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The Scoop on Poop

  • Tuesday, 22 January 2013 15:31

Have you ever wondered why you have to bring your pet's poop with you when you see your veterinarian? Jonathan asks Dr. Tracey, "What's the scoop on poop?"

Sharing the Litter Box

  • Wednesday, 26 September 2012 19:11

We already had an adult cat. We adopted a kitten, and now that she's half-grown, we have litter box issues, specifically wars over the box. What should we do to make them "share the bathroom"?

– Via email

One box is not enough. You should have one box for each cat, plus one. If you have one cat, you need two litter boxes. Two cats, three litter boxes. Put them in different locations. For instance, keep one upstairs and one downstairs. That way, one is always convenient. And with more than one cat, it prevents fights over who gets to use which box when it's needed.

Some cats like to ambush others when they use the litter box, so place litter boxes in locations with easy escape routes. Privacy is important, too. Another good reason to have multiple litter boxes: Each cat may prefer a different type of litter.

What about what goes inside the box? There are all kinds of different cat litter, and they all have pros and cons. Most cats prefer clumping litter because of its soft, sandy feel. It's easy on the paws and easy to scoop. Other cats might like a fine-grained clay litter. Look for one that comes in a dust-free formula. Some cat litter is easier on the Earth, made from recycled paper or natural substances like corncobs or wheat. But if your cat doesn't like it, you'll be throwing a lot of it out, which is not that environmentally friendly. Let the cats pick their preferences by offering a "litter box buffet."

Avoid scented litter. It might smell good to you, but that perfumed odor can be sensory overload for a cat.

– Dr. Marty Becker

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Barking and Growling Problems

  • Thursday, 05 July 2012 20:02

Does your dog growl or bark when a stranger approaches your house or when something goes bump in the night? If so, you’re not alone. Most dogs will vocalize when they are exposed to new or different situations, including strange people or animals entering their territory; being separated from their pack, mother or even your family members; or new or alarming sounds. Dogs may also bark or growl when they see prey, such as squirrels, and they may bark for attention, food or if they are anxious.

Dogs often growl when they are fearful or trying to assert themselves in a situation. If the dog’s fear or assertiveness is alleviated by growling or barking, the dog will learn that his behavior is acceptable and the behavior may become more frequent or severe.

Some medical problems may cause growling or barking and older pets experiencing senile changes may have barking problems. Intense and continuous barking may be considered compulsive. Check with your veterinarian to evaluate your pet’s barking or growling problem. Behavior training and drug therapy may be helpful in reducing barking for pets with medical, geriatric and compulsive disorders.

Socialize Your Puppy

Acclimate your puppy to a variety of different people, environments, situations and noises to help lessen anxiety as your puppy grows. Make sure your puppy spends time alone so that he doesn’t develop separation anxiety while you are away from him .. Proper training is essential to preventing behavior problems, such as growling and barking. Ask you veterinarian for more information about puppy training.

Correcting a Barking or Growling Problem

Correcting a barking or growling problem first requires that you have effective management of your dog. Once you have achieved this, you can begin to train your dog to lessen his barking or growling behavior by using rewards for quiet behavior. The reward should be something that the dog really likes such as a favorite treat, tummy rubs, or a favorite toy. Punishment is generally ineffective in correcting barking problems. Too much punishment may even exacerbate the behavior and cause the dog to be fearful or aggressive.

Begin your training with situations that you can easily control (such as a family member making a noise that causes the dog to bark) before moving on to difficult situations (such as a strange animal in your yard). When your dog barks at the stimuli (for instance, a doorbell ring), immediately interrupt the barking. When the dog is quiet offer the dog a reward for their behavior.

Several products are available that may interrupt barking. Devices activated by owners, such as water sprayers, cans with coins or pebbles, audible alarms, citronella collars and ultrasonic trainers, are usually effective in disrupting barking and getting a quiet response from the dog. It is important when first using these devices that you are there to praise and reward the dog when it becomes quiet. Without the reward there is no incentive to remain quiet.

Bark-activated products are also effective because they will immediately respond to barking. Off-collar, bark-activated alarms or water sprayers will train your dog to stop barking in specific areas. Bark-activated collars are useful when your dog doesn’t bark in single, specific areas (the collar will respond when your dog barks, no matter where he is located at the time). Audible and ultrasonic collars are sometimes effective in stopping barking, but they are rarely a completely reliable deterrent. Citronella-spraying collars are effective with most dogs. Electronic shock collar should never be used. Make sure to discuss these options with your veterinarian to find the one that will work best for your pet.

