Monday, December 30, 2013

Canine Grief, by Dr. Dani McVety

sad dog
Photo by Djalexej
The loss of a dog can be quite traumatic not only on the family as a whole, but also specifically on the other dogs left behind. Many of these signs are based on the dog’s natural personality. For example, a subordinate dog may become introverted, hiding and not wanting to interact with the family with the loss of a more dominant companion. Conversely, some dominant dogs may become very clingy or appear abnormally nervous (panting, pacing, searching for their friend, etc) if their “pack” seems to have been lost. These behaviors are general, however, and may be seen in any dog. Based on these outward signs that pets cannot voice to us, it is clear they can experience grief when a companion dies.

There have been studies that document changes in pets' behavior after the loss of a loved one (human or non-human) that include fluctuations in appetite, vocalization, and interaction with housemates.  I believe that many of these are related to their reaction to their owner's emotions, not simply their own.  Pets handle the Circle of Life so much better than we do;they understand the ebb and flow of life -we are the ones that have a problem with it!  Yes, they certainly grieve, but they do it so much more gracefully than us.  Just as every person will differ vastly in our signs of heartache and pain, as do pets.  Each one will be different and unique.  I have seen 2 year old Labradors not come out from behind furniture after the death of their housemate.  I have also seen 2 year old Labradors step on the body of their housemate just to give their owner a kiss.  Some owners become angry or upset that their other pets do not openly grieve, one even said to me "how can he eat at a time like this!?" We are each unique and individual creatures and we have a lot to learn from our animal companions about this amazing Circle of Life.

When changes are seen, it is normal for them to last 10-14 days after the loss of a companion. You may try to take their mind off of it by providing them with more attention and affection. Long walks, playing, and engaging in favorite activities, (especially those done with the companion that passed) can help build confidence and stimulate mental enjoyment. Use environmental enrichment techniques such as toys, (especially those that allow you to hide a treat inside like Kongs), to help keep them busy during the day. If your dog is too depressed, they may not respond right away. Remember, time heals all wounds. You may also consider a DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser, available at most pet stores. Give it few days then start encouraging the dog to do more using their favorite rewards that you do not use at any other time. If symptoms do not subside after two weeks, you may consider taking your grieving pet to a veterinarian. There are medical and even holistic approaches to canine grief that can be particularly helpful including antidepressants, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. Some more severe cases may also include stress colitis (diarrhea) and may necessitate a visit to your veterinarian sooner.

If your grieving dog is now an “only child,” some owners ask if they should get it a new companion to prevent loneliness. While this may work for the more sociable and extroverted breeds, it doesn’t work for all, especially highly dominant dogs. It is best to allow your dog time to heal. Most experts recommend waiting at least 2-4 weeks (sometimes longer) before introducing a new pet into the household.

Remember, your dog may miss your lost companion just as much as you do!

Written by: Dr. Dani McVety 

Dani McVety, DVM
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice
(813) 407-9441

Dr. Dani helps families in the Tampa / St. Pete area. She also consults for veterinary clinics and industry on end-of-life care for our companion animals.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Do I REALLY need to give heartworm prevention year-round? By Dr. Dawnetta Woodruff

This is a question I am asked on a regular basis by clients and friends. In my part of the country (central Midwest), the answer is a resounding YES!! I have seen well-meaning owners give heartworm prevention 9 or 10 months out of the year, and their dog tests positive from exposure during the 2-3 months they skipped during the winter that they thought were “safe.” To understand why this can happen, it is important to know a little more about heartworm disease.

“First, adult female heartworms release their young, called microfilariae, into an animal's bloodstream. Then, mosquitoes become infected with microfilariae while taking blood meal from the infected animal. During the next 10 to 14 days, the microfilariae mature to the infective larval stage within the mosquito. After that, the mosquito bites another dog, cat or other susceptible animal, and the infective larvae enter through the bite wound. It then takes a little over 6 months for the infective larvae to mature into adult worms. In dogs, the worms may live for up to 7 years. Microfilariae cannot mature into adult heartworms without first passing through a mosquito.” (Quoted from the American Heartworm Society.)

Heartworm Lifecycle

Copyright 2007 American Heartworm Society
So heartworms are carried by mosquitoes…  and during a mild winter, we could see those annoying little critters pop up even in January or February! Since you can’t tell when we might have a spell of warmer-than-normal weather, I recommend that my clients give heartworm preventative to their pets each and every month, year round.  (I also recommend purchasing your heartworm prevention through a veterinary clinic, not an online source or a local pharmacy – but that’s another subject for a separate blog post!)

