Veterinary Miracles, Mistakes and Mismanagement...communicating with your vet

(10 Things to remind your vet about Malamutes)

10. Never stare a Malamute in the eyes, or stand over his body - it is a challenge.

9. A Malamute may guard food and treats, even if he won't eat them - especially if he's sick. pup

8. A Malamute will be friendly to people, but can be aggressive to other dogs and cats.

7. He may fence-fight with a dog in the next kennel.

6. When anxious he will howl, and may get the whole clinic going.

5. Some Malamutes are big babies for small procedures and carry on like you are killing them.

4. Malamutes are a pack animal and will become depressed if separated from the pack for long.

3. She may not urinate or defecate in a place where strange dogs have gone (boys are not usually as particular).

2. If you know they must be hungary but refuse food, they are very very sick, and it's imperative you seek medical care IMMEDIATELY.


1. They will never let the veterinarian know they are weak or in pain, no matter how ill they are.

And what YOU need to know about vets:

Why you need to remember these things...

Malamutes are a unique breed to take in for veterinary care. Most veterinarians don't understand how strong the pack ties are or how stoic a Malamute can be. Often they will insist the dog needs to stay for 2 or 3 days "for observation" but often change their minds and allow him to leave early when the Malamute howls nonstop (getting the other patients going) or becomes depressed and refuses to eat. Malamutes will rarely let anyone, let alone a veterinarian, know they are in serious pain. That is, unless you are doing a minor procedure like holding him still to take a temperature or cutting nails, which is especially true with youngsters. Then they may scream and carry on like they are being murdered!

Only a trusted pack member (the owner) will likely know how sick he really is and even sometimes owners are fooled! It's quite common for your extremely sick Malamute to walk into the vet's office and act perfectly normal (making you look like an overprotective mom!) when he is really quite ill. Because of this, many Malamutes are misdiagnosed or thought to be less sick than they are. If a Malamute that normally eats voraciously suddenly refuses to eat, take it seriously. This dog has tremendous survival instincts and when he doesn't eat, something is probably seriously wrong. If you must entice him to eat - try fish or pizza!

In the following stories, I use the term "local vet" broadly. That does not mean all of our "local vets" are bad - as someone once assumed. Local vet is a broad term meaning your run of the mill, down on the corner, does shots and stitches up cuts vet - they may be right out of vet school, or an old timer that hasn't kept up with the times. No matter - ANY vet can be a local vet - even top specialists - if they get sloppy and aren't careful. Don't get burned by one of these veterinarians. There are many good veterinarians - they try hard and love animals and anyone can make a mistake. The moral of these stories is to question, don't assume. It may save your pet's life some day.

The day Penny died she insisted on walking into the MSU clinic under her own power - which had to be incredibly hard and done with pure Malamute will-power considering 10 minutes later they told me she had no visible pulse or respiration, her gums were white and there was nothing they could do to save her as she died in my arms.

If a girl is in season, you may find blood on the floor, but rarely on her vulva as she will keep herself meticulously clean and may clean the floor too! A Malamute will feel absolute embarrassment if they soil their crate or pen, and may not urinate or defecate in a place where strange dogs have gone even if they need to. This is more common with the girls than boys (who love to mark territory!). She may try to hold it until she gets home or can't hold it any longer. Penny once went 3 days without eliminating (both kinds) until we got home from a long weekend.

A Malamute that was in good health before an illness will typically recover quite fast, and will desperately want to return to his regular routine. Even if still sick, it's important to keep his routine as close to normal as possible. If there are other dog members in his home pack, he will feel defensive when first returning home so a crate is helpful. Other Malamutes in the home may vie to move up in the pack and he knows he is vulnerable. Keep him in a protected, safe area, where he can see the others, but they can't get at him. Don't allow him with the group until you sense he is feeling ready and can defend himself.

If you have a pack and suddenly an older dog is the victim of fights (and this wasn't the case previously) there may be an underlying health problem the other dogs sense that you may be clueless about. Have the oldster checked out by the veterinarian. Sometimes they will find something, sometimes not - but I've discovered almost universally something IS wrong and you will eventually find out what it is. Both Penny and Homer were victims of young dogs taking advantage of their vulnerability. In Penny's case we didn't even know she was sick at all - but Holly did. About 6 months after the occasional attacks started, she died suddenly. How did Holly know? We were clueless anything was wrong - she seemed perfectly healthy - but Holly knew.

