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LIFE SAVERS; VETS DO MORE THAN EVER FOR AILING PETS.

Byline: Carol Bidwell Daily News Staff Writer

Hunting dogs don't lie around doing nothing. And Travis certainly fit that profile - until a little more than a week ago.

The 9-1/2-year-old Hungarian Vizsla appeared in pain, but his owners never would have guessed Travis had swallowed a pair of nylon stockings and that the hosiery had lodged in his intestines.

Gene Goodwein of Van Nuys rushed his dog to a 24-hour emergency room that Sunday morning, worried, scared and willing to pay whatever it took to make Travis healthy again.

A few decades ago, Goodwein would have had nowhere to turn.

Until recently, serious medical treatment - and even visits to the doctor - were pretty much just for humans. A cat or dog chewed up in a fight might get a few stitches, but mostly pets simply lived and then died.

But today, the same miracles of modern medicine that cure humans of cancer, let them live longer lives with heart or kidney disease, or at least exit life relatively pain-free are available to pets.

And, according to surveys, more than 10 percent of owners also have tried massage therapy, and 9 percent have tried holistic/homeopathic remedies for their dogs.

Pet owners are taking advantage of medical advances to keep their four-footed friends alive and well, with the average family's veterinary bills rising from $131 in 1991 to $186 in 1996, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Emergency clinics generally are even pricier - at least 30 percent more expensive than regular vets.

But Goodwein isn't much concerned with cost when it comes to his pet: ``They'll send me the bill, and whatever it is, I'll pay it.''

He's in good company. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, 38 percent of pet owners surveyed say they'll even go into debt for their pets.

``I don't know that people care more for their pets now,'' said Dr. Garth Peterson, who's practiced for 30 years at McClave Veterinary Hospital in Reseda. ``But they definitely love them, and they want to do whatever they can for them, including treatments that just used to be for humans.''

Indeed, Fluffy and Fido can now benefit from everything from anxiety-ending tranquilizers to cancer treatments, from new heartworm remedies to kidney transplants, from a new doggy Alzheimer's drug to limb-saving orthopedic surgery.

There's even pet CPR.

In the past year and a half, nearly 2,000 pet owners have been trained in animal first aid, including pet cardiopulmonary and mouth-to-snout resuscitation, at Encino-based ABC Rescue's classes. (To sign up for a class, call 818-780-7860.)

The classes work, said ABC owner Craig Jones, who contracts with the American Red Cross to offer the sessions.

``There have been cases of people bringing their dogs and cats - as well as lizards and chickens - back from the brink of death,'' he said.

Need a specialist?

Veterinary Referral Associates in Gaithersburg, Md., sometimes referred to as the Mayo Clinic of veterinary hospitals, is where more than 5,000 families a year turn when their pets are diagnosed with life-threatening cancers and other serious ailments.

Nineteen doctors - 13 of them specialists in neurology, orthopedics, oncology, ophthalmology, radiology, cardiology and nephrology (kidney disease) - plus 65 nurses and technicians care for cats and dogs in the 65-cage hospital.

The cost of care is expensive; a course of radiation treatments for a pet with cancer can cost $3,500, and chemotherapy can run an additional $2,000. Sometimes, there are miraculous cures - dogs brought in comatose from a brain tumor who scamper home happily after surgery, cats with kidney disease who leave with a transplanted organ, perky and purring again.

But there are no guarantees, said VRA administrator Mark Davis.

``We may be just adding six months to an animal's life, and we tell the owners that up front. But they're willing to spend the money,'' he said.

``What's sad is that we have people who come in who can't pay, and it's really upsetting because they'd really like to save their animals.''

Enter pet medical insurance, one of the newer offerings in the pet care market.

As new ways are found to lengthen pets' lives, some pet owners are investing in insurance that covers pacemakers and heart surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, bone replacement surgery and more.

Dr. Jack Stephens is president and founder of Anaheim-based Veterinary Pet Insurance. Opened in 1982, it's America's oldest and largest pet insurance company, with more than 850,000 clients and backed by more than 800 veterinarians.

Premiums run from $99 to $300 or so a year per pet but cover medical procedures costing thousands of dollars.

``It's saving animals that mean a lot to their owners,'' Stephens said. ``People realize the love that a pet gives and want to return that with good medical care. There's no reason anymore to put a pet to sleep when the owner wants to use modern technology to keep it alive.''

While only 2 percent of 1,252 respondents to an American Animal Hospital Association 1998 pet owner survey said they have health insurance for their pet, nearly two-thirds said they would spend $1,000 or more to save their pet's life, whether it's a family pet or a show animal.

Last week, show-dog breeder Stephanie Archuleta of Palmdale took her 3-year-old prize-winning cocker spaniel, Mishka, in to have his chronically swollen tonsils removed, an operation not often performed on dogs. The surgery cost $85.

Swollen tonsils don't ``affect Mishka's looks, but if he's not feeling well, then the dog show is a no-go,'' she said. ``And he's the love of my life. The money I'd spend on him is limitless. He deserves that, and the reason is that he gives me 150 percent - and why should that not be returned?''

At the other end of the pet scale, Geraldine Horvill recently spent $600 for her 6-year-old Pomeranian, Foxy, to have her teeth cleaned and X-rays taken of a gimpy back leg. Her vet told her she's looking at a much bigger bill - perhaps into the thousands of dollars - for surgery to correct Foxy's leg problem.

The Reseda widow can ill afford a big vet bill but says she'll spend whatever it takes to have her companion well again.

