This is the interview with Dr. Fitzgerald, about pet safety during the holidays, on Monday Night Radio. Monday Night Radio is an online (Internet-based) talk radio show where different experts are interviewed, and people around the world can listen via the Internet, and call in to talk with the expert, and ask them questions.
The Internet Patrol’s Anne P. Mitchell, Esq., is the host of Monday Night Radio.
This Monday Night Radio show with Dr. Fitzgerald was first aired on 12/20/10. In addition to reading the interview below, you can listen to the recorded show via iTunes – where you can also subscribe to the podcast of all of the recorded shows. Here is the iTunes link: http://www.MondayNightRadio.com/ref/MNR-iTunes.
Links to the guest’s website and book, if any, are at the end of the interview.
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Anne: Our special guest, he is one of the stars of Animal Planet’s Emergency Vets, but even more than that he is just a darn wonderful veterinarian and a really funny guy. His name is Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald. He is here to talk with us about poisonous Christmas plants, hypothermia and frostbite, all of the problems you might run into with your pets and the holidays, and holiday pet safety and just about anything else we are going to throw at him as well. So, please join me in welcoming Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald. Dr. Fitzgerald, welcome to the show.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Oh, thank you so much for having me on. I am delighted to be with you and your listeners.
Anne: Well we are very pleased to have you here. As you may be aware we are a very animal friendly bunch. So, we are very, very happy to have you here with us. We are listening to Monday Night Radio. You can e-mail Dr. Fitzgerald your comments at email@example.com. You can also call us on our Monday Night Radio line at 866-Monday6. You can send questions via Twitter @mondayradio. Find us on facebook.com/mondaynightradio. Dr. Fitzgerald, before we sort of get into the grist for the mill if you will for what’s going on in the holidays that is particularly dangerous or perhaps not clear in terms of being a danger to pets and their owners or their people, you are billed as having taken what some call the unconventional route to being a veterinarian. Would you be willing to share with us what was so unconventional about that?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well it’s hard to think of yourself as unconventional. All I know is my side of it. So, it seemed pretty conventional to me, but actually it wasn’t. I didn’t get into veterinary school when I first applied. They said, “Well show us you want to do something.” So, I went to graduate school and I got a Masters and a PhD and I put myself through college doing security for bands through different promoters than my promoter here in Denver, Barry Fey and Bill Graham. So, I worked for the Rolling Stones and The Who. I worked for Willie Nelson. I worked for anybody that Bill Graham put on the road between 1969 and 1982. It was great to be a little boy from Denver and get to travel and see the world. It was like running away with the circus. So, I’d worked for the Rolling Stones in the 69 tour, 72, 75, 78. At the end of the 1978 tour Keith was paying the bouncers himself. He was in charge of the bouncers. He said, “Why don’t you do something with your life?” He’s the coolest cat in the world, so if he says something you listen. He said, “You’ve been with us 69, 72, 75. This isn’t going to last forever.” I don’t think he ever dreamed they would still be playing. He said, “People are fickle. You have to do something with yourself. Why don’t you get a grip on yourself and go back to school? Do something.” So, I flew back to Denver and my brother picked me up at the airport. I said, “Keith told me I’ve got to get a grip on things.” So, I tried for veterinary school again and the second time I got in. It was 8 years later, but I think it points out our lives aren’t foot races. We aren’t one dimensional. We can go in different directions and do different things. I do standup. You need something that is not like work. I’ve been doing standup for 25 years. Recently I’ve gotten to open some cities for Joan Rivers and Dennis Miller.
Anne: Very, very nice, and that is certainly a very different gig than working as you do. I’m sure of course on Animal Planet and it’s Emergency Vets, so it is always very high emergencies, stress, and highly emotional. I hope for your sake it is not always like that in your regular practice, but certainly I imagine it is rather different than going out on standup circuit. It’s nice that you sort of have that balance. What I have to ask you than of course is so did in fact being on the road with the Stones prepare you for vet school? Is that why you got in the second time?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well Keith he was always very kind and supportive and the nicest guy in the world and very professional. I think his book shows it. Nothing happened by chance with those guys. They were very organized. I think that watching that and seeing it, you can do something you really enjoy. I work as a veterinarian five days a week. I’ve been at it for 28 years at a busy 24 hour hospital. It’s a harsh mistress, veterinary medicine, but the rewards are great. I’ve been able to go with the Denver Zoo to observe polar bears and go with the North American Veterinary Society to the South Pole to look at penguins. I went with the zoo to Mongolia to put radio transmitters into argali sheep and ibex goats, cinereous vultures and some desert vipers. So, I think our lives aren’t one dimensional. You can do standup and you can do veterinary medicine. Who knows? Maybe I will tap dance.
Anne: You know the thing that strikes me is that it is all service. You’re performing a service and providing relief in the service in all of those capacities. I’m not sure if that is how you see it, but certainly as a veterinarian you are providing a service to the animals and to their people as well, but even doing standup you are giving people some relief and some comedy to sort of take them away for awhile. Again, it’s a service that you are performing just from a different venue.