During training, barking must be interrupted right after it begins for the training to be effective. Repeat this process until the dog no longer barks or growls at the situation, person or sound.

Reward your dog when, at your request, he has stopped barking. Only reward the dog when he is quiet and gradually increase the amount of time that the dog needs to be quiet for him to receive a reward.

As the barking or growling problem decreases, make sure to direct your dog to more appropriate behavior, such as play, and the problem should lessen over time.

What is canine parvovirus?

  • Thursday, 05 July 2012 19:58

Canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2) is a highly contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the gastrointestinal tract of puppies, dogs, and wild canids (e.g. foxes, wolves, coyotes). It was first identified in 1978 and is seen worldwide. It can also damage the heart muscle in very young and unborn puppies.

There are several variants of CPV-2 (CPV-2a, CPV-2b and CPV-2c), but they produce similar signs and symptoms in animals. However, CPV-2b is the most common variant in the US. CPV-2c was first confirmed in the U.S. in 2006, and is becoming the second most common variant.

How is the virus spread?

CPV-2 is highly contagious and is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated feces (stool), environments or people. The virus can also contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs. It is resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying, and can survive in the environment for long periods of time. Even trace amounts of feces containing parvovirus may serve as environmental reservoirs of the virus and infect other dogs that come into the infected environment. CPV-2 is readily transmitted from place-to-place on the hair or feet of dogs or via contaminated cages, shoes, or other objects.

All dogs are at risk, but puppies less than four months old and dogs that have not been vaccinated against canine parvovirus are at increased risk of becoming infected and ill.

Signs and Symptoms:

Dogs infected with the CPV-2 virus that are ill are often said to have "parvo." and may exhibit the following:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Severe, often bloody diarrhea.

Vomiting and diarrhea can cause rapid dehydration, so do not delay in getting medical attention.

Most deaths from parvovirus occur within 48-to-72 hours following the onset of clinical signs. If your puppy or dog shows any of these signs, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.


CPV-2 infection is often suspected based on the dog's history, a physical examination, and laboratory tests. Fecal testing can confirm the diagnosis. No specific drug is available that will kill the virus in infected dogs, and treatment is intended to support the dog's body systems until the dog's immune system can fight off the viral infection.


Treatment should be started immediately and consists primarily of efforts to combat dehydration by replacing electrolyte and fluid losses, controlling vomiting and diarrhea, and preventing secondary infections. Sick dogs should be kept warm and receive good nursing care. When a dog develops parvo, treatment can be very expensive, and the dog may die despite aggressive treatment. Early recognition and aggressive treatment are very important in successful outcomes.

Since CPV-2 is highly contagious, isolation of infected dogs is necessary to minimize spread of infection. Proper cleaning and disinfection of contaminated kennels and other areas where infected dogs are (or have been) housed is absolutely essential to control the spread of parvovirus. The virus is not easily killed, so consult your veterinarian for specific guidance on cleaning and disinfecting agents that may help with the elimination of the virus.


Vaccination and good hygiene are critical components of canine parvovirus prevention. Vaccination is extremely important. Young puppies are very susceptible to infection, particularly because the natural immunity provided in their mothers' milk may wear off before the puppies' own immune systems are mature enough to fight off infections. If a puppy is exposed to canine parvovirus during this gap in protection, it may become ill. An additional concern is that immunity provided by a mother's milk may interfere with an effective response to vaccination. This means even vaccinated puppies may occasionally be infected by parvovirus and develop the disease. To reduce gaps in protection and provide the best possible protection against parvovirus during the first few months of life, a series of puppy vaccinations are administered. Puppies should receive a dose of canine parvovirus vaccine between 14 and 16 weeks of age, regardless of how many doses they received earlier, in order to develop adequate protection.

To protect their adult dogs, pet owners should be sure that their dog's parvovirus vaccination is up-to-date. Ask your veterinarian about a recommended vaccination program for your canine companion. In spite of proper vaccination, a small percentage of dogs do not develop protective immunity and remain susceptible to the infection.


Until a puppy has received its complete series of vaccinations, pet owners should use caution when bringing their pet to places where young puppies congregate (e.g. pet shops, parks, puppy classes, obedience classes, doggy daycare, kennels, and grooming establishments). Reputable establishments and training programs reduce exposure risk by requiring vaccinations, health examinations, good hygiene, and isolation of ill puppies and dogs. Contact with known infected dogs and their premises should always be avoided.

