Rabies vaccination for the anti-vaxxer

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Thinking you don’t want to vaccinate your pets for anything out of concern for your pet’s health? You have your pet’s absolute best interest in mind. We are right there with you in wanting to ensure your pet is as healthy as possible her entire life. Vaccinations warrant serious consideration. And you’ve read a lot of the scary posts about vaccines on social media. So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk about the big question: Does your dog or cat need the rabies vaccine?

At the Veterinary Hospital of Davidson we are extremely cautious about administering vaccines to your pet. There are a lot of vaccines available in the veterinary world. Does your pet need all of them? Probably not.  We want to be sure if we give your pet a vaccine that your pet needs the protection that vaccine offers. We take into account the risk factors in your pet’s lifestyle and tailor a vaccine plan just right for you pet. Sure, we can do vaccine titers and in many situations recommend these as your pet ages, but we can’t titer everything (more to come on this below). We can’t titer for rabies (but you say there is a titer available…more on that below).

Let’s talk truth about rabies. The rabies vaccination is required by North Carolina law for your dog, cat and ferret. Perhaps you feel this law doesn’t apply to you? Your cat never goes out and your dog only stays on the leash when outside in your neighborhood. Let’s talk statistics. In Mecklenburg county already in 2019 there have been 11 confirmed cases of rabies (see full article from CMPD here): 2 skunks, 7 raccoons, 1 bat and 1 cat. This makes the risk for rabies serious business for all of us. In my own house I had a bat that got inside. I only discovered it because my cats were chasing it all over the house. Had they not been up-to-date on rabies, then they would have been at risk. I couldn’t have said 100% none got bitten since I wasn’t there the whole time they were chasing the poor animal. I also don’t know if the bat had rabies since it escaped back outside before it could be caught and tested. What if my cats weren’t current on their vaccine? What if one got exposed via a bat bite? Then my entire household might have been exposed to rabies. Sure, as a veterinarian I’m vaccinated but not the kids. We might not know about rabies exposure until someone fell ill and by then it’s too late.

Rabies is universally fatal to dogs, cats and people, not to mention wildlife who become infected. Let me be really clear: if a person, dog or cat is exposed and contracts the rabies viral infection it will die. There is no cure. Zero. If your pet is not vaccinated and bites a person (such as one of our staff in the office) or plays with a rabies positive wild animal, you will likely be facing either euthanasia and submission of your pet for rabies testing immediately or six months of quarantine at a CMPD authorized facility where your pet cannot be touched during the quarantine time. There is no way to screen an animal for an active rabies infection prior to death (brain tissue must be examined). The the person who was bitten will need to receive 5 to 9 vaccines for post-exposure treatment even in situations where we may feel the dog who bit the person may not have rabies. Medical professionals cannot run the risk that your dog doesn’t have rabies. Do you want to receive 5 vaccines? (hoping you say no). Here you can read more about post-exposure rabies treatment: click here.



Vaccine titers can be wonderful to assess your pet’s need for a booster vaccination of DA2P (Canine Distemper, Adenovirus and Parvovirus) in dogs and FVRCP (Feline Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia) in cats. We use these regularly to determine if your pet is protected or in need of vaccination. These are core vaccines, which means your pet needs protection against them due to the wide-spread prevalence and severity of the diseases that they prevent. After your pet completes her initial series of these vaccines and the boosters one year later, annual titers can be used thereafter to let us know when we need to booster the vaccine. Studies show many cats and dogs retain what we consider “protective” immunity to these diseases for many years. The immunity does wane, however, and will do so within 2 to 5 years in most cases. Titers won’t work for rabies.

Hold the boat, you say. I read about rabies titers for pets online. Yes, a rabies titer can be performed on your dog or cat, but the use of titers in lieu of rabies vaccination is not straight forward. The titer test is only performed as a requirement for international travel to certain countries. The titer merely tells us a pet received rabies vaccination and formed some level of immunity against it, but no one knows in pets what titer level is considered protective. To determine what’s “protective” we would need to do a research study to expose pets at varying titer levels to rabies virus and those who contracted rabies and died would be considered not protected….yeah, that sounds like a horrible study and would be why it hasn’t been done.

The major complicating factor in use of rabies titers is there is no agreed upon standard titer value that is considered protective. We cannot mess around with this disease. If your pet contracts rabies and you contract it from your pet, you and your pet will die. Because this is a disease that has such great significance with regards to public health (i.e., guaranteed death) states across the country made the blanket judgment call to require vaccination for rabies for dogs, cats and ferrets. The most efficient way to prevent human rabies deaths is to vaccinate pets (and stay away from wild animals who exhibit unusual, often neurological behavior out of character). The rabies laws do not allow the use of titers in place of vaccination.