Dr. Fitzgerald: That’s very kind. That’s very kind. I think…I don’t know necessarily if comedy is service, but maybe it is. I think isn’t that maybe the highest form of human activity when we help somebody else? Isn’t that the best thing we can do? None of us do it enough. Nobody laughs enough. I think I don’t do enough community service things. One thing is I’ve been a judge for the Denver public Schools for the last 25 years for its science fairs. I was at one the other day and this little girl came around her exhibit entitled Atom. What I’ve learned about the science fairs is the little kids don’t write their own spiels, their parents do the exhibits and write all the things. This little girl said, “The atom is very small and can’t be seen by the naked observer.”
Anne: Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a little girl.
Dr. Fitzgerald: No, “the naked observer”, so you can’t write funny things that really happen with our lives. I think people should keep a notebook or something, because the stuff that happens. A woman came in with a puppy and she said, “Quick, quick, my puppy has been poisoned! Someone give me an anecdote!”
Anne: Oh, no. Were you able to keep a straight face?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well, I mean, she needs help. She wants you to help her, so you can’t laugh at her, but afterwards we were all dying. I think everyday our lives bring us if we look for it some joy.
Anne: You are listening to Monday Night Radio with Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, the emergency vet. He is just sounding so far like a darn nice guy and a funny comic. You can call in with your questions or comments for Dr. Fitzgerald, particularly about holiday pet safety or pretty much anything else that has to do with the veterinary field. You can call on our Monday Night Radio hotline at 866-Monday6. That’s 866-Monday6. You can e-mail us questions or comments for Dr. Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet. I really dislike that word, but there you have it. Send us a tweet via Twitter @mondayradio. One other thing that I have to ask before we turn to the meat of the show again if you will is that I am well familiar with the…My daughter worked as an emergency veterinary technician for quite awhile. She is still in the animal rescue field in fact. So, I’ve been exposed to the sort of macabre sense of humor you have to develop when you are faced with tragic situations particularly with helpless animals every day. I think all medical professionals get to this point where they are joking about things that others might not find at all funny, but again it is a way of dealing with some of the really darker stuff you see every day. Does that sort of humor find its way into your comedy routines, or do you really keep that separate and is your comedy routine kind of lighter?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah, I think you need to keep it lighter. I think you have to be careful of that. Certainly there becomes a gallows type of humor, but I think you have to really strive to not become too hardened to it and to still be touched by what happens to these animals. What I have found is that the American Veterinary Medicine Association did a telephone survey in 1957 where they asked people, “Do you think your pet is part of the family?” In 1957, 43% of Americans said, “Yes, yes, the animal is part of the family.” They did the same survey in 2007, 50 years later, and they found that 97% of Americans thought that the animal, their companion animal, their pet was part of the family. So, there has been a change in how people perceive the animal as we become more grey as a population. The empty nesters, the baby boomers that never married, these animals become much more than just companions. So, particularly for very elderly people it is great. They have to get some exercise with the animal. They have to get out there. It gives them some responsibility. They’ve got to go get the food. They’ve got somebody to still take care of. So, I think that as we become more urban and away from nature I think that the tiger on your couch and the wolf in your living room, even though he is a dachshund and not really a wolf and it’s a calico and not a tiger. For some reason, people need animals. They don’t need us. We sure need them. They enrich our lives. I think you have to be careful a little bit about the gallows humor and making it too dark. I think you can maybe educate while you entertain. You can’t write funnier things than really happen. The other night on the news, they had fired the Denver Bronco coach and they were asking on the sports, “If you call in right now to the phone company, you’ll pay a dollar, give me your credit card and vote whether they should have fired him or not fired him. Give us your opinion. At the end of the broadcast we will tell you what the results of the survey were.” At the end of the time they said 65% of the people thought he should be fired. 30% thought he should be retained and 5% were undecided. How do you get up and pay a buck and say, “I’m undecided.” If you are going to pay a buck, I’m just like who are these people? You can’t even write it. I was watching this thing. I’m like wait a minute. 5% got up and said, “You know I have no opinion. I’m happy to pay a buck, but I really have no opinion.”
Anne: You see that. There is comedy everywhere. I actually had a chuckle when you said about the tiger on the couch and the wolf. I’ve actually had a few wolves in my living room, although they were two legged, so that kind of brought me back there. In any event, you are right. You see comedy everywhere and it doesn’t really have to be dark. Let’s talk now about holiday pet safety, just because that is you know at least essentially why we are here.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well that’s right. This is an important time of year. It brings lots of people to the house. The house becomes the center place. We bring in a lot of ornamental plants into the house this time of year. Poinsettia, the beautiful red and some are white and pink actually Christmas plant. Those big red, those are leaves, not actually flowers. The whole plant is poisonous. Teething puppies, and naughty cats that want to chew on things, this is an overrated thing, but the whole plant has an irritating milky sap that can cause irritation to the gums and tongue and cause some GI upset, but it’s really not that poisonous. Mistletoe again the whole plant, the leaves, the stem, the berries they are attractive. For some reason, I don’t know why, maybe boredom. I don’t know with cats why they do it.
