Author Archives: Animal Hostpital Southwest

So You Want to Adopt a Dog

Dogs are a benefit to our lives.  They have been our companions for an extremely long time, with some estimates for the beginning of their domestication stretching back 30,000 – 40,000 years.  Over those many, many years our species have developed a pretty special relationship.  Of all other creatures on earth, only the domestic dog can use our eye movements as cues to locate items or something of interest.  Not even other primates can do so.

Maybe you want to adopt a dog for your kids, maybe you want to adopt a dog for yourself, or maybe you want to adopt a dog as a companion for a dog your already own.  We think dog ownership helps us grow through teaching us to care for something outside of ourselves, something that wouldn’t be able to survive without your help.  That being said, there are a couple of questions you should ask yourself before you take that step.

Adopt a shelter pet

We believe adopting shelter animals is a benefit to our community and to homeless pets.

Adopting a dog is a serious commitment, and one you shouldn’t take lightly.  Depending on breed, dogs can be expected to live from 10 to 15 years, and require food, exercise, attention and companionship, and preventative care.  As such, if you adopt a dog you should be prepared financially and emotionally for a commitment of that length.

One might adopt a dog through a breeder, or through a shelter or rescue program.  Both of these are reasonable courses of action.  When seeking a dog from a breeder, you should thoroughly research the breeds in which you are interested.  Adopting a breed whose needs do not fit your lifestyle is a recipe for an unhappy dog and an unhappy owner, and is often a recipe for a purebred dog landing in a shelter.  It is not appropriate to be interested in the idea of a breed or the look of a breed, one must also be interested in the behaviors and inclinations of the breed, as well.  You cannot realistically separate the “look” of a breed from the “act” of the breed because they have been bred over hundreds or even thousands of years to behave a certain way so that they can do a specific job.

The job a dog was bred to perform has important effects on their behavior.  Many breed-specific dog behaviors would be termed neuroses in humans, and if you are looking to adopt a border collie or a Pembroke corgi you should be prepared for obsessive behavior (particularly about movement).  Likewise, Labradors want to swim and greyhounds want to run.  A responsible owner should be aware of the behaviors that have been bred into their companion so that they can help facilitate healthy expression of those behaviors instead of letting them be channeled towards destructive ends.

Adopting a dog from a shelter is a laudable alternative to purchasing a dog from a breeder.  We believe so strongly that adoption and rescue of homeless pets is a benefit to our community and the local homeless pet population that we perform all of the spays and neuters for our municipal animal control authority and offer free wellness exams for shelter adoptions.  Even if you are looking for a specific breed, many pure-bred dogs can be found at your local shelters and we can direct you to breed-specific rescue groups, as well.

That is not to say that there are not risks to adopting a shelter pet.  Dogs in shelters are typically housed in high-density environments where communicable diseases can easily spread.  They may not have received inoculations prior to arriving at the shelter.  They may have congenital health problems.  As a result, sometimes a shelter pet may have some hurdles to overcome on the way to a happy and healthy life in your home.  This is way we always encourage pet owners to take advantage of the free 30 day trial of pet health insurance offered by the major adoption organizations in north Texas.  You adopted this pet for a reason, so don’t let the cost of his or her rehabilitation land him or her back in the shelter.

We have decades of experience dealing with every breed imaginable, and decades of experience dealing with the unique challenges of shelter environments.  Do you have questions prior to adopting a dog from a shelter, or about choosing between several different breeds?  We would love to talk to you and help you arrive at the best decision for you and your family.

Parasites: Heartworms!

Heartworms are probably the most well-known of canine parasites among dog owners, maybe second only to tapeworms.  Cat owners should probably also be aware of them, as well, since heartworm infections are less common in cats but often more deadly.

Adult heartworms can be up to a foot in length, though the male worms are smaller by about a third.  They reside preferentially in the pulmonary arterial system (the arteries that carry deoxygenated blood to the lungs) and heart.  Untreated, heartworms damage the tissues and blood vessels of the lungs and eventually lead to death from congestive heart failure.

Veterinarians in Texas are always on the lookout for heartworms

Heartworms require dogs and mosquitos both to complete their life cycle

Like many parasites, heartworms have more than one host.  Their primary hosts are canids (domestic dogs, coyotes, wolves), and they require a secondary or intermediate host (mosquitos) to mature to adulthood.  Juvenile heartworms are called microfilaria and circulate in the blood of an infected host animal (usually a dog).  When a mosquito bites an infected dog, she draws the microfilaria into her body.  The microfilaria cannot mature to adult heartworms without first maturing to their next larval stage inside a mosquito.