BOTTOM LINE: The easiest and safest bet is to keep your pet up to date on her rabies vaccine. For cats we use the absolute safest vaccine on the market which is made by Merial. It relies on adjuvant-free Purevax technology (read more about Purevax here). This means this vaccine unlike traditional adjuvanted “3-year” vaccines induces the least amount of local inflammation and is not associated with potential tumor formation at the vaccine site. We have both a 1-year and 3-year Purevax option for cats who are over a year of age.

For dogs we have chosen the safest vaccine on the market, Merial IMRAB which is thimerosal-free. After your dog’s first year this only needs to be given every 3 years. Our rabies vaccines are a killed vaccine which means there is no risk to contract the virus and it induces a lot less inflammation than our traditional modified-live distemper/parvo vaccines.



Dr. Zoe Forward

I’m a client today

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I’m a client today.
My baby girl (dog) is having cruciate surgery today and I’m an anxious pet owner. I was up most of the night with anxiety even though she’s having surgery done by a highly recommended veterinarian, one I recommend to my clients to do an amazing job on their sweet babies. She’s being taken care of by my technicians in the hospital I work in with pain medication I am in control over and I still have anxiety about her comfort, and her recovery, and my ability to listen to instructions and take care of her at home properly. It’s not a life threatening procedure, she’s not an unhealthy dog, and I know everything that’s going to happen during her procedure. But still, I have a knot in my stomach.

As colleagues, we laugh at each other about things like this because we know we are ALL anxious pet parents. I don’t think it’s uncommon for a lot of us as veterinarians and technicians to step out of our critical thinking, scientific, analytical work brains and into that of just raw emotion and empathy for our pets when we have to relinquish control and let someone else do the work. I think it’s really good for us to remember what it’s like to be in the same position as our clients. I think about ALL the patients I have had to refer for cruciate surgery in just the last month and I’m so honored and impressed by the pure trust that owners have for us to take care of and do right by their pets. It really is a gift that people come to us and believe we will do the best we can every day to make their pet better. I believe and trust the doctor doing surgery on my precious dog right now, but I’m still a nervous parent waiting in the wings to hear that everything went well and is just as expected. It’s good to be in this position, perspective wise. It’s healthy to remember what your clients experience when they hand over their precious babies to you. So I thought I should write it out so that our clients know we understand. Sometimes we REALLY understand because we’re experiencing it over our own babies. We present ourselves to you as calm, confident, capable, knowledgeable, professionals because, well, we ARE calm and confident and capable and knowledgeable. But we have all felt the raw emotions over our pets the way you feel them. And we thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for letting us do our best to help your babies any way we can.


Tamara Rattray, DVM
nervous mom today, back to being a veterinarian on Monday.

Our response to FDA warnings on Grain Free Diets

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The Veterinary Hospital of Davidson report on FDA warnings on Grain Free Diets

We have received many calls and emails about the recent FDA report on grain free diets in dogs and cats.  It is important to understand that the FDA called this is a “complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors and that the actual cause has still yet to be determined”.  They are also looking at a very small group of dogs and cats where there is a concern that diet could be a factor in these pets developing DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle weakens).

There are 77 million pet dogs in the United States, and this study evaluated only 560 dogs and cats, a mere 0.000007% of the population. That means that 99.999993% of dogs have had no issue with heart disease on these commercial diets.   Of course, we believe in being proactive, and we do not want our patients to be in that very small percentage of dogs who may have an issue with these foods, So far, we haven’t seen any heart conditions in our hospital that we think are linked to diet.  For those pet parents worried, we have been able to ultrasound their dog’s heart and confirm it still is working normally.

We can tell you that most of the foods implicated in this problem seem to be pea or lentil-based diets, and all are processed kibble.  We don’t know if these diets are lacking an important ingredient or if there is some sort of toxin associated with one of these ingredients. It may be months before we have more details and reliable information. The truth is there have been many issues with processed diets in the news over the years. New recalls come out every week, and it makes it very difficult to know what brands to trust for your pet.  It’s confusing, and we share with you your concerns and frustrations. 

It’s important to note that we haven’t heard of any problems with freeze dried food, canned food, or refrigerated food thus far, and most of you already know we prefer these less processed foods anyway for overall better health, reduction of inflammation, improved digestion, and prevention of cancer growths.  Our take on diet has always been to avoid processed kibble if possible and replace as much of it with healthier options. We also believe in trying to switch up brands of food, so you are not relying on one food source or putting all your trust in one brand or formula.  Variety is good for our pets just like it is good for us. 

