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Veterinary Tales, Volume 2: Bronx Chihuahuas

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Veterinary Tales, Volume 2: Bronx Chihuahuas By Dr. Barry KippermanDuring my first year as a vet in New York, I was introduced to a group of Chihuahuas whose unique qualities included the following:

1. They were originally from Mexico but were now indigenous to the Bronx.

2. They were aggressive toward everyone except their caretaker.

3. Their general appearance resembled a veggie meat loaf, (i.e., they were as wide as they were long).

4. Their names were Tiny, Paco, and Pepe.

5. They were mainly fed a diet of paella, Fritos, and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken).

6. They were at a high risk of developing diabetes and pancreatitis.

I called them the Bronx Chihuahuas. These Chihuahuas came to our hospital and were admitted to intensive care for diabetes-a disease most often diagnosed in overweight animals. But once they were feeling better and able to growl and bite again (usually 12 to 24 hours later), they wanted to go home, as they would not easily change their less-than-ideal and inappropriate food habits and consider eating dog food, and paella and Fritos were definitely not on the hospital menu. In addition, it was often very difficult for anyone but their guardian to get close enough to give them their insulin injections safely.

I crossed paths with one such Bronx Chihuahua, Tiny, when I was a vet intern. My supervisor asked for a volunteer to demonstrate to Tiny’s guardian how to give insulin injections to her dog before she took him home. As this was clearly an unenviable, if not outright dangerous, task, the interns drew straws. I lost. I wondered how I was going to preserve my fingers yet come across as a professional (I had only been a vet for a few months). I chose the only self-preserving path I could think of at the time: I “darted” the syringe into a fat pad near the dog’s rear end. Proclaiming victory, I looked at the impaled Chihuahua and announced, “There! See? It doesn’t hurt!”

The client, unimpressed by my injection technique, responded, “You’d better just put him to sleep.” Apparently, none of my rookie colleagues had informed Tiny’s caretaker that lifelong injections would be required as part of Tiny’s long-term health-management plan. Since part of keeping Tiny healthy would also be a new healthier doggie diet, I suggested giving the insulin injections while he ate his new healthier dog food at home. Thankfully, Tiny’s mom realized what the right decision was and committed to the new health plan.

What does Tiny teach us? As always, the best solution to this difficult situation is to avoid it in the first place. Help your animal companion stay trim and fit by giving him or her plenty of exercise, fresh water, and a proper, healthy diet.

And how did Tiny affect me? I always remember to ensure that my clients are willing to inject insulin before treatment of their animal companion’s diabetes. In almost all cases, caretakers are able to conquer their initial insecurities and adapt just fine.

I’m pretty sure a sub-conscious motive for my move to California was to evade the small but no less intimidating, Bronx Chihuahua.

Do you have any tips on treating your animal companion’s health issues?

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    Laura says...

    April 23rd, 2009, 4:42 pm

    Great blog, Dr. Barry, and really funny! I can only echo your advice for a healthy diet. My dogs are both shelter dogs, both elderly now, and both have been on vegan diets since I adopted them. They are healthy in their old age and I definitely credit their vegan diet for that. If they do have a need for medication, I just stick the pill in a dab of peanut butter and down it goes.

    Phyllis says...

    April 23rd, 2009, 11:25 pm

    My 4 year old dog, Cinnamon, had to have cataract surgery and lens replacement last year and the opthamologist told me NOT to give her peanut butter, ( or cheese, hot dogs, or ham which weren’t an option anyway) because all of them can leave fatty deposits in the eye. I found success by putting the pills in a small dab of cat food.
    Regarding the chihuahua, or any dog who might bite, why not use a muzzle? My Jesse, who before he came to live with me had been badly abused, had to be muzzled every time he went to the vet. It was just for a few minutes but it was necessary to keep everyone safe. The vet tech would hand me the muzzle and I put it on Jesse. He was a good dog, really the most loving dog ever, but he had baggage that required a just bit of extra care.

    kathy deleon says...

