Pink dog's nose

In the years of study it takes to become a doctor of veterinary medicine, vets-to-be study constantly. Millions of pieces of information need to be not only memorized but also kept at hand, available for quick recall when dealing with sick animals.

I was thinking about all that we veterinarians need to learn when it hit me, suddenly: Some things really are easier to remember than others. Sometimes it’s because a particular malady is especially interesting from a medical perspective, but other times it’s just because things stick in your head for funny reasons.

Which got me thinking about some of the oddest names for medical conditions in veterinary medicine. Now certainly, the problems themselves aren’t funny, but the names … I can’t forget them. Here’s my list of the five strangest names for animal health problems.

The Names You'll Never Forget

Dudley Nose: Most dogs have black noses, but when they start out black and end up partially or completely brown or pink, that can be a Dudley nose. Although other diseases can cause a loss of pigment in the nose, Dudley nose turns up in some purebreds, primarily, and isn't really a problem from a health standpoint. (Although light-colored noses are a no-no in the show ring for many of those dogs, which may lead to a some cosmetic hanky-panky from time to time, I suppose!) From a veterinary standpoint, you’ll do right by a Dudley-nosed dog by putting some sunscreen on the pink; without protective pigmentation, these noses can get sunburned.

Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease: This one’s a lot more serious than a pink nose. In dogs with LCP, the head of the femur (the long bone in the thigh) begins to disintegrate, typically when the dogs are still in adolescence. In some breeds, the condition appears to have a genetic link. Once a dog is diagnosed, surgery and physical therapy may be needed to insure his quality of life; in every case, the animal will need to be kept from becoming overweight. The disease may have an odd name, but I’d be just fine without ever writing it on a chart again.

Little White Shaker Syndrome: No one’s really sure what’s behind this problem, which is exactly as the name describes: the uncontrollable trembling of little white dogs, most notably the Maltese, West Highland White Terrier and breeds similar to them. Typically the problem starts in a young adult dog, and fortunately it can be treated with medication. For most dogs a single course of treatment will be enough, but in some the problem may be lifelong.

Tennis Ball Mouth: Tennis balls weren’t made for dogs, although it may well be that more are sold for dogs than ever see a court or a racquet. No surprise to any owner of a dog addicted to tennis balls, but some dogs seem so fond of them that the only reason they’ll put down the one they’re carrying is for you to throw it — or maybe to eat dinner. Problem is, the covers on tennis balls are abrasive enough to wear down a dog’s teeth. When veterinarians see that pattern, we call it tennis ball mouth. While it’s not the worst thing that could happen to your dog (by far), it’s a good idea to wean tennis-ball-addicted pets off the yellow spheres and give them more dog-appropriate toys. Get the tennis balls out for a game of fetch, and put them away otherwise.

Wobblers: This is another breed-specific malady. Bells go off in a veterinarian’s head when he sees that a dog who walks like a drunken sailor (or can’t manage to walk at all) is a Doberman or Great Dane. The issue is a compression of the spinal cord in the dog's neck area. As with Legg-Calvé-Perthes, we’re probably looking at a dog who needs surgery. I’d certainly rather see a case of Tennis Ball Mouth than this, but it's still a memorable name.

Strange Names Stay With Us

While there are a lot of things we veterinarians see all the time, sometimes it’s the strange names that stay with us, years or even decades after we’ve graduated and gone into practice. I suppose that’s a good thing, since with names like these I doubt I’ll miss the symptoms of one of these illnesses — even in those cases where I’d rather remember the name than see the condition in an exam room.