Anne: They want a kiss.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah, many dogs want to carry things in their mouth naturally, and teething puppies for sure want to do these things. But this one again, mistletoe is. It’s American mistletoe is the one that we use as the ornamental houseplant, but I guess you could get into trouble if they ate a ton of it and get a foreign body, but it’s really not that much of a poison. Some other ones that are a little bit more irritating, Christmas holly, you know with the spiky leaves, the shiny leaves and red berries is a little more irritating. The sap in these is tough. The English ivy that people sometimes use as wreaths, it can be irritating. Also, Christmas cactus and that calico, both these plants can be tough. The types of things, the preservative in the base of the tree is really just water and dextrose, but the dextrose can allow bacteria to grow, so we can get some upset there. We also can have the dogs chew on pinecones that are used ornamentally or on the tree itself. The real trouble that we see is tinsel. Tinsel for cats is so bad. It causes a linear foreign body. They play with it as it dangles and wrap it around their paws and swallow it. It’s dreadful. So, no tinsel please if you have dogs or cats in the house. Also electrical cords for the Christmas tree lights should be up and out of the way of teething puppies, because they can chew on it and become electrocuted. I think lit candles this time of year with cats can be very dangerous. We have a lot to think about this time of year. Also, we get food poisoning. You wouldn’t think that grandma’s old potato salad thrown away the day after Christmas, or gravy, or a pie crust. All of these things can allow bacteria to grow. Pie crust insulates it, and gravy, what a great Petri dish for that. It’s also anything with mayonnaise in it, like all of the potato salads and egg salads. Those can be tough. If they have been out very long we have to dispose of them. We have to dispose of them in ways that animals can’t get to them. A lot of dogs are ingenious and big enough to knock them over.
Anne: So, I think a lot of people think that animals are much smarter than people in some of those regards and tend to think that if food is spoiled an animal won’t eat it. But it sounds like you are saying that that is not necessarily the case.
Dr. Fitzgerald: It is definitely not necessarily the case. You know from your experience with wolves. Wild dogs are gorgers. They might not get a meal everyday. Anything they come across they are going to gorge. Also, teething puppies and young dogs experience the world through tasting it. So, they taste and will bite into anything. Old food, they will just gulp it. Now, cats are a little different. I think that cats don’t gorge as much as dogs will, particularly these young, growing puppies. Older dogs might be a little bit more experienced and realize that if something tastes bad or smells bad, but I think for many dogs the smellier the better.
Dr. Fitzgerald: So, we have to be careful.
Anne: You are listening to Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald. He is one of the emergency vets on Animal Planet’s Emergency Vets and also E-vets. We will ask him in just a moment what the difference between those two shows is, but you can give us a call and speak with Dr. Fitzgerald at 866-Monday6. That’s 866-Monday6. E-mail us questions at email@example.com. Send us a Twitter message @mondayradio. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/mondaynightradio. Dr. Fitzgerald, before I ask you the question about E-vets versus Emergency Vets, I kind of want to back up a minute to tinsel, because as disgusting and gross as this may sound, it is possible for your cat to have ingested tinsel to the point where you will see it hanging out from under their tail. Am I right? What I have always been told what you should definitely not do is do not pull on it, but get your animal to a vet. Is that accurate?
Dr. Fitzgerald: That is very accurate. It can be wrapped around the base of the tongue, so when you pull, their tongue disappears. It’s bad. Never pull on it. I think any time that your dog ingests anything; your veterinarian is as far away as your telephone. I think that having your veterinarian’s number prominently placed and that everybody in the family knows where it is. This time of year with fires, many veterinary hospitals and certainly fire departments have little labels for the door that says how many people and also how many animals live in that house so if there is a fire, they can know who is in there.
Anne: That’s a really good point. That is really important. We actually have two goats in our backyard. I’m not sure the fire department is willing to wrangle them. So far we haven’t been able to find “Goats in the backyard” stickers. We do have them for our dogs and cats. One other thing, I myself have so many questions. We have callers and well e-mails, but I kind of get to get the first crack, because hey, I’m the host. Chocolate, that is a huge problem during the holidays.
Dr. Fitzgerald: That’s right. What kinds of foods are there? Chocolate. Do dogs have a sweet tooth? No question. No question. Let’s look at chocolate. Chocolate is made from the cocoa bean. So, it has Methylxanthine called theobromine in it, which is a first cousin of caffeine which is in coffee and also in tea. This is theobromine. This is not methylxanthine. That’s what gives us the buzz. That’s when you have those last 20 minutes to drive and you pull over and get some gas and get a cup of coffee and you get a candy bar. In people, the half-life is short lived. We only get probably 20 to 40 minute to 60 minutes, but the half-life in dogs is long because of the nature of their metabolism and how they break it down. So, we can get 17.5 hours. The buzz that they get is longer and higher. It’s not so much milk chocolate as it is uncooked baking chocolate. In 28 years of practice, I have seen two deaths from chocolate. They both happened in dogs under 20 pounds. They both had eaten large amounts of unsweetened baking chocolate. That’s the one when you are at your grandmother’s and she is cooking and she is making brownies, and she has this square of chocolate on the counter, and you say, “What’s that?” She says, “Chocolate.” You taste it and you say, “That’s not chocolate!” When we make milk chocolate we roast it and we ferment it, and it produces sugar. It cooks off the theobromine, 90% of it. So, we only get 45 mg per ounce of theobromine per ounce of milk chocolate, but for baking chocolate it is 450 mg. So, it is ten times as much of the theobromine. So, unsweetened baking chocolate is the one. Milk chocolate itself can be tough. You know when you were a kid your mother gave you nice money to go get lunch after the movie, but you spent all the money on chocolate in the theater. It’s tough on your stomach. It can cause GI irritation and vomiting. So dogs that eat chocolate can be irritated, but really the dangerous one is the unsweetened baking chocolate. We have two to four hours to make animals vomit. Hydrogen peroxide is a great way to do it, but your veterinarian can do it so much more efficiently and faster. So, why waste time. Just get right to your veterinarian if you think that they should vomit. The problem is that the 90 pound lab that eats one Hershey’s kiss doesn’t need to have his stomach pumped. Ok? We are talking about the ten pound Maltese that ate the five ounces of baking chocolate. He could be in trouble. What it does, is that buzz. How does chocolate give