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Published: Monday, 6/10/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

CRITTER CARE

Owner fashions jackets to keep dog on cool side

Special apparel helps allay symptoms of spaniel’s rare disease and beat heat

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tonya Wilhelm enjoys Strawberry Acres Park in Holland with her dog Dexter, 3. The Cavalier King Charles spaniel has a rare neurological disease, and his cooling jacket seems to help, she said. Tonya Wilhelm enjoys Strawberry Acres Park in Holland with her dog Dexter, 3. The Cavalier King Charles spaniel has a rare neurological disease, and his cooling jacket seems to help, she said.
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Heat can be deadly to dogs left in cars. But for Tonya Wilhelm’s dog Dexter, even just strolling around the yard can be more than he can handle.

Dexter, a 3-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, suffers from syringomyelia, a neurological disease. There is no cure, only various treatments to provide comfort and reduce the frequency of episodes.

Symptoms vary from head scratching, face rubbing, general pain, weakness in limbs, lip licking, seeking cool places, excessive body rubbing on floors or the furniture, nerve damage, stiffness in the back and limbs, and curling the body into a C-shape.

Ms. Wilhelm of Toledo started making custom jackets for Dexter because they seemed to help him feel better. Now, she makes custom cooling jackets, harnesses, and collar covers, which aid in keeping him cool.

They are made with light-reflective fabric and contain nontoxic, water-absorbing polymer crystals. The jacket or harness is soaked in cool water to activate the crystals, and they stay cool for hours.

“During our diagnosis at OSU [Ohio State University], I found that having his jacket on seemed to help him not fidget as much on his back lumbar area,” she said. “So I decided to start making him some jackets that fit him well.”

Ms. Wilhelm had a hard time with Dexter’s size — he’s very long and lean. She was getting large sizes and cutting the straps to accommodate his physique.

“I started to post his photos on his Facebook page and his updates,” she said. “People started to ask me to make them a jacket for their dog. I didn’t do it at first, but then realized so many requests were coming in, and others had the same issue as me with sizing.”

Tonya Wilhelm makes Dexter special cooling jackets and collars, using light-reflective fabric with nontoxic, water-absorbing, polymer crystals. Tonya Wilhelm makes Dexter special cooling jackets and collars, using light-reflective fabric with nontoxic, water-absorbing, polymer crystals.
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To help raise money to fund Dexter’s ongoing treatment, Ms. Wilhelm began selling the custom-made coats and other items on dexterthedog.com.

“All the items start with me making something that I feel Dexter needs and can benefit from,” she said.

She started by making snuggle jackets and has expanded to a whole line of dog items including rain slickers, blankets, and now, the cooling line.

Keeping even healthy dogs cool in warm weather is an important consideration that pet owners should be aware of, said Dr. Gary Thompson, a veterinarian at West Suburban Veterinary Hospital in Sylvania Township.

Leaving a dog in a car, even for a few minutes to run into a store, can be deadly. Citizens concerned about seeing a pet left in a car should call the Toledo Police Department, Toledo police Sgt. Joseph Heffernan said.

“We will respond and make sure the animal is safe,” he said.

Panting in cats is never normal, Dr. Thompson said. Dogs will pant excessively, collapse, and possibly have seizures from heatstroke.

“Heatstroke is one step past heat exhaustion,” he said.

Pet owners who suspect heatstroke should call their vets.

“Never give an ice bath or turn a hose on an overheated animal,” Dr. Thompson said. “It’s a great way to develop cardiovascular collapse. Cool them slowly, especially on the extremities.”

A pet that is nonresponsive, vomiting, or does not calm down needs veterinary care right away. The vet will give the animal intravenous fluids and start treatment to avoid shock.

Dog owners also need to be careful not to let their pets walk on hot surfaces.

“Concrete, especially blacktop, can burn feet,” Dr. Thompson said. “Put your palm on the pavement to test it. If it feels too hot for you, it’s too hot for them.”

Pet owners should avoid strenuous exercise on hot days with pets.

“They will not be able to keep up with the heat, and many will literally chase a ball to death,” Dr. Thompson said.

Since Dexter became ill, Ms. Wilhelm has to be careful not to let him overexert himself. He misses chasing Frisbees, she said.

Ms. Wilhelm acquired Dexter in the winter of 2009 from a breeder. “Ever since Dexter has been a part of my life, he has been a part of others’ as well,” she said. “Everywhere we go, we meet people, and he puts a smile on their face.”

In October, 2010, the duo became a registered Delta Society Pet Partner Therapy Team. They have visited various places including nursing homes, schools, and special-needs classes at Whiteford Elementary School in Sylvania Township. In August, 2012, Ms. Wilhelm renewed her therapy dog team registration through Therapy Dogs Inc.

Since being diagnosed with syringomyelia in September, 2012, Dexter has undergone three MRIs, a spinal tap, and many rounds of blood tests. Treatment options include management with drug therapies, which Ms. Wilhelm is currently trying. A future treatment option might be surgery.

“Dexter still has the best personality,” Ms. Wilhelm said. “He is goofy, smart, loves his adventures [although now modified], and lives life to the fullest. I try to emulate him every chance I get.”

Contact Tanya Irwin at tirwin@theblade.com, 419-724-6066 and on Twitter at @TanyaIrwin.



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