Look at your dog’s head and predict health problems

The pet insurance branch of Nationwide recently released a report that shows that brachycephalic dogs have a higher risk for several diseases.

Brachycephalic dogs have a flat face. They tend to have a shorter skull, a shorter snout or muzzle and bulging eyes. Because of the shape of their skull, they often have breathing difficulties.

In an English Bulldog, the poster child for brachycephalic dogs, the nostrils are routinely very small (“stenotic nares”). This limits the flow of oxygen. In addition, a Bulldog can have a soft palate that is too long (the back part of the roof of the mouth), everted laryngeal saccules (small fleshy parts inside the larynx or voice box), and a small wind pipe (trachea). This blocks the flow of oxygen even more, which is why these dogs pant all the time. They are literally suffocating.

The smooshed face also leads to extra skin folds that can become irritated or infected.

The report shows a higher risk for skin diseases and eye problems.

Besides Bulldogs, brachycephalic dog breeds include the Affenpinscher, Boston terrier, boxer, Brussels griffon, old English bulldog, shih tzu, cavalier King Charles spaniel, dogue de Bordeaux, French bulldog, Japanese chin, Lhasa apso, mastiff, Brazilian mastiff, bull mastiff, English mastiff, Neapolitan mastiff, Pyrenean mastiff, Tibetan mastiff, Spanish mastiff, pekinese and pug.

What should you do?

All of these dogs can be wonderful pets, you just need to be aware of the health risks before you adopt them.

So what should you do if your dog has similar problems? The secret to avoid breathing problems later in life is to widen the nostrils as early as possible. Several articles* recommend at 3 to 4 months of age. The challenge is to operate on these dogs before the usual age to spay or neuter a dog. I agree 100% with these articles, early intervention is key.

As to the other issues, mainly skin diseases and eye problems, they are a whole different story. See your vet early on, before the problems go out of control.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified


* Source: Here is a quote for an article about these patients: “It is recommended to perform rhinoplasty in puppies with this abnormality at 3 to 4 months of age to avoid progression to secondary changes, such as laryngeal collapse or pharyngeal edema.”

Do you think it’s ethical to put feral cats to work?

Many large cities face an ongoing problem with rodents. For example, if you’ve taken the subway in New York City, you have likely seen a few rats running around.

Same issue in sewers, businesses, docking areas, food and merchandise warehouses, and yes, restaurants!

Another big issue for cities is feral cats. NYC is estimated to have half a million stray cats. Volunteer groups are working all over the country to trap and neuter these cats. In some cases, cats can be relocated.

Cats and rodents typically don’t exactly go along very well…

The simple smell of a cat has been shown to ward off rodents (to be more specific, rats can detect cat pheromones). A recent twist on the trap and neuter concept is to relocate stray cats to areas that have a rodent problem.

To convince the cats to stay in the new location, trained volunteers set up huge dog crates with beds, toys, litter boxes and food. If the new location is a business, the owners must feed the cats twice daily and pay for any needed veterinary care. Once used to the new area, the cats are released and they “take care” of the rodents.  This process usually takes about one month.

The alternative until now was to hire expensive pest control services, and they use chemicals. Now, cities like NYC and Chicago use more natural methods.

One success story reported in New York magazine is “Venkman the Cat,” who takes care of rodent at a Chicago brewery. He is a local star and even has his own twitter feed!


(Source: Chicago’s Empirical Brewery and New York Magazine)

Do you think this is a good idea? Do you think it’s ethical to relocate cat colonies and use them to control the rodent population?

Chime in!

Jessie’s amazing story of the evil belly mass

Jessie, a 9 year old Border Collie mix, came into Brodheadsville Vet Clinic to have an ugly mass evaluated on her belly (see picture 1).

It had appeared a few months prior and grew fairly quickly. It was also starting to look bumpy, oozing and hairless. Jessie’s vet was concerned that it could be cancer due to its appearance and quick growth (see picture 2: compare the size of the mass to the thermometer in her behind).