us the buzz? How does caffeine and theobromine in chocolate, how do they give us buzzes? Well they release calcium. They help release catecholamines like epinephrine and norepinephrine. They work on the smooth muscle membrane, so we get a buzz from it. It takes up the heart muscle, so it raises the heart rate and it raises it in dogs too high for too long. If you lose them, you lose them quickly and you lose them to cardiac arrest. So, that’s the problem. I think we have to be realistic about it. We should know in the house. What’s poisonous in the house? What are the different things? It is amazing to me how many people don’t know what plants they even have in their own house. They come to me after their plant has chewed up a bunch of plants with a giant pile of green, chewed up leaves and go, “Do you know what this is?” You go, “Wait a minute. I’m not a botanist.” You know? Also, if your animal is poisoned by something in the house, bring the original container if it chewed into a container or it chewed into medicine so we know what the active ingredient is, so we know what we are dealing with. We know how much and how many pills were in there and how strong they are. To me the most dangerous room in the house is the bedroom because of the nightstand. People have medications on the nightstand. Sadly for animals and children, many medications are flavored. Again, dogs certainly have a sweet tooth, not so much cats. Dogs are naughty. They can certainly get on the bed. They are ingenious in getting on table tops. We shouldn’t keep medicine where we have foods or on the nightstand. Old medicine should be taken back to the pharmacist to be disposed of, not down the toilet. It ends up in our water supply. Not left in the trash, because dogs think anything left in the trash is fair game and food. I just saw a thing in the New England Journal of Medicine that said that one half of all medications in the United States that is prescribed are never given. That’s really true. If you look at my mother’s medicine cabinet, she’s got stuff from the 60s. You go, “What is this? Why do you still have this?” She goes, “Well they gave me that antibiotic. I took it for a few days. Then, I was better. I still had some left, so I kept it in case I ever needed it again.” We have so much old medicine out there. This stuff is on shelves, so we get into problems.
Anne: Right. Let’s just so I don’t forget. E-vets and Emergency Vets, I confess I don’t have a television. So, I have seen Emergency Vets, but not E-vets. It’s been awhile. They are both running right now. Is that correct, and you are on both shows?
Dr. Fitzgerald: No, they are in reruns. We did nine seasons of Emergency Vets, which was just our animal hospital and featured all of the different veterinarians of the hospital. The producers, the Animal Planet people, and the nice people at High Noon, they filmed it. They had a producer who would decide which stories would be followed. It was a great time. Animal Planet was just starting off. It was a magic time. The first nine seasons were great. Then, it switched to Emergency Vets: The Interns. Our practice has an internship program where we train young veterinarians right out of veterinary school. It followed young veterinarians for a few seasons. It followed these young veterinarians as they become tested by fire and become acid tested. It follows their first year of cases that they see and shows them from coming out of school as these young veterinarians that are so green. By the time they have had a year in the trenches, they are well on their way. So, that was the difference.
Anne: Did you find when you were practicing and also having the cameras around, what was that like? How was that for, I have to assume this is the lawyer in me talking that if you had there were patients of the day coming in that they would have to sign a release first, how did that all work?
Dr. Fitzgerald: The people had to sign a release. If you would have asked me, I would have told you that 90% of people if their animal is hurt and it was an emergency would have said, “Turn that camera off.” But the majority of people, it’s just only a few cases that I can remember were not interested in having that story followed. The majority, the far and away the majority were nice. The nice people, the original producer Karen Schaeffer Weiser was so wonderful. It was her real vision and voice that made the show in the beginning. She said, “Listen, we will be like a fly on the wall.” There was a producer, a camera man, and a sound person. They really were, but you never really forget the camera is there. It is tough. It doesn’t blink. There would be so many times where…You’re an attorney. You know the law. If I asked you, “Listen, can I ask you three things about a will? I’m going to ask you this question in five minutes, so think about it. I am going to come back in five minutes.” You had time to think about it. You would be very well spoken and be great. But, if I just put a camera in your face and said, “Ms. Mitchell can you tell me three things about wills?” You might stammer a little, “Well, I uh…” You’re thinking and trying to bring it back out of your memory. So that part of it was tough. The other part of it was that I never really could watch the show, because I couldn’t see myself on TV. It’s weird seeing yourself. I would say, “That’s not my neck. That’s my dad’s neck.” You would think, “I can’t look that old! That’s what I look like?” But, it was a wonderful experience. We tried to show veterinary medicine in a positive light and show at the turn of the century where veterinary medicine was, what we could offer people and what types of problems pets and pet owners would get into. The changing dynamic of what we can offer, I’ve been out of veterinary school almost 30 years. We have a CAT scan in our place and an MR. We have ultrasound. We have specialists now. We have three boarded surgeons. We have three boarded internal medicine people. We have an oncologist. We have a neurologist. We have a cardiologist. We have a boarded dentist. We have a dermatologist that comes and works with us. We have boarded radiologists that can read the CAT scans and films and add to your accuracy. Then, there is the poor but honest general practicioners like myself that see whatever the streets of a major urban city can throw at them. It’s been an amazing ride. I think it is a golden time for veterinary medicine because we can offer so much more. People expect so much more. Six percent of American homes have a non-traditional pet. It could be a goat. It could be birds, reptiles. I see anything with a heart beat. We will see ferrets. That’s another thing. When these things go in fads, for your listeners and viewers, the people that are listening tonight and coming across also online, we need to speak up about these animals aren’t fads. To give an animal as a gift without telling the other person is not a great idea. You should research the animal that you take home. It might not be right for your lifestyle. You should try to match it to our lifestyle and see. We should see if it fits. Do you have a yard? Are you gone all the time? Do you travel? Are you a cliff dweller and live on the 11th floor of an apartment building? An Irish setter might not be the dog, maybe a cat. You have children that are allergic to animals. People I think sadly take animals home all the time and don’t realize some of the different problems. They don’t realize in taking beagles home that these animals can bellow. Huskies are very vocal. Siamese cats want to talk all the time.
