Vet Q & A: Dr. Mary McCarl


By Dr. Mary McCarl

Lavender runs a Vet Q&A in our Pet Issues as well as online. If you have a question you’d like answered by a Veterinarian, email it to [email protected].

1. My dog has had a seizure, which lasted about two minutes. What should I do? What do seizures indicate?

I am sorry that you and your dog had to go through that, seizures can be very scary to watch. If this is your pet’s first seizure, I would recommend visiting a veterinarian and getting a physical exam and some basic lab work done. Seizures can either originate from a problem outside of the brain (extracranial) or inside the brain (intracranial). Some basic lab work can help rule out possible extracranial causes such as kidney or liver disease. If no abnormalities are seen on lab work, it is likely that the seizures are caused from an intracranial problem such as epilepsy, cancer, or head trauma. An MRI is often needed to help determine a cause of intracranial seizures.

I would also recommend keeping a seizure journal where you record how often and how long each seizure lasts. This will enable you to tell if the seizures are becoming more frequent. Each veterinarian is different, but I will typically wait to start medication to help control seizures until they are occurring more often than once a month. Medications can be very helpful to limit the number of seizures that occur, but can carry some risks as well.

2. I’m a first-time pet owner. I’ve never gone through the whole life cycle of an animal before. What should I expect when it’s time for my pet to pass on, whether naturally or with assistance? What is the process?
The end of a pet’s life is a very difficult time for pet owners. It is very common for people to struggle with wondering if they are keeping a pet alive too long or if they are giving up on their pet too early. Every situation is different, so it makes it very hard to plan ahead—even if you have had pets before. With some pets, the decision is taken out of your hands and they die at home peacefully. Other times the dying process can be very scary and uncomfortable for the pet and the owner—in these situations a veterinarian can be very helpful. Many times, end of life does not fit into either of these categories and you end up having to make a judgment call based on the quality of life your pet is experiencing. When your pet is no longer getting fun out of life and not finding joy in the things that have made them happy, it may be time to ask for help. If you are not sure about what to do, make an appointment with a veterinarian and we can try to help you through your decision.

If the time comes where you have made the decision to humanely euthanize, there are options available. There are veterinarians who will come to your house or you can make an appointment at your veterinary clinic. You can choose to stay with your pet throughout the process or you can choose to not be present. We know that this is a difficult time for pets and pet families, so we try to make things as comfortable as possible.

3. My pet looks like she’s smiling. Do animals smile, or is that just a random facial expression?
Animals don’t smile the way you or I would smile. You may be talking about a behavior called a “submissive grin” where a dog will pull their lips up vertically and display their front teeth. This may be accompanied by a submissive body posture such as lowered head and squinty eyes. This is a behavior that is typically done when a dog is feeling submissive. However, with some training they can actually be taught to do this “smile” on command. A submissive grin and a snarl can look similar, so be somewhat cautious if you see this behavior in a dog you do not know well.

In general, when a dog is happy they show relaxed body language. She may wag her tail, her ears are in their natural position, her facial muscles are relaxed, her mouth may be slightly open, and the corners of her mouth may be turned up slightly (as though she is smiling).

Dr. Mary McCarl is a veterinarian at Scenic Hills Animal Hospital in St. Paul. Additional information regarding animal care, pet education and other helpful topics can be found at

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