A puppy buyer called us with a strange situation. His pup was lethargic, vomiting and had diarrhea - she was very weak, but being a good Malamute, tried to look "normal" at the vet's office. Therefore, his vet did not realize the seriousness of the situation. His vet put the pup on diuretics and an antibiotic. Do you see what I see here? A dehydrating puppy put on diuretics? It didn't sound right and we suggested they get a second opinion. Surprise! The pup had coccidia and the diuretics were dehydrating her further. On the proper medication, she made a full and fast recovery - had they continued the diuretic she may have died. Another friend had a dog that had some unusual symptoms. The vet did a blood test and put the dog on heavy medication for what he guessed the condition might be. It turned out what the vet suspected was wrong, but the heavy medication caused other problems that are still not resolved. Get a second opinion if it doesn't sound "right" to you! The small cost of a second opinion is nothing compared to your pet's life or the damage improper medication can cause.

One year we discovered an unusual growth in Star's mouth - it looked like a kielbasa sausage hanging out from under her tongue! Images of cancer and tumors running through my head, I couldn't figure out how it was not there the day before. We consulted our local vet, who admittedly had no clue, and referred us to Michigan State University because she was afraid to operate inside the mouth (bleeding fears) to remove the growth. Lo and behold, it was an impacted saliva gland. Uncommon, but diagnosed properly because the vets at MSU had dealt with this before. It was removed from the neck (not from in the mouth) and Star was fine. A dog's saliva gland goes down the throat. Since then, I have talked to others with similar mysterious growths. When they were drained or removed through the mouth they almost always recurred and suffocated the dog with no warning. If only removed from inside the mouth, it will fill with saliva again, but deep in the throat where it cannot be seen, suffocating the dog. Only if it's completely removed all the way down the throat will the dog recover. Were we glad we went to MSU on that one!

What do veterinarians learn in school? Little about nutrition, nursing puppies, and most reproductive issues. They are indispensable for giving shots, stitching up cuts and routine spay/neuters, but most see only the mundane and typical health problems of dogs and cats. They are not qualified to diagnose anything except common disease and are NOT radiologists. So if you have ANYTHING unusual, ask for a referral to a veterinary school or specialist. You will not regret it.

Even specialists don't know it all...Star died from meningitis and may have survived had SOMEONE told us she needed a spinal tap to identify the bacteria and the correct antibiotic. But no one did - not even several specialists...not until she was in dire condition at the neurologist's did someone even mention it. By then it was too little, too late.

If medicines aren't working for your dog - speak up! Just because they have a medical degree doesn't always mean they know what works best for YOUR dog. You are your dog's advocate and if you discover something is working - by all means nag, pester, argue, change vets if necessary to get what you need for your dog! When Hoover was going downhill we gave him some thyroid in the hopes it just might help - after all - he was dying so what could it hurt? It made an AMAZING difference! When we talked to our vet they wanted some expensive tests before they would even consider prescribing even enough to hold him till the tests got back. We changed vets. Best thing we ever did. It made a huge difference in Hoover's quality of life.

Puppy goes to it's new home. We didn't specify food mainly because we want to give you the freedom to live your own life. I didn't know this would become a life-threatening decision. Anyway, owner decides to feed an expensive, but not well known food - AAFCO guidelines are followed in it's manufacture (not CERTIFED...there IS a difference). Anyway, puppy gets massive diarrhea from the food and owner thinks it's just nerves and separation anxiety. Takes puppy to vet where it is checked for every worm in the book, fleas, and sickness. Nothing is found. Nobody asks what food is this puppy eating and is it adequate for a young puppy. Puppy is given no less than FIVE prescriptions, and frontline for nonexistent fleas (on an 9 week old puppy?) and sent home. Diarrhea gets worse. Again, nobody asks about food - I'm being told he's eating cooked chicken and rice. The burden gets to be too much and they return the puppy, only for us to find out he's been eating a food whose main nutritional value is BIRDSEED AND CLAY. No wonder he isn't gaining weight and has massive diarrhea.