Anne: Or that goats go into heat every three weeks and are even more vocal than Siamese cats!
Dr. Fitzgerald: That’s right. So, I think people need to do their homework. Things go in fads. 10 years ago, 15 years ago pot bellied pigs, it’s not a great thing. A woman came in with a pot bellied pig and said, “It makes a pretty good pet, but woo what a smell!” Well it’s a pig. It’s a pig in your house. What did you think? Now giant spiders, people have spiders. A guy came in with a plastic shoe box that said, “Giant spider.” Being veterinarians we are not supposed to be afraid of any animals, but I’m afraid of spiders. They’ve got hair and saliva. That’s wrong. A bug shouldn’t have hair on it. This guy came in. He’s got this giant spider. He goes, “Be really careful. He got out a year ago. He bit my roommate in the face and he had to have his head drained.” I was like, “Aaaaah!” I was petrified. I was like, “Well get a phonebook. Let’s drop a phonebook on it.” But, you can’t say that. That’s not a practice builder, dropping a phonebook on your patient. So, we have to give the guy some help. These people are buying these things in pet stores and paying money. They expect the right answers. So, I said, “Well what’s wrong with him?” He said, “He’s just not himself.” I said, “Well he’s not his perky spider self? He called in late for work? I mean, what are you talking about?” He said, “He hasn’t eaten in several weeks and yesterday his leg fell off.”
Anne: Had the spider molted? Was it the exoskeleton?
Dr. Fitzgerald: I was trying to think of some verbiage to tell the guy that, “You know it has been my experience when the leg comes off they are obviously ill.” That sounded right. So, then I remembered the Museum of Natural History has a little Dr. Lick (?). I said, “Go see Dr. Lick the spider expert. He’s going to see you.” About an hour later, Dr. Lick called me up. He said, “Dr. Fitzgerald, Dr. Lick.” He said, “Did you sent Mr. Montgomery over here with this humongous spider?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Did you tell him that in your opinion when the leg came off they were obviously ill?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well if you would have taken the time to examine him, you would have seen he was in fact dead!” But, I didn’t want to get my head drained, whatever that guy said in the beginning. The point is that these are not fads. These are living creatures that share the same life force that we do. So, to have…Now it’s spiders, and last year it was sugar gliders, and before that hedgehogs. So, these animals they can live a long time. Reptiles, some of the turtles can live 50 or 60 years. A parrot can live 75. So, before you take this animal home, is this the right animal? Can you care for it? Are you going to be able to do what this animal needs? Have you researched it? These are not fad creatures. It makes me sad. I think that people need to stand up and speak up about what is being sold in pet stores.
Anne: Oh, absolutely. We are going to go to some listener questions. You are listening to Monday Night Radio with Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, the emergency vet. The number to call in to talk to Dr. Fitzgerald is 866-Monday6. Or, as our listeners seem to be doing mostly tonight, you can e-mail us your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send them via Twitter to @mondayradio. You can send them out in our chat room. We have quite a few listeners hanging out in the chat room. You can certainly send us a question that way. So, Dr. Fitzgerald, one of our listeners has written in an e-mail. They want to know are raisins actually bad for dogs.
Dr. Fitzgerald: That’s a great question. In the early to mid 90s we started to see dogs that had eaten raisins start to show some problems. We didn’t know about it. So, raisins are dried grapes. We started to see some problems with grapes too. So, we look at different things for this. At first we thought that maybe what was happening was that these grapes were fermenting and these animals were developing and showing signs of alcohol intoxication. But now we know that grapes and raisins can cause acute renal failure and kidney problems. What we see is we thought, “Wow. Is it alcohol?” Then we thought, “Maybe it is mold in the grapes.” Then, “No we can’t find any of the aflatoxins and tannins and different mold toxins.” So, then they thought that it was pesticides. Now, we know that it is one, it is not all dogs. Some dogs can eat it, but you should never try it and see, because your dog may not be one of the ones. It looks like is it a food allergy or some type of idiosyncratic reaction with certain dogs. So, no I think no dog should be given grapes or raisins.