We still trust the brands of food that we carry here: Evangers, Wellness, Nature’s Variety Instinct, Natural Balance, and Grandma Lucy’s. We suggest you try to decrease the amount of kibble you feed and substitute the kibble with canned, freeze dried, or real food.  The bigger the variety of foods and brands you feed your pet, the less likely any ONE of them will cause a problem in your dog or cat. Until more research is presented to us, avoid a primarily pea or lentil-based diet. Continue feeding high protein, low carb diets for prevention of the most prominent pet health problems. 

We will stay up to date on this information and try to keep you informed! 

Dr. Carrie Uehlein and Dr. Nicole Sheehan

Take a hike!

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There’s a saying that if there is a dog walking with you, you can get through anything.  And I get it.  We are busy.  We work a lot, have to take care of the kids, clean the house, and walking the dog can become just another chore in your day that takes up more of your time.

However, I truly believe many of us don’t understand how much a simple 30 minute walk can improve our overall happiness.  Of course we know that walking can improve your cardiovascular health, has been linked to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduces excess body fat.  All of this is true for your dogs too.  Daily exercise, even just a two mile walk, can benefit your pup in these ways too!

It is so much more than that though!!  Going for a walk can really bond you to your dog and your mood will be lifted by watching them enjoy life.  It is a way to step back, disconnect, and find 30 minutes for self care.  Walking—especially out in nature—stimulates the production of neurotransmitters in the brain (such as endorphins) that help improve your mental state.  Solitary walks (for the humans) or sitting in the backyard (for the dogs) can get pretty lonely. Quality walks with your four-legged pal can reduce feelings of loneliness for you and your dog. So put on an Audible book or get a good playlist going and get outside! It’s not just for your dog’s health, its for you!!

Please Microchip Your Pet

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There are few things in veterinary medicine I can think of that I honestly believe is 100% good for EVERY patient I see. A microchip is at the top of that list. If I have a reliable way for someone to help my lost pet, I want to use it! I occasionally get surprised by someone who doesn’t know what a microchip is or thinks there’s no point in having one… so here are my thoughts:

What is a microchip?

Microchips are little implants that are placed into the fatty layer under the skin by a large needle. I usually to this when your pet is under anesthesia having another procedure like a spay, neuter, or dental cleaning done but it can be quickly and easily done in most awake pets as well. This little implant is about the size of a long grain of rice and is coded with a unique number that is read by a scanner – like your groceries at the store! The scanner pulls up the chip’s number and that number should be registered to your specific contact information (keep this current!) through the microchip company. Veterinarians and animal shelters have scanners to read for microchips and will check any lost pet someone brings in. I recommend routinely having your pet checked to see if the microchip is still reading correctly. In some cases the microchip may have migrated under the skin and end up further down the back or shoulder, and in some rare cases the microchip may have migrated out of the body (have one put back in!!).

Why have one?

The easy answer is “so if your pet is lost and someone finds her, you can get her back.” Yes, this involves someone finding your pet and taking her in to get her scanned. This literally happens EVERY DAY. People are always finding pets and bringing them in somewhere to see if there is a chip. Those with microchips and current contact information get home SO MUCH faster, often without having to wait in animal control or in a stranger’s house hoping someone eventually sees a “found pet” post. Microchips should not replace collars and identification tags. Those simple identification tags are even easier if your phone number is current, so keep them on! But tags wear down and fall off, and pets commonly slip out of collars and run away. Really the only way to truly know if a collarless dog or cat has a home is to get that implant scanned.

But what if my dogs never leave my side and my cats are all inside?

I honestly believe the pets that owners think are the “least risk” for roaming are the ones who desperately need a chip. They aren’t used to being without you or being outside and so they don’t have experience in finding their way home. Microchipping is a backup plan for the worst case – your lost, collarless pet. Lost pets often happen because some OTHER worst case life event has happened: burglary, tree limbs falling through a window or roof, car accidents when you have your dog or cat in your car, evacuations for natural disasters (tornado, flood, fire, hurricane)… the list of traumatic accidental reasons your pets can escape your safe home is long and frightening. The list of simple accidents is just as long: children leaving the door open, cats knocking a screen out of a window, dogs or cats jumping out your car window, guests or maintenance workers or movers or cleaners or pet sitters who don’t know your pet darts for the door… it’s really enough to make you crazy if you really think about all the ways animals accidentally get lost. Almost everyone knows someone who had a pet get away from them in some impossible way they didn’t ever expect. 

