"Taking Care of Your Dog"

(how to judge when to go to the vet)

This book presents wonderfully organized material and flow charts to help you recognize when your dog needs to see the vet and how urgent the need. a very useful book for all dog guardians.

"Taking Care of Your Dog"

by Sheldon Gerstenfeld, VMD

book review by Pam Green

The edition I have is the seventh printing in 1987, so that is now 12 years out of date or possibly more (as last revision might have been earlier than last printing). Always when you read a vet book, look first at the date of the last revision, last edition. Just a couple of years can make a lot of difference in some areas (eg cancer). New preventatives (eg monthly heartworm in two varieties), new diagnostic methods (ultrasound, CAT, MRI, PET), new treatments (many many) have come along since this book was written. Likewise new diseases or new versions of old ones -- eg noteworthily Parvo is NOT mentioned in this book. So this book is out of date to some degree. That being said, this book is otherwise excellent. I have NOT checked to see if there is any later edition to this book. It is well worth updating. Should ask at the bookstore to find out. If no recent updated edition, maybe we should write the publisher Addison-Westly, to urge them to do one.

Second thing to notice before reading is any information about the education, practice experience , and specialization of the author or authors. In this case he earned his VMD (same thing as DVM) at U Penn, which is an excellent vet school, and had practiced 10 years. currently (87) head of a private practice in Philadelphia. Also author of Taking Care of Your Cat. So we can expect a general practice outlook, which is pretty much what we would want in this type of book.

Part I : "You & your Dog".

Ch 1 = Selecting a dog : brief but sensible and fosters responsible outlook.

Ch 2 = The owners home physical exam, your dog's body and how it works. very nice intro to understanding how the healthy dog functions and how to make your hands and eyes familiar with normal and abnormal findings. teaches you to take dog's temp, pulse, respiration, and how to check for color of gums, capillary refill, and how to test skin rebound for signs of dehydration. tells you to get your vet to show you how to find the palpatable lymph nodes -- unfortunately no diagram of these in the book.

Ch 3 : Keeping healthy etc. Good basic information on feeding, vaccinations, parasites, training, grooming, travel & boarding. Now since then controversies have arisen about feeding and vaccinations, so these are not addressed.

Ch 4 : Going to the vet. Evaluating vet and what to expect in a basic vet visit. How to give a good "history". The more common lab tests and their meaning. Since time this was written, more and more vets have new diagnostic tools like ultrasound and endoscopy available, and these are not covered.

Ch 5 : Home pharmacy and first aid kit. There are a few newer drugs that might be added to this or might replace some that are included. And depending on what chronic conditions your dog might have, your vet may want to supply you with additional drugs and equipment.

Part II : "Caring for Your Dog"

This is the heart of the book, as it tells you basic emergency procedures and then for each "presenting sign" (ie each thing you would notice as a sign that something may be wrong with your dog) it explains what may be wrong, what emergency care may be needed right away at home, and gives a "decision chart" to help you decide what level of vet care is needed : "see vet NOW" , "see vet within 24 hours", "make an appointment w vet", "phone vet for advice" or "treat at home".

Ch 6 : Emergency procedures. approaching and restraining injured dog (tying a muzzle from a strip of cloth or your belt), artificial respiration and CPR, tourniquet. shock , drowning, splint, general bandaging, and transporting an injured dog.

Ch 7 : Accidents and injuries -- with decision charts. covers the most common classes of these. cuts, wounds, punctures, animal bites, insect bites and stings, convulsions & seizures, bone fractures, chest injuries , head injuries, eye injuries, internal bleeding, hypothermia and frostbite, burns, smoke inhalation, heat stroke, poisons, carbon monoxide, poison plants, snakebite, toad poisoning, and porcupine quills.

Ch 8 : Common problems and diseases -- lists symptoms (signs) that you the owner would be apt to notice. then for each sign , discusses the other signs to look for presence or absence of to determine urgency of care needed -- and also in some cases the group of signs will give you a tentative diagnosis (eg pyometria) or set of differential diagnoses (ie several conditions that are compatible with this set of signs and that your vet will need to do exams and tests to distinguish between.

Very rarely does a disease have just one sign that you might notice, but again often one sign in the group will be more likely to catch your attention. (eg drinking more and peeing more almost always go together but depending on whether you use a self filling water bowl or a dog door, you might easily be unlikely to notice). Because of the way this section is organized, so long as you have noticed any of the major symptoms, you will be lead to an appropriate decision chart. additionally, you might have a suspicion which condition or illness is involved, and if so you can turn to that particular condition.

