Pet Health

Five Saves Lives

posted January 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Ruth Steinberger

Five Saves Lives is a simple concept that could dramatically reduce the number of animals euthanized in shelters across the country without any additional expense, facilities or staffing. In fact, while reducing the number of unwanted litters, fewer resources will be used, money will be saved and animal welfare programs made easier and more streamlined. Does it sound like a dream come true? It is not. 


Five Saves Lives  is a brand new nationwide campaign developed to educate the public, as well as veterinarians, on the importance of sterilizing kittens and puppies by five months of age in order to prevent pets from producing early, unwanted litters, which often come as a surprise. A Tulsa spay/neuter program is rolling out the carpet for the concept.

According to Peter Marsh, Esq., of Concord, New Hampshire, a founder of the first statewide spay/neuter program in the US, and co-developer of Five Saves Lives, Oklahoma will be the first state in which a large scale FSL campaign will be rolled out. 

The Five Saves Lives Campaign will emphasize two facts that many pet owners may not be aware of: that health benefits from pet sterilization are the greatest for female cats and dogs if they are sterilized before their first heat cycle and female kittens and puppies can go into heat as early as five months of age. As a result, the best time for sterilizing female pets is at five months of age or earlier. Any delay beyond that time will jeopardize the pet’s health.

Dr. Brenda Griffin

Marsh explained that timely pet sterilization will not only benefit individual cats and dogs, it will also reduce pet overpopulation. A study by Dr. Andrew Rowan, a veterinary expert on pet overpopulation, found that close to 90% of all kittens and puppies are born to females who are sterilized after they have given birth to at least one litter. Many of these litters are unplanned and unwanted.

‘Early age’ spay/neuter normally refers to pets that are at least eight weeks old and weigh at least two pounds. According to research accepted by the American Veterinary Medical Association, early age spay/neuter is safe.  Five Saves Lives is a modest approach to the early age concept, moving the timeline back just a few weeks from the traditional six month recommendation.   For veterinarians uncomfortable with the more drastic change from six months to eight weeks, this protocol can have dramatic benefits with a less drastic change in recommendations. 

In support of the concept of preventing the first litter, SPAY OK, a high volume income based spay/neuter clinic located in North Tulsa, will reduce the price of surgeries for kittens and puppies less than five months of age as of January 1, 2008. Spaying or neutering a puppy will cost $20 and a kitten will cost $15.


Esther Mechler, Executive Director of SPAY USA and co-founder of Five Saves Lives said, “Millions of kittens born in this country are in ‘whoops litters,’ meaning they are born accidentally. Many are born because some veterinarians are not spaying cats before six months old.” Noting that cats mature at four to five months of age, Mechler said, “Those few weeks, the ones between four and a half months and six months, are when a lot of unwanted litters are produced. Moving the surgery back in time just a few weeks will save millions of lives on a nationwide scale.” 

Mechler said, “We can gain a lot of ground by changing the timeline slightly. It doesn’t cost a penny more to spay a few weeks earlier, it is easier on animal shelters because the litters are just not born.” 

Brenda Griffin, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM (Internal Medicine), Director of Clinical Programs for the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine said, “Five Saves Lives refers to spaying and neutering pets before sexual maturity, and that not only prevents the birth of unwanted litters, it improves the health of the pets having surgery—and that’s what people need to get.”

Brenda Griffin, DVM, MS Diplomate ACVIM (internal Medicine), Director of Clinincal Programs for the Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, NY

Griffin explained the health benefits to animals sterilized before sexual maturity. She said, “For female dogs you virtually eliminate the risk of breast cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in female dogs. Griffin added, “Everyone has known someone with breast cancer, yet breast cancer is much more common in dogs than it is in people.”  Griffin continued, “If the dog begins to come into season you reduce that benefit. In unspayed dogs we also commonly see serious uterine infections (called pyometra) which are often handled as emergencies once they get older.” Griffin said, “A parallel situation exists for cats.” 

Griffin explained that for male pets, neutering decreases the risk of prostate disease, perianal tumors and hernias.  She said, “We also decrease scent marking by dogs and spraying by cats, as well as inter-male aggression. Many people neuter working dogs because it means that they keep their mind on the job. Less marking, spraying and fighting and better working ability means better pets, so you see, Five Saves Lives is life-saving in many ways!” 

Tulsa Pets Magazine asked Dr. Griffin what she views as the most important part of pet ownership. She said, “Spaying or neutering a young pet is one of the most important things people can do for the life of the animal.  Vaccination, sterilization, some basic training and making sure your pet has identification are the most important things you can do for them.”

Judy Kishner, President of SPAY OK, said, “In addition to the health benefits of spaying pets before sexual maturity, the failure to spay a pet in a timely manner results in euthanasias, animal abandonment, wasted shelter resources and more. An unwanted litter is a completely preventable tragedy.”