I have to take a moment and go back to natural disasters because that is really close to me. I was in vet school in Louisiana when Katrina hit and LSU was one of the major evacuation center for people’s pets. I cannot describe to you the emotion and chaos that was our daily reality of having people dropping off their terrified family pet for us to keep in a makeshift dirt floor shelter because they had nowhere else to go with them. Microchipped pets were SO much easier to keep identified and organized with updated owner contact information. Unfortunately they were in the dramatic minority. So many of the pets had no way for us accurately identify them so we just had to try our best to document with intake pictures (these pictures don’t ever really look like your sweet pet when they are scared and dirty and exhausted). We tried to keep hospital ID name collars on them, but these fall off or wear down over months in a shelter environment and become very difficult to read. Our priority as students and volunteers was to care for all these pets and get them back to their owners who had lost EVERYTHING they owned whenever they were ready to come back for their pets. Many were in our shelter for months and their physical appearance changed dramatically in that time. The importance of a simple microchip was engrained in all our minds permanently and I know I will never have a pet without one after working and living through this experience.

So does it tell me where my pet is?

Unfortunately, it’s not a GPS. Microchipping can’t track your pet. The biggest excuse I’m given for not microchipping is that if someone steals your pet, the microchip won’t help. While it won’t help you track your pet, a microchip is the BEST way to prove that “Bella” is definitely your pet if she is scanned. That chip is always registered to you. Besides, if someone steals your pet, they’re going to take off a GPS device and collar anyway. Hundreds more pets are lost rather than stolen. The odds are in your favor with a microchip as proof of identity and ownership.

Anything else?

I had a sad and interesting conversation recently about legal ownership of a pet. For several years, this lady had done all the medical, emotional, and physical caring for of a pet that she and her boyfriend adopted. Turns out, the registration information on the microchip all went under her ex’s contact information. Even though she could produce years of records that she was financially responsible for everything from buying food to veterinary care, because the microchip information was listed under her ex boyfriend’s name and contact information, she had to turn the pet over to him. Pets are still considered property in our legal system and this microchip was basically his proof of ownership… like a car registration. Laws will vary by state and she may be able create a legal case later, but right now that microchip means that pet legally belongs to her ex. Nobody likes to think about custody battles, but if you want to make sure your pets stay your pets in any way you can, microchipping is pretty binding in many areas.

How do I get a microchip?

Schedule an appointment with us!  We will register the number to your requested contact information at the time you have the microchip.   Animal control will also microchip your pet for you, often for just the cost of the chip. You will probably have to register the number yourself (DO NOT forget this step – many lost pets have an unregistered number!). Sometimes there are FREE microchipping or deeply discounted microchipping events at dog festivals or low cost spay and neuter clinics. These discounted events happen when an organization has gotten a microchip company to donate microchips. Search around online near you for upcoming microchip events. Again, you probably will have to remember to go home and immediately register your pet’s new number to your contact information. Don’t put it off!

We are always rooting for all lost pets to get home as soon as possible. If you have any questions or concerns about microchipping your pets, please don’t hesitate to call us!

Tamara Rattray, DVM

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”  – Mother Teresa

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I’ve been taking care of a dog who has severe allergies for the past couple years.  I mean, severe.  He is miserably itchy and develops intense infections that cover his entire body and face. When I walked into the exam room to meet him for the first time years ago, he was mostly hairless, smelled of infection, and was honestly just miserable from constantly itching.

This client loved her dog.  She felt terrible for how much her dog was suffering from his allergies and infections.  And from the very first appointment, she did every single thing I told her to do to make him better.  Every single thing without question. We ran blood work on him, we treated his infections for months, and she came in for his recheck appointments which often were every two to three weeks for months on end.  She was so compliant that she even bathed her 60lb dog every single day when I asked her to and she started making her own dog food, which is a big task for a large dog.  She is not a wealthy person and she didn’t have a lot of extra time, but she wanted her dog to feel better.

This pup greatly improved and now has a great coat and his itch is under control. He no longer smells and his quality of life is great.  He recently had a flareup of his allergies and developed an ear infection.  We treated his ears and when he came in for his followup appointment to make sure his infection was gone, the owner thanked me for never judging her.  I have to be honest, I was a little taken aback from this comment.  So I asked her what she meant by it.  She said she had been to many vets for her dog’s skin issues.  And she felt like other veterinarians would make the assumption that she wouldn’t take the necessary actions to make her dog better, strictly because of how bad her dog looked, smelled etc. And I was the first vet to not judge and to actually help her.

