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Finding and Working with a Vet

 In This Chapter

One of the most important things you can do as the owner of a mixed-breed dog is to obtain the services of a reputable and dog-friendly veterinarian. Just as not every doctor is right for you, not every vet is right for your dog. In this chapter, I walk you through finding a good vet and fill you in on some key issues surrounding your dog’s health, including spaying/neutering, getting regular checkups, and alternative treatments that may help your dog

Choosing a Veterinarian

Your local Yellow Pages lists the names and numbers of numerous veterinarians. The tough part is deciding which one to take your dog to. Convenience may play a big part in your ultimate decision (you’d probably rather go to a vet who’s closer to your house thanall the way across town), but the most important factors whenchoosing a vet should be the vet’s reputation, the clinic’s facilities,and the vet’s specialties.


You don’t have to get all your veterinary services from one location. For example, I use the services of a local vet for my animals’regular checkups, vaccinations, and stomach upsets. But when it was time for my male dog to be neutered, I took him to another vet because he was the only one within an hour radius who performed laser surgery, and that’s what I wanted for my dog. Not every veterinarian can specialize in everything — just as not every doctor can specialize in everything. 

The best way to choose a vet is to talk to other pet owners in yourarea. Check with your family members, neighbors, and friends who have pets — they may be able to give you a referral to one they trust, or let you know of those with whom they had negative experiences


Here’s what to look for in a veterinary clinic:

A friendly staff: The receptionist who answers the phone the very first time you call should be friendly, as should every person you come into contact with at the clinic, from the vet tech on up to the veterinarian.

A clean waiting room and exam room: If the clinic can’t be bothered to keep the areas of the office that you see clean, imagine what it’s like in the back, where they take your dog for shots or medical treatment.

Efficient recordkeeping: You want to be sure that your vet has a complete record of your dog’s health and can access it at a moment’s notice.

Knowledgeable and helpful assistants and veterinarians: You want to be sure that your questions are treated with respect and that you get the answers you need. You don’t want to feel rushed through your appointment or as though the vet doesn’t have enough time for you.

When you’re looking for a vet, you’ll need to decide whether to take your dog to a doctor who works alone, or to a larger clinic where multiple vets are on staff. Table 13-1 lists the pros and cons of each.

Table 13-1

Single Vets versus Veterinary Clinics

Clinic Type
Single-vet clinic
Multiple-vet clinic
Your vet will be more familiar with you and your dog and better able to identify problems when they occur.
Your vet will be able to spend more time with your dog.
One of the vets will likely be available in an emergency.
The vets can consult one another on difficult cases and get better insight into medical conditions.
Different vets in the clinic. may specialize in different areas, such as nutrition or holistic treatments, and you can see whichever vet’s knowledge you need at the time, with your records all in one place.
Your vet will likely not be available in an emergency.
Your vet won’t have other
opinions readily available.
Your vet likely won’t have any specific veterinary specialties to handle difficult cases.
You may see a different vet each time you visit, which means you won’t develop as close a relationship to your vet as you would otherwise.
Each vet will be very busy and
may not spend much time with you.


Here’s a list of questions you can ask a vet to help you determine whether that vet is right for you:

What vaccinations do you recommend and how often should they be given? Many veterinarians prefer to practice only traditional methods — and traditionally, dogs have been vaccinated once a year, whether they need the vaccine or not.Newer approaches involve blood tests to determine whether the vaccine is needed. 

Where do you send clients who require specialists for their dogs? You want to make sure that your vet can answer this question and refers her patients to specialists she trusts. You also want to pay attention to how far away that specialist is and, if it seems farther than you’d normally want to have to travel, ask if there’s a reason for referring patients so far away.Maybe that vet is the best one in the state, and she only trusts her patients with the best. Or maybe she just doesn’t know anyone else. Obviously, the former would be a better answer than the latter.

Do you offer alternative or homeopathic approaches?If you don’t care about alternative therapies and you’re a straight-by-the-book kind of a person, this won’t matter to you. But if you’d like to consider alternative approaches, the vet’s answer will make a huge difference. Whether your vet offers these alternatives or not, you want a vet who doesn’t dismiss them as whacko.

