog drops whatever it has, reinforce the behavior by giving the treat and saying "good dog" or whatever you like to say. There are a couple of products on the market made to discourage dogs from eating their own feces. Forbid (tm) is one of them. I have seen recommendations to add meat tenderizer to the dog's food in an effort to change the taste of the feces and some clients have felt that this worked for them. Keeping the dog on a leash and picking up stools as soon as they are deposited helps a lot, too. Some dogs are really fast about "cleaning up" after themselves, though. You just have to be faster! Mike Richards, DVM

Floppy Ears

Q: dear michael thanks for the help on my shy puppy have one more question for you .my last shepherd ears where floppy and didnt stand up my new puppys left ear stands up fine but the other ear flops over at the top anything I can do for the one ear and anything I can do to help the ears stand up thank you very much for the help and Max is doing better around people and a lot better with family

A: I am glad to hear Max is doing better. I am not as happy to report that I really do not know of anything that works well to make a floppy ear stand up in a shepherd. This is a common concern and I wish that I did. People have been sending us suggestions on other conditions, so perhaps someone will have a good one for this that we can post later. Mike Richards, DVM

Puppy not gaining weight

Q: Dr. Mike, I have a 9 week old german shepherd. He has all of the attributes of a healthy puppy except for the fact that he is not gaining weight and is very lean. I have been taking him to a vet that I trust since I had purchased him at 6 weeks of age. Although, I noticed his leanness I was never really worried about it until my vet had shown some concern. She put him on a diet of 50% of Hill's i/d and 50% rice and chicken broth. He gained weight and showed no signs of diarrhea. He was on that diet for 5 days. When she checked him out on the fifth day she said that it was alright to give him the food that I had originally been feeding him and to mix it with the rest of the i/d that I had left. This I did. When the rest of the i/d was used I just fed him the puppy food that I was feeding him. Let me also note that the breeder that I purchased the dog from was feeding 'Couscous' the same brand. The name of the dog food was PMI Exclusive which my vet had verified was a Purina brand dog food and was a 'scientisfic dog food'. It was after the i/d had run out that I noticed couscous was eating irregularly. Almost as if he was eating the food only out of necessity. This raised concern and my concern was verified the following week when I took Couscous to the vet and upon weighing in he had only gained 9ozs. in a 7 day period. My vet said that she was concerned and changed cous' diet to Science Diet Lamb and Meal mixed with i/d.

My questions are these:

1. Could it be that Cous' 50/50 mix made him spoiled of dry dog food and that he prefers the mix?

2. Is my vet playing on my love for the dog to get me to use her diet?

3. Is this common for german shepherds?

4. Is it better for a dog that has a higher chance of hip dysplasia to gain most of its weight after the first five months?

Let me reiterate that Couscous is playful, growing, a good coat and just a great dog. My concern is that I am hearing different opinions from the vet and from my friends. I guess an impartial party would be beneficial right now. If you have time to answer this that would be great. Or, if you know a good website for me to refer to that would also be appreciated. Thanks for your time

A: Whenever a German shepherd puppy doesn't gain weight properly it worries me a lot. The shepherds have a lot of problems and several of them can lead to poor appetite and poor weight gain. They are prone to megaesophagus and are one of the breeds we have seen heart ring anamolies. They can have pancreatic enzyme insufficiencies. We have seen a portosystemic shunt in a shepherd puppy. German shepherds are one of the breeds in which dwarfism occurs. Other, more mundane problems, like worms and other intestinal parasites are also possible. In several of these conditions, poor weight gain is the only problem. Vascular ring anomalies are not likely, because they usually cause persistent vomiting anytime a puppy eats solid food. This is a condition in which some fetal blood vessels which should degenerate remain. The most common ring anamoly is a persistent right aortic arch. The arch forms a "ring" around the esophagus along with other structures and prohibits passage of solid food. Obviously, this is not too likely in your puppy but it is just worrisome. Megaesophagus is a weakness of the esophageal muscles leading to dilation of the esophagus and poor passage of food. Coughing after eating or retching of food are commonly seen with this condition, early on. It is a cause of poor weight gain. Porto-systemic shunts are another fetal circulation problem. When puppies are born, their circulatory system has to adapt to live without the support of the placenta and doing this involves reversing the blood flow through most of the circulatory system. Sometimes, the liver gets bypassed in this process and fails to develop due to the lack of blood flow. This is a correctable situation in many dogs. It isn't all that likely but it needs to be considered. Pancreatic enzyme deficiencies usually cause diarrhea, which you do not mention as a symptom. Failure of any large organ system can lead to poor growth -- so congenital liver, kidney, heart or other organ damage can be a problem. Of course, it is important to rule out the more common problems like worms and other parasites. It would be a good idea to talk this over with your vet and find out what she is worrying about. Sometimes, we don't push hard enough for a good laboratory workup in puppies due to considerations like cost and stress to the puppy. Other times, it does seem best to adopt a "wait and see" attitude. If you are worried, checking the major organ systems through bloodwork is almost never a bad idea and checking for parasites is a good idea, too. There was a study done in Labrador retrievers which suggested that keeping them thin during their entire growth period (the first year of life, really) is very helpful in preventing the development of hip dysplasia. I can't answer the question about whether or not your vet is pushing a particular diet because she stocks it. I really think most vets do have their patient's best health in mind when they choose to stock diets but once they are in the hospital, selling them does become important, too! Mike Richards, DVM