Symptoms and ailments listed : fever, distemper, rabies, increased water intake, increased appetite, decreased appetite, underweight , overweight, skunk encounters , lameness, neck of back pain, skin problem chart allergies, flea bite dermatitis, contact dermatitis, mange, scabies, ticks (which does not deal with some serious tick born diseases such as Lyme and Ehrlichosis, which were not common in 1987), ringworm, nodule or lick granuloma, abscess, lumps and swellings in breasts, lumps and bumps on skin (which does not discuss cancer -- which has its own chapter), eye discharges, ear discharges, nosebleeds, red or irritated nose, runny nose, coughs , mouth odor, shortness of breath, acute abdominal pain, stomach dilation/torsion, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, swallowed foreign objects, anal problems , painful frequent or bloody urination, penis discharge, vaginal discharge.

"see vet NOW" -- do any needed emergency care (eg bleeding control, heart & breathing restart, poison upchuck induction), phone vet to let her know you are on your way and what the possible emergency diagnosis is and main symptoms that make you think so -- possibly your vet will re-direct you to another facility better able to handle this or tell you something else to do before jumping into the car. Note well : you need to know before its needed the name phone and location of the nearest good emergency care facility that is open in the middle of the night or on holidays or any other time your usual general practice vet might be closed or be unable to handle this type of procedure.Discuss in advance with your vet whether or not she is willing and able to do an emergency bloat surgery at 3 am XMas eve etc -- or whether someone else would be the better choice. If you are lucky enough to live near a vet teaching hospital, then the choice may be obvious. Note : the NOW category ranges from those utter emergencies where you wish you could travel by transporter beam to get there this very instant to those that require care within one to two hours.

The "within 24 hours" category to me are mostly things where I would want the dog to be seen before close of business, but most of them could wait till next morning if the condition first arose (or first noticed) during the night or (for some) during Sunday (most private practices are closed). Some of them , eg a bad Pyometria, may need surgical or other vet attention within the next few hours; ie I would not be comfortable letting these go over beyond maybe 4 to 6 hours. Again, always give you vet a brief clear description of the symptoms, traumatic incident, or other cause (eg suspected poisoning) for urgency. especially if you are asking her to work the dog into an already fairly full appointment schedule.

If there is any doubt at all, escalate your urgency to "within a few hours" or even to "right NOW." I know any number of dogs, including one of my own, who survived because the owner's gut feeling escalated the urgency to "right NOW." If you take a dog in NOW for something that could have waited, you will pay an emergency fee and you may feel some embarasment (not if your vet is smart : she will praise you and tell you you were right even though it proved to be less urgent) ,but your dog will be OK. But if you delay on something that really was more urgent than you thought, your dog may pay with his one and only precious life.

"Make appointment" means its more than you can fix at home (though there may be interim home care that is desirable) but does not need to be seen same day/24 hours. eg to me any growth (lump, bump) that I can feel (in skin, under the skin, deeper in body) does definitely require the vet to examine and fine needle aspirate or biopsy as a possible cancer and while my nerves scream that it should be today, realistically anytime in next couple of days is fine.

"Phone vet" may get you either advice on home care for next few days and bring in if not improving or else the advice to make an appointment within the next few days or sooner.

"Home treatment" means you probably can cure it at home -- BUT I would also phone or e-mail my vet to let her know what is going on -- and believe me if she said to bring the dog in , I'd believe her and do it !!! There are a few things listed as home treatment in this book that I might well take more seriously, depending on my feel for the situation. Foxtails : while author mentions these, it seems highly likely that he has never practiced in an area where they were a problem. on one chart he lists swellings between toes as something for home treatment, but if it's a foxtail, then your vet will have to use a special instrument to find and extract them. likewise for bleeding or discharge from nose which might be due to foxtail. Foxtails would generally be a "within 24 hours" case. Likewise pain in ear or tilting of head (lowered ear may have foxtail in it), and discharges from penis sheath or vulva, and pus filled abscess type of bumps anywhere. Glaucoma : there is enough in this book to let you recognize that this might well be your dog's problem and that if so she needed attention within hours, as close to "right NOW" as you can manage, as it may make the difference in saving the dog's eye; and in any case glaucoma can be hideously painful so the fewer minutes the dog suffers the better. Diabetes : makes plea to owners to treat their dogs as this is a very controllable disease allowing good quality of life to be maintained.