Jessie was scheduled for surgery the following week. The owner was well aware that the mass could be cancerous, but she was ready to do anything for her beloved dog. Chest X-rays did not show any sign of spreading of the tumor to her lungs.

Jessie was put under anesthesia and went to surgery. The mass was about the size of a pineapple. It started just under the skin but it was now actually invading into the wall of the belly! The mass was carefully removed, both from under the skin and from between the muscles (see picture 3 – the coin is a quarter).

Everything was stitched up and Jessie was recovered from anesthesia (see picture 4).

She was sent home with an E collar (plastic cone) to prevent her from licking the incision. She received antibiotics and pain medications for a week. The mass was sent to the lab for biopsy. After about a week, the results came back. Amazingly, the mass was not cancerous! It was a benign, fatty tumor called a lipoma!

Jessie’s owner was thrilled and relieved. By then Jessie was walking and feeling great, enjoying her new life without a big mass interfering with her walking.

Moral of the story: just because a mass looks “ugly” and grows quickly doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s cancer.

Why Was Willow Suffocating?

Willow, a sweet 18 month old cat (see picture), had been battling repeated upper respiratory infections ever since she was a kitten. Antibiotics helped for a while, but the infections kept coming back. Her breathing started to sound noisier. Breathing became harder and harder. Until she was suffocating.

When I was called by Brodheadsville Vet Clinic to examine Willow, I suspected that she had developed a polyp. A polyp is a benign tumor that can grow in a cat’s mouth (or ear) because of ongoing irritation or inflammation. It can be tricky to see when it’s in the mouth, because it grows over the roof of the mouth, aka the soft palate.

Under sedation, I pulled her soft palate forward and sure enough, we found a huge mass (see video if you think you can stomach it!!!). I gently removed the mass. Willow was carefully monitored for bleeding and difficulty breathing.

The mass was sent to the lab to confirm the diagnosis (see picture). She recovered smoothly from sedation and went home with a few days of pain medication. She was also prescribed some cortisone to hopefully prevent the polyp from coming back.

One week later, the biopsy confirmed that the mass was a benign nasopharyngeal polyp. By then, Willow was feeling great and was thrilled to be able to breathe normally!

The amazing story of Rori and her lung tumor

In June 2016, Rori, a 12 year old Westie, had visited the emergency hospital because she wasn’t feeling well. She was depressed and coughing.

Chest X-rays revealed a mass in her left lung. She did well for a few months, until her next set of X-rays in February 2017.

They revealed that the mass almost doubled in size (the round mass is at the end of the arrow on the X-ray below)!

Because of the high risk of lung cancer, surgery was recommended to remove the part of the lung that contained the tumor.

The odds were definitely against us: about 85% of lung tumors are cancerous. In addition, lung cancer is aggressive: the average survival after surgery alone is around 1 year. Lastly, a tumor that doubles in size in a few months is a definite concern.

Despite the odds, Rori’s owner wanted to provide the best possible quality of life for her dog and elected to move on with surgery.

To remove the tumor, we don’t “crack the ribs” like they say on TV. Rather, we go between 2 ribs. After entering the chest, the mass was found exactly where the X-rays showed. The mass was approximately the size of a nickel (the coin shown below is a quarter).

Below is a video during surgery. Warning !!!


Rori video


That part of the lung (called a lung lobe) was sutured and removed. We did not see any other problem, so the chest was sutured closed.

The mass is visible on top of a lung lobe


The evening of the surgery, Rori ate her first meal !

The next day, she felt much better and was amazingly comfortable. She eventually went home.

A few days later, the biopsy report came back.

Despite the very high odds of cancer, unbelievably, the mass was… benign!

This was fantastic news. It meant that the mass should not affect Rori’s lifespan at all.

Few pet owners would have put their 12 year old dog through open chest surgery, knowing the risk of cancer was so high. But Rori’s owner chose surgery… and was rewarded in an unexpected way.



It’s been 6 weeks since surgery, and Rori is doing very well during her recovery.

I explained to her owner how to slowly increase her activity level over the next month.

Both are thrilled with the idea!