Puppies and Kittens..same food OK

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, We recently got a new puppy and we currently have to kittens. Every now and then the kittens like to nibble on the puppy food. Is it safe for kittens to eat dog food? Also, our kittens love human food. As a rule I never give my cats anything I wouldn't eat nor do I give them anything too spicy. But we do sometimes give them shrimp, prawns and imitation crab. Is this okay, since they are meat eating animals? thanks

A: It is safe for cats to eat small amounts of dog food. It is also safe for them to eat small amounts of "people" food or even to have diets formulated from people foods if done very carefully. It is not a good idea to feed kittens either puppy food or adult dog food as their sole source of nutrition. Kittens and cats need some amino acids that dogs can make. This makes a cat's protein requirements more rigid than dog's and most dog foods do not meet the nutritional needs of cats. Over the long run, cats fed solely dog food are very likely to develop nutritional deficiencies and disorders associated with them. People tend to let their cats train them to feed only a limited number of really "choice" tablefoods, which also results in poor diets when people feed too many treats or try to develop home-made diets for their cats. As long as you limit the treats to small quantities it is not going to cause harm to give your cat the occasional treat, though. Mike Richards, DVM

Sick Puppy

Q: I adopted a mutt, lab and australian shepherd from an animal shelter. After 5 days, a vaccination and a three day deworming treatment the puppy became ill. He wouldn't eat, vomitted, had bloody diarrhea, and became very weak with weight loss and dehydration. My vet said the puppy had parvo and treated him with and antibiotic and an IV. After six days the puppy came home. We noticed he coughed with a gagging motion at the end. By the next day the puppy began to have diarrhea with blood mixed in and droplets of blood nearby. He still had lots of energy. He also showed symptoms of a runny nose with a yellow or greenish tint to the discharge. Although his appetite decreased he seemed to be in good spirits and didn't seem to be running a fever. My vet is stumped. The puppy is currently undergoing another anitbiotic treatment at the vet's office. He told me that it could be distemper but there aren't good blood tests to determine that. He also said that we would have to put the dog down. What do you think? Could he be right? Could the dog be suffering from some kind of worm? HELP!

A: The three day deworming medication was probably Panacur. This is a pretty effective deworming medication for most worms that affect dogs. It won't kill tapeworms but they usually don't cause the symptoms you are seeing. So I think a worm problem is not very likely, but not impossible. There are other intestinal parasites, such as giardia and coccidia. They usually don't cause this severe an illness, either but perhaps are possible problems. Distemper is possible with the signs you are seeing. Unfortunately, vaccination causes a rise in the titer for this disease and it is very difficult to figure out if the disease is present in a puppy that was recently vaccinated, due to this. Once in a while it is possible to find the distemper virus directly in a blood smear using an immunofluorescent test but this is unreliable enough that I agree with your vet about the blood testing. It isn't likely to help. The symptoms you are seeing are all present at times with distemper. If seizures or neurologic signs develop, it will be further indication that this is the problem. Distemper can be fatal. We have no good anti-viral medications so only supportive care can be done. Usually it works, so I hope it does for your puppy. The other possibility is that something else entirely is going on. I can't tell where you are from, but fungal illnesses are reported to have similar signs at times, too. I don't see many of these and can't give much first-hand insight into the probability of that. The probability of that would vary a lot with where you lived, too. An intussesception (telescoping of the intestine into itself) sometimes occurs after illnesses that cause diarrhea and straining. That might explain some of the signs seen (but I don't recall seeing a runny nose with this). Once in a while we see a puppy that just doesn't seem to have a very functional immune system and they get problem after problem. These are often unrelated to the each other but the progression of them can be very confusing. When I am confused or frustrated with a case I often try to convince the owner to consider seeking a second opinion from an internal medicine specialist. These folks see more of the difficult cases than anyone else and often have more experience in recognizing them than a general practitioner. If there is a referral hospital or veterinary school near you, this might be a good choice. One more thing -- I often begin to prepare people for the possibility of an unsuccessful outcome, like death, when I still think there is a lot of hope. I just hate to see people blindsided by the emotional impact of an unexpected death of their pet. So I may discuss this possibility even though I think it is unlikely. Your vet may be doing the same thing. Mike Richards, DVM