When the mosquito then bites another dog, the mosquito larvae leave the mosquito’s mouthparts and enter the skin under the bite location.  Over a period of weeks the larvae mature to their next stage, when they migrate to the muscles of the chest and abdomen.  In some cases they might not reach their intended destination, and may end up in a dog’s legs, eyes, or brain which can cause limping, blindness or neurological problems.  The larvae then molt a final time and migrate to the pulmonary artery, where they begin to mate and release microfilaria of their own.

Total time from being bitten by an infected mosquito to infection by mature heartworms is typically 5 – 8 months, depending on the ambient temperature, and antigen tests cannot detect an infection until there is a gravid (pregnant) female present.  This is why we require a negative heartworm test every year to prescribe heartworm preventative… the period of time from exposure to detectable infection is so great that there are a lot of opportunities for a missed dose to result in an infection.

Heartworms are endemic in North Texas, and it is imperative that our dogs in North Texas take heartworm preventative year-round.  We regularly have winter temperatures that allow mosquitos to mature.  Animal Hospital Southwest offers in-house blood parasite screens that can identify heartworm infections (as well as some other common blood borne parasites), and a range of heartworm preventatives from once-monthly topical medications to a six-month preventative shot.

Parasites: There are worms in my dog’s water dish!

If you see worms in your pet’s water dish, I have some good news: they are parasites, but they probably aren’t coming from your pet. Well, unless your pet is a tarantula or hissing cockroach, in which case it very possibly did come from your pet.

Many years ago I got a call from a client that had found long, white worms in a water bowl. I sent the worms to Texas A&M University to be identified, and they turned out to be Gordian worms. Gordian worms are parasites, but they are parasites of insects and crustaceans. They have an interesting life cycle, similar to xenomorphs in the Alien franchise. Well, they would be similar to the xenomorphs if the xenomorphs controlled your body like a puppetmaster before bursting out of your chest. So, I guess they are similar but much, much worse.

An adult Gordian worm lives in water, but the juvenile Gordian worms parasitize arthropods. How do the juveniles get inside of an insect? They encyst themselves on vegetation near the water’s edge, where they are then ingested by an insect eating the vegetation. The juvenile worm then lives inside the insect’s abdominal cavity until it is mature. What happens next is pretty amazing… the Gordian worm then tricks the insect’s body into jumping into a body of water, at which point it bursts out of the host insect and becomes a freeswimming adult worm.

Parasites sometimes have amazing life cycles.

Gordian worms are sometimes confused with pet parasites

These worms parasitize arthropods, not dogs or cats!

Incidentally, the story of the Gordian knot (which is where this worm’s name comes from) is also interesting. According to the tale, Alexander the Great came to the town of Telmissus in Phrygia (what is known today as Turkey). A previous king (Midas, actually, so another king about whom there are well known stories) had tied an ox-cart to a post with an elaborate knot. It was said that whomever could untie the knot was the legitimate king of Phrygia. Alexander, as the story goes, untied the knot by slicing it apart with his sword, adding Phrygia to his empire.

A Gordian knot has come to describe any particularly intractable problem or a tangle of rope. The Gordian worm is so-called because it often knots itself up, seemingly unable to be untied. Parasites in your pet can be a knotty problem, but the Gordian worms in your dog’s water bowl did not come from your dog!

That’s not to say that your dog doesn’t have parasites that you can’t see… and many of our pets’ parasites are transmissible to humans!  That’s why it is important to schedule an appointment to see a veterinarian for regular wellness exams.

Rope Bones are a Dangerous Toy for Dogs

One of the most difficult types of cases we see in our day to day practice is the foreign body. Young dogs are particularly susceptible, but dogs of any age can ingest something they shouldn’t and cause a potentially fatal health crisis. Over the many years we have been in practice, we have seen a lot of different instestinal foreign bodies: clothing, towels… even rocks. Perhaps the most upsetting type of foreign bodies is the dog toy. Nothing hurts more than getting a toy for your pet and then learning that it has seriously endangered his or her life.

