Mozart meets his match in the desert

Porcupines are a darned nuisance to dogs in Ontario, but at least we don’t have wild boars. Those fellows, with their tusks and tough-guy attitudes, can be real trouble as a local airedale learned recently.

In what should be a lesson to all families travelling south with dogs, Mozart Bachlet nearly lost his life to a javelina’s tusks a few weeks ago. Boar-like javelinas or “collared peccaries” weigh-in at an average of 65 lbs and roam the deserts of Arizona and Texas in herds. I know only because we looked it up when a vet in Tucson faxed me a copy of Mozart’s surgery report – presenting problem: “gored by javelina”!

Taking out his sutures the other day, it was a relief to see Mozart left with just small scars to his neck and self-esteem. It could so easily have been otherwise as the javelina’s tusk tore into his flesh just south of the carotid artery. The attending veterinarian commented on its unnerving pulsations right below her needle’s path. For the record, the peccary apparently escaped unscathed.
Although Mozart has had his share of excitement on home turf in Trenton, this is his first misadventure as a “Snowbird” dog. He spends several months in Tucson every winter with his family and, considering all the hazards there, it’s surprising he hasn’t had trouble sooner.

My colleagues in Arizona cite a long list of dangers to dogs in that state including toxic snake bites, poisonous toads, deadly spiders, nasty tick-borne diseases, heatstroke, skin cancers and pesky peccaries. Oh, and someone casually mentioned scorpions. Kinda makes you want to stay home, although I’m sure a list of Ontario wildlife including porcupines, bears, coyotes and fishers could seem equally daunting. The trick is to stop your Mozart from sneaking through the door to pick a fight with the local fauna.

Depending on your destination, potential dangers when travelling may not be as disconcerting as wild peccaries, but it’s wise to know what to expect. What diseases are common? Is heartworm a problem during the season of your visit? Do ticks there carry diseases such as Lyme, ehrlichiosis, or babesiosis?

Customs officials may only require proof of appropriate rabies vaccination, but other deadly viruses such as parvo are much more prevalent in some states than they are at home. Are all of your pets’ vaccines up to date?
Proper identification is vital and should include a tag with a useful phone number, as well as a microchip implanted under the skin. That way, if Mozart chases a javelina into the next county, we’ll still be able to find his owners. A few years ago, one of our patients wandered off during a trip to Florida. The local authorities found our clinic number on his rabies tag, but it was useless while the family was away.

Before travelling with a dog or cat, do a bit of research about the potential risks and ask your veterinarian if any precautions are advised. You might have to give her some time to look up “javelinas,” scorpions and the like.

To help plan your trip, here are some links to websites on travelling with pets:

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario
April 2013