Ask the Vet

posted July 15th, 2007 by
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This issue’s participating veterinarian:    Mark Shackelford, 15th Street Veterinary  Group, Tulsa

Q: I have a 15 year old lab female who’s in pretty good shape for her age.   Lately, though, she’s developed this “cough.”   She does it mainly in the mornings and recently it’s become more persistent.   Should she be checked for this?

A: Most definitely.  Coughing can be a symptom of several maladies, including heartworm disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, allergic bronchitis, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart disease, lung cancer, and several other pathologies that can affect the upper and lower airways.  You should see your veterinarian for a full examination, which will probably include a chest radiograph and blood tests.


Q: My older dog has a nasty habit that could be medical-related.  After she goes out to do her “business,” she comes back in a “scoots” across the rug.   It’s especially embarrassing when guests are here.   Is there anything I can do about this?  

A: Your veterinarian can perform an examination to that area of your dog’s anatomy to rule out several causes of her scooting.  Among other things, anal sacs, which are located on either side of the anus, can become impacted and are usually easily emptied by a qualified professional.  Skin allergies can be another major cause of itching, which will cause the scooting.  You want to be sure that fleas are not a problem by using any one of the recommended topical and oral products that are available. 

Q: My old dog (13) is showing signs of cataracts.   How do I know when it’s time to remove them?

A: Cataracts, or an opacity of the lens of the eye, are fairly common in older animals.  Cataracts should not be confused with a more common condition in the older animal called lenticular sclerosis, which is a thickening of the lens of the eye.  This condition of the lens causes a gray color, but does not usually cause blindness.  Cataracts are a complete opacity of the lens, which means light cannot penetrate to the retina at the back of the eye.  This barrier to the retina results in blindness.  Other causes of cataracts are diabetes and trauma to the eye. Observing symptoms of blindness, such as running into walls or furniture, is the time to consider removing cataracts.  A qualified veterinary ophthalmologist can surgically remove cataracts, which can result in a significantly improved field of vision.

Have a question for October’s Ask the Vet Column?   Email [email protected].

Vets and their Own Pets

posted April 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Pat Atkinson

 Area veterinarians share open homes, open hearts, and wide open spaces with a variety of four-footed family members.

Horses, dogs, and cats are most numerous, and there’s a scattering of rodents, reptiles, birds, and fish making themselves right at home among the vets’ pets.

And much of the time, special pets of yesteryear guided their humans to the path to veterinary medicine. 

We thought you’d like to hear some personal pet talk about these furred, feathered, finned family members.


Dr. Melissa Montgomery
Head Vet at the Big and Tiny Zoo

Dr. Montgomery says senior citizen Wellington, a Morgan, "seems to know what I'm thinking" during their 23-year relationship.

There should be a sign in front of the rolling acreage south of Jenks welcoming all visitors to “The Big and Tiny Zoo,” which is what Dr. Melissa Montgomery’s daughter calls the family home.

That figures.  In residence are five cats, three dogs (from a big Mastiff to a little Pomeranian mix), four Morgan horses (all big!), and various smaller species including birds, rodents, and latest arrival Mr. Fishy, a red Beta.

Dr. Montgomery, in private practice for about 20 years, is now the Tulsa SPCA’s veterinarian where there’s no shortage of dogs and cats in need of a foster (or permanent) home.  And, yes, a few have “followed” her home.

The group’s longest-timer is Morgan horse Wellington, age 27, who moved into Dr. Montgomery’s life 23 years ago.  “He seems to know what I am thinking,” she says. “He takes care of our (3) children when they ride him, so he has a special place in our hearts.  And now he goes into his stall and looks around as if to say, ‘Why did I come in here?’ just like I do in the house!”

Other “special” furry friends include Gwyneth, an unforgettable English Mastiff rescued from death row at a municipal shelter (her name means “love and happiness”) who shares 125 pounds of unconditional canine love, and Owen, a most “Garfield-like” cat who once kissed Dr. Montgomery just above the left eyebrow, the exact spot where she kisses him.

Another equine, a pony named Beauty, was this young country girl’s first pet, shared with her brother and sister.  “Beauty was old and kind of lame, but she and I explored the county together.  As I got older, I would take off on her and be gone all afternoon.  I am profoundly grateful to my parents for allowing me that independence.”

After leaving for college, she missed the many family farm animals and soon found that majoring in veterinary medicine “became attractive as a way to be in contact with many animals, but not necessarily have to support them!  So, I guess all the dogs, cats, horses, cows and other animals that I grew up with brought me to my life’s work.”  

And about that “Big and Tiny Zoo” name.  When daughter Bonnie was 3, she had a plan to charge admission to the “Zoo,” but Mom would get in free since her job was to vet the animals! 

Dr. Montgomery, formerly in private practice, is veterinarian for the Tulsa SPCA.

