Monday, June 25, 2012

DISCUSSION - Distemper and Hepatitis in dogs

As an offshoot of what happened with Major, may be we could discuss what distemper and hepatitis really are and how they can be prevented from affecting dogs. 

According to what I have researched, canine distemper is caused by a virus of the paramyxovirus family and is contagious. It mostly strikes the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems of dogs and manifests itself through a runny nose, fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, heavy breathing, seizures and poor motor coordination. 

Whether a dog will be able to fight the virus depends solely on its immune status, which should be boosted by an annual vaccination routine. In Major's case, our greatest mistake was that we hadn't vaccinated him the year he died, because of which his immune system became extremely vulnerable. 

Hepatitis is also caused by a virus - the canine adenovirus type-1 - and targets a dog's liver. Some of its symptoms are similar to those of distemper, such as loss of appetite, coughing, vomiting and fever. Like distemper, canine hepatitis is also contagious, and a combination of both the diseases can be fatal.

That's the reason why I can't stress enough on the importance of regular vaccinations for your pet dogs. I've learned from my error the hard way, but you don't have to. Care for your dog's health first and all good things will automatically follow.

We get our current dogs vaccinated annually against the following diseases:
1) Distemper
2) Parvo virus
3) Canine hepatitis (Adeno virus 1)
4) Adeno virus 2
5) Rabies

It would also be advisable to check with your vet about new strains of viruses that could affect your dog and ask for vaccinations against them.

And just for the record, what I've written in this post is based on my experiences and limited research. If you have some worthy information you would like to add, or if you'd like to correct me if at all I've said something wrong, please do so in the 'Comments' space.


Following Bimbo's death, and the grief it brought with it, we were rather unwilling to have another dog...apart from Bingo of course. Life went on like this for a couple of years, until our neighbour whisked my sister and I off for a drive one evening in 1996. He told us he just wanted us to get some fresh air. But what he actually wanted us to get was far from that.  

Halting in front of a quaint cottage in a village neighbouring ours, he led us through the gate and into the garden. What we saw there was nothing short of amazing. Eight adorable Labrador puppies were busy on the lawn...chasing small balls, tugging at each other's tails and trampling on top of one another to get a feed from their mother. It was truly a sight to behold. But our joy knew no bounds when we were told that we could choose one of the puppies as our pet! That was how I chose Major.

STANDING STATELY: Major on guard
I knew that Labradors were a pretty expensive breed, but I didn't care. Mom and dad would handle the finance. All I knew was that I wanted to have a pet dog again and Major, a jet black Lab pup, caught my eye instantly. And so we drove back home, him on my lap, the wind in his ears and a huge smile on my face.

Oh, coming to his name. You see, we were bent on calling him Max. But our neighbour - who seemed to have a penchant for naming his pets after dictators or politicians (his own dogs were called Saddam and Mussolini!) - told us that Max was a common name and suggested that we name our pup Major (after UK's John Major). Looking back, I really can't fathom how I agreed to that, but the excitement of having a pup again transcended all other hunting for a name perhaps?

And so Major grew...from a carefree pup to a terrific watchdog, from mischief to obedience, from a playmate to a companion. In fact, we were so fond of him that we considered him to be our little brother. We did almost everything together. I particularly remember reading my lessons aloud to him during exam prep, like as if he would correct me if I went wrong anywhere. To him, I was most surely an imbecile, but for me, he was a support system like no other. He would patiently sit with me through all my revisions and then plant a big, wet kiss on my face and lead me towards the garden for a run. 

I have many, many happy memories of Major, but the saddest one is of his death. Major was almost three years old when he fell prey to distemper and hepatitis. He had lost his appetite, developed a high fever and had poor motor coordination. Repeated trips to the vet and several hours of glucose administration worked only for a couple of days. At one point we thought he was fine again, but he relapsed the very next day and went into an epileptic fit. We knew that there was no point holding on and decided to put him to sleep. But it was a Sunday. The vets were closed. And Major suffered. Helplessly watching my best buddy in the throes of death was by far one of the worst feelings of my life.

