Keeping pets safe this holiday season

Holiday Food Don’ts

Keep Lucy away from the Eggnog!

Rocking around the Christmas tree is great, but don’t let the sight of all those presents and glittering lights distract you from your pets whereabouts relative to the dinner table.

Emergency vets are very busy around the holidays. A well-meaning guest might slip Spike a turkey leg or leave a box of chocolates too near to Bailey. Turkey bones can break teeth, lodge in the throat and even lacerate the stomach or intestines, resulting in the need for surgery. Chocolate, particularly dark or baker’s chocolate, is toxic in large amounts, as are macadamia nuts, grapes, onions and garlic.

Seemingly harmless foods like stuffing and mashed potatoes can contain garlic powder, chives, dairy and onions, all of which are toxic to dogs. Xylitol is a sugar substitute found in candy, gum, mints and baked goods that even in small amounts can be deadly.

Xylitol can cause a dramatic drop in blood glucose levels, sometimes resulting in liver failure and even death.

Dogs are not used to eating rich foods. Meats high in fat like ham can cause gastrointestinal issues including vomiting, diarrhea and even pancreatitis.

And no alcohol! Getting the dog drunk is never funny. Caffeine is also a no no!

Holiday Decor Don’t’s

Homemade ornaments and lights can pose dangers to pets!

Try to Pet-proof your Christmas tree and other decorations to the best of your ability.

Place your tree in a corner and place ornaments, lights and tinsel out of reach of pets. Sweep up fallen needles as they fall, as they pose a choking risk. A pet that chews on lights is at risk of electric shock; a cat or dog that invests tinsel risks getting it caught in the intestines.

In addition to being a choking hazard, glass or plastic ornaments that break into sharp shards can cut pets tender paws and mouth.

Many popular homemade ornaments are made of a play dough-type material with a high salt content. The sweet smell of this material is a lure to dogs, but extremely toxic. Place these ornaments near the top of the tree!

Remember, many holiday plants, including poinsettia, holly and mistletoe are mildly toxic to pets. Keep them out of reach just to be safe!

Take a few precautions and keep your four-legged family members healthy, happy and safe this holiday season.

To vaccinate or not? More is not necessarily better

By Amanda K. Vogt

 It is Spring, almost summer, and it’s time for your pet’s annual wellness check. But does your veterinary appointment or annual mailed reminder include vaccines or revaccines (boosters) for rabies, distemper and a whole jumble of daunting multi-lettered vaccines you don’t even recognize? If it does, you might want to ask your vet a few pertinent questions before encouraging a cocktail of vaccines be injected into your beloved pet!

More is not necessarily better and over-vaccination occurs, although it is not known how often, according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which in 2011 changed its vaccine guidelines to recommend a three-year gap between most vaccines/booster shots.

Unlike a vaccine like rabies, which contains a single virus, many veterinarians now utilize combination vaccines that contain “modified live” viruses mixed with various bacteria. They are both convenient and profitable to veterinarians, but can pose uncertain risks to pets.

Such “cocktail” vaccines, which might show up on your bill or reminder as DHLPP or DHLPPC (see below), contain a number of pathogens and cancer-causing chemicals that injected all at once can potentially overwhelm your pet’s autoimmune system, causing skin disease, severe allergic reaction, autoimmune disorder and even death. Smaller dogs and puppies are more vulnerable than larger animals to poor reactions and side-effects.

For example, giving a rabies vaccine with a Bordetella combination can mean as many as nine shots at once! Imagine if your pediatrician told you your toddler required nine shots in a single visit! You would be out the front door in a heartbeat, right?

In addition, often your pet doesn’t need additional vaccines or “boosters” to maintain immunity. Veterinarians acknowledge that in most cases, if your dog has been vaccinated against distemper and parvovirus even once, it already has lifetime immunity. If you have questions about your pet’s ongoing immunity, you can ask your vet to perform a titer (antibody) blood test to prove or disprove ongoing immunity.

Your vet is required by law to inform you of the risks and benefits, not to mention the alternatives, to any vaccine. But as a rule of thumb, beware the combination vaccine. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and come into your veterinarian’s office armed with information about your dog’s past vaccine history. If you don’t want to question your vet’s recommendations, at the very least spread out vaccines over a period of months. Don’t get them all in the same day.

If your vet bill or visit reminder looks like this, you definitely want to think twice before you vaccinate.

If your vet bill or visit reminder looks like this, you might want to think twice before you vaccinate!

Is It Cancer? Detecting the Big C in Our Pets

By Amanda K. Vogt

At fourteen, Clay has a low risk of cancer!