Anne: Ok. We have another question that came in via Twitter which says, “We heard that you do something special with turtles in a bar. Can you tell us about that?” Well, I mean, can you tell us about that if you won’t get in trouble? Turtles in a bar.
Dr. Fitzgerald: No, no, no. Well, at one point because of OSHA regulations my boss wouldn’t let me work with some of the different ways that we would repair turtles’ shells when they were hurt. So we see here in Colorado some of the wild turtles that get hit by cars or turtles that are chewed by dogs. So, there’s a certain Irish bar that I would go to once in awhile just for religious purposes and educational purposes and a learning experience to broaden my horizons. So, my friend who owns the bar gave me a really nice area in the back, and we got it nice. We call it the turtle room. We made a nice surgical sterile area back there with equipment. We fix turtles there that get hurt by trucks and chewed by dogs and mauled. We’ve done hundreds of them now. We release them. So, I think if God is a turtle I am in good shape. They are great animals.
Anne: They are.
Dr. Fitzgerald: They are the oldest reptile. It’s nice. I’ve got several young students that usually will come with me. We’ve tried different things to fix the shells. We tried fiberglass. You can’t use it for the water turtles because they sink, but for the terrestrial tortoises it pushes it off after about a year. But there are better ways now with cable ties and different cerclage wire and implants and methyl methacrylate and different things we have tried over the years. So, I like turtles. I think they might be maybe my favorite animal. I hate to see it. I hate to see anybody hurt.
Anne: So you are saying that OSHA wouldn’t allow you to use whatever it was that had figured out would help fix these turtles?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Some of things were, yeah. How can you have bad smells in an Irish bar. You know there is stale perfume and old beer, and maybe somebody barfed over here. So, you know it smells. People are smoking cigars, and the bar. So, nobody notices the methyl methacrylate smell.
Anne: Isn’t that the stuff they use to make artificial nails?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah. You’re exactly right.
Anne: Interesting and very creative.
Dr. Fitzgerald: It gets pushed off in about a year. The new shell is underneath and it pushes it off. You just have to make sure that there is no infection underneath or parasites or anything have gotten in there. I like turtles a lot. The poor stray things are brought in. I was very lucky. I had a great mentor, Dr. Taylor, my boss. He said we are never going to turn away anything that is brought into us. In 28 years we never have.
Anne: I just want to commend you for doing that. I think I mentioned that in my family my daughter had worked in animal rescue. I have also seen her have to deal with just sort of petty and ridiculous regulations that were counter to helping the very animal that everyone was trying to help. So, I give you a lot of credit for doing that. Thank you. Speaking for the turtles, thank you so much for doing that. Another question that came in via e-mail is, “How do I know if my dog has ingested something like a poisonous plant or that bad potato salad?”
Dr. Fitzgerald: Let’s look at our dogs. Let’s check them everyday. By recognizing the normal, we are going to recognize the abnormal that much quicker. Where are your dog’s lymph nodes? Under the jaws, right in front of the shoulders, under the armpits, in the groin, behind the knees. Feeling for lymph nodes, looking at the color, some dogs are pigmented like black labs or Scotties, but most of them have pink gums like us. Are the gums nice and pink? Breathing rate, is he panting? Is he opened mouth breathing? Is there a discharge? How are his pupils? Are they the same size? Are they dilated? Are they pinpoint? Do they respond to light? What should a dog’s temperature be? You can get nice ear thermometers now for dogs that are inexpensive. So, their temperature 100.5 to 102.5. It’s the same for cats. How is their breathing rate? Is he wobbly? Is he weak? Paying particular attention to a dog’s eating habits I think and a cat’s eating habits, a cat that doesn’t eat is sick. People talk about cats being persnickety eaters, but they are good eaters and so are dogs. Their regimen, has he defecated today? How many times does he urinate? Is he urinating more? Less? Is he drinking? So, I think these are the things to look at and to see. I think really three things to think about with our animals, three As: attitude, appetite and activity. How’s his attitude? Somebody rings the doorbell. Does he do his usual things? Is his attitude alright? He’s himself? Activity, is he moving well? Appetite, is he eating? These are the things that we see. These guys enrich our lives. Boy, eating that brings up a whole other thing. I’ve got to come back some time. The biggest problem I see is obesity in animals. We say that now 40-45% of Americans are overweight. It’s come down to our pets. Many of these dogs, every time they dance, the band skips. They are too heavy. Being overweight, it’s not just cosmetic. Being overweight causes problems with your heart or with arthritis. It can cause problems with diabetes of course. So, so many health things now we know are linked directly to obesity. So Lucretius said, “We dig our graves with our teeth.” So that’s really truth. I think that for us, these dogs and cats, you are the gatekeeper. You are the one that decides how much they eat. Everything that goes into their mouths, you are in control of. We can do a so much better job. Americans are overweight, and so are our animals.
Anne: Well now Dr., I’m pretty sure that I just heard you say you will have to come back and talk more about eating. Did you just invite yourself back? Because we would love to have you.
