Q. Marty, our 6-year-old dachshund, recently developed pain in her back. Now she occasionally doesn't want to jump on or off the bed and will hide under the bed. She eats well and acts normal the rest of the time. I've been told that she may have a slipped disc and should be operated on. Is surgery necessary for her when she seems to be doing OK most of the time?
A. Dachshunds are known for their disc problems. Marty may have a disc that has partially ruptured or "slipped" out of place between the vertebrae in her spinal column. This will often cause intense pain and a reluctance to run or jump. You also may notice a weakness or ataxia to her hind legs that ranges from a slight swaying up to complete paresis or lack of movement. The disc acts like a cushion between the vertebral bones. As Marty ages, the disc may become calcified or may be forced up into the spinal column, affecting the spinal cord.
It is recommended that Marty have a neurological exam by your veterinarian, which should include X-rays of the spinal column. This exam can help locate the affected area in her back. Most disc cases respond well to medication, such as corticosteroids, and restricted activity. If Marty's condition becomes worse and she loses the ability to walk, a special X-ray study called a myelogram may need to be performed in order to locate the exact disc or discs that are causing the problem. Surgery on the spinal column may need to be done to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord caused by the disc material. Physical therapy is essential after surgery, as well as controlling your pet's weight and activity.
Q. I am considering moving from a place where my dog stays in a small yard all day to where she would have a "doggie door" between an apartment and a good-sized, enclosed balcony. While I will be able to walk her regularly, I am wondering about where she will be able to urinate during the day--is there something I can put on the balcony for her? Is there any chance a well-trained, 8-year-old dog will urinate on the carpets?
A. Assuming that your pet is a small- to medium-sized dog, it is possible to keep her confined to a patio or balcony without too much problem. This will require that you exercise your pet in the morning, letting her urinate and defecate, before you go to work. If you are able to come home during the day for lunch, you should let her out again. Most dogs that are well housebroken tend to stay that way if you take the time to exercise them. It is possible to train your pet to use a litter box or washable outdoor carpet. It will require you taking her outside on the balcony and encouraging her use of the box or carpet when you are home. The box will have to be cleaned daily. If she is kept indoors, you can confine her to the kitchen or utility room until she adjusts to her box. Be patient and help her adjust to her new home and set of rules.
Got a question about your pet? Send it to Dr. Glenn Ericson, Ask the Vet, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626. Ericson, a practicing Orange County veterinarian, is president of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn.
ADOPT A PET
Gertie, a 6-month-old German shepherd, has spent most of her puppy life at the shelter. The tri-colored pooch is very friendly and affectionate. Gertie loves to romp and play ball. She would make a good family pet. Gertie is available at the San Clemente Animal Shelter, 320 Avenida Pico (714) 492-1617.
Also waiting to be adopted at the San Clemente Animal Shelter:
MIXED GREYHOUND: Emerald, a spayed female about 2 to 3 years old, needs a special, understanding home and constant companionship because she gets very lonely.
DOBERMAN PINSCHER: Bear, a 7 1/2-month-old neutered male, abused when very young but still possessing a beautiful disposition, was raised with children, and would be a good family dog.
MIXED SHEPHERD: Sparkle, a 5 1/2-month-old female, gets along great with other dogs, is the right age to start obedience training, and would be a perfect addition to any family.
MIXED SHEPHERD: Lilac, a 1-year-old spayed female, is obedient, easy to work with, and loves other animals. She came to the shelter in January frightened and unsociable but is now a volunteer favorite.
The San Clemente Animal Shelter is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. Fee: $25 dogs, plus $20 spay/neuter refundable deposit; $20 cats, plus $10 spay/neuter refundable deposit. Adoption agreement allows owners to return pets having adjustment problems within 21 days.