Finally, do not allow your puppy or dog to come into contact with the fecal waste of other dogs while walking or playing outdoors. Prompt and proper disposal of waste material is always advisable as a way to limit spread of canine parvovirus infection as well as other diseases that can infect humans and animals. Dogs with vomiting or diarrhea or other dogs which have been exposed to ill dogs should not be taken to kennels, show grounds, dog parks, or other areas where they will come into contact with other dogs. Similarly, unvaccinated dogs should not be exposed to ill dogs or those with unknown vaccination histories. People who are in contact with sick or exposed dogs should avoid handling other dogs or at least wash their hands and change their clothes before doing so.

Although this provides basic information about canine parvovirus, your veterinarian is always your best source for health information. Consult your veterinarian for additional information about canine parvovirus and steps for its prevention.

Vomitus Doggy-Us

  • Thursday, 05 July 2012 14:30

I think I am old enough now that I can use the phrase, “You remember the good old days.”  If you listen to the “older than me timers” you could feed your dog scraps, bones, pork or anything else lying around. They wouldn’t get sick and still live forever. And that’s a long time.  I am not sure how true all this is, but I still hear it said by many of our charming senior clients.  These days, we get several calls about vomiting or diarrhea patients every single day.  Our patients compared to the past seem to have a much more “sensitive constitution,” as my grandma would have said. 

There is good news and bad news with these symptoms, which often go hand in hand. Fortunately, the vast majority of our cases are nothing more than an upset stomach for some very simple reason. Unfortunately for us as veterinarians, vomiting and diarrhea are such vague signs that they can be associated with hundreds of diseases, from benign to deadly. Fortunately, we don’t have to work up every case with blood work, radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, ct scan, exploratory surgery, etc. to diagnose a cause.  Unfortunately, sometimes we do.  Fortunately, most vomiting and diarrhea cases are really easy to treat, oftentimes with things you can do at home and with over-the-counter medications you may already have.  Unfortunately it may take a few days to get things under control.  Fortunately, most of these cases will be normal very quickly. Unfortunately, our patients can’t tell us where or why their belly might ache, which if they could, would be really fortunate…..for me.

The obvious causes of vomiting and/or diarrhea usually come up early in our conversation.  Causes such as:  “I switched dog food brands two days ago,” “my dog got into the trash yesterday,” “I fed him a plate of spare rib bones,” all are simple to diagnose and very straightforward to treat. IMPORTANT: A dog’s pancreas is set up to digest very lean meat, not fats such as pork. I have had dogs die from pancreatitis (swollen, inflamed pancreas) after getting one hot dog or a tablespoon of bacon grease to “flavor” their food.

Viral cases, which are very common, are not so easy, but may sound like:  “My dog was fine yesterday, was at the kennel a week ago, now won’t eat, is quieter, vomited a few times yesterday and just doesn’t seem right.”  There aren’t tests to diagnose these types of viruses, and just like people, they can just show up out of nowhere.  Typically there are a few days between exposure to a virus and the onset of clinical signs which usually last only a few days. They may have a fever (above 103) for a day or two during this period. These dog gastrointestinal (GI) viruses are contagious among dogs, but don’t affect humans or vice versa.  That is to say they are species specific.  However, you can carry a dog virus home with you on your shoes and give it to your dog.

If all signs point to a regular GI virus, we have a very standard approach to treating these cases.  We like to discontinue food for a day to let the stomach rest and settle down.  We offer water but in small amounts several times a day.  Ice cubes work well for this.  We start them on a bland food diet for a few days.  Bland foods include things like rice mixed with boiled chicken or hamburger (rinse off the grease), low fat cottage cheese, or scrambled eggs.  A dollop of yogurt can help re-colonize the gut with good bacterial organisms too.  Dog food is the equivalent of pizza and chili.  If you have the flu and someone offers you pizza and chili, bad things are going to happen.  Bland foods are like broth and crackers. Occasionally we use antispasmodic prescriptions to decrease the vomiting.  If diarrhea is present (often shows up a day or so later) there are doses of Imodium that your veterinarian can suggest to help with that.

We call day three “hump day,” meaning that symptoms should be improving by then.  If symptoms persist or worsen, we work the animal up completely.  At least once a year, for a period of several weeks we will get a dramatic increase in the number of GI calls and we know something is “going around” (sounds like people!).  If you have multiple pets, don’t be surprised if a week later it starts in someone else.

All of the above holds true unless we get a “red flag” on a case.  Some of our red flags include  abdominal pain, anemia, dehydration, amount of weakness, blood, and sometimes just a “gut” feeling that things aren’t right. We have to be ever diligent for that one patient that is different.  These cases are much more serious and include things like pancreatitis, kidney/liver disease, diabetes, cancers, foreign body obstructions (plastic toys, socks, balls, bones, etc), or hormonal diseases.  Red flag cases are worked up right away, as one day can make a difference in the outcome. (If they could only talk.)

