My dog seems fine but has diarrhea – what do I do?

If your dog is acting quite normally and suddenly develops diarrhea, the first question in your mind should be: What caused this?  Often dogs get sudden diarrhea from eating inappropriate things such as greasy foods, bark or mulch from outside, items from the garbage can or compost pile, people food, etc.  Sometimes diarrhea develops from stressful situations.  They can also develop diarrhea from eating plants, getting into chemicals, or eating their toys.  If you fear one of the latter – call your veterinarian immediately.  If you suspect your dog was given barbeque by your neighbor last night, then there are some first steps you can take to try to alleviate the situation.  I always recommend an immediate fast.  No food for either 12 or 24 hours, depending on the severity of the diarrhea.  Please keep in mind that we are talking about a dog that is acting 100% normal in every other way.  Fasting the dog will allow the contents of the stomach and intestines to clear out and hopefully begin the healing process.  Break the fast with a BLAND diet.  Yes, there are diets that are more bland than over-the-counter dog food!  Veterinarians have diets that are manufactured to be used for just such a situation and the diet can usually be purchased in either canned or dry form.  Some examples are Purina’s EN, Hill’s I/D, and Eukanuba’s low residue.  You can also cook a bland meal for your pet to eat that is composed of boiled meat and steamed rice.  It is important that the meat is boiled – not fried or baked.  Boiling meat allows most of the fat and grease to be removed completely.  Most people opt to use ground beef, ground turkey, or chicken for this part.  The rice can be white or brown (I usually recommend white for its ability to absorb liquids).  Some people recommend cottage cheese.  I have no comment.  Some dogs respond well to this, but I have not found it necessary to add this ingredient.  I suggest that you cook a batch of meat and rice in a pot and store it in the refrigerator until gone.  You can dish out the food from here in portions and not have to keep cooking meals for your pet each time.  Feed ¼ their normal volume of food every 4-6 hours for the first day.  If things are going well and beginning to solidify, increase the portion size and decrease frequency over the next 1-2 days.  After the stool is back to normal, begin mixing the bland food with their dog food.  I recommend 25% dog food with 75% bland food to start, then 50/50, then 75/25.  If during this process the diarrhea seems to be getting worse, please call your vet – there are many things that can cause diarrhea and it could be an internal problem. 
  • ·         Fast
  • ·         Bland diet
  • ·         Small meals
Dr. Amy Hellard                                West Chester Veterinary Care         

My dog got his teeth cleaned AGAIN

Yes – last week my dog, Brett had his teeth cleaned again.  I say again because the last time I did the procedure was only 3 months ago.  This dog has a natural plaque-building rate that nearly equals the rate that weeds grow in our yard.  Every time he has his teeth cleaned, it is the full monty.  He is under general anesthesia, has his teeth hand-scaled, then ultrasonic scaled.  After that, they are polished and we apply fluoride.  Most dogs after having this procedure done can go over 12 months before having to repeat.  Even longer when they are getting oral care at home.  Not my Brett.  I have tried it all and he just has bad teeth.  Why am I telling you this?
Many people are concerned about repeated anesthetic procedures (surgeries).  Brett is living proof that this fear is quite unwarranted.  He has been having surgery at least once a year ever since he was four years old.  He is now thirteen years old and acts like he is a five year old dog.
Many people put off teeth cleaning procedures for a variety of reasons, but waiting to do it will only make the disease worse.  It is best to get teeth cleanings done early to prevent having to extract teeth.  It has been two years since Brett’s last extraction and the teeth are looking good because we continue to remove the plaque as it is formed.
Many people are concerned that their pet is too old for anesthesia.  Remember that I mentioned Brett is now 13.  I have modified his anesthetic protocol over the years and based on his most recent lab work, but age is not a reason to put off needed surgery.  When it is done, it can add years to a pet’s life.

Anesthesia and surgical techniques continue to improve year after year.  There is inherent risk involved, but the entire process can be safely managed, especially in a stable patient.  The benefits certainly outweigh the dangers.

Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care

teaching your dog to “come”

“Come” is one of the most important commands we teach our dogs.  It is a potentially life-saving word, too.  If your dog is running toward the road for example…
Dogs learn that they can ignore our commands at times.  They learn this because when we tell/ask them to do something and they don’t do it, there may be no consequences at all.  It is imperative that this is not true when your dog hears, “come.”  Here are some rules that need to apply to that word.
1. In teaching it: never say “come” unless the dog is already coming toward you or you have them on a leash or rope of some kind.  When you say the word, there must be no alternative but to comply.
2. Always make it very worthwhile for the dog to come.  When they obey, there must be a super fantastic reward awaiting them.  They must immediately get the reward.  There can never ever be any punishment after complying.  It no longer matters what they did that made you say the word, if they come, they must not be punished.  If you are trying to teach them not to do something, go and get them – do not use “come.”
3. Do not ask them.  Tell them.  Come is a command.  Stop asking your dog.

Helpful hints: 1. Use a unique verbal and a visual signal at the same time.  (i.e. whistle and raise your hand) 2. If your dog has already learned that “come” can be ignored, teach a new word with the same rules as above.