Ch 9: Breeding and reproduction; includes prevention. Unfortunately does NOT include the sort of sermon about not breeding unless both dogs have been tested for serious heritable ailments and are both very very superior and you are willing to be responsible for all pups for rest of lives, and all the other sermonizing that all us rescue folk would like to see in every book; but it does say if you don't intend to breed, please do spay/neuter for sake of dogs health and reducing population. Lets' remember that in '87 the pet overpopulation or pet throwaway crisis was not as well appreciated by the general public or by vets as it is today (when an increasing number do recognize that throwaway kills more dogs and cats than any other disease or accident). He does advocate spaying before first heat and says it may help prevent breast cancer -- again in '87 it may not yet have been established or widely known to vets that spaying before first heat eliminates over 99% of the risk of breast cancer. Info on birth control meds does not indicate the detrimental side effects, but info on mismate meds does indicate that estrogen can have "toxic" effects without making it clear that it can cause bone marrow suppression and aplastic anemia that is likely to kill you dog (tho maybe today Epogen and Neupogen might be an effective tho expensive rescue treatment), nor that a safer means of pregnancy termination would be RU486 (the French abortion pill).

Ch 10 : Cosmetic surgery. Dewclaw removal a good prevention of injuries; but ears and tails should be left as nature (or selective breeding) designed.

Ch 11 : Genetics and heredity. Very simple. list of genetic diseases (and breeds affected) is fairly short reflecting limited knowledge in '87. Does not include Bouvier among those subject to SAS and glaucoma. List would be much longer today !!!

Ch 12 : Cancer "a chronic disease". Covers the basics very briefly, including diagnostic techniques (as of '87 -- many powerful techniques have been added since then), questions you should ask about proposed treatments, and single paragraph explanations about the main treatment modalities (again as of '87 -- many new treatments and new modalities are starting to be used or are in investigation today). Single paragraphs on skin tumors (benign and malignant), lymphosarcoma, and breast cancer. no paragraph on bone cancer , which is also all too common. The most important info in this chapter is even more true today than it was then : (!) early diagnosis and treatment is most important, and (2) cancer can be considered a chronic illness that can in many cases be controlled so your dog can live free of pain and discomfort (ie for a significant amount of time at least), so euthanasia should be used only if treatment has failed or the dog has a form that is completely hopeless (he does not define hopeless, which I would define as "suffering NOW in way that cannot be alleviated").

Ch 13: Euthanasia. Brief but very much on target. "the hardest decision to make". Explains how it is done and that most vets will allow owner to be present. arrangements for remains. Reverence for life : "I will not euthanize a healthy animal or an animal that has a curable disease" and neither will most other decent vets.

Overall recommendation : this book (or preferably a later edition of same if it exists) is well worth owning and re-reading annually. Altho some of the info is not up to date, the decision making process and decision charts are generally very very good. I would strongly recommend also owning , studying, and re-reading annually a more up to date book such as "The UC Davis Book of Dogs", published in 1995 (and thus probably due for an updating, as already some of the info has been superseded by later developments) and authored by an assembly of distinguished specialists, mostly from the UC Davis VMTH teaching staff. The combination of Taking Care of Your dog's basic decision chart methodology with more up to date info on diseases (eg Parvo, Ehrlichosis) that were not included in Taking Care plus more up to date info on diagnosis and treatment would give you an excellent layman's knowledge of dog health issues.

Your goal as a dog guardian should be (1) to maintain health and prevent accident and disease and (2) to have enough observational, evaluative, and diagnostic knowledge to notice first signs of injury or disease and to accurately assess the urgency and level of care needed. You want to be a good enough partner to your vet that you prevent what is preventable and when you do call on her, she knows that she can pretty much trust your judgement of how urgently your dog needs her attention. You don't want to be the boy who cried wolf, nor the one who slept under a tree while his flock was devoured.

Now all that being said, every decent vet would rather you erred on the side of caution. And for your own peace of mind too, you know you will never regret any vet bill spent for a false alarm anywhere near as much as you will regret the belated care or overlooked/discounted symptoms that led to suffering , disability, or death of your precious companion.

final word

If from extensive reading and other knowledge, you should ever be in position to feel that the vet is not taking some condition or symptom in your dog seriously enough, DO NOT HESITATE to go to another vet (likely either a specialist or a vet teaching hospital or a group practice with an array of specialists) for further testing and evaluation. Your own vet should be all in favor of this ; one who would resent it is not really an excellent vet. Sometimes really aggressive treatment and / or special equipment is needed to make the difference between survival and recovery versus death or disability.


site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1/8/03 revised 4/12/03
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