Dr. Fitzgerald: This is the best, because I think that I really tried to research it well and have some things to say. I think that the pet-owning public in the United States is well educated. The people that I see, I see only good people all day. They are people that want help and recognize some problem and have come in. I don’t see bad people. I see animal lovers. So, that is so nice. What I do every day is a privilege. It’s not my right. It’s a gift what I do. I get to see people, and hopefully they trust you enough to take care of their animal. You’ve got two patients. You’ve got the animal, and you’ve got the family to take care of.
Anne: Well we have a question from the chat room about someone. I’m not so sure you would agree that this is someone…well I will let you judge for yourself. The question is, he or she says, “A friend of mine thinks it is funny to let her dog have a beer as a holiday treat. Is this ok?”
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well, no. I mean you think it is funny to see them stumble or stagger, and many of the dogs will drink beer. So, I think would you let a child have a beer? I think there is morally you think of age of reason or whatever. If I have a beer, I understand what it is doing to me and what the results are. That’s my business and that is my choice. But, these guys have no choice and they depend on you for good judgment. That person is showing bad judgment. That’s not kind. These are little creatures that depend on you. They share the same life force that we do. They deserve better than that.
Anne: Yeah, I completely agree with that. I’m glad to hear that that was the answer that no, that is not cool.
Dr. Fitzgerald: You’re their guardian. You’re their guardian. Is that a good guardian? Would you let your four year old niece have a beer? I mean come on. Let’s show a little common sense and a little decency.
Dr. Fitzgerald: I mean I am not a prude.
Anne: How could you be, with your background?
Dr. Fitzgerald: As much as the next guy, I like a beer, but I think they depend on us for good judgment. They are dependent little creatures. They deserve our protection. All over the world animals deserve our protection. Animals are talking to us. Are we listening?
Anne: Oh, I absolutely, amen to that. Let’s go to Gabe, in Boulder. Gabe is on the line. Hi, Gabe. You are on the air with Dr. Fitzgerald. How are you tonight?
Caller #1: I am doing good. How are you doing?
Anne: I am well.
Dr. Fitzgerald: I am good. How are you buddy?
Caller #1: Hello?
Dr. Fitzgerald: What’s your question?
Caller #1: I have questions about second hand smoke and health risks for pets. Are there any health risks for smoking indoors? My grandma smokes cigarettes inside the house. She’s got this little dog. I am wondering if it’s like posing any risk to the animal just in like having people smoking inside.
Dr. Fitzgerald: That’s a great question. The way I would answer it is I have this lady that is an elderly lady that smokes like crazy. I do house calls over there. The whole place smells like cigarettes. Her Persian cat sits on her lap all day long while she watches TV and knits and does her things and talks to her friends on the phone. The cat smelled so much like cigarettes. Its coat, you could just sniff it. The cat had bad asthma. It had bad asthma. So, when the lady herself had to quit smoking for health reasons the cat’s asthma improved. Well we can take cats from these types of situations with allergic forms of bronchitis. Smoke is tough. It is dreadful. It has a lot of different toxins in it. It’s irritating in itself. Our respiratory tracts get overtaxed trying to get rid of it. It ends up accumulating. It’s a tremendous irritant and a potential allergen and a potential carcinogen. So, we don’t know if secondary smoke is directly caused in some of these cases, but we have pretty good indirect evidence. So, I think if it is not good for us it is not good for them. It’s definitely not good for your grandmother. I think cooler heads prevail and maybe we could help her be healthier. Smoke is terrifically addictive. For me to quit smoking, I had to wear nicotine pants.
Caller #1: Wow.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah. (Laughing) It’s a joke. I think that we have to realize that we have to provide these guys with a safe environment. That goes without saying. That’s a great question. I think you are right on the money. I think that it is cumulative over time. She isn’t probably that active, and the dog is in there all day with her. She smokes, and so she is exposing him to irritants and potential allergens and toxins that nobody wants to be exposed to. The animal has no choice. Thanks, Gabe.
Anne: Did you have another question?
Caller #1: Yes. If the animal has respiratory symptoms and my grandma stopped smoking so much indoors, do you think they could improve?
Dr. Fitzgerald: No question. No question.
Anne: You can tell your grandma.
Dr. Fitzgerald: I think it is suspicious that many of these animals have these similar problems. Their respiratory tract is not that much different than ours.
Caller #1: Right.
Dr. Fitzgerald: I think we have to show good judgment for them. It’s another thing of being a guardian and being accountable and responsible for them.
Anne: Thank you very much for the call, Gabe. Happy holidays to you.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Happy holidays, Gabe. Thanks.
Caller #1: Happy holidays to you. Thank you.
Anne: Alright we’ve got questions coming in right and left now. We have a question that just came in from e-mail. This is from Hilary in Boulder. She has two questions. What is the best resource for finding out a complete list of toxic foods and plants and drinks for pets? Maybe the ASPCA, or is there somewhere else?
Dr. Fitzgerald: That’s a good question. There is the Rocky Mountain Poison Center here in Denver. My friend Dr. Bronstein put together a handout. So, that’s one resource. There is a National Poison Hotline. They have a lot of things online. They are at Champaign Urbana at the University of Illinois. That is the National Poison Hotline. You can get that online, National Animal Poison Hotline. There are also are books. The bookstores will have different first aid for animals. The Red Cross puts out a book and so there are several. There are a lot of veterinary books. There’s Peterson’s book that is a wonderful book on small animal poisonings and lists almost every possible poison.