It is critical that you bring your pet to the veterinarian as soon as you suspect your pet has eaten something dangerous. Don’t wait to see if they pass it! The longer a foreign body is in place, the greater the danger that fatal complications may arise… bowel perforations, sections of the instestine becoming necrotic, and loss of overall bowel motility.
Objects like rope bone toys, when swallowed by your pet, become “linear foreign bodies.” This means that, as they unravel, they can affect huge stretches of instestines. As the smooth muscle of the bowel tries unsuccessfully to move the object, it causes the instestine to “squash” together like an accordion which blocks blood flow and brings bowel motility to a halt. The friction of a linear foreign body can also perforate the bowel, releasing bacteria into the abdominal cavity and leading to sepsis.

Rope bone toys are distressingly common at pet supply stores, homes, and even pet care facilities. Don’t buy these types of toys, and put them out of reach of your pet if you happen to be somwhere that has them.

This is an amazing story. And a testament to the importance of microchipping.

Mike Nuanes, who lives in Denver, got a call from Atlanta Animal Control Services telling him they had his dog.  Nuanes has four dogs, and they were all in his yard.  He had lost his dog, Jordan, so many years before that it didn’t even occur to him that could be who they were calling about.

So he thought they were making a mistake.  How would any of his dogs have gotten to Atlanta, anyway?  It turns out that the dog who had been brought in as a stray to Atlanta Animal Control was Jordan, who had been lost seven years before while Nuanes was having dinner with family.  Obviously, Jordan wasn’t on his own all that time… someone had to have been caring for him and have taken him all the way to Atlanta.

Click through to the story, it has a nice picture of Nuanes and Jordan’s reunion.  Really great story.

Appointments on Saturdays and Sundays

We see both emergency and non-emergency appointments on Saturday and Sunday, release pets from boarding, and are available to fill prescriptions for your convenience.   We see appointments and emergencies on weekends because we know it can be difficult or impossible to take off work during the week for routine care, and because emergencies don’t take weekends off.

Sunday kitten Alien Kitty

A kitten who came to us on a Sunday, who we called Alien Kitty because of her eyes

Sundays are an interesting mix of appointments.  We see everything from routine vaccinations to dogs with acute illnesses, from simple bloodwork to emergency trauma treatment.  It requires a certain flexibility on the part of the doctor and staff because the level of activity and the skills required can vary drastically from hour to hour or even minute to minute.  We even perform spays and neuters on Sundays, so the staff sometimes has to switch from routine surgery to trauma medicine at the drop of a hat!

Orphan kitties, rescued cottontail bunnies, baby birds out of their nests, mushroom toxicity or some sort of major trauma, it seems like something exciting and interesting is always happening on Sunday.

One Sunday afternoon one of our Sunday appointments, a brand new appointment, asked us why we do it.  The answer is: for our clients.  We want to have one of our clients’ regular veterinarians to be available if their companion gets sicks over the weekend.  We don’t want them to have to ask themselves if their worry is worth an emergency fee or if the problem is worth waiting until Monday.  As always, we want our clients to make medical decisions about their pets, not financial ones.

Our weekend crew enjoys the unique challenges of weekend work because there’s just no telling what kind of cases will walk through the door.

A Peek Behind the Scenes: Anesthetics

Anesthetic protocols have changed a lot over the years. Twenty years ago, the standard of care in veterinary medicine for surgical sedation was ketamine and telazol, depending on the species.


Over the last decade and a half, we have moved to a more advanced set of anesthetic protocols. For non-surgical levels of sedation we typically use dexdomitor, which is a reversible sedative and is ideal for usage in dentistry, radiography, or bathing (of high-anxiety dogs or cats) where the level of sedation needed is lower. Because the sedation is reversible, it can even be used for dogs that have extreme anxiety when getting their nails trimmed. Patients typically come back to full consciousness within 2-10 minutes of being administered the reversal.

For surgical purposes, we have developed a combo drug that delivers pain relief, a deep and consistent level of sedation, and has low incidence of post surgical side effects like vomiting. We use this combo in conjunction with gas anesthesia to keep your pet safely sedated through a surgery, and are able to perform and release most routine surgeries the same day. Same day surgeries means less anxiety for your pet, and less anxiety for you.

Probably every veterinarian has a story for why they practice medicine in the way that they do. The veterinarian responsible for the development of our anesthetic protocol tells a story about having an appendectomy in the 1950’s. He said that the doctors were looming over him to administer the gas and, all in all, it was a traumatic experience. That’s why we generally focus on injectable anesthetics, with a preference for anesthetics that have amnesiac properties… so your pet experiences little to no anxiety and all he or she remembers are the fun parts of our hospital (like getting treats!).