At fourteen, Clay has a low risk of cancer!

Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related deaths in pets, so it is fitting that May — annual pet check-up time — is Pet Cancer Awareness Month. Approximately 30 percent of dogs die from some form of cancer, usually in their later years. Cancer is less common in cats, but when it strikes it tends to be more aggressive.

So as you groom your four-legged family members or apply tick and flea treatments in time for summer, what warning signs should you look for? There is little you can do to prevent cancer in pets, but early detection can save your pet’s life.

Certainly, there are the more obvious signs that something is wrong: loss of appetite, unusual and persistent cough, non-healing wounds, chronic lethargy, diarrhea and vomiting, and weight loss. But in the initial stages of cancer, you can often successfully detect changes in your pet’s shape and smell and alert your vet.

Swelling around your pet’s throat (swelling of the lymph nodes) or a bloated belly that doesn’t go away should be brought to your vet’s attention. Any new lump or bump that lasts or grows should also be investigated. In this case, a vet can often rule out cancer with a needle biopsy. Strange or foul odors coming from your pet’s ears, mouth, nose or anal area could also be reason for concern.

Most cancers strike dogs in the later stages of life or the “grey hair” years. The risk of cancer tapers off as a dog passes the age of ten. Many of those lumps and bumps that older dogs get are harmless Limpomas, or fatty tumors. The vast majority of cancerous lumps are Papillomas, a common skin cancer, and are usually not reason for concern.

Cats are less likely to get cancer, but when they do, the disease tends to be aggressive. One of the most common forms of cancer in cats is lymphoma, which is associated with the feline leukemia virus. There is a vaccine for FLV, but exposure is still possible even with the vaccine. And since cats often mask illness, it is often harder to suspect and detect, so be vigilant.

Tests and treatments for cancer in pets are much the same as those used on humans! There are blood tests and x-rays, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

We as pet owners are pretty good at detecting changes in our pets’ health. Where we are reluctant, I think, is in bringing these changes to the attention of our vets. I know I am.

We don’t want to hear bad news about our beloved fur babies. But early detection through an annual veterinary exam is the best prevention of cancer death in pets, so don’t put off having that lump on Frisky’s belly checked out. I am making an appointment with my vet to have my Lucy checked out. She is 8 years old, and I found a lump under her right arm last week. Wish me luck!











Talking to your Dog? They are Listening

By Amanda K. Vogt
When we speak to our dogs, and let’s be honest, we do it all the time, we really do believe they listen and understand at least a little. They cock their heads and look at us with loving, alert eyes and we just know they hear us. But do they understand what we are saying and why?
Well, scientists say you don’t have to be a dog whisperer or pet sitter mystic to speak to your dog and get the response you are looking for. You just have to know which ear to speak into.
Victoria Ratcliffe, a graduate student from England, tested 250 dogs to try to understand how they listen and understand. She set up a speaker on either side of each dog’s head, then played a command “to come” from both speakers at the same time. At first, the command she played was normal.
Then she experimented with how dogs heard the command by either removing the emotion form the speaker’s voice or replacing the words “to come” with nonsense words. Each experiment, both speakers played the same type of altered command. And each time, she recorded which direction the dogs turned their heads.
What she discovered is that dogs are able to distinguish between meaningful and meaningless speech! And, like humans, they do so with different spheres of their brains. When the dogs heard the command “to come,” almost all turned their heads to the right. When they heard commands that only had emotional content, they turned to the left.
What Ratcliffe found is that dogs process speech and emotion on different sides of their brains. They process meaning on the left and emotion on the right (opposite to the direction they turn their heads).
So the next time you want to tell your dog you love her, and that would be often, whisper in her left ear. When you want her “to stay,” tell her in her right ear.

