Here's a problem I wish we all shared

10/07/2008 2:37 AM

10/07/2008 2:39 AM

Ann and Chuck are the proud "parents" of an 8-month-old Jack Russell terrier named Rex.

I wanted to thank them for providing his name and, too, the derivation. Apparently, owing to his breed, Rex is quite tenacious and even aggressive when it comes to other creatures. His name is a nod to Tyrannosaurus rex, thought to be quite aggressive in its own right.

Ann and Chuck have a concern that I suspect many of us wish we shared. They recently purchased about 25 acres in Napa. The terrain is both flat and sloping up a northwest-facing hillside that is quite overgrown with vegetation. Their plans are to build a house on the property. For now, they have a trailer.

They're concerned about Rex exploring the new digs and the potential risks. They are aware of snakes, although they are not sure what types, but are sure there are other potential hazards.

I like this type of inquiry because it shows forethought. I suspect any type of dog would relish the opportunity to explore such an environment. Rex, being his Jack Russell self, will likely be especially charged to do so.

I will touch on a few possible concerns. I have some clinical experience with patients from this environment owing to practicing veterinary medicine in that area.

Snakes are present in this part of California as they are in most areas of our state. Overwhelmingly, they are harmless. The one exception might be a Crotalus viridus, the Pacific rattlesnake. These snakes, though quite reclusive, can deliver a venom-containing bite when threatened.

Another concern will be ticks. I am sure this new environment will have plenty. Ticks, as unappealing as they are, generally do not cause too much of a health concern unless Rex becomes inundated with them to the point that their bloodsucking behavior drains too much from his body. Beyond that somewhat rare risk, ticks in the Napa area can pass Lyme disease. This is a potentially fatal disease cased by a tiny organism that is spread from an infected tick to the host while the tick feeds. If diagnosed early, lyme disease is treatable. The best way to avoid problems from ticks is too keep Rex treated with a good tick preventative. I personally use Frontline.

Another concern that comes to mind may not really be a concern for Rex but definitely could be for Chuck and Ann. I am fairly positive that their new property contains poison oak. This bush produces an oil that causes varying degrees of skin irritation and, in individuals who are especially sensitive, it can cause far more severe problems.

For Rex, and most if not all dogs, this oil does not seem to cause problems. In fact, I have never seen a case of poison oak in a dog. The risk comes from Rex romping around his property in ignorant bliss, loading up his hair coat with poison oak oil and then coming home to Chuck and Ann for some cuddle time. A little while later, Chuck and Ann become inundated with poison oak lesions.

I have had firsthand experience with this scenario so many times that I itch just thinking about it. This scenario is a tough one to avoid; I can think of not other way short of bathing Rex after each romp.

Certainly, there are many more concerns and I have just touched on a few that I have had experience dealing with. All of these potential problems could be avoided if Rex is not allowed to roam freely through the new property.

I suspect the answer lies in reducing the risks without eliminating the fun! Sounds like a good way for anyone to live their life.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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