We immediately put him back on a normal puppy food, stop all the excessive medications and VOILA! no sick puppy. Had this continued, he would have died, yes DIED. WHY did the veterinarian not ask about food? Because they don't know anything about canine nutrition - it's not taught all that extensively in vet school - so they just pumped him full of pills instead. They made a lot of money on a healthy puppy by making it sicker than it already was from the inadequate food. Fortunately he was such a healthy puppy when he went to them, he survived. A less sturdy puppy wouldn't have. He's now smaller than average (and we're hoping he can catch up) but the moral of the story is feed AAFCO CERTIFED foods (they've been certified for a reason!). Don't depend on your vet knowing much of anything about canine nutrition - they only know what the sales rep from Science Diet tells the 5 minutes when he drops off a few bags.

And vets DO make mistakes - always keep this in mind. A second opinion can be priceless.

We all grow in our dog experience. With our first dogs we are rank beginners and actually are pretty "dumb", possibly believing "boundary training" actually works, or the dog has accidents on the carpet out of spite, or that our veterinarian knows all the answers. But as time goes on, we learn from our mistakes (hopefully!) and move forward. One litter of Holly's was a tremendous learning experience, as were other events while we've been into dogs. The first and foremost being the quality of veterinarians available. So my hope here is to pass on a little "dog knowledge" and save someone the heartache and near tragedy we almost experienced by going to local veterinarians for things that was obviously "out of their league". I'm sure many of you have vets you trust implicitly - that is fantastic. But personally, I'm tired of dealing with vets that have an "agenda" or can't admit they don't know something, which happens all too often.

Don't deal with your local vet for reproductive issues. Local vets deal mostly with neutered animals and have NO CLUE how to deal with life threatening issues such as pyometra, c-section, and c-sectioned puppies -- not to mention collections, frozen and fresh semen. They are also stretching when you have unusual or difficult symptoms to diagnose. Ask around and find a specialist in canine reproduction if you intend to breed your girl or collect a male, make the trip to the nearest veterinary specialist when it comes to serious disease that is not very common. It may save your dog's life - and it may save your puppies. If you don't have one, contact the nearest 24 Veterinary hospital or University. You will more likely get a useful semen collection rather than excuses. Most local vets "play" at dog reproduction and like to dabble with the difficult cases. Most do not have the knowledge or experience to be successful and many won't admit it!

On the other hand, we've had a reproductive vet mess up big time! A piece of gauze was left in a girl after a c-section. She lived, but only because we saw something was terribly wrong (knowing our dogs so well) and rushed her to MSU. Even MSU didn't realize it was an emergency at first and dawdled - so I had to keep after them. When they finally figured out what was wrong they quickly did surgery and fortunately she was generally healthy so she bounced back - but once again - a second opinion is important. The first vet at MSU was lazy and lax, a second got the ball rolling and was fantastic. As far as the very first vet that caused the problem, well, I can't discuss that for obvious reasons. When you proport yourself to be an expert - you shouldn't be making "new vet" mistakes. Enough said.

A bitch's temperature will drop one degree before labor starts. If labor doesn't start within 24 hours - don't let anyone (including your vet) tell you to "wait" -- even if she is not in distress (Holly was just lounging around). After 24 hrs. you start to lose puppies and may lose your bitch. We were told to "wait" by our local vet and almost lost Holly and the puppies. Their concern is often only that she gets a c-section in time to her life, not her puppies. Typically they have no clue how to save sectioned puppies, so they make no effort to try, and schedule the section for THEIR convenience only.

Some vets cannot read x-rays! We had an x-ray taken by a vet and were told the puppies are all dead. (from an x-ray?). They told me they had never seen anything like it in their 15 years of experience and that she was "reabsorbing" them. I have news for them - two of the "dead" puppies are now sleeping in my whelping box. I was a nervous wreck for 3 weeks thanks to this veterinary clinic's incompetence. I showed the same x-ray to a reproduction specialist - he said they obviously took it a little early and he could see the skeletons and they looked just fine for that stage of development. They were not reabsorbing, deformed or necessarily dead. No one can tell if the pups are dead or alive from an x-ray! A second vet could not tell us the number of fetuses 2 days after her due date passed! Even our untrained eyes could see she was wrong.

An unethical vet will attempt to influence your breeding program. We've had local vets tell us a dog is dysplastic when OFA didn't think so! She had her own agenda - she personally did not like the dog so allowed her dislike to influence her reading and positioning of the x-ray so it wouldn't "pass". The x-ray was redone and sent in to OFA - it was just fine. Just because a local vet proclaims herself to be an "expert" in orthopedics or any other specialty, doesn't make it so. Find out if they have REAL credentials. I've had a vet tell me, and I quote, (when Shadow was extremely ill and dehydrating) that "some dogs deserve to die" because she didn't want to deal with difficult dogs. I couldn't believe it! We promptly got a second opinion and Shadow, with proper treatment, recovered quickly and has made it to old age.