If you don’t live in the central Midwest, the answer to this question might be different for you.  Most parts of the country have enough warm, moist weather that mosquitoes (and heartworm disease!) are a problem… but are they a problem year round?  And which preventative is best for you and your pet?  The best way to answer these questions is to ask your own personal veterinarian!  He or she is familiar with the incidence of heartworm disease in your area, and can help you make an educated choice that keeps your pet as safe as possible!  If you are interested in more information on heartworm disease incidence, check out the map below.
Heartworm Incidence 2007
The severity of heartworm incidence as shown in this map is based on the average number of cases per reporting clinic. Some remote regions of the United States lack veterinary clinics, therefore we have no reported cases from these areas. Copyright American Heartworm Society
You can also find a lot more information about Heartworm disease, its incidence, prevention, and treatment on the American Heartworm Society’s webpage under the “Pet Owner Resources” tab -

Written by Dr. Dawnetta

Read more or contact Dr. Dawnetta:
Dawnetta Woodruff, DVM
Dr. Dawnetta assists families with in home hospice and euthanasia in Missouri & Illinois areas including:
  • MISSOURI - Serving St Louis and portions of the St Louis Metro: South County / Fenton / Chesterfield / Kirkwood / Webster Groves / Town & Country / Ellisville 
  • ILLINOIS - Serving Monroe County and portions of Randolph & St Clair counties: Waterloo / Columbia / Smithton / Millstadt / Belleville / Fairview Heights / O'Fallon

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Canine Dental Disease, by Dr. Holly Kiernicki

15-52  You don’t have to brush your teeth - just the ones you want to keep. Unknown
Photo by Wendy Hollands
I don’t think that there is a dog owner out there that hasn’t said something about “doggy breath.”  Most of us lead very busy lives and have a difficult time keeping up with at home dental care.  We do our best by providing approved dental chews and treats, additives to the water and, when possible, brushing Fido’s teeth.

Dental disease in dogs ranges from dental plaque and tartar causing halitosis to gum recession and tooth loss.  Just like people, every dog is different.  Certain breeds are predisposed to dental disease.  Sight hounds, Toy breeds and Brachiocephalic (short faced) breeds have a higher incidence of dental disease than others. Diet can also play a big role.  A hard diet it better than a soft diet but the resulting pH of the saliva is also a determining factor in dental health.

When looking at Fluffy’s teeth, keep in mind that they should be white and smooth like yours.  Any film or build up is considered abnormal.  As the tartar builds so do the number of bacteria present.  Tartar is full of pockets that make wonderful little incubators for the bacteria to grow.  This leads to gingivitis, inflammation of the gums.  As the gums become more inflamed they shrink away from the crown.  With time and progression of dental disease there is more root exposure, causing sensitivity and potential  tooth root abscesses and tooth loss.

Your veterinarian will determine the severity of dental disease and advise the best course of action.  This may include antibiotics in addition to a dental cleaning but also require the extraction of mobileand/or diseased teeth.  Moderate to severe dental disease must be treated with the traditional anesthetic dental cleaning.  Some veterinarians offer a non anesthetic dental (to be discussed in a separate article) for those with mild dental disease or for pets with a high anesthetic risk (cardiac disease being the most common concern).   Remember, there is no “doggy breath” associated with a healthy mouth and that makes everyone happy.

Article Written by Holly Kiernicki, DVM

Dr. Holly Kiernicki
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice
(972) 843-1186

Dr. Holly services the greater Dallas, Texas area including:
~ Frisco ~ Denton ~ Allen ~ Fairview ~ Dallas ~ McKinney ~Celina ~ Little Elm ~ Plano ~ The Colony ~ Carrollton ~ Heath ~ Prosper ~ Richardson ~ Rowlett ~ Wylie ~ Garland ~ Mesquite ~ Rockwall ~ Highland Park

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Look

I often get The Look when friends and family come over to our house.  They look at Smudge struggle to rise from her relaxed recumbency, watch her walk straight legged as she makes her way to the door, then wag her tail when they give her a pat hello.  “Awwwww, poor thing” is often the next thing that squeaks out of their mouth.

Poor Smudge.  The thing is, I don’t look at her that way.  Does she look like the robust, beautiful Berner she did when she was 7 years old?  Heck, no!  Smudge has basically doubled the average life expectancy of a Bernese Mountain Dog, and lost the equivalent of a medium sized dog in weight and muscle mass.  Sarcopenia, the dreaded common side effect of growing old.  Old dogs are not pretty.  They are lumpy, skinny and sometimes stiff.  They often have accidents in the house.  They are not steady on their feet and they can seem spacey due to some degree of doggy dementia.  Our almost 14 year old Smudge has all of the above.

Is it time to say good bye?  Give her the blue juice and free her of her mostly broken body?  I don’t think so.  Am I wearing denial goggles?  I hope not.