Our classic foreign body case presents a little differently.  Usually it is a young, very happy (use your own adjective here), outgoing, rambunctious, playful (often retriever), is eating very well, but the food comes back up undigested every time they eat.  They usually feel pretty good even for a few days while this goes on.  Then the abdominal pain sets in and they start walking hunched up. (If they could only talk.) Time for radiographs and get the surgery room ready!

If you have ever had a dog with explosive diarrhea you can appreciate the volume of liquid in the intestines.  Remember, the intestine is a long tube that in a large dog could be more than 15 feet long. It’s no wonder that diarrhea can just keep coming.  Also noteworthy is that a dog with an obstruction of the upper intestine, can still have normal bowel movements for a couple days.  Generally speaking, if a dog is eating, keeping it down and having normal bowel movements, then the “tube is open.”  In contrast, if they just emptied their entire GI tract with diarrhea, it will take a couple days for the next bowel movement to show up.

Most of these symptoms and diseases are also found in cats.  However, there is one special variation on the vomiting theme in the cat world.  It is mandatory in felines, that in the very wee hours of the morn that they wretch, moan, yowl and finish with a hurled up wad of hair that I guarantee no matter how hard you try to avoid it, will squish between your toes.  We always say that the only good hairball is the one you find.  Consider them cured.

Whenever I clean up the pile of vomit or diarrhea from one of our rug rats, it helps to remember our client in Middlebury with two Great Danes who both had explosive diarrhea for an entire night and destroyed a room because they had a “sensitive constitution.”  Puts it in a little perspective I guess.  

Jeffrey Vogl, DVM | Ask the Veterinarian

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats

  • Wednesday, 04 July 2012 23:43

There's another great debate about the feline as a pet besides the declawing issue covered in another article. This great debate concerns allowing the feline to roam outdoors vs. living indoors. As usual, there are two sides to this debate. Should you allow your cat to roam outdoors? Let's find out.

The Outdoor Feline
Cats are essentially wild creatures, and they have always loved the outdoors. What feline owner hasn't watched their cat loll in a patch of sunshine on a winter day, or roll contentedly in the dirt in their own backyard? Cats do love the sunshine, the outdoors, and the fresh air. However, outdoor cats are susceptible to more diseases, more injuries, and more health problems. Outdoor cats may tussle with other cats, catch parasites or other diseases, or be hit by a car or caught by other predators. They can also be poisoned by pesticides, or by sadistic neighbors. They can cause problems with neighbors by using their yards as a cat box. Outdoor cats simply aren't as safe as indoor cats, period.
Indoor Cats
Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives - period. Studies prove it and common sense dictates it. Indoor cats have many advantages outdoor cats can't hope to have. Outdoor cats live on an average of 3 to 5 years, while indoor cats live an average of 12 years or more. My last indoor cats lived to be 19 and nearly 21. Indoor cats enjoy in safety and comfort. They are safe from diseases that feral cats may carry and outdoor cats pick up. They are safe from cat fights, cars, and predators. And, indoor cats won't harm other wildlife, such as birds and small animals.
There are many alternatives to the outdoor lifestyle. When kittens first come home, they should be kept indoors. If your cats miss their outdoor excursions, you might try to train them to wear a harness and walk on a leash. They will still be able to enjoy the outdoors, but much more safely. Another alternative is to create a safe outdoor area or run where the cats can go outside but cannot escape the area. There are many outdoor runs available now that connect to a cat door and allow the cat access to a run on a patio or in a backyard. You can also allow the cat outdoors on a patio or deck when you are outdoors, and only for a short time. Or, you can use a carrier to take your kitty for walks in the sunshine.
Keeping kitty indoors will keep kitty healthy, happy, and free of infectious diseases she might catch outside. Each pet owner is responsible for their own pet's health and well being. Keeping kitty inside is the choice that makes sense.

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How to Choose a Pet: Dogs vs Cats

  • Wednesday, 04 July 2012 23:36

If you decided to purchase a pet, you must be responsible and reasonable. This may seem very easy: that`s enough to visit a pet store or bird market and to buy what you liked. However, in reality it is not so simple - in fact each animal requires a certain care and must be suitable to the owner`s temperament and lifestyle. If you plan to buy a pet for a long time, but not for a month or so, read a few useful tips.