Technical Stuff

Homeopathy operates on the assumption that like heals like. Similar to traditional vaccines that utilize killed or low doses of live germs to create antibodies, homeopathic remedies take the same path of administering diluted substances to help the dog heal. The dilution is done in several stages to prevent side effects. These remedies come in tablets, powders, liquids, and ointments. Though they’re readily available at health-food stores and online, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian who is familiar with alternative medicine in order to know the correct substances, dilutions, and doses to give your dog.

What are your hours? Make sure that the vet is open hours that are convenient for your life and schedule.

Are you available in emergencies? If not, what arrangements have you made for your patients? You probably can’t expect your vet to be available at all hours of the day or night, but you can and should expect your vet to have a number you can call in case of after-hours emergencies. It may be a 24-hour veterinary hospital in your area or the number of another vet who’s covering her emergencies while she’s out of town.

If my dog is sick, will you tell me all my treatment options and their costs, and let me make the decision that’s right for me financially and emotionally? One of the worst parts about owning a dog is having to make decisions about how far you’ll go, and how much you’ll spend, to save his life. Some vets believe that anything and everything should be done, and they may make you feel guilty if you question whether a particular treatment is necessary. You want a vet who will respect your decisions and not make you feel like a horrible person for not spending thousands and thousands of dollars to save your dog’s life — unless you have the means to. It’s bad enough to have to lose your dog without having to deal with a vet’s guilt trip in the process.

When you visit the vet, does she answer all your questions in an easy-to-understand manner and make the effort to fully explain your dogs’ health issues?

Spaying or Neutering Your Pet

Spaying or neutering your dog should be number one on your list of priorities if it hasn’t yet been done. Part of being a responsible guardian of a mixed-breed dog is controlling the pet population by spaying or neutering. If you’re not convinced of the need to spay or neuter your dog, see Chapter Ten Reasons to Spay or Neuter Your Dog.
The procedure really doesn’t take much time, but it is surgery, so your vet will recommend not feeding or giving your mixed breed any water within 12 hours of the surgery. (If your vet’s guidelines differ from these, do what your vet says.)
After surgery, you’ll need to keep your dog quiet for a couple days, to give him some time to heal (whether the procedure was done traditionally or via laser surgery). Don’t let your dog jump or race around within a week after surgery.
Some dogs will lick or bite at the incision area as it heals, because it can be very itchy. You can prevent this biting and itching in a few ways:

Put a soft Elizabethan or hard plastic Elizabethan (cone-shaped) collar on your dog. With one of these contraptions on, your dog won’t be able to reach beneath him to bite at the incision area. He’ll try, of course — and he’ll bump that collar on everything he passes. He walks by the end table — bump. He walks by the coffee table — swish go the magazines to the floor. No dog likes wearing one of these collars, but keeping him from biting or licking his incision is critical, so just remember that it’s only for a week or so.

Rub a product called Bitter Apple around the area. I usually apply antibacterial cream directly on the wound and around it, and then I apply the Bitter Apple on top of that. With such a horrible flavor, your dog is sure to not mess with his incision area. You will need to reapply the Bitter Apple several times each day.


No matter what, keep that incision area clean. After your dog goes outside (and remember to keep the play to a minimum), clean the area with a disinfectant solution such as Nolvasan and then reapply the antibacterial cream and Bitter Apple over that.

Microchipping or Tattooing: Keeping Your Dog Safe

I think having some form of identification on your dog is mandatory — I don’t care if he spends every minute of every day at your side. In many areas, the law requires every dog to have a rabies tag, license tag, and some form of ID tag that bears the owner’s name and phone number. Whether the law in your area requires it or not, it’s the only thing to do. If your dog runs away and is taken to a local animal shelter, he could be euthanized if you don’t claim him within a few days. Identification helps the authorities find you in case you can’t find your dog.
Unfortunately, all this bling can fall off and get lost. I can’t count the number of ID tags I’ve had to replace throughout each of my dogs’ lives. That’s why every one of my dogs either has a tattoo or has been implanted with a microchip. Here’s more on each of these methods:

Tattooing: A tattoo is usually done on the inside of your dog’s hind leg. It takes about five to ten minutes when done by a professional canine tattoo artist or a vet familiar with the techniques. You can choose what to have imprinted on your dog’s skin — it can be your driver’s license number, your Social Security number, or a number that you register with a national organization such as the National Dog Registry ( Tattoos are easily seen, and if your dog is every lost, you’ll be notified. Plus, a tattoo is an outward sign to the people who find your dog that you’re serious about holding on to him for life.