When clients are stuck in this same grey zone of not wanting to say goodbye too early and not waiting until it becomes too late, we discuss and fill out a quality of life scale.  Although it doesn’t sit exactly right that I am discussing the life of a much loved pet and reducing that life into a number in each category from 0 (very low) to 5 (normal), it does seem to be a very helpful exercise for pet parents.  It helps to put things in perspective.  

Smudge’s appetite...5, breathing difficulties...5,  gives love/takes love...5, accidents in the house...2, mobility...2-3, and the list goes on.  I often find owners can get through this questionnaire with dry eyes until I ask them, “Do you think your dog is happy?” Tears begin to flow.  They reminisce about chasing balls in the park, swimming off the boat in the summer time, frolicking in the snow, or rolling over for belly rubs.  When your dog stops doing their favorite things, it can be a clue that they are not happy and no longer have joy in their life.   Smudge typically scores between a 70-75%.  Still quite good, but this high score doesn't come easily.  She is on 6 different medications to treat her pain, hypothyroidism and cognitive dysfunction. I massage her every night, she has had several chiropractic sessions and she just had her first session of acupuncture.  She has a special harness for times when she needs extra support.  She needs help getting up the 2 steps from our back deck into our house.  Our entire main floor is covered in criss cross runway of yoga mats for her so she doesn't splay out on her back legs and her food and water bowl are now elevated to prevent her neck from stretching down too far to the ground.  Did I mention she has fecal incontinence?  After a lifetime of no messes in the house, Smudge can’t control her bowel movements.  Waking up to an aromatic fragrance is now the norm in our house.  

In 2001, early on in our marriage, I surprised my husband with a big furball that came to be known as Smudge.  When we looked at her nose, it looked like someone took their thumb and smeared the blackness, as if it was smudged.  We always knew a dog was going to be our first (fur) baby and she would help prepare us for the commitment we would eventually make in having our own children. Smudge proved to be a gentle giant with the patience of a saint in her role as playmate for our kids and all other children.  She has continued to be an integral part of our family.

 She has had a wonderful life.  Being loved and loving us in return.  She deserves a beautiful death.  And when we determine it is time for her to leave her failing body, she will leave this world, in her home, surrounded by her family as we shower her with kisses and words of love. If this happens to fall on a warm day, my 9 year old son has decided we should bring snow from the local hockey arena for her to lie on.  One of her favourite things. She will feel no stress or anxiety in her final moments, as euthanasia, by my hand, ensures she will pass peacefully and painlessly.  That is what she deserves as she heads for the snow covered Swiss mountains in the sky. So the next time you see Smudge, instead of saying “poor Smudge,” perhaps give her a pat and say “ lucky Smudge.”

Smudge making a snow angel! 

Dr. Faith Banks is a dear friend of Dr. Mary Gardner and Dr. Dani McVety - she offers end of life care to families in Toronto Canada.

Dr. Faith Banks, DVM
Midtown Mobile Veterinary Services

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Care and Nutrition of Guinea Pigs, by Dr. Michelle Bellville

Guinea Pig
Photo by Izzie Atkinson
Guinea pigs, also known as Cavies (singular Cavy) are affectionate, lively, and responsive little creatures. They make excellent pets since they are gentle and if handled frequently while they are young, rarely scratch or bite.  They originate from South America like another popular pocket pet, the Chinchilla.  Guinea pigs are “monogastric” herbivores, meaning that they have one stomach (unlike the cow that has a multiple or compartmented stomach) and eat plant-based foods.  A happy, healthy guinea pig can live up to 4-8 years as a pet, 5 years being the average.  They make the coolest sounds, and their calls have names: chutt, chutter, whine, tweet, whistle, purr, drr, scream, squeal, chirp, and grunt!

Guinea pigs do best on a solid bottom cage, but beware they can make quite a mess of their surroundings! Clean up their food bowls daily and check the patency of their water bottle too – your guinea pig may have shot a food slurry into the tube of their sipper bottle!

Just like rabbits, guinea pigs are “hindgut fermenters,” meaning that they break down their food in the last portion of their intestines (versus cows that ferment in their “foregut” or stomach).  To then get these nutrients absorbed, guinea pigs and rabbits are coprophagic – they ingest their own feces.  Gross, I know, but it is very important to their overall health!  This is more problematic for obese guinea pigs, especially ones kept in a wire bottom cage: obese guinea pigs are unable to catch these nutritious fecal pellets from their anus, which then drops through the wire, and the guinea pigs are unable to stay properly nourished.

Unlike rabbits, guinea pigs have a dietary need for Vitamin C, as they cannot produce it on their own. Unfortunately, Vitamin C is not stable for long in foods or water, so a fresh source of Vitamin C must be given daily. The easiest thing to give them is a Vitamin C containing fruit or veggie daily such as red or green peppers, cabbage, broccoli, tomato, kiwi, or a few wedges of an orange.  You can also add Vitamin C to their water source, but make sure to change it daily.  Vitamin C deficiency is a very common and very serious disease that can easily be fatal!