Dog is one of the most popular pets. Faithful, loyal, affectionate, loving, ready to do anything for its owner. If you want to get a dog, be prepared to walk it several times a day, to do its training, to perceive this animal as a full and equal family member. Pay attention not only on the appearance of a dog of any breed, but also by other characteristics: features of care, living conditions, the nature, purpose (dog fighting, hunting, house, etc.). Evaluate your desires and possibilities, give yourself the answer to the question will the dog feel comfortable with you, and you.
Regardless of their breed dogs have one common point - they require greater attention, communication and love. Dogs are like children: time-consuming and are offended if they are ignored. So the dog is well suited for people who prefer active way of life, mostly young and active, single people who want to find a faithful friend, as well as those who own a sufficient amount of time to practice with the dog. Do not get a dog if you have young children.
Independent, proud, proud, capricious, tied to the house more than to its owners. The cat is not less popular pet than its eternal rival and antithesis - the dog. As is in the case with dogs, a lot depends on the choice of breed. Cat`s characters resemble to characters of the people - so it's important to choose a cat breed that matches to your temperament and lifestyle.
Despite the fact that cats are not amenable to training, pay attention to their education. It is necessary to teach a cat to use the toilet at the appropriate place, to scratch its claws only in specifically designated rug and to make it clear where in the house has "forbidden" zones.
Cats are recommended to creative and independent people; however, they must be willing to tolerate cat's willfulness.

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Should You Leave the AC On for Your Cat or Dog?

grey kittyI've been told that in the Mother Jones DC bureau last week, a debate raged over whether or not it's only crazy cat ladies who leave the air conditioner on all day for pets. I can see both sides: Sure, it's pitiful to see dogs pant and cats make themselves as flat as possible to beat the heat, especially during gnarly heat waves. And yes, it's true that pets are unable to doff their fur coats.

On the other hand, their ancestors lived outside for eons before we domesticated them, so surely they must be heartier than we give them credit for. What's more, round-the-clock AC is exorbitantly expensive and contributes significantly to climate change, as the New York Times recently reported. Because of the soaring demand for air conditioning worldwide, and because the gases emitted by modern cooling equipment are extremely potent planet warmers, scientists estimate that AC units could account for a staggering 27 percent of global warming by 2050.

So is it really necessary to chill Fido all day long? I decided to call a few veterinarians to settle the argument once and for all. Dr. Helen Myers, veterinarian at the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, had this to say in an email:

When the temperature and humidity rise, it becomes crucial to keep our pets comfortable and safe. Animals cool themselves by panting, a process of exchanging warm air from their lungs for the cooler air outside. This cannot happen when it is hot and humid, which leads to increased risk for heat stress and exhaustion. Leaving the air circulating with fans or, better yet, leaving the air conditioning on will help to keep pets cool and healthy. Thermostats should ideally be set at 78-80 degrees, an appropriate comfort level for most pets. Basements are typically cooler than the rest of the house, so if your basement is a comfortable place for your pet to be, having them spend time down there during a heat wave is also an option. Pets should also always have access to fresh water, as they can get dehydrated.
Both cats and dogs are susceptible to excessive heat and humidity, but cats are more likely to control their activity so as not to add heat from muscle activity. Elderly, overweight, and pets with heart or lung diseases should be carefully watched, as they are highly susceptible to heat stroke. Pets with short muzzles like pugs, bulldogs and Persian cats are at a higher risk of becoming overheated because they cannot effectively pant. These pets should be kept in rooms with air conditioning so they can stay cool.

Kimberly May, a veterinarian and spokeswoman for the American Veterinary Medicine Association, added that it's important to observe your pet and adjust the indoor temperature according to its particular needs. "Keep an eye on your pet and see where your pet hangs out," says May. "If your dog is constantly by the AC vent, you probably shouldn't turn it off. But if you see the dog sitting in the sunlight, you might have a little more leeway." As a general rule of thumb, cats are often slightly more heat-tolerant than dogs, and for both species, the longer the fur, the more uncomfortable the animal will be in extreme heat.

As for the argument that animals don't need AC since their forebears dealt with heat just fine, May doesn't buy it. "We've domesticated them and ruined all that," she says. "It's not smart to make an assumption about their needs based on their ancestors. We've changed their diets; we've changed a lot of things."

A few other tips from May: You can try putting ice in your pet's water bowl, but only if your animal is comfortable with it; some cats and dogs are freaked by ice and won't drink ice water at all. Some dogs like the pricey cooling pads sold at pet stores and on the internet (this one is $79.99 on eBay) but others won't go near them. Walk dogs in the early morning or evening, and keep the walks short. Don't go running with your dog, since dogs will keep going, even if they're overheating.

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