``It's very expensive, but I figure I have to,'' Horvill said. ``If you don't take care of 'em, you don't have 'em anymore. And she's my pal.''

ER for animals

The same rule that says you'll have a flat if there's no spare tire in your trunk seems to decree that a pet will become sickest after your veterinarian's office closes for the day.

Without 24-hour emergency clinics - the first one opened 1974 in New York City - pets must suffer, and their owners must worry, until Monday morning when their regular vet's office opens.

But by the time pet owners resort to an emergency clinic, usually the animals already have been ill for a while, said Dr. Daniel Grayson, manager of the Animal Critical Care and Veterinary Specialty Center in Woodland Hills, where Travis was treated.

``So, it's 3 in the morning, and it's an emergency,'' Grayson said. ``Usually when an animal looks sick, it's pretty far along.''

That was the case for Travis.

Doctors at the center spent five hours in surgery with Travis, pumping him full of antibiotics to fight infection. Travis made it until Wednesday, when he slipped into a coma and died. Through their grief, his owners are full of praise for the emergency room doctors.

``They were very compassionate - with both Travis and us,'' Goodwein said, choking back tears. ``They did good work.''

Seeing pets die is the hardest thing about being an emergency vet, said Grayson.

And telling owners the sad news can be even harder, especially today, when most people think of their pets not as animals, but as children.

``It was 5:30 in the morning; his wife had just left him, his father had died six months ago, his mother was dying of cancer, and now his dog was sick,'' Grayson said, recalling a young man with a 12-year-old dog who came to his clinic recently.

``He left her here, and she seemed fine,'' the vet said. ``All of a sudden, she absolutely crashed, and we weren't able to bring her back. That was about the hardest phone call I've ever had to make.''

The brighter side of medical advancement for pets is that better veterinary care, better diet and recent medical advances have all combined to allow pets - like humans - to live longer than ever before.

But that also means veterinarians who were trained to give rabies shots and do minor surgery must learn to recognize unfamiliar symptoms in geriatric animals, said Dr. Patrick Melese, director of Veterinary Behavior Consultants in San Diego and one of the few certified animal behavior specialists in California.

Diabetes, heart disease, cancer and cognitive dysfunction syndrome - a canine ailment that in many ways mimics Alzheimer's disease in humans - all occur in dogs over 8 years old - an estimated 6.5 million in America, Melese said. And millions more aging cats are susceptible to feline leukemia, feline AIDS and kidney failure.

``Back 20 years ago, dogs used to die from being hit by a car. They didn't live as long, and we didn't know as much,'' he said. ``Today, we can increase animals' life span, and we can keep them healthier longer. People expect that of us. And they should.''

To your pet's good health

Here are some of the new treatments and medications now available for dogs and cats. For more information, consult a local veterinarian.

UCLA Medical Center's new Veterinary Radiation Oncology Facility offers cancer treatment for dogs and cats. For appointments, call (310) 473-2951.

Limb-saving cancer surgery. Vets replace bone in cancerous limbs with sections of animal cadaver bones, sparing a dog or cat's life.

More frequent dental checkups. Vets say the bacteria in plaque that forms on dog and cat teeth enter the bloodstream and eventually wind up in the heart, where they can trigger heart disease. They recommend periodic teeth cleaning and at-home brushing.

Clomicalm by Novartis, an anti-anxiety drug with ingredients contained in human anti-depressants, is prescribed to help dogs overcome separation anxiety, resulting in less barking and destruction while owners are away.

Anipryl by Pfizer, taken daily, helps reorient older dogs diagnosed with Cognituve Dysfunction Syndrome, characterized by disorientation or confusion, not recognizing owners, sleep disorders and house-training problems.

Giardia vaccine by Fort Dodge, the latest weapon in the fight against parasites in dogs,prevents and treats the protozoal contaminant giardia.

Chewable Sentinel by Novartis can be administered monthly at home to dogs to fight fleas and prevent heartworm.

New diets. Feline Hairball Diet for Cats, by Hill's, is a laxative contained in a high-fiber premium cat food. Friskies Dental Diet is larger and harder than most cat foods, requiring longer chewing, resulting in a tooth-cleaning effect. Hill's n/d Diet for dogs and cats aids in the healing, immune-system requirements and other special dietary needs of many animal cancer patients. Hill's Canine r/d and w/d and Feline r/d are high-fiber diets that aid in weight loss; vets say obesity is the most prevalent problem among pets and can result in a variety of diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Heartworm Quick Tests for Dogs and Cats. The Heska product makes testing for canine heartworms more convenient, using drops rather than milliliters or cc's of blood, and producing results quicker than the old tests.

CAPTION(S):

6 Photos, Box

Photo: (1--Cover--Color) Taking care of man's best friend

When it comes to our pets, we spare no expense

(2) Collars and leashes share space with a stethoscope at Animal Critical Care and Veterinary Specialty Center.

(3) A technician checks Travis after surgery. The 9-1/2-year-old canine swallowed a pair of nylon stockings, which lodged in his intestines. He was in surgery for five hours at the emergency animal hospital in Woodland Hills.

Andy Holzman/Daily News

(4--5) Upper left, great Dane Ashley before her teeth cleaning at McClave Veterinary Hospital. Above, technician Walter Escobar does Ashley's cleaning. Below left, Deanna Brown, an IV bag in her mouth, carries Travis after his surgery at Animal Critical Care and Veterinary Specialty Center.

Andy Holzman/Daily News

Tina Gerson/Daily News

(6) no caption (Dog)

Tina Gerson/Daily News

Box: To your pet's good health (See text)
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Feb 15, 1999
Words:2066
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