Microchipping: Microchipping is the latest technology for identifying not only pets but also farm animals and people. A microchip is embedded beneath the dog’s skin in the shoulder region. It’s as easy as an injection, though the needle is a little larger than the kind they use for a vaccination. The microchip contains encoded information, usually a registration number that coincides with your contact information. Most animal shelters, humane societies, and vet clinics own microchip scanners, which can detect the microchip and read the information on it. If your dog decides to take a walk and ends up at one of these places, you’ll be contacted.

Keeping Up with Regular Healthcare

Yearly checkups and vaccinations are important for your dog, especially when he’s less than a year of age or older than 6 or 7 years of age. You never know what a young pup can get into, and aging dogs tend to develop problems that may not be immediately recognizable.


Not all dogs require yearly vaccinations. After your dog is about 3 years old, your vet can do yearly blood tests to check whether his previous vaccinations are still protecting him. This is called a titer test.

Regular checkups and yearly vaccinations

When you bring your mixed breed to your vet for his yearly exam, he’ll not only be vaccinated (if necessary), but he’ll get a thorough checkup. Your vet will examine his abdomen for lumps and sensitivity,take his temperature, and check his eyes, ears, teeth, and throat. Some vets like to watch the dog in motion; others manipulate their legs and neck, checking for signs of injury or sensitivity.
Only one vaccination is mandatory on a yearly schedule. The rabies vaccine is required by law in every state. The first year it’s given it is only considered viable for one year. Every vaccination after the first one is usually viable for three years. Your vet will know the laws in your area.


For your mixed breed’s first three years, he should also get the following vaccinations annually:

Coronavirus: This illness causes diarrhea and dehydration. It’s highly contagious, especially among young and very old dogs. It’s not often fatal, though it can be debilitating.

Distemper: This illness is a very common one among feral (wild) animals. Symptoms include ocular and nasal discharge. In more severe cases, coughing, vomiting, and fever. Untreated, it’s often fatal.

Hepatitis: Recognizing this illness is difficult — the signs are fever and lethargy, though sometimes there’s vomiting and diarrhea, too. It is easily spread through the feces and urine of an infected dog. If it’s not caught in time, it’s fatal, so vaccinating makes sense.

Leptospirosis: A dog with this illness will have a fever, will vomit, and won’t want to move around much. Leptospirosis is often contracted through the urine of rodents, so if your mixed breed has some varmint-chasing instincts, beware if he displays these symptoms. Renal failure often results from this illness, as does sudden death. If you live in an area where your dog may be exposed to rodents, make sure he’s vaccinated.

Parvovirus: This disease is highly contagious and potentially fatal. It’s common in feral animals and easily transmitted from dog to dog. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and lethargy. Caught in time, dogs often recover with treatment. In young puppies, however, the disease can be fatal. This vaccination is one of the first that puppies must have; they should also should get three sets of booster shots spaced two to four weeks apart to protect them.

There are other vaccinations that aren’t as vital, but that are still important for your dog’s protection. These include

Bordetella (for kennel cough): You’ll only really need the bordetella vaccine if you’re planning on exposing your mixed breed to other dogs (for example, in a boarding kennel or in a dog park — and most kennels require proof of vaccination), but if you’re of the better-safe-than-sorry mindset, you might vaccinate him no matter what.

Lyme disease (to prevent infection of the tick-borne disease): Within ticks’ saliva are several fatal diseases, and Lyme disease is one of them. The symptoms for Lyme disease include lethargy, loss of appetite, and lameness. It’s easily treated with antibiotics, if caught in time. If not, the result can be permanent lameness or death. Why chance it?

Baseline tests

A baseline test is just a simple blood test that gives your vet an idea of what constitutes normal function for your dog. If you have one done while your dog is healthy, it’ll be a great way of informing your vet of age-related or illness-related changes in your dog down the road.
I always have baseline tests done on my dogs prior to sterilization surgery, to make sure my dogs didn’t have any heart or blood problems that might risk their lives while on the operating table.
As a dog ages, baseline testing should be done yearly to diagnose any life-threatening or debilitating diseases at an early stage.

