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Book Review
Hound Health Handbook
by Betsy Brevitz, DVM

Review by: Kate Connick, July 2005

Hound Health Handbook, authored by veterinarian Betsy Brevitz, is a helpful and palatable home veterinary reference geared for the average pet owner.

In truth, had I noticed that the book relied on a question-and-answer format, I would not have purchased it. I typically loathe that style of presentation and find it to be a lazy, ineffective way of organizing reference material. And yet, in fairness, that's really not the case here; the format works well with what this book aims to achieve.

Unlike a more technical, Merck-style reference, Brevitz's book is written in a simple, conversational tone that is easily understood without being insultingly dumbed down. The decade she spent as a magazine journalist prior to entering veterinary school was not wasted. She has an engaging written voice that even the least medically minded reader will welcome.

The Q&A format facilitates this conversational, down to earth presentation. Unlike a more hard core reference, this book is inviting to read cover to cover. The result is that it will be read, making it vastly more useful than a more pretentiously composed tome that remains unopened on the bookshelf.

This 443-page paperback is well indexed and has a detailed and logically organized table of contents. Not merely decorative, Kip Carter's illustrations are of excellent quality and meaningfully supplement the textual information.

Several concepts repeat throughout the book. Keeping one's dog properly fed and its weight healthily maintained is stressed, for example. Avoiding common toxins like ibuprophen and discarded food is emphasized, as well. Although seemingly basic, these are the kinds of everyday things a pet owner needs to know.

Each chapter begins with tips on what is an immediate emergency, versus what requires veterinary attention during regular office hours. Questions represent common concerns and touch on a broad range of topics:

"I live in the Northeast, and my dog got two ticks last fall. Should she be vaccinated against Lyme disease?"
"Why does my dog pant so much? Does it mean he's sick?"
"My 14-year-old dog had some blood tests before having her teeth cleaned. The vet told me - rather casually, I thought - that my dog has kidney failure. I'm so upset. Does this mean my dog is going to die soon?"

One can almost hear the pet owners asking these questions. Fodder for the book is largely derived from the web site, on which Brevitz fields a regular column answering questions of this nature.

Not exclusively an anthology of answered questions, the book also includes many sidebars highlighting various additional information, such as the location and function of endocrine glands, how to brush dog teeth, and what to do when one's dog has a seizure. Relevant books and web sites are referenced throughout, for the reader who wants to learn more.

Some information is uneven. I found the "Health Checklist for 130 Popular Breeds" to be a puzzling disappointment, for example. The checklist indicates which breeds are at greater risk for various health disorders. Even though Scottish terriers are vastly more likely than other breeds to develop bladder cancer (see Canine Bladder Cancer), bladder cancer was not among the health problems listed as occurring more frequently in that breed. Bladder cancer is listed under beagles and collies, so it's not as if the disorder itself was omitted. It just isn't indicated for Scotties. Similarly, neither bloat nor osteosarcoma is listed as occurring at a greater rate in greyhounds or Irish wolfhounds.

One could nitpick other omissions, as well (e.g., no mention of ketaconazole or trilostane in the treatment of Cushing's disease), but that would miss the point. The book is not intended as the answer to all questions but, rather, as the place to start in one's understanding.

One especially useful chapter that contains timely information not necessarily found routinely elsewhere is the appendix that discusses pet health insurance. Some information in the book may become dated quickly (including the author's recommendation of ProHeart6, which was pulled from the market in September 2004), but that is almost unavoidable when trying to provide practical, relevant information rather than merely discussing health with sweeping generalities.

To her credit, Brevitz discusses contemporary controversies such as raw food and vaccination. She also tactfully includes information about various alternative remedies, often placing them in a "couldn't hurt - might help" category. She continually emphasizes the importance of a good relationship with one's veterinarian, reminding the reader that, "It's never wrong to call your veterinarian if you have a question... That's what we're here for."

This book won't address every health concern, nor cover topics in tremendous depth, but that's not the intention. Brevitz accomplishes her goal of attempting to demystify common veterinary concepts for the regular pet owner. The real strength of this book is in the accessible writing style. The book will be read, understood, and the reader will remember key points. Very reasonably priced, this is an especially appealing book for gift giving.

Hound Health Handbook by Betsy Brevitz, DVM
Published by Workman Publishing Company, 2004. ISBN: 076112795X

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