Now I am not perfect and I have to be honest, I have probably judged clients in the past.  But this job always has ways to put you in your place when you think you have finally figured everything out!  And I have seen clients that truly go without food so they can pay for their cat’s echocardiogram and I have seen seemingly wealthy clients forego testing on their pets.  And its okay!  We all are doing our best! Us veterinarians can do better and we as a society can do better. Mother Teresa put it perfectly when she said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”  We can be quick to judge but it takes time to get to know people and better understand the situation. So let’s spread the love out there and show kindness to all!

Dr. Carrie Uehlein DVM

Anesthesia and Surgery at The Veterinary Hospital of Davidson

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We are known here for our holistic medicine, but sometimes people forget we are a full-service veterinary hospital offering full medicine and surgery.  When we recommend surgery, especially “elective” or non-life saving surgeries, like dental cleanings, the most natural reaction is for our pet parents to fear the anesthesia. 

What we want you to know is that we use the same care and commitment to excellence with anesthesia and surgery that we use when choosing safe vaccines, medicines, and other treatments for your pets.  Everything we do here is well thought out and dictated by what we would expect and want for our own pets. 

First, we do not make pre-operative bloodwork optional.  It is not optional for us to ensure your pet is healthy enough to metabolize the anesthesia out of his or her body.  We also take the time to place an IV catheter prior to surgery to make sure we have immediate access to their veins in case they need adjustments in their medications while under anesthesia.  Sure, this results in your pet’s leg having a shaved area, but we think it is a small price to pay for safety.  The type of anesthesia we use in your pets is short-acting and metabolized out of the body quickly while your pet is transitioned to a gas anesthesia that they can breathe out of their bodies quickly when they are ready to wake from their procedure.

We have invested in equipment to keep your pet safe and comfortable, including warming blankets and specialized monitoring equipment, as well as trained personnel to monitor and care for your pet every step of the way.  For example, while having your pet’s teeth cleaned, one technician or nurse is dedicated to anesthesia while another focuses on the teeth.  The veterinarian caring for your pet is scheduled only for surgeries and dentals on that particular day so that they can be present to monitor your pet carefully. 

At The Veterinary Hospital of Davidson, we are fully committed to giving the best and safest care possible to your pets.  Rest assured, your babies are in good hands with us!

Dr. Nicole Sheehan

FDA Update on “Grain-free” diets and once proposed link to heart disease in Dogs

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Diet-related heart problem reported in 325 dogs

FDA update summarizes investigative findings to date
February 19, 2019 (published)
Written by Edie Lau for the Veterinary Information Network

While there is yet no conclusive evidence that dog foods high in legumes or potatoes cause the heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy, some dogs diagnosed with DCM have improved simply by changing their diet, according to a report posted today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, the phenomenon of pets — chiefly dogs, plus a few cats — developing DCM possibly because of what they eat is a problem not given to one easy solution. “Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors,”  the FDA said in an update on its investigation.

The agency announced in July that it was looking into a possible connection between diet and heart disease in dogs. The suspect diets are formulations containing as main ingredients peas, lentils or other legumes or seeds of legumes; or potatoes. Some, but not all, are labeled “grain-free.”

In its update, the FDA says that between Jan. 1, 2014 and Nov. 30, 2018, it’s received reports of 325 dogs and 10 cats diagnosed with DCM. (The agency notes that the tally does not include reports received in December and January owing to the partial federal government shutdown that occurred Dec. 22 to Jan. 25.)

The figures include 74 dogs and two cats that have died.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DM) is a disease in which the heart muscle weakens and cannot pump blood efficiently.

Dogs with DCM may tire quickly, cough, or struggle to breathe. They may have episodes of sudden weakness, fainting or collapse, or die suddenly.

DCM is recognized as a genetic condition in particular dog breeds — doberman pinschers, great Danes, Irish wolfhounds and cocker spaniels among them. But the illness suspected to be linked to diet has been found in dogs of a variety of atypical breeds.

According to the FDA update, the affected dogs range in age from puppies to seniors, weighing from eight pounds to 212 pounds.

The affected cats range in age from kittens to seniors, weighing seven to 13 pounds.

And while the common dietary thread is legumes, seeds of legumes (called pulses) and potatoes as the main ingredients, no single brand or formulation has been found to blame. Instead, implicated foods “include both grain-free and grain-containing diets in all forms (kibble, canned raw, home-cooked),” the FDA reports.

In pet foods sold commercially, the agency considers “main ingredients” to be those listed before the first vitamin or mineral ingredient.

