First published in L.A. Times Magazine, Oct. 7, 2008
Is having a doggie dermatologist over the top? Not if you need one.
Among the mystical questions to ponder—Is there life after death? Are there black holes in space?—the toughest of them just might be, How the hell do you find a good veterinarian in this town?
First of all, talk to everyone you know who has a dog. Usually there’ll be good-vet stories and bad-vet stories. If a good vet is mentioned more than once, go there. If the bad-vet story comes up more than once, run away, men!
Recently, I saw Izzy licking his tail, and I saw a small area that was red, wet and bumpy. You already know I’m obsessed with my standard poodle. Every breath he takes, every lick he makes, I’ll be watching him. So I pay attention. If it’s routine cleaning, I move on. Some (all) would say I’m a hypochondriac, but it’s important to find a doc who knows what he or she is doing.
So I tried one vet and got the old “it’s a hot spot” diagnosis. “Put some powder on it, and it will go away.” Basically, that’s the vet version of “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” Nothing improved, so I went to vet two. I was told to wrap it, use some ointment and, oh, Izzy might need to have his tail cut off.
Panicked, I asked two strangers on the street with dogs—and coincidentally, both mentioned the Animal Dermatology Center (13125 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-981-8877). Who even knew there was such a thing?
Botox for dogs? No. But after I arrived, Dr. Alexander Werner shaved Izzy’s tail and gave him antibiotics and special shampoo. Not only will his tail not have to be lopped off, it’s as beautiful as ever. (In fairness, other vets did offer that the condition might resolve itself.)
Now, schlepping Izzy in for medical care is no walk in the park. Hoisting his 80 pounds onto the table is something no one looks forward to (them, me or Izzy). So before I head to the vet, I pull from my arsenal of home remedies: If he gets a tummy ache or has a loose stool, I make rice and boiled chicken, with a little Pepto-Bismol if needed; if his ears are dirty or have yeast, I use a product called T8 Keto Flush; if he hurts himself or seems to have a pain, I give him Ascriptin (adult aspirin coated with Maalox to protect his stomach).
When our beloved Norton (also a standard poodle) developed arthritis, rather than put him on steroids, which can harm a dog’s liver, I gave him Missing Link’s Canine Plus with Joint Support and Joint Fuel by Twinlab. And they worked. I’d do the same for Izzy. I always have Benadryl in case he gets stung by a bee. I also watch Izzy’s skin like a hawk: Every night at bedtime, I give him what he thinks is a great massage, but I’m actually looking for lumps or any other skin mysteries.
Don’t take everything you hear from your vet as the last word. If there’s time, always get a second opinion before you have any sort of procedure. (Obviously, not a good plan for emergencies.)
A few places to keep in mind for your veterinary needs: I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about Animal Surgical & Emergency Center (1535 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-473-1561), which doesn’t really surprise me, because they saved Norton four years ago. He has since passed away, and we thankfully haven’t needed an emergency center with Izzy. I have also had good experiences at VCA McClave Animal Hospital (6950 Reseda Blvd., Reseda, 818-881-5102). Both of these cliinics have doctors on call 24 hours a day: If Izzy needs a doctor overnight, or if something feels like an emergency, that’s what I would want. Many animal hospitals don’t have 24-hour access, so you do need to ask.
For peace of mind—and potential peace of pocketbook—investigate pet insurance. I have VPI (Veterinary Pet Insurance), and it has paid off for me over the years.
When it comes to helping Izzy stay healthy, I think about the old Henny Youngman joke: Guy goes to a doctor, raises his arm and says, “It hurts when I do that.” Doctor says, “Well, don’t do that.” It’s not quite that simple with veterinarians. You have to be your dog’s voice, to say, “Doctor, it hurts his paw when he does that.”
And the answer should not be, “Well, don’t do that.”
illustration by jessie hartland