The Hidden Hazards Spring Poses to your Pets

By Amanda K. Vogt
Winter is over and Spring has sprung. Time to fertilize the lawn, groom those flower beds, uncover the barbecue and get outside and shake off accumulated months of cabin fever!
Remember, though, as we head outdoors, so do our pets. And the very things that make our yards look so lovely can prove deadly to our four-legged friends.
While most fertilizers are fairly safe for pets, for example those containing bone meal or blood meal are dangerous to dogs, potentially causing severe gastrointestinal problems if ingested.  Common pesticides like slug bait, which contain metaldehyde, can be fatal to dogs and cats even in small amounts.
Certain mulch products contain cocoa bean hulls or shells, which have a chocolately smell that can be very appealing to dogs. These mulch varieties contain caffeine and theobromine, two toxins of particular danger to dogs. So stick to wood, rubber or stone alternatives when mulching those plant and flower beds. Compost, likewise, because it contains decomposed organic matter which produces mold toxins, can be poisonous to pets. Keep your compost fenced away from curious pets.
And then there are the plants! For example, the innocuous-sounding Lily of the Valley, a Springtime staple, if ingested can induce severe cardiac arrhythmias and seizures in pets. Certain varieties of Lillies, including the Tiger, Easter and very popular Day, are highly toxic to cats and can cause kidney failure. Crocuses, if ingested can either make an animal mildly ill or can lead to multisystem organ failure. If you see your pet munching on a crocus, determine the variety and seek immediate veterinary care.
As a responsible pet owner, there are ways you can be prepared for the unforseen. Two pet poison assistance apps, one from the Red Cross (.99 cents via Apple App Store and Google Play), and the second, free from ASCPA at can be easily downloaded to your smartphone or other mobile devices. They tell you, for example, what plants or outdoor product are poisonous to cats, dogs or both, severity of toxicity, signs of poisoning in your pet, possible actions to take, and possible home remedies.
Where your pets are concerned, isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Well, now there’s an app for that!

Update: Latest on the Canine Flu

By Amanda Vogt
The canine flu outbreak that originally hit Chicago and sickened over 1,100 dogs and killed at least five in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, is still a very active danger. A PAWS shelter in Tinley Park remains closed due to the virus and many area boarding facilities are still not accepting dogs.
The virus is believed to gotten its start in doggie daycare and then spread quickly as people dropped off their dogs with boarders for Spring Break vacations.
Because it is so contagious and can lie dormant in an infected yet seemingly healthy dog for a week, pet owners are rightfully keeping their dogs away from dog parks, kennels and doggy daycare centers. At the very least, before dog owners engage their pets in any activity involving contact with other dogs, they should make sure there is no evidence of a flu outbreak in the area.
There is no vaccination against this strain, an Asian strain different from the variety commonly found in the U.S. Humans are not in danger of catching the virus from an infected pet, according to the CDC. There have, however, been cases of the Asian canine flu being transmitted from dogs to cats, and possibly guinea pigs and ferrets.
The virus, like kennel cough, which has also had a stronger than usual showing this Spring, can spread from dog to dog through shared food bowls, toys, blankets or leashes and even the air around them. Vets and animal care workers have reported constantly changing their clothing and shoes for fear of unknowingly transmitting the virus that way.
Both viruses are highly contagious, and although rarely fatal, can sicken your dog for weeks. Puppies, dogs older than 7 and dogs with compromised immune systems are more vulnerable to serious complications. The symptoms for both are similar: congestion, coughing, sneezing, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and nasal and eye discharge. The cough associated with kennel cough, or canine infectious tracheobronchitis, tends to be harsher and more frequent.
Kennel cough is sometimes caused by canine flu. Both viruses can lead to complications, however, such as pheumonia. Both viruses also infect dogs regardless of breed, health status, sex and even vaccine status. Illness in vaccinated dogs may be milder, but there are no guarantees, according to the AVMA. Canine flu can be diagnosed early in the illness by testing a nasal or throat swab. Consecutive blood tests over a ten day period work even better.
The best way to avoid your dog becoming infected is to avoid contact with other dogs. Almost all dogs exposed to the virus will become infected, and the majority (80%) will develop flu-like symptoms.  And since infected dogs don’t show symptoms for up to 10 days, you can’t necessarily spot and avoid a sick dog.
Your best bet to protect your pet is to make sure boarding facilities, dog parks and other places where lots of dogs congregate and share close spaces have not experienced any recent outbreaks and are appropriately sanitized. Or, better still, hire a qualified pet sitter who can take care of your pet in his/her own environment and eliminate or limit exposure to other dogs. This might prove an especially valid option if you have a puppy, an elderly dog or a dog with health issues.

The healthiest diet for your pets made easier


A healthy dog is a happy dog!

A healthy dog is a happy dog!

By Amanda K. Vogt

Most of us care a great deal about what our pets eat! We read labels, shop veterinarian-recommended brands and try in general to make our pet’s meals interesting and varied.

But are we feeding our four-legged family members a balanced diet?

Most of us don’t even think that hard about whether or not our pets are eating a balanced diet. What does that even mean? It’s hard enough to feed our families a balanced diet!

But the truth is if you guess at what “balanced” entails, you might be failing to meet your pet’s nutritional needs. Deficiencies happen fast, especially with cats. The health of a cat deprived of a moisture-rich diet, for example, can quickly degenerate into chronic organ failure.