In most cases, the implicated foods are dry formulations, but there are a few instances involving semi-moist and wet foods.

In 196 reports of DCM, dogs were fed only a single diet. Of those diets, 90 percent were said to be labeled as “grain-free” The other 10 percent ate diets containing grains,
some of which were vegan or vegetarian.

In answers to frequently asked questions posted by the FDA, the agency declines to identify which commercial diets haven’t been linked to DCM.

“FDA does not have a comprehensive list of all foods on the market and … the investigation has not yet identified a root cause for the reports of DCM,” it explains. “… Additionally, any reports of illness thought to be connected to food products are voluntary. We rely on pet owners and veterinarians to provide reports of illness, as well as clinical evidence to help document the case.”

Another complicating aspect of the investigation is the role of the amino acid taurine.

In the 1980s, researchers found DCM in cats to be associated with taurine deficiency; supplementing with taurine reversed the disease. Subsequent research found that certain breeds of dogs appeared prone to taurine deficiency, as well, and that supplementation likewise was helpful.

With the current cases of DCM, taurine appears to play a role sometimes, but not always.

Researchers in the FDA-coordinated Veterinary Laboratory and Response Network found that 37 dogs and two cats with DCM had low taurine levels. However, 29 dogs with DCM had normal or high taurine levels.

“According to recheck echocardiograms in the medical records,”  the FDA says, “some pets with DCM improved after veterinary treatment, diet change, and taurine supplementation, while others improved with appropriate veterinary care and diet change alone.”

As an example, researchers offer the case of a 3-year-old male beagle mix who presented with a cough of six weeks that was treated with 30 days of doxycycline, an antibiotic.

“The dog had been eating a limited ingredient grain-free diet containing a novel source and six legume-based ingredients. The whole blood and plasma taurine levels were above normal reference values,” the researchers report. (Novel protein sources are something other than the usual chicken, turkey or beef; meats such as kangaroo, venison or alligator.)

The dog’s first echocardiogram showed, among other things, enlargement of the right side of his heart, mild pulmonary hypertension, mild thickening and mild regurgitation of
the mitral valve, and trace to mild regurgitation of the tricuspid valve.

After two years on a chicken-and-rice diet, the dog’s right heart no longer was enlarged, he no longer had pulmonary hypertension, and his mitral valve and tricuspid valves functioned normally.

The FDA said it also is investigating whether changes in the heart short of DCM are part of a disease continuum or have other important significance.

In a paper, “Diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs: what do we know?” published Dec. 1 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, researchers from the veterinary schools at Tufts University, the University of California, Davis, the University of Illinois and North Carolina State University discuss the complicated nature of pet food and implications on health.

“The complexity of pet food manufacturing is often underestimated,” they write. “Pet foods must contain all required nutrients in the right amounts and right proportions. Nutrient standards (minimums and, for some nutrients, maximums) are established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. However, the effects of processing (or not processing) the ingredients must also be considered, along with nutrient bioavailability and the effects of all other ingredients in the food. Unfortunately, this may not always be done. In addition, extensive testing is needed on an ongoing basis to ensure rigorous quality control. Inclusion of exotic ingredients, such as kangaroo, alligator, fava beans, and lentils, adds another level of complexity to ensuring the diet is
nutritious and healthy. Exotic ingredients have different nutritional profiles and different digestibility than typical ingredients and have the potential to affect the metabolism of other nutrients. For example, the bioavailability of taurine is different when included in a lamb-based diet, compared with a chicken-based diet, and can be affected by the amount and types of fiber in the diet.”

The authors conclude: “Pet food marketing has outpaced the science, and owners are not always making healthy, science-based decisions even though they want to do the best for their pets.”

At the same time, as the FDA notes, diet-associated reports of DCM have affected a very small proportion of the estimated 77 million pet dogs in the country. “Tens of millions of dogs have been eating dog food without developing DCM,” the agency says, adding, “If you are concerned about the diet you are currently feeding your dog, FDA recommends consulting with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to discuss the best and safest diet for your dog.”

Animals do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.

By Blogs One Comment

There’s the saying that old age is not a disease, it is just a number.  If you are a client here, you have probably heard us talk this way and even if your pet has lived a long life, we will continue to take steps to keep your pet happy if she has the will to live.  So how do you know if your pet is not ready to die?  It’s simple, you listen to her.  You ask her and she will tell you in her own way.