Anne: Related to that, her second question is if one uses peroxide for inducing vomiting does it need to be new peroxide? I’ve heard that the ethicacy declines as the peroxide gets older.
Dr. Fitzgerald: I’ve heard that, but I don’t know that it is true. We use about a cc per pound is what we tell people, but we have other drugs that we can give intravenously that will get everything right out. We only have two to four hours to make them vomit before things move through the stomach and get into the intestines where we can’t make them vomit. So, time is of the essence. It is a critical period. That’s why it is so important I think to have a good relationship with your veterinarian and tell them when you are coming what you think they ate and how much. Take the original container. There may be a 1-800 number, a manufacturer’s number and they can tell you about poisonings. They can tell you about the active ingredient. Then we can do things.
Anne: Poisoning seems to be quite a hot topic tonight. Another question from the chat room, of course you can see these as well. I don’t know if you are also multitasking and in the chat room, Dr., but this question is, “Now that the weather is colder my neighbor has been getting mice in his house so he put bait in his yard. Do I have to worry about my dogs getting a poisoned mouse that may come into our yard? If my dog eats a poisoned mouse, will she get sick from eating a poisoned mouse?”
Dr. Fitzgerald: Right. Great question, great question. Relay poisoning that is called. It’s not much of a problem. It’s not much of a problem. The mouse that is poisoned has so little that they would have to eat so many kilograms of mouse per pound of dog. What they do have a problem with is it doesn’t take very much of the actual poison itself. The old rodenticides were warfarin. It was a cumulative killer. The mouse had to go back several times. Usually these are sweetened grains. They sweeten them with molasses. So the animals have a sweet tooth and will eat it.
Anne: Warfarin is an anticoagulant, right?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Right.
Anne: Do they just bleed out?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Right it causes the mouse to bleed. They bleed and so do dogs and children when they eat it. It non-targets species. You don’t see cats eat it so much. So, we don’t see the relay poisoning. That is a great question, and many people suspect that, but it doesn’t really happen. We’ve not seen that. You would think that maybe they would, but the mouse doesn’t have enough of the poison in it. A rat weighs probably 300 grams. A mouse may weigh 50 to 60. So, they can’t eat enough mice to do it. There are the poisons themselves that are very bad. They sweeten these things. So, probably the number one poison that we see in our practice is rodenticides. The heavy weight are the poisons pound for pound with the highest mortality rate is ethylene glycol, where we just have a shot glass is enough to kill a 20 pound dog, a tablespoon for a 10 pound cat. The other thing this time of year with the cold that people don’t realize is we shouldn’t go warm the car up and then go back in the house and leave the car in the garage running and then go back in and read the paper and finish our bagel, because we don’t realize it and maybe the cat has inadvertently gotten in there. It only takes 10 minutes in a one car garage for a 10 pound cat to get poisonous levels of carbon monoxide. The other thing that we saw yesterday is we saw a fan belt cat this time of year where they climb up into the warm engine after the car is stopped. Then, the next person that starts the car, the fan belt hits the cat and tears it up. So, we have to be careful when we get into cars and this time of year if it is below 20 degrees, they should be indoors. You know with frostbite on cats’ ears and tips of tails and noses and pads, you know if it is bitter cold we need to get them indoors.
Anne: Ok, we have a question now that has come in through Facebook. I am just going to read this word for word if you don’t mind. I don’t think otherwise I will do it justice. This will have to be our last question. I can’t believe we are almost out of time already. It says, “I am babysitting the kitties of my next door neighbor. One is in heat. He refuses to get her spayed, but it is painful to watch and certainly uncomfortable for her. Plus, there is a boy cat living there, but I think he is fixed because he shows no interest. But, the guy speaks almost no English. He is from Taiwan.” I assume she means the owner, not the boy cat. “I don’t know how to comfort her.” I think the question is what to do for this poor cat that is in heat and can’t get any relief.
Dr. Fitzgerald: I think she should talk to that guy and see if he is willing. She could do a low cost. There are low cost spay and neuter clinics all over the country. A lot of people for a very reasonable price you can get that cat spayed. Un-spayed animals, female dogs, by spaying before they go into the first heat, by spaying under two years we get a sparing effect on mammary tumors we see in older animals. So, not only unwanted kittens and puppies, but for mammary cancer, but the main thing is the unwanted puppies and kittens in this country. 3000 puppies and kittens are born every hour in the United States. So, please, please, please be responsible and get your animal spayed and neutered. They are much better citizens and make much nicer pets.
Anne: Dr. Fitzgerald, we are out of time. I am sad, because you have been wonderful. I am wondering if you would like to come back sometime and talk about overweight pets and anything else that is on your mind, because this was great.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah, we didn’t talk about the ten emerging poisonings that I have prepared. We didn’t talk about…This was so much fun. Hopefully it was. You try and put out the real stuff. I’m certainly no expert. I’m a poor but honest veterinarian in the trenches and I’m trying to put out the real stuff for people to think about. Hopefully people will think about their animals and take care of them this holiday season.
Anne: Thank you very much again for being here. That was Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, the emergency vet and also a wonderful veterinarian in Denver and a standup comedian. He is quite the renaissance vet. Have a wonderful holiday. Next week we have a holiday encore performance of our guest, Gandhi’s grandson, Mr. Arun Gandhi. Have a great holiday.
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