And feeding your pet a nutritious diet is not as difficult as you think. Because cats and dogs are carnivores, like us, they need a similar diet. In fact, for the most part, you can serve the same or a similar healthy meal to your pet that you do to your family. A balanced diet is high in protein, moisture-rich and low in starches or carbohydrates. It is home-made, raw, organic and unprocessed and includes a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Wait! I know. I just rolled my eyes with you. How many of us have the time and money to put together this kind of diet day after day? Relax. It’s not as hard as it sounds. And you can do a little here and there and still make a difference.

Ideally, you can make your pets food along with your own. For example, dogs really only need protein and fat. So, for example, you can include unprocessed meat (without bones), canned pink salmon, jack mackerel or sardines with a combination of vegetables and voila! you have a pretty well-balanced diet. Organ meats like beef liver and kidneys are a great source of protein. Ditto eggs and cheese. Plain yogurt is a great probiotic.

There are commercially-available raw food diets proven to be nutritionally complete and moisture dense in the freezer section of high-end pet stores. They are expensive, but time saving.

Or, as mentioned above, when you cook a nutritionally balanced meal for your family, add a helping for your pet. That doesn’t mean you should feed your dog pizza and table scraps, folks. That is not a balanced diet.

If you are incredibly busy and not particularly budget conscious, you can feed your pet the so-called “super premium” canned and dried foods. These alternatives provide a balanced diet, too.

If you are like most people trying to do what’s right for your pet, you might chose a veterinarian-recommended diet, wet and dry. And there is nothing wrong with that. You won’t find ASPCA knocking on your door!

The two big no-no’s that you shouldn’t feed your pet are the semi-moist pouch foods and as mentioned earlier, junk food that is nutritionally unbalanced. The pouch foods often contain propylene glycol, a second cousin to anti-freeze (propylene glycol has been banned from cat foods; but it is allowed in dog foods).

Read the ingredients on the label before you buy. Generally buy pet food made in the U.S. and avoid the following ingredients, as they are toxins or may contain toxins:

  • Corn and wheat gluten
  • Meat and grain meals and by-products
  • BHA
  • BHT
  • Ethoxyquin
  • Food Dyes
  • Rendered fat



Why do dogs eat grass?

Amanda K. Vogt

Spring has sprung and as everything blooms and the grass (and weeds) grow, your backyard can seem to present a veritable flora feast for your dog. So is it bad if your dog eats grass? What does grass-eating mean, if anything?

Well, my dog Lucy walks around the backyard and selectively feasts on certain grasses. She seems to be enjoying herself, as if she is surveying the options at a doggy salad bar and picking out her favorites to eat. But is this grazing habit bad for her? Does it mean her diet is inadequate?

Well, here’s the deal on eating grass.

According to several veterinarians I consulted, dogs eat grass for two reasons: 1) As a purgative to make them vomit and 2) Because they like it!

Since dogs evolved from wild dogs, coyotes and wolves, they seek out certain tall broad grasses, for example, because they know that grass is a good source of digestive enzymes. In other words, it helps them digest their food.

But if your dog stands at the back door and whines incessantly to go outside, then once outside immediately begins to scarf down grass, it is doing so because it is instinctively trying to induce vomiting. That’s okay once in awhile. Perhaps your puppy ate something that disagreed with it’s tummy and needs to get rid of it. (The constant lip-licking and heaving noises will alert you to the coming purge!)

But if your dog is consistently eating lots of grass, it is telling you that there is something missing from it’s diet, vets say. The best diet for dogs as well as cats is one high in protein and water and low in starch. If you are feeding your dog dry food only, you might want to try adding a quality wet food high in protein and H20. Don’t forget, when you switch up your dog’s diet, do it slowly. If you do it all at once, it can cause stomach upset.

A quick shortcut I often use to supplement my dog’s diet is when I am making my dinner I save a serving of veggies for her. Then I open a can of salmon or beans and add some to her bowl as well.

Other great options to aid digestion and good digestive health are probiotics and digestive enzymes. Plain yogurt and kefir are great probiotic options. Dark green leaves and vegetables are a good source of digestive enzymes.

So relax if your dog is selectively grazing tall broad grass (like my Lucy). And there is no need for panic if your dog is a frantic grazer. Just slowly change up it’s diet. Dogs can eat most healthy whole foods humans can (apart from chocolate, onions, chicken bones, garlic, raisins and grapes to name the most dangerous).

For the most part, we can always improve our dog’s diet. It should always be a work in progress.