Read the rest of this entry »

Spay Oklahoma’s Don’t Litter Campaign

posted April 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Pat Atkinson

It’s half-way through the day at Spay Oklahoma, the veterinarian just finishing spay and neuter surgery on 15 dogs.  Next on the table: 23 cats. 

Today is a bit slow at the clinic with 38 pets in for surgery (the average is 40-45), but all the animals and their people count toward Spay Oklahoma’s goal of making life better for people and pets in the Tulsa area.

Just before lunch, staff members again check the dogs waking up from anesthesia, looking in on Moose, a 99-pound German shepherd who wants to be hugged, and Bear, a fluffy chow mix puppy being cuddled in a warm blanket.

The “doggie serenade” of woofs, howls, arfs and yips is winding down. The kittys are quiet in their carriers except for Rosealee, a gray tabby mom of six kittens who hasn’t stopped talking since early morning arrival.

After a quick take-out deli lunch, the veterinarian of the day, Dr. Terry Yunker, and four staff members will prep the cats, do surgery, and call families, letting them know when  Moose, Bear, Rosealee and the other patients are ready to go home.

At the end of today, all 38 are “fixed,” rabies and other immunizations given, worming medicine dispensed.

But, what really happens every day at Spay Oklahoma is what will not happen later – the birth of thousands of unwanted puppies and kittens, who usually end up homeless and hungry, neglected, injured, diseased – another statistic to die on the streets or be “put down” at the Tulsa Animal Control facility.  Last year about 12,000 were euthanized, an average of 30 a day.

Spay Oklahoma, a non-profit organization, opened its clinic doors almost three years ago offering low cost spay and neuter surgery for pets of low income residents. It’s the only of its kind in Oklahoma and one of only about 30 in the nation.

Unlike full service veterinarian offices, SpayOK offers only spay and neuter surgery, only for pets of low income families who could not afford to have their animals “fixed,” and partners with area animal rescue/humane groups and shelters – non-profit and city-operated to reach the people and pets in need.

Why create a program that depends on volunteers, a few staff members, and donations from individuals, groups, foundations, and friends to operate?

Judy Kishner, Spay Oklahoma board of directors president, explains:  “Because we have too many dogs and cats and not enough homes, thousands are put to sleep every year at the City shelter.  The only way to reduce that number is spaying and neutering to prevent the birth of unwanted puppies and kittens.”

Eventually, she says, the pet overpopulation will decrease and animals in shelters will have better chances of successfully finding good homes.  And, “fixed” animals have fewer behavioral and health problems, enhancing their chances of remaining in their homes.

Spay Oklahoma board members Nancy Atwater and Ruth Steinberger recently visited a long-standing low fee clinic in North Carolina looking for better ways to do more.  That clinic averages 20,000 surgeries annually.

Last year, Spay Oklahoma did 5,000-plus surgeries estimated to prevent the birth of some 50,000 unwanted animals. The goal for 2007 is 6,500-7,000.

Plans are being explored for a retro-fitted transport truck program working with area groups for same-day pick up, surgery and return to area locations. 

Meanwhile, today’s a wrap at the clinic, scrubbed and sterilized for tomorrow’s expected 45 “pet projects.”

Pat Atkinson is a board member of Spay Oklahoma.

Info Box
Spay Oklahoma
501 E. 36th St. North
918.728.3144 for appointment 

Fees:  Cats $25, Sm. & Med. Dogs $35, Large Dogs, $45
Rabies, other immunizations, $5 each
Callers are screened for income qualifications

Ask the Vet

posted April 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Chris Adolph

Q: I know this is disgusting, but I have a dog who is a poop-eater.   She won’t eat her own but can’t wait to eat the poop of my other two dogs.   I have tried everything from getting that stuff to feed the other two to make their poop “undesirable,” to pouring Tabasco on the other’s poop,    Nothing works.   Now the only thing I can do is run out and scoop every time there’s more poop, but I can’t always do that with the weather.   What can I do?

A: Eating feces is an instinct in dogs.  This behavior is very common.  It seems to be more common in females than males because mothers clean their puppies and the environment by eating the feces.  Males will also do this. You can begin to break this habit by constantly picking up the feces.  This will be easier when the weather warms up. Don’t scold or make a big deal about it. 

Routinely eliminating parasites and feeding twice daily help develop regular outdoor pooping habits and will assist you with regular clean-up to further change the habit.

Use a word for “outside” at the door and another word for “go potty” when she is in the right place. When she relieves herself in the right spot, praise her by saying something like “good girl to go potty outside.” You can also give her a treat as you say this, but don’t let her see it beforehand. This habit will eventually fade.  

You can sprinkle meat tenderizer on food or there is a product called “Forbid” to discourage the habit, but neither of these is a magic bullet.