I saw a patient last month that came in after she collapsed on her walk.  Her mom had to carry her in to the hospital and was in a panic because she thought she was dying.  Let me back up and let you know why she thought this.  You see, my patient was diagnosed with a bone tumor in her pelvis a couple months ago.  She was doing well and we were managing the pain with medications.  But there were not a lot of great options to treat this tumor due to the location. So when she collapsed on her walk, of course her mom thought she was dying.And here is why always performing a thorough physical exam is necessary for all patients. Because it would have also been easy for me to believe that since she has bone cancer, it probably metastasized to the lungs and that is why she collapsed.  However, after the physical exam, I found that she had a heart arrhythmia and was in heart failure. This is where the tough decisions come in and we have to listen to our pets to try to understand what is best for them.  I thought I could help her by getting the fluid out of her lungs and putting her on medication to get her heart back into rhythm.  I had to put her on 3 medications which are expensive every month and don’t forget, she still has that tumor in her pelvis.  So her parents had to decide.  Euthanize her that day or start treatment, all the while knowing that her tumor will become a big problem for her sooner than later. So I asked them, ‘Before she collapsed, was she a happy dog?  Were her day to day activities relatively normal?  Did she still have a will to live?’  Her mom and dad looked at each other and with tears in their eyes, they said yes.  She overall was doing okay and even though things were changing due to her bone tumor, she was still a happy dog. She wasn’t letting that tumor get her down. She wanted to live. So we decided to treat the heart condition.

One week later, this dog bounded into the hospital for her recheck EKG and was doing great.  Her mom again had tears in her eyes when she thanked me for helping her dog and said that if they only had her for another few months, she was so happy to get those months with her.

This interaction made me think about two personal stories of my own.  My grandmother collapsed when she was 90 years old and we found out she had a heart arrhythmia and needed a pacemaker. She was otherwise very healthy for her age, still lived on her own, and was taking minimal medications.  However, it was difficult to find a doctor to perform this procedure strictly because my grandmother was old.  We eventually got her a pacemaker and she went on to live another 11 years.  She was able to see another 5 great grandchildren be born!  You see, you shouldn’t not do a test or not do a procedure on your pet just because of age. You have to look at all the other factors affecting your pet’s quality of life.  And you have to listen to them!  Do they still have a will to live? 

I also had to personally make a very hard decision for my own dog Tyler. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 11. Surgery was an option to try and remove the tumor but putting your dog through a brain surgery is no easy decision!  Plus she had mildly elevated liver values and arthritis in her hip.  I agonized over this decision and since finances were not the deciding factor, I had to base my decision on what I thought was best for her.  And after weeks of thinking of all the options and really listening to my dog, I decided to go through with the surgery.  She ended up living another 18 months and that time with her was invaluable.  People told me I was crazy that I was having my old dog undergo brain surgery, but I knew she was not ready to die.

Even us veterinarians agonize over what is best for our own pets.  Medical knowledge does not make our decisions to run tests or perform procedures on our elderly pets any easier. It can be very hard to care for aging animals and even harder to know how much to put them through or when to let them go.  So ask your pet what they want. I promise you, if you really listen, they will answer you.


Dr. Carrie Uehlein

Dogs who fight other dogs in the home…..How do you stop it

By Blogs, Client Education No Comments

This has been coming up for me a lot lately with some of my best clients – the ones who would do anything for their dogs.  Their dogs are becoming aggressive with each other to the point of injury, sometimes serious. Once this starts happening, it typically escalates.  Anyone who has experienced this with their dogs can tell you how scary it is, and how the household becomes a place of fear and anxiety as everyone is in constant fear the dogs will really hurt each other. The solution is actually pretty easy, once you figure out why the aggression is happening.  I’m going to lay out here how to figure out what is triggering the aggression and what you can do to stop it. For those of you who don’t have fighting between your dogs, the following guidelines will also prevent you from developing this problem.

First, let’s real simply talk about how dogs think. Picture a pack of wild dogs or wolves.  To hunt successfully, they must all be very clear about their place within the hierarchy of the pack.  There are very clear rules for hunting, eating, and feeding the young and old. This is wired in their DNA, their hardware.  So the way I think about your dogs is that they also find it very important to know where they fit in the hierarchy of your pack. Once you figure out what your pack hierarchy is, you can take steps to get your dogs comfortable again.  But how do you do this? Dogs who fight are typically very closely matched, and they may not be vying for the top dog spot. Maybe in your home, that spot is taken by an extremely confident dog who no one is going to challenge. Sometimes #2 and #3 are trying to figure things out.  It’s not always easy to figure out the pecking order, but here are a few tricks:

