The Spitz bites
the hand that feeds him
"It's time for my Spitz to meet his ancestors," Mr
Tan said as a matter of fact. Mr Tan was one of those men who showed
no hesitation in getting rid of a dog that bites the hand that feeds
him. "For the past weeks, he bit whenever my children touched
his face. He is already 56 years old since one dog year equals to
seven human years. He must be suffering from Alzheimer's Disease by
being so vicious."
Groomer Ken who transported the Spitz to Toa Payoh Vets
Disease is a progressive, degenerative and always fatal disease that
attacks the brain of people. It gradually strips
a person of mental and physical capabilities and renders him or her
totally incapable of caring for himself or herself."
Groomer Ken reads widely and loves to sell his knowledge. He
continued, "Your dog does not suffer from Alzheimer's Disease. He can still
recognise the family members. That means his brain is functioning
normally." With over twenty five years of experience in dogs, Ken
felt that he could diagnose as well if not better than a newly
graduated veterinary surgeon.
Nowadays, I requested that Ken wait outside the consultation room so
that he does not confuse the dog owner with his advices.
Many owners thought he was a veterinarian as his
stature, broad shoulders and kind eyes behind gold-wired
spectacles and ability to connect with people inspired
confidence in pet owners.
said, "The Spitz looks quite normal, but his behaviour had changed
since he came back from the boarding kennel. He coughed a lot
too. Could he have contacted rabies - the viral disease which make a
dog go mad and bite people and any creature around him?"
"Singapore does not have rabies
for at least thirty years," I replied. "As your dog has not been out of Singapore,
he would not have contacted rabies.
"As for coughing, he could have
contacted kennel cough at the boarding kennel as Singapore dogs are
seldom vaccinated against the kennel cough. This is a bacterial
and viral infection of the upper airways. Usually the dog will
recover. Was he vaccinated before going to the kennels?"
Mrs Tan said, "He has his yearly vaccination. Now, I am more worried that
he will bite my newborn son."
The old dog had to be put to sleep so that the baby would be safe.
That was the crux of the matter.
Was there another option? I looked at the teenaged
daughter of Ms Tan. Her eyes were
swollen as silent tears dripped down from the lower eyelids. Her
made a wise decision.
But today was the end of a good friend who had grown up
with her. Who had kept her company while she studied hard and had
broken hearts of her the naughty boys in the boys'
school across the road.
Now her patient
said this dog was suffering from the canine version of
the human Alzheimer's Disease and had to be put to sleep
due to a change of behaviour to being aggressive.
I needed more information on the dog's history
as I examined this dog. "Will the Spitz bite
if you don't pat his face and which side would cause him to bite?"
Ms Tan said softly, "He bites only when I pat his right cheek."
Definitely, this was no case of dementia commonly seen in Alzheimer's
Disease. This was not a case of the dog going senile and biting his
A strong whiff of bad breath diffused from the dog's mouth into the
consultation room. I could smell it and it was quite
characteristic of severe periodontal disease.
owners live with bad breath of their older dogs. Their nostrils had
been sensitised and they don't smell the bad breath at all.
This Spitz was most likely to be
suffering from a severe tooth-ache in the right cheek. The pain must
be excruciating and since the dog could not talk to ask for help, it had to bear the
pain daily. He bit anybody who caused him more pain by patting his
Now, what could I do to confirm my tentative diagnosis? It would be
foolish for me to open the Spitz's mouth as I had been fore-warned
about his biting.
Today would be the dog's last day on earth. A bright blue sky
with golden sunshine would be a sad day for Ms Tan. So
many more years of companionship. A companion who is
always there for her when she comes home from a lot of
father would not compromise the safety of his first son.
He had eleven daughters in a row and God had finally
given him a son.
It took many years for his wife to produce him a male heir to
perpetuate his surname. And this old biting dog may kill him or infect
him with rabies.
The Singapore Government's policy of "Stop At Two" with its financial
incentives in the 1980s had not any effect on him. He was not interested in
reversing the national population decline. He wanted a male heir and
now he was a proud father of one toddler.
A father at the age of fifty-five. He had no receding fore head
but he had a full crop of silvery hair which commanded respect of a
man who had lived long and had lots of experiences in his roof-repair
and leaking trade.
The only disadvantage was that strangers would say to him when they
see him with his son, "What a handsome grand-son you have!" He
would have some explanation to do and that was why now he had dyed his
hair black. Makes him look younger than a man of his
I could understand why he needed to get rid of the old dog that
might kill his only son.
"From what your daughter said, the behaviour of your dog
suggested that he bit on only his right side when
patted. Therefore, I am very sure that he has a bad
toothache and bites to prevent painful contact from
"Does he go around the house biting your son?" I asked.
"No," the parents shook their head.
"In this case, removal of his loose or bad teeth will
stop him biting anybody."
Ms Tan looked quite relieved that her dog had a
Her father said, "How much it costs to treat his teeth?"
The cost of treatment would be considered prohibitive by
Mr Tan if he was stingy.
"Two hundred dollars including
the anaesthesia, antibiotics and dental scaling and extraction for
Ms Tan looked at her father for an answer. The father
put his hand on his beard and nodded his head. "If you
guarantee that the dog will not bite after dental work,
I will pay the $200!"
No vets should guarantee anything because this dog could
have developed an aggressive behaviour for some time.
Yet without the guarantee, this poor dog just had to be
I looked at Ms Tan. Obviously she was in no position to
decide or to pay. "OK," I said reluctantly.
Now, how should I proceed? Should I prescribe antibiotics for
the next seven days and then do the dental treatment? This would be
ideal as the antibiotics would get rid of most of the mouth bacteria
before dental treatment. During dental treatment, the bacteria
would be disturbed and spread via the blood stream to other parts of
But would the dog be put to sleep at another clinic since I had not
resolved the biting problem on the spot.
One snap of the toddler
who tried to play with this dog and that would triggered Mr Tan's
anger. He would over-ride his children and wife's
wishes to let the dog live to a ripe old age by going to another
veterinarian to put the down
This was a possibility. This was a "now or never"
situation for this old friend of the daughters and wife.
tranquilised it, put it under general anaesthesia. The
right upper premolar tooth was loose. It had a thick
tartar and red painful gum infection. Behind this 4th
pre-molar was an exposed molar. Exposed root of the
tooth. This would be quite painful. I wondered how this
Spitz could tolerate the pain for so long. There were
other teeth with thick tartar. Loose ones were removed
while the good ones were scaled and polished.
happened after the dental work? I phoned up 2 weeks
later. The dog did not bite anybody after its loose
teeth were extracted. "He enjoys eating his food much
more and eats faster nowadays," Ms Tan told me.
It was kind of the family to consult a veterinary
surgeon. Some owners would just get the transport man to
send the dog to the surgery to be put to sleep.
After all, the penalty for biting the hand that feeds
him is death by lethal injection. No compromise when it
comes to a toddler's safety. Yet, there are sound
reasons why an old dog would bite the hand that feeds
him. In this case, it was just to protect himself from
being painfully patted by the daughters or the toddler
and the solution was so simple.