Q: I have a mutt puppy about a year old who has a beautiful brown coat except for these weird scars on the tops of his ears.   Somebody mentioned that he was probably left outside all one summer and the scars are from fly bites. Would you know what these are, and is there anything I can put on them to make them go away?    He also has scars with no hair on his front feet where his dew claws were removed.

A: The skin needs to be checked by a veterinarian to determine the cause.  In general terms, this is usually called fly strike dermatitis. It can be treated by applying an ointment with insecticides and limiting exposure.  There are other causes and your veterinarian can direct you on appropriate testing and treatment.  Proper diagnosis, treatment and environmental conditions can help minimize the ear scars.  The hairless areas where dew claws were removed are scar tissue and hair does not grow in scar tissue.

Q: My husband and I have a 15-year-old lab female who has lost the use of her back right leg.  She’s not in pain, but I feel it’s time to let her go. My husband says a firm “no.”    How do we know when that time is here?

A: We should not always assume that health problems in older animals are always related to old age. The loss of use of one rear limb can have several causes, most of which are treatable.  Osteoarthritis of the hip and/or knee joints is the most common cause that I see.  There are very safe and effective treatments for this condition.  The other common causes are neurological disorders, ruptured ligaments and trauma.  The key lies in working with your veterinarian to get a true diagnosis.  This will most likely include a complete exam to localize the problem.  Additionally, blood and urine testing determine organ function.  X-rays are critical to determining the cause and sometimes mild sedation is needed to do this.  With this information, your veterinarian can guide and direct your decision-making process. 

Q: I’ve noticed that my 10-year-old kitty is drinking more water, more often every day and he’s in the litter box more than usual. What’s going on?

A: These are common symptoms is older felines and there are many causes.  The most common are diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and kidney failure.  There are many other causes, but this is what I see the most, and each one is treated differently.  The cornerstone is getting a true diagnosis.  This will include blood and urine testing to start with.  This will most likely lead to other tests, but the initial tests will get your veterinarian pointed in the right direction. 

Arthritis in Our Older Pets

posted January 15th, 2007 by
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By Erin Reed, DVM 15th Street Veterinary Group, Tulsa

How do you feel as the weather gets colder? Do you feel stiff and sore when the temperatures drop? Many of our pets experience the same changes.

As our family pets get older, they also exhibit signs of arthritis. We have to rely on changes that we see, since they are unable to communicate with us. Decreased activity, increased difficulty getting up and down, limping and behavioral changes are some of the signs that are suggestive of arthritis.

Both dogs and cats get degenerative joint disease (DJD, also known as arthritis). There are many factors that predispose an animal to DJD. Genetics, obesity and injury are the most common causes of arthritis.

Genetics play an important role, especially with large breed dogs. When possible, it is recommended to research familial and breed problems before purchasing a puppy. Many breeders have breeding dogs OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) certified to decrease the chance of elbow and hip dysplasia being passed on to their offspring.

Obesity is a significant problem in both dogs and cats. By preventing obesity we are able to decrease a significant amount of wear and tear on the joints, therefore decreasing arthritis as pets age.

Previous injuries can also cause arthritis to occur at an increased rate. Many dogs experience torn cruciate ligaments, intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and traumatic injuries that lead to arthritis.

There are many signs that suggest a diagnosis of arthritis, but your veterinarian will usually recommend a thorough examination and laboratory work to rule out any metabolic problems that may initially mimic the vague signs of arthritis, such as Hypothyroidism and Addison’s disease. Once a tentative diagnosis of arthritis is determined, trial therapies may be started. Radiographs are needed to definitively diagnose arthritis, but many times a patient’s response to treatment is also used. Radiographs are needed to rule out any other problems, such as infection or tumors.

Treatment of arthritis has many components. Glucosamine-chondroitin is often started at first signs of arthritis or following injury or surgery to decrease arthritis. Glucosamine helps stimulate synovial fluid, slow down destruction and improve healing of the joint’s cartilage. There are both oral and injectable products that can be used.

Many veterinarians recommend weight loss diets and increasing exercise to battle obesity in all stages of arthritis.

As arthritis becomes more pronounced, NSAID’s (non steroidal anti-inflammatories) are often used to help control pain and inflammation. Even though there are many products obtained from drug stores, never administer any medications without checking with your veterinarian. For example, aspirin can cause stomach ulcers and other medications, like ibuprofen cause kidney damage, even at very low doses. Most dogs respond very well to anti-inflamm atories. Each patient’s response will determine if they need to stay on medication daily or if the medicine can be decreased and given when needed. Before starting any ongoing medication, your veterinarian will usually recommend laboratory tests to check kidney and liver function and then repeat this every 6 months.

Seeing our pets get older is difficult, but in many cases there are preventative measures that can be used to improve and lengthen their quality of life.

Story by Erin Reed