  1. When they have fought in the past, who finally backs down and tries to stop the fight? That’s the dog who is more submissive.
  2. If a cookie or bone drops on the floor, who will win it?  That’s your more dominant dog.
  3. When walking both on a leash, who makes sure they are in front, if even by a few inches?  When opening the door to let them outside, who makes sure they edge out of the door first?  That’s the more dominant dog.
  4. When you return home, who edges the others out of the way to make sure they get attention from you first?  That’s your dog who is more in charge.
  5. Think about their breed(s) as well.  In their DNA do they have a breed that is a “take charge” type? Think all “bully” dogs, terriers, Rotties…. They naturally are going to want to be in charge.   
  6. Who’s naturally the bigger, stronger, faster, younger and more vital dog?  This dog knows it. Maybe the younger dog now knows he/she is stronger than the older, previous top dog.

You may notice, sometimes the dogs flip-flop roles.  When it comes to food, one dog will always win. But in all other circumstances the other one would win out.  This is the hard part, and likely one of the reasons the fighting started – the dogs are closely matched. You may think the dog who seems to start the fight is the more dominant dog, but this is not always true. Sometimes the underdog is being treated like the top dog by the humans and wants the other dogs to follow suit.  So how do you stop the fighting? Dogs in the wild will totally work out the hierarchy amongst themselves. Or they will leave and find a new pack that fits them better. It is only the humans who confuse the pecking order and create the confusion within the pack. Identify what order your dogs are NATURALLY in, and support that natural hierarchy. How do you do this?  

  1. Feed them in order of their hierarchy.  1, 2, 3, 4…. You can prepare all food at the same time, you just set it down for them in that order.  If they can not safely eat together, still feed them in that order, and make sure they all see you feeding this way.  
  2. Treats and toys must also be given in that order as well. If they still fight over these high value items, consider eliminating them from the home. In my house, if my human or furry kids can’t behave around a certain toy, the toy has to go.  
  3. Give the first attention and best resting spots them in that order as well.  

So what happens when you don’t do these things?  All of the dogs are confused and uncomfortable. This is why you will see them come in a room and give each other a “dirty” look “for no reason”. Or they snap at each other seemingly unprovoked.  Eventually this leads to all out brawls. The simplest way I use to think about it is that the more dominant dog sees the other dog(s) being escalated by their humans and feels the need to constantly put the other dog(s) in their place so that the proper order is reestablished.  As mentioned before, sometimes the underdog thinks they need to make a play for a higher rank since the humans keep sending messages that they are “top dog”. Here are the most common reasons I see the hierarchy becomes confused in the home:

  1. The smaller dog is allowed on the bed and/or couch and the larger (stronger) dog is not.
  2. The more dominant dog has to be crated because they are not fully potty or house trained and the less dominant dog is allowed to roam free (thereby having the best resting spots).  
  3. The older or more established dog gets first priority treatment because they were there first, even though the younger and newer dog is naturally stronger mentally and physically and should be treated as alpha.  
  4. The less dominant, “sweeter” dog is rewarded for their sweetness by being given first priority for resources.  (Sorry, but you are setting this dog up to get picked on.)
  5. The dog showing dominance is punished by being placed in a crate or on the floor and has to watch the other dog be elevated to a better resting spot.  

Remember, ultimately, the humans should be in charge, the “ultimate alphas” within the home, so it’s appropriate to tell your dogs when they are not behaving how you expect them to. Also, the dogs who are likely to fight with other dogs seem to be more insecure than whose who don’t fight.  That is why it is very important for you to expect manners and confident behavior from all of your dogs. One great way to do this is to expect them to SIT-STAY for everything they want – food, treats, attention, walks, going outdoors. Once all are sitting, each dog should be rewarded IN THE ORDER of their hierarchy.  1-2-3… That simple. If your household dictates the stronger dog must be crated, then do it in a private room where they don’t see the other dogs free, maybe even in the favorite room like a bedroom. Let that dog out of the crate first and greet them before the other dogs. It’s hard, right? Especially when you are frustrated with one of the dogs for “picking fights”.

Here’s the good news. This method works. The hardest part is identifying what the pecking order is.  Once you support the hierarchy, it becomes second nature. The other piece of good news? I don’t think your dogs really care where they fit, just that they all do fit. I don’t think their feelings are hurt by being #2 or 3.  They are happier and more stable just knowing what the order is. It doesn’t mean you love them more or less. Humans think like that, dogs don’t. They love when you have provided a stable and safe home for them. Good luck and be careful!  (And call us if you need us.)

Dr. Nicole Sheehan