    April 24th, 2009, 3:40 pm

    I have a wounderful dog named Digger that unfortunately was diagnosed with diabetes 2 years ago and I am sure that my bad habits with feeding him contributed greatly to his health problems, but because of his great Vet I have been able to get his weight down, keep it down and adjust our lifestyles to the injection schedule and very careful choosing of his treats..this is such a manageable disease, so if anywone finds themselves in this particulare situation I would encourage you to keep your chin up and follow the Dr’s advice about the care and it will work out okay. Thanks for all the interesting articles you post!

    Angela Wilkinson says...

    April 24th, 2009, 4:09 pm

    Very sweet story, I have four dogs, all were once homeless and they found
    me, I have also a cat who found me, and last but least a Australian Crimson
    wing parot, who after four years was no longer wanted by his former owner. I give my dogs carrots, apples, pears as treats, they love fruit and
    I often make my own dog cookie treats at home, knowing what goes into the cookie. When I worked in a Veterinarian office as a tech I used a big
    towel to approach a insecure and scared animal, it always worked very well
    As long as the head of the dog/cat was covered with the towel I was able
    to give injections and never got bit or scratched badly by any of our patients. Now if it comes to given a pill to a cat or dog I get some liver wurst and wrap it around the pill, it never failed, but that is the only time I
    give my dogs “human food”, only if I must give them medications.

    kate says...

    April 24th, 2009, 4:43 pm

    Just like us, our dogs just love holistic, organic home made treats as well! Try making them some peanut butter-just put peanuts and a few tablespoons of honey in the food processor, let that puppy puree em for a few minutes and stuff it in a kong. Yummm!

    Idaira says...

    April 24th, 2009, 5:48 pm

    Hi from Spain! Spain in Europe, not from Mexico…

    And I have a little chihuahua! she’s adorable but aggressive too! anyway she eats dog food and she’s healthy!

    Mrs. Lois Koch says...

    April 24th, 2009, 8:27 pm

    I don’t care what people say – – in reading comments such as these and seeing how some people really do help animals, there is hope for this old World after all. I don’t think Our Lord takes these acts of kindness toward His Creations lightly!

    Beth says...

    April 25th, 2009, 12:24 am

    We had a cat named Nikki, who was rescued from the back alleys of Minneapolis along with her 4 kids, 3 boys and a girl. We adopted along with Nikki her only daughter, Samantha. Nikki was obviously a stray that had gotten lost somehow because she was pretty accustomed to people and only allowed her “foster parents” to rescue her after her kids were rescued.

    Anyway, Nikki was diagnosed with diabetes when she was about 2. She actually enjoyed getting her insulin injections because it was a time in the day when she got our undivided attention and praise for being a good girl in letting us give her the medication. The only problem was that whenever it was time to get her blood checked to insure that she was getting the right amount of insulin, she would absolutely fight any and all of the interns and techs at the vets office while they tried to draw blood.

    Throughout her life, we were actually doing pretty good keeping her sugar levels good, not skipping her shots or forgetting, in fact, she was doing just fine with her diabetes when she got sick with cancer and we ultimately had to put her to sleep. She was such a sweet and extremely smart cat–she knew we wouldn’t have taken her to the vet or given her injections if we didn’t love her so much. Her daughter, Samantha is now 13 and other than being a bit overweight, is extremely healthy and rules the entire apartment. Diabetes is just as manageable in a pet as it is with humans, you just have to be willing to go along with what the vet recommends. Your pet will definitely thank you in their own way for the effort, Nikki sure did, and we still miss her to this day.

    Pamela says...

    April 25th, 2009, 2:45 pm

    The same company that makes Greenies treats for dogs and cats also make a Pill Pocket. The pockets come in small and large sizes and you can put a pill, part of a pill or a capsule in the pocket and pinch the top closed. My cats are very, very fussy but they will push each other out of the way to get to them! If I give one of the cats medication, the others think I am giving out treats. They love them. Pill Pockets have made giving medication a lot easier for me.

    Kaletta says...

    May 1st, 2009, 11:55 am

    I know about the pill pockets they do work great. I have a poodle that has seizures so she is on medication to control it. She is so cute as she knows when it is time for her pill and continues to “bug” us. My husband and I have gotten to the point of asking each other if Missy has gotten her pill as she is bugging one of us and most of the time that is what it is we have forgotten her medication.

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