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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

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

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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

Curing Feline Diabetes With Food

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Barnaby is a 9yr old DSH MN kitty that has been coming to our hospital for the past year.  He is strictly indoor and shares his home with two other cats.  When we examined him a year ago, Barnaby was overweight at 17.2lbs.  The owner changed his diet to a high quality, grain free, weight management dry food to try to get the excess weight off of him.  He had been doing well until he recently came in for lameness.  On physical exam, it was found that Barnaby had lost a significant amount of weight and his “lameness” was actually a change in his gait and stance.  He was walking on his ankles or hocks which can be a sign of diabetes.  Blood work was immediately performed and he had a severely elevated blood glucose of 548 (normal range is 64-120). He also had a large amount of glucose in his urine.

Diabetes affects about 2% of our indoor cats and the culprit is DRY FOOD.  Even high quality, grain free dry food contains too many carbohydrates and not enough protein for our cats.  Feeding strictly canned, freeze dried, or raw diets to cats will prevent any possibility of your cat developing insulin dependent diabetes.  There are plenty of diets made specifically to treat diabetes but those diets can be expensive and typically are lower quality than other high end commercial canned food. We also love freeze dried and raw diets for our cats.

We decided to not start insulin on Barnaby since he was still feeling okay and he was not in diabetic ketoacidosis (he was a stable diabetic when he was brought in). Barnaby was started on Nature’s Variety INSTINCT canned food and all dry food/treats were removed from his life.  The owner was told that a food change does not cure all cats and he may need insulin injections, so he was brought back in 4 days to have his blood sugar checked. His blood sugar was 194 four days after starting canned food and 95 eleven days after stopping all dry food.  We cured Barnaby’s diabetes with a simple diet change in 11 days!!

We use nutrition to fix many of our pet’s health ailments!  It is so great that Barnaby does not need twice daily insulin injections for the rest of his life. He and his owner couldn’t be happier!

A Life Jacket Saved My Dog’s Life

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I regularly kayak on Mountain Island Lake and would bring my dog Tyler with me.  She would ride in the back of the kayak and occasionally get out to swim during our trips.  She always wore a life jacket because I worried about her tiring in the water.  I never imagined that jacket would actually save her life.

Almost 2 years ago, we were out on the water and Tyler was getting anxious in the kayak so she jumped into the water.  She seemed a little disoriented and was swimming away from me.  It was then that she had her first seizure of her life … in the water, about 20 feet from me.  There was not enough time to get to her and I know she would have drowned if she was not wearing her life jacket.  The following day, a MRI was performed and found a brain tumor which eventually took her life.   My dog had her very first seizure at 12 years of age in the middle of Mountain Island Lake! I am so thankful that she did not drown in the water and will forever be grateful she was wearing a life jacket.

The lake life is amazing around the Davidson area and our dogs love the water – life jackets can save their lives!

Dr. Carrie Uehlein

Importance of Alar Fold Resections in Short Nosed Pets

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We love our Bulldogs, Frenchies, and Pugs for their short noses and snoring.  They were bred a certain way to maintain those smooshy, adorable faces however there is a big price to pay for all that cuteness.  They just can’t breathe well and have a tendency to overheat in warm environments.  There are typically 4 anatomical changes found in our short nosed dogs:  stenotic nares (very small nostrils), elongated soft palate (this causes noisy breathing by covering the entry to trachea), narrow trachea (windpipe), and everted laryngeal saccules.  So you have this 50# American Bulldog who is basically breathing out of a straw!  No wonder they snore and make so much noise even when they are inactive. The good news is that you can surgically fix a few of these issues to help them breathe better!

The best way to prevent respiratory issues is to surgically correct their stenotic nares by removing the excess tissue and creating a nostril to breathe.  Studies have shown that if you correct the nostrils in a brachycephalic dog before they develop difficulty breathing (when they are young or at time of spay/neuter), you can actually prevent their soft palates from getting thickened and consequently, prevent them from needing surgery on their palate too.  I have seen pugs able to go for a 2-3 mile run because I performed an alar fold resection on them when 7m of age.

We use cautery or surgical laser to perform these procedures.  The attached picture shows the right nostril of a French Bulldog prior to surgery and the left nostril already surgically corrected.  As you can see, the dog now has an open airway to breathe!!  So if you have one of our beloved smooshy faced breeds, we have the ability to greatly improve their quality of life so just ask us if an alar fold resection would help your pet!

Calming Treats For Your Pet

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Does your dog have anxiety on car rides? Difficulty staying calm through thunderstorms or fireworks? Does he get stressed at the groomer or while boarding?  Is separation anxiety a problem when you leave the house?  Does your cat urinate in the house when you have guests over?  Is senility affecting your dog’s sleep cycle?  Is your cat having difficulty adjusting to the new baby in the house? Does your puppy need to stay calm after a surgical procedure?

If your pet’s anxiety is situation based, Vetri Science Composure treats can help keep them calm during these stressful times.  Many vets will tell you to give your dog Benadryl to keep him calm on a car ride but as many of you know, this tends to not be enough and you are looking for another option that won’t severely sedate your pet and doesn’t have side effects.  Or maybe your cat has to be sedated heavily when you have company over and you are not comfortable with that level of sedation or your dog’s senility is causing changes in his sleep/wake cycle and you do not want to use harsh medications to help your geriatric pet sleep through the night. Composure Treats are made of Thiamine, Tryptophan, Colostrum Calming Complex, and Theanine – all natural ingredients that can improve your pets quality of life without causing harmful side effects.  This product comes in a treat form or a liquid formula so you can choose the best option for ease of administration.  So come see us if you are looking for more options to help your pets anxiety.  And don’t forget, we also have a variety of plant based herbal anxiety remedies too!