Unethical vets are also lazy vets. One in particular had no clue how to treat a seizuring dog - so rather than referring the people on to a more experienced vet that knew something about neurological problems, he told them the seizure activity the dog was experiencing were "deadly cluster seizures" and the dog would die in two weeks. First of all, he did no appropriate testing to even find out what was causing the seizures - but labeled them anyway. Secondly, cluster seizures (if that's what they were) are very treatable with the right medications. Third, I guess he was psychic because he KNEW exactly when the dog would die - with nothing concrete to go on. He scared the owners so badly they put the dog down without good reason. I am still fuming about this one and would like to get my hands around that vet's throat and the stupid people that accept the word of a lazy vet as GOD without question.

If your vet doesn't call you back in a life-threatening situation - find someone that will - NOW. We took Holly in to see a vet on Saturday and was told if she didn't go into labor by Monday, call and she would do a c-section. I called several times Monday and my calls were never returned - until 4:00 pm through an intermediary - too late to do the c-section and the excuse being she was "busy"! She was too busy with regular appointments to take care of an emergency???? She finally called again at 9:00 pm (by then we had made other arrangements out of necessity) and said "I'll offer you a c-section with Dr. X." I told her I don't know anything about the qualifications of "Dr. X". Her response: "I offered you a c-section, so I'm covered". Is that all she cares about - whether I will sue her for negligence?

Disappointingly, on one occasion even MSU's emergency service did not return my calls either!!!. Frantically we called our dog friends for vets who might be able to do the c-section since we were becoming seriously concerned. That is how we found "Dr. S" - a remarkable man who knew just how long we could wait, knew exactly what he was doing, and saved Holly and her puppies. He took the time to personally evaluate our situation by phone and Holly wasn't even his patient! I was turned down by at least 3 vets who were "too busy" or we weren't their client. Moral of story: If they don't call you back, or are "too busy" for you when you have a life threatening situation and need them now - you NEED another vet!!!

Five years ago when Star had a c-section 2 "dead" puppies were delivered. No real effort was made to revive or save them (I now believe it's because the "local vet" had no clue how!). However, when Holly delivered 4 apparently dead and floppy puppies, our new found vet who specializes in reproductive veterinary medicine, brought his entire staff into action. They worked with these puppies relentlessly - stimulating them, warming them, doing CPR and breathing for them until miraculously one by one after an incredible amount of time they came to life! I would have sworn they were dead - every bit as "dead" as Star's 2 pups (maybe more so - they were much floppier). But knowing what to do and how long to continue, and having the right equipment and staff made a world of difference in whether the puppies lived or died. They were not gentle! They aggressively and relentlessly worked hard for that first breath and every breath after that until the pups were stable. This veterinary practice worked as a team - they knew what they were doing - and did it. They didn't just say ho-hum, I guess we can't save them.

The outcome of surgery can be influenced by many factors. The vet's experience in performing that surgery being the single most important factor, I feel, along with anesthesia, medication and facilities. Star was unconscious for 24 hours after a c-section done by our local vet (Make sure they have enough staff during office hours!) and was on heavy antibiotics, on the contrary, Holly was awake and able to bond and attempt nursing her puppies within an hour of delivery, and needed no antibiotics. An anesthesia that can exit the system quickly is obviously beneficial to the puppies who have a very small window of opportunity to master nursing, and to mom for bonding with them. Having the proper facilities means sterile conditions and less need for antibiotics afterwards. The difference in how each c-section was handled was like night and day. We wonder if the outcome would have been different for Nova had someone more experienced in doing a pyometra spay had been involved. Perhaps not, but I don't ever want to wonder "what if" again.

Finally, even a specialist can make a mistake. One of our girls had a c-section then 8 months later appeared to have the symptoms of pyometra. Turns out the vet left behind a piece of gauze inside her - which caused massive infection and a huge growth the size of a cantaloupe. She almost died. So don't assume ANYTHING and get a second opinion if necessary. It was a good thing in this instance we went to a different vet - I wonder if the vet would have never admitted it - and I would have never known why, had she died....