Guinea pigs learn what foods they like very early in life, so get your guinea pig used to different guinea pig chows and vegetables so they are not weary of variety. Guinea pigs should eat guinea pig pellets and grass hay, supplemented with fresh veggies. Good quality grass hay should be available at all times. Depending on the age, lifestyle, and weight of your guinea pig your veterinarian may recommend that pellets are offered in limited quantity or that they are offered free choice. Veggies can be offered in small handfuls, and leafy greens are the best to offer. Treats such as fruits or other marketed snacks are unnecessary, but if you choose to use them, offer only very small amounts (one treat per day) or use a special veggie as a treat!

Remember that just like any pet, guinea pigs should see their exotic animal veterinarian at least once yearly for a physical exam, a fecal exam, and likely bloodwork as your guinea pig gets older.  Check out Oxbow Animal Health for more info on how to care for your guinea pig, as well as a great place to get the good quality hay and pellets they need!

Written by Dr. Michelle Bellville

Read more or contact Dr. Michelle:
Dr. Michelle Bellville
(407) 487-4445

Dr. Bellville assists families in the Orlando Florida area with In Home Hospice and Euthanasia. She is also available to assist families with 'exotic' species like birds, hamsters, rabbits, etc with all end of like care.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How to Talk With Your Veterinarian, by Dr. Anthony J. Smith

Corky Posing on Vet Scale
Photo by Jim Degerstrom
Providing the best medical care for your pet throughout his or her life requires a good relationship with your veterinarian. As in all relationships, good communication is important to establishing the mutual trust and respect necessary to work together ensuring your pet’s health. Here are a few tips that can help support a good rapport with your pet’s doctor.


· Discuss financial concerns up front. Be frank about your limits and request an estimate of costs. Ask your veterinarian to keep you updated about any necessary changes from the original plan.

· Ask questions if you don't understand a treatment plan, medication, diagnostic tests/results, medical measurements, etc. Ask for an explanation – your vet wants you to be an informed pet parent.

· Be honest and share your true concerns, especially about complying with treatments. If you aren’t able to give a medication as often as needed, or if you can’t afford a particular treatment, it is better to let the vet know that, than to keep it hidden. Alternatives are often available, but if your vet doesn’t know that you’re having a problem, it can’t be addressed.

· Keep clear records about your pet’s illness. Keep a log of symptoms, jot down anything unusual that happens, and take it with you when you have an appointment.

· Recognize that a veterinary practice may be a very busy place. Go into the appointment with a list of your concerns, so that you can be sure that they are all addressed in a timely manner. If you have a lot to cover, ask the receptionist if you can make an appointment during a less busy time, or if they have “extended exams” for complicated situations.

· Ask for a second opinion or referral to a specialist, if desired or appropriate.. Your veterinarian is a professional who should be happy to give you a referral and provide another veterinarian with your pet’s medical records.


· Wait to report changes in your pet’s appearance or behavior, or wait until the last minute to try to schedule an appointment.

· Stop or adjust medications because your pet is not responding the way you expect. Instead, call your veterinarian to discuss it.

· Disregard instructions such as follow-up visits, exercise restriction, or diet changes. If you have concerns, discuss them during the appointment or with a follow up call.

· Get angry if things aren’t going the way that you expected. Take a breath (or ten) and calmly express your worries and why you have them. Give your vet a chance to address your concerns.

Finally, if you appreciate your vet and their staff, tell them so. Thankfulness and a little kindness can go a very long way.

Written by Dr. Anthony J. Smith

Read more or contact Dr. Anthony:
Anthony J. Smith, DVM
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice
San Francisco, CA
(510) 463-1664  |

Dr. Anthony provides regular service to clients in the San Francisco East Bay Area (See Below for detailed cities listing). Service to other Bay Area Communities (Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Napa, and Santa Clara Counties) may be available on a limited basis, with additional charges for travel. Please call or e-mail for more information. For clients living outside of these areas, telephone consultations are also available.

Regular Service Area (no additional fee for travel):
  • Alameda County: Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont
  • Contra Costa: Alamo, Concord, Crockett, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Hercules, Kensington, Lafayette, Martinez, Moraga, Orinda, Pacheco, Pinole, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, Richmond, Rodeo, San Pablo, Walnut Creek
  • Solano County: Benicia, Fairfield, Vallejo
 Extended Service Area (with additional fee for travel):
  • Alameda County: Castro Valley, Dublin, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Newark, Pleasanton, San Leandro, San Ramon, Union City
  • Contra Costa: Antioch, Brentwood, Clayton, Danville, Oakley
  • San Francisco/Daly City
  • Marin County: Corte Madera, Fairfax, Mill Valley, Larkspur/Greenbrae, Novato, San Anselmo, San Rafael