An electrifying veterinary appointment


An unusual force seems to be causing an ailment in a small dog.

Being a veterinarian is a lot like being a detective. There's a crime to solve and clues that leave a trail to the culprit. Sometimes this job is easy; sometimes it requires a great deal of work.

Mrs. Prad was concerned about her short-nosed dog, and she was determined. What was she determined about? She wanted to get to the bottom of why her dog had so much static electricity. As she explained the problem to me she even insisted that she could hear it when the dog slept next to her head on the pillow at night.

The amount of detail she had written down and given me was remarkable. It began with a wordy definition of static electricity that she had obviously copied out of a dictionary, and continued with quotes from her granddaughter's ninth grade physical science textbook. I was perched on a bench in the waiting room reading the letter and wondering why I needed an introduction to static electricity prior to reading the rest of the nine-page (yes, nine-page) handwritten letter about her dog.

I was in the waiting room because Mrs. Prad refused to go into the exam room until I had completely read the letter. Oh my, how I hate to sit still when the place is busy. I hate sitting still period, but when other people are getting impatient while I read a nine-page letter, it's almost impossible to concentrate on what that letter says-especially when it starts with an introduction to physics.

But I decided I was never gonna get to the exam unless I read the letter and comprehended it enough to have a question and answer session, so I focused and read.

Her handwriting was terrible and I had to ask what a word was about every two or three sentences. After 10 minutes of reading and squinting, I came to the conclusion that this was going to be a frustrating case.

You see, Mrs. Prad was convinced that the dog had somehow internalized the static electricity that was causing his hair to stand up in the fall and winter and was now affecting his internal organs. She had researched how electricity travels through different materials, and because she had recently purchased new extremely lush carpet, the incredible amount of static electricity that occurred between her very fuzzy dog and the new carpet had caused the dog to become saturated.

She was afraid the dog was going to die, and was also afraid that the static electricity might reach such a high level that one night it would arc across the pillow while they slept and kill her too.

After we talked awhile, Mrs. Prad informed me that it was time for me to examine the dog, but cautioned me that I should wear rubber gloves to keep my own personal risk down. She told me that she never petted the dog without wearing gloves herself and would not let him walk on the carpet anymore.

I ambled toward the exam room using the slow pace that would give my brain a few extra seconds to come up with what I was gonna do. I put on rubber gloves and picked the critter up and placed him on the exam table. What now?

Nothing was coming to mind from my veterinary school notes that described how to examine a dog for potentially lethal doses of static electricity. Temperature: Normal. Ears, eyes, nose and throat: Normal. Hair coat: Normal. Next came the stethoscope. I put the thing on the dog's chest and everything sounded great. When I slid it back to the abdomen I heard a strange crackling noise. It was like nothing I had ever heard inside an animal before.

I took the stethoscope off and picked the dog up and gently shook it. The more I shook, the louder the noise got. In the quiet exam room the noise was very apparent and the lady exclaimed, “There it is, that's the noise I hear on my pillow at night! It's the electricity popping inside my dog. I'm so glad you're wearing those rubber gloves. Thank God I remembered to tell you.”

As I palpated the pooch's abdomen I felt what the problem was. Do you have any idea what it was?

The dog had bladder stones. Hundreds of them. They had deformed his bladder into a softball-sized bag of marbles that rubbed and ground together when his stubby little nose pulled air into his lungs and moved his abdomen. The grinding resulted in a noise she could only hear at night when her world got silent. Radiographs confirmed the diagnosis and we removed the stones surgically the next morning.

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