Rottie Pup -what should a puppy weigh

Q: Dr. Mike, I have a 13 week old Rottweiler pup and am wondering what his average weight should be? He weighs approximately 24 lbs.. That leads me to the next question, what is the average recommended wieght for Rott pups each month up to relative maturity?

A: It isn't possible to give you an answer that would work for your dog. Every dog is different. The best way to judge what your dog should weigh is to estimate if his weight is appropriate for him. Start just by looking at him from the side. You should be able to see the outline of his last 2 to 3 ribs while he is growing but you shouldn't see more than 5 or 6 ribs. If don't see any ribs at all, the next step is to lightly stroke from front to back over his ribcage and feel for the ribs. If you can feel them with a light touch, he isn't too overweight but it would still be better to cut back a little on his food. When he is an adult, this would be an acceptable weight. If you can see most of his ribs, you need to feed him a little more. Judging his weight this way ensures that it is right for him and not just right for the average member of his breed. It is almost always possible to adjust the feeding schedule to ensure proper weight in a puppy fed primarily dog food. It can be harder if he is getting treats, snacks, or has access to outside food sources like the neighbors. With all that said, there is another approach to figuring average weight at various ages that works reasonably well, if you know the approximate adult weight your puppy should be. This is usually close to the father's ideal weight (not necessarily what the father actually weighs!) for a male puppy and close to the mother's ideal weight for a female puppy. Of course, just like people, some male dogs are smaller than their parents and some female dogs bigger. Once you have some idea of what the adult weight should be, you can use the following formula (from Small Animal Clinical Nutrition III by Lewis, Morris and Hand): puppies should gain 1 to 2 grams per day per pound of anticipated adult weight for the first 5 months of life So a Rottweiler which will weigh 85 lbs. as an adult should gain between 85 and 170 grams per day (about 1/5 to 1/3 of a pound per day). So at 13 weeks (81 days), this puppy would weigh 16 lbs to 27 lbs. But it's still better to use the sight and feel method to make sure that your particular puppy is not too fat or too thin. Mike Richards, DVM

When young dogs don't eat --- get them examined!

Q: Dear Dr. Mike: Our 6 month old shepard/collie mix refuses to eat her dog food by herself. Up to a week ago, she refused dog food altogether, until our vet said she was on a huge doggie hunger strike. We stopped feeding her all treats and human food, but in order to get her to eat, we have to feed her the dog food by hand. Do you have any suggestions on why she won't eat the dog food by herself. We buy the best dog food, dry and canned. Thank you

A: When young dogs won't eat well, it worries me. Some of them are just stubborn about getting what they want but more often, there is something wrong. The only problem is that there are a huge number of possibilities and it can be very difficult to sort through all of them. This is especially frustrating if it turns out that she is just being difficult after you do a comprehensive work-up. If this is new behavior, teething difficulties are possible. Examining her to make sure she isn't retaining baby teeth and that her gums are not really irritated would be a good idea. If she has always been this way, that is less likely to be a problem. Some of the things that come to mind with dogs that are very picky about eating, include intestinal worms, other intestinal parasites, food allergies, vascular liver shunts (portocaval shunts), problems with any organ system (kidneys, heart, liver) and Addison's disease. I am sure there are many other possibilities. If she does not come around quickly and begin to be willing to eat dog food or if you see any signs that there may be more wrong (weight loss, lack of growth, gum disease, etc.) please have your vet examine her and begin to eliminate as many possible problems as is practical. Good luck! Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...