After hours of seizures and frothing from his mouth, my Major breathed his last. We mourned for him like we'd mourn for a family member. My mother was inconsolable...Major was as good as her son, and in her words, "my darling".

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Family friends came over to our house one day with a surprise for us. No, they didn't bring us candy or trinkets...they came with a puppy! Their bitch, they told us, had littered a month ago and only two of her five pups had survived. They kept one and gave us the other. And that's how we got Bimbo.

An extremely handsome pup, full of energy and mischief, Bimbo got his name from the subject of a song made famous by Jim Reeves. We initially presumed that he would grow into a medium-sized dog. But as a year passed, we realized that he would be only about half a foot tall. Bimbo, we concluded, was a probable mix between a pariah and a Dachshund.

GET SET...GO! Bimbo ready for a sprint
However, regardless of his small stature, he was a power house of sorts. During his younger years, there were no threats he couldn't bolt away from and no crevices he couldn't creep into. In fact, he was particularly good at sniffing and chasing out rodents that scurried into our house from time to time, and hence, doubled up as a cat.

The other side of him was completely contradictory. He was a softie and loved to bask in the attention of children. I vaguely remember how my sister and I used to doll him up sometimes...complete with sun glasses, nail varnish and a scarf around his head. He was also a good playmate and specialized at treasure hunts (bones being the treasure) and hide-and-seek.

His regular excursions outdoors, however, attracted a lot of ticks to his small body. This - coupled with failing eyesight and hearing, and weakness in his limbs - robbed Bimbo from us sooner than we expected. Looking back, I reckon that some of the ailments he developed could have been an offshoot of random breeding, because although he was given to us much after Bingo, he passed away much sooner.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


LORD OF ALL HE SURVEYS: Bingo in his hay days
With a snow-white coat and symmetrical black patches around his eyes and ears, Bingo looked every bit like a panda bear and lived the lifespan of one too...19 long years! Unable to distinguish his breed - he looked neither like a pariah nor a purebred - my maternal grandfather finally decided that he was a mongrel. Bingo was Papa's cutest dog, and his last one too. 
The most attractive thing about Bingo was his tail...rolled like a coil and perched perfectly on his lower back. He was fairly tall, his legs rather skinny and often coated with the dark grey silt in which he loved to frolic. His eyes were truly a mirror to his soul, because even in his later years with us, they betrayed a glint of mischief through those many clouds of cataract. 
Bingo was one dog who had been there and done ALL that. Be it scouring the hills to chase stray cats or digging up the backyard to hide bones that Papa used to give him from the kitchen, or even lying right in the middle of the road and having motorists negotiate their way around him, there was very little he hadn't done or experienced in his years with us. I remember Papa saying that Bingo cheated death at least twice...once when a coconut plummeted onto his head during a siesta under a coconut tree and next when a drunk biker struck him hard in his hip after skidding on the road one rainy evening.

Unlike your average pet dog, Bingo was a nomad, a free spirit...unwilling to be confined to the four walls of a house or compound wall. He ate and drank at will and would be difficult to trace sometimes, much to Papa's ire. But he was a remarkable watchdog, and could smell a trespasser from a distance even during the darkest of nights. When Bingo barked, we knew we had to be alert.

Papa passed away in 1996 and Bingo, himself entering the winter of his life by then, relied on us for food and shelter, and on May - a British tourist with a passion for dogs - for support. In fact, I think he thought of May as his mother. All he needed was to hear the sharp ring of her bicycle bell every morning as she passed by our house towards the beach, and would dart to her for a treat. May made sure he got all his vaccinations on time and if he was sick, she would treat him gratis. By her own admission, she loved Bingo and cared for him like one of her own.

Eight years after Papa's death, Bingo began fading away. He developed hematoma in both his ears, was having problem hearing, was virtually blind because of his cataract, and became extremely frail too. But I must mention that till his last breath, he was a jewel. He took his medicines without a fuss and tried as hard as he could not to mess the place where we had kept him. Even if he did mess up, the apologetic look in his eyes told us that he didn't mean to.

It was a peaceful evening when Bingo closed those sparkling eyes of his forever. I was 20 at the time and he was nearing 100. But for me, he will be forever 19.