Controlling parasites

Modern veterinary medicine now offers many ways to prevent parasite infestation. On your first visit to your vet, be sure to discuss this. Your vet will prescribe the appropriate preventative for his  size and age. If your dog has parasites, he’ll be treated for them.


If you got your dog from a shelter, chances are, he’s infested with parasites inside and out. If your mixed breed has internal parasites, your vet can treat them through an injection or oral medication. If your dog has external parasites (such as fleas or ticks), he can be given Capstar an oral medication that quickly and safely kills all live adult fleas within 2 hours. After four hours a regular bath will wash out the dead the bugs and clear his skin of the parasites entirely. At that point you can apply a topical flea preventative.

Preventing parasite infestation is your job — believe me, your dog will thank you for it. For heartworm prevention, give your mixed breed the monthly tablet prescribed by his vet. For flea and tick  prevention, any number of great topical preventives are available. Talk with your vet to find out exactly which parasites they repel or kill and see which one your vet recommends.


If your dog gets bathed a lot, you’ll want to reapply the topical preventative more often than the package suggests. 

Addressing Special Health Problems

Not every dog is in perfect health all the time — just as not every human being is in perfect health all the time. Though some dogs display health sensitivities as pups, others may not develop them until they get older. In the following sections, I walk you through some of the most common problems dogs develop and tell you what to expect in terms of treatment and prevention.

Skin allergies

Dogs are commonly allergic to flea and tick bites. One bite is all it takes to drive your mixed breed crazy. Multiple bites will cause his fur to fall out, his skin to thicken and redden, and constant scratching, biting, and discomfort.
Skin allergies also occur when dogs eat something that doesn’t agree with them. Some have allergies to lawn treatments or specific types of grasses or plants.
The only way to determine the exact cause of the problem is to take your mixed breed to a veterinary specialist for testing. Knowing what is causing the problem will help you remove it from your dog’s environment and speed his healing process. Plus, it’ll help you prevent your dog from having the same reaction again.

Food allergies

With all the ingredients that go into commercial dog foods, it’s no wonder that some dogs have allergies — with every additional ingredient, there’s an additional item that the dog may be allergic to. From dyes and preservatives, to using multiple grains as fillers, any number of these can cause dry skin, itching, runny eyes, and behavioral anomalies.
Your vet will have some suggestions of food brands or homemade meals that will help pinpoint the sources of your dog’s allergies  and offer your dog a wholesome diet. Consult with a holistic veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist about food allergies, too — she’ll have some good insight into the most common foods that cause allergic reactions in dogs, such as wheat, corn, beef, chicken, and rice, among others.

Appetite issues

More dogs have obesity issues than poor-skinny-waif problems. Just as our human society overeats and goes for the extra-large portions of fast food, many dog owners are taking the same approach with their dogs. Overeating is just as dangerous for canines as it is for humans.
Your vet will know whether your dog is a correct weight. Although your vet can let you know your dog is overweight, it’s up to you to do something about it. You can

Change his diet to a lower-calorie one.

Reduce the amount you feed him by half and substitute with raw vegetables. This will give him the fiber he needs without the calories he doesn’t need.

Make sure he’s getting enough exercise.

If your dog is underweight or stops eating, take him to the vet right away. Dogs only refuse to eat when they’re very sick. There’s a reason for his skipping meals, and it could be very serious. Let your vet examine your dog to discover what’s going on.
If there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your mixed breed and he still doesn’t want to eat, try adding some flavorful gravy to his meals. Adding canned food and mixing it into the kibble can also be helpful in generating interest. Maybe just changing his food altogether to something that’s richer, more aromatic, and more flavorful will do the trick.

Skeletal disorders

Skeletal disorders can be caused by accidental injury or genetic inheritance. Either way, your vet will need to do a thorough exam and take X-rays to discover the source of discomfort.
If the problem is degenerative (that is, it happens over time, as the dog ages — such as osteoarthritis), the inflammation can be controlled by several different prescription medications. The one chosen will be based on the dog’s age, size, and possible breed combination — not all medications work well with all dog breeds.
You can also use supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin to help control the fluid levels between the joints and reduce inflammation in the tissue surrounding the joints. If your vet isn’t familiar with these supplements, talk to a holistic veterinarian or find another vet who is.
by Miriam Fields-Babineau
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