Tick Removal 101

Tick season is upon us and I wanted to give you a refresher (or a first lesson) in tick removal.  Ticks will attach to their host (your pet or yourself) by grabbing a mouthful of skin and holding on for dear life.  There are many rumors about how to proceed with their removal, but the best and easiest is this: pull it out.  Yes, there is more.  Be sure to grab the tick as near to the surface of the skin as possible.  If you have fingernails to help, that’s good, but don’t pinch the tick off.  Pull with steady and firm pressure until the tick releases.  Once released, you can confirm that you got all of the critter by checking him.  His legs will be flailing against your fingertips and his tiny head and even tinier mouth usually has some skin in it.  Gross, but true.  You do want to remove the entire tick to prevent localized infection and transmission of disease.

The topically applied flea and tick preventatives often work to kill the tick before it is able to transmit disease.  Lyme disease is the commonly known one – it is transmitted by the deer tick in this region.  Other ticks transmit other blood-borne disease.  It is best not to wait for the product to work if you do find the tick, simply remove it as described above.  If you miss one, the product should take care of it for you.

Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care (WCVC)

My dog nearly bloated…

Many dog owners and some non-dog owners know what bloat is.  The movie “Marley and Me” brought the issue to the surface for a while, though now many who saw the film still don’t know how that dog died.  I never saw the movie, but I do know about bloat and I feel it nearly unforgivable to happen to a vet’s dog.  Here is what happened: my dog Emma is a lab/springer mix.  She usually gets a burst of energy in the evening after I get home from work.  On this particular day, she had just finished eating her dinner, then goaded me into throwing her Frisbee for her.  We went into the back yard and I tossed the Frisbee.  The first chase and catch was mild, the second throw produced a nice chase and she nearly caught that one, the third throw included a high catch with a tail flip – it was beautiful.  The fourth throw never happened.  She came back and dropped the Frisbee, was panting as expected, but didn’t want to go again.  She paced a bit, then ran off to go pee.  After that, she returned to the porch, but didn’t want to play.  Shortly after, she vomited her dinner and a large amount of white foam.  She then vomited again and I saw her gums – they looked pale.  I lifted her lip and her gums were white.  Her tongue was pale blue.  No pink in the mouth anywhere.  I freaked.  She then proceeded to do all the usual things, tried to vomit repeatedly, only foam came up.  She couldn’t lay down comfortably – she kept changing positions.  She turned and looked at her sides where it hurt, and she continuously stretched her torso in an attempt to get some relief.  I didn’t end up having to take her to the emergency hospital that night.  I massaged her belly and watched for the next signs – fast heart rate and distention of the abdomen.  That didn’t happen.  After about 20 minutes her pain seemed relieved and we were safe again.  
What happened?  When a dog bloats, the stomach turns over itself.  The other name for this condition is Gastric (stomach) Dilatation (distention) and Volvulus (twisting) – GDV.  It is more common in “deep chested” dogs, think Boxer and Doberman.  After the stomach has twisted, the outflow tract is obstructed and the stomach begins to fill up with gas.  The end result is that the dog goes into shock, the stomach fills up so much gas that sections of it loose blood flow and begin to die.  The dog can easily die if this emergency is not addressed immediately.  Often these dogs need to be taken to emergency surgery to have the stomach emptied and set back into proper position.  Their recovery from surgery is also rough and requires constant supervision.  I dodged a bullet that day, but thought you all should know about this and what to look for.  I saw it happen in my own baby first-hand.  My advice to you, do not wait to go to the emergency hospital if you see these signs.  The sooner the dog receives medical attention, the better the potential outcome.

Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care (WCVC)

Thunderstorm phobia in dogs

Lately I have been seeing quite a bit of this common problem with the recent weather we have been having.  Fear of thunderstorms can stem from several sources, but once the dog becomes fearful, it is a difficult and tiring process to reverse the effects.  Most puppies are not fearful of storms – this comes later in life and I feel the fear is based in behaviors the puppy observes.  Therefore, prevention is possible and so is behavior modification to reverse the behavior.
Prevention – teach the puppy that storms are nothing to be afraid of.  The puppy begins to worry about storms when they become noisy, the light shows begin, or when they see us responding to the storm in a dramatic way (running around looking for candles and flashlights).  One effective tactic is to take the puppy outside during a light storm and play ball.  You can take the pup for a walk in the rain, or sit on the porch and practice tricks while feeding treats.  If you ignore the storm, the pup will learn to do so as well.  When the puppy exhibits fearful behavior such as to a loud thunderclap, you should get his/her attention on something else and teach them to ignore the noise.  Reward the puppy with verbal praise for remaining calm, but do not coddle him/her. Simply ignoring the storm may not be enough – work with the pup during a storm to keep their mind off of the weather.
Behavior modification – when our dogs are scared, we give them attention and reassurance.  This response to the dog’s behavior will perpetuate that behavior and make them feel justified in their fear.  Instead, ignore the storm all-together and help your dog to do the same.  You can close the blinds and turn the lights on brightly in the house.  Play the radio or TV and interact with your dog though play and/or training.  Your dog will associate storms with good things like attention and treats, but if he/she exhibits fearful behavior it is ignored.  Over time and with consistency the fearful behavior can be extinguished. 
Medication – if needed there are some good sedatives that can be used to help with storm phobia.  However, it is important to remember that any medication given to reduce anxiety has to take full effect prior to the beginning of the anxiety.  Keep tuned to the weather channel so that you can administer those medications early enough to help take the edge off.  One good over-the-counter medication you can give is benadryl (diphenhydramine) – this anti-histamine has the nice side-effect of mild sedation and is quite safe to administer.  The dose is 1 mg per pound of body weight.  A 23 lb beagle can have 1 adult diphenhydramine (25 mg) every 6-8 hours.  A 55 lb labrador can have 2 adult diphenhydramine capsules, and so on. 
Remember, giving attention for fearful behavior perpetuates the behavior.  Instead, re-direct the behavior to something more desirable.  Good luck!

Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care (WCVC)

Flea prevention low-down

Not all flea preventatives are created equal.  There are quite a few flea prevention products that we see on the shelves of pet stores and advertised through on-line pharmacies.  Some cost more than others and some require a veterinary prescription.  In my opinion, the primary and important difference in flea prevention is in “speed of kill” – allow me to explain what that means.  The various topical flea preventatives that are commercially available all have different time frames in which they are anticipated to kill the fleas that jump on the treated pet.  This is important because when we take into account the flea’s life cycle, we can understand that we want to kill that flea before it has the chance to lay eggs that will further contaminate the environment.  A topical flea preventative that kills the flea faster will act as a treatment for fleas (the flea is dead) as well as a preventative for fleas (the fleas are not laying eggs that will contaminate the home/yard and serve as a source for further infestation).  This combination of action gives us the best possible prevention and treatment for fleas. 
There are some other variations between the products.  Safety for children is an important one – in almost all cases it is important that the product not come into contact with humans.  Some are labeled as more harmful than others, so each situation must be taken into account.  My recommendation has always been to apply the topical flea product at night right before the family goes to sleep.  This way, no one will be petting the pet immediately after application and by morning, it will be fully soaked into their skin.  Tick protection is another way in which the commercial products differ.  I recommend tick protection in the topical flea preventative for dogs, not cats.  This is designed to kill ticks that jump on your dog, hopefully before they are able to transmit disease.  Ticks carry many diseases, the most commonly known is Lyme Disease.  If the tick dies quickly, it is unable to transmit this disease to the dog through the bite.  Finally, water resistance varies from product to product.  In most of the veterinary –recommended products, water resistance is an added feature.  Once allowed to dry, the product is resistant to washing off for dogs that swim or are bathed frequently.  
Please check the various products and their claims before deciding that price is your only concern.  I have seen many dogs with live fleas that were recently treated with an inexpensive over-the-counter product that their owner bought in the grocery store.  These products will appear to be no different than their more expensive counterparts, but they are!
Finally, please remember to use the product exactly as it is labeled and on the proper pet.  Dog flea products on cats can be toxic, as can cat flea product on rabbits.  

Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care (WCVC)

Cats need care, too!

Cats are more popular pets than dogs; however they visit the vet a lot less often, according to a study done last year by the American Veterinary Medical Association.  Some statistics I have read estimate they see the vet half as often as dogs.  Cats do, in fact, require regular veterinary visits.  Our feline friends have a tendency to hide their illnesses and subtle signs that they are sick tend to go unnoticed by owners for a long time.  It seems that people get cats because they are perceived to be a lower-maintenance pet than dogs.  This is true and the cat’s independence is part of their charm.  However, we also find ourselves paying less attention to their day to day routines such as appetite, water consumption, and litter box habits.  In addition, cats are often less stoic than dogs and are certainly less apt to complain when they aren’t feeling well.  They usually become more reclusive.  Cats very frequently show signs of illness that are very nonspecific when compared to dogs.  Cats might lose a pound of body weight and although that does not seem like a lot, the average ten pound cat that loses one pound has just lost 10% of their body weight.  That does seem like a lot (it is!).  Due to the fact that cats often have subtle and non-specific symptoms, veterinarians often need to do more diagnostics such as lab work and X-rays.  Dogs, in comparison, will often give the vet more clues as to what is wrong and what to look for.  It’s frustrating, but true.
Perhaps the tendency to take the cat to the vet less often has stemmed from the fact that our focus in veterinary medicine has gotten away from the importance of annual vaccinations.  In fact, many cats do not require annual vaccinations and we are tailoring vaccine recommendations now based on the cat’s lifestyle.  However, just because they may not need a vaccine is not a reason to leave them home from their annual or bi-annual examination.  Regularly scheduled veterinary visits offer your veterinarian the chance to proactively treat your pet and also keep tabs on their weight, nutritional condition, and overall health.  Early detection of disease allows veterinarians to fight, control, and treat many diseases such as diabetes, which are treatable when caught early. 
How does one actually get the cat to vet when they really don’t appreciate traveling at all?  Well, there are some good things to do in planning ahead.  One big one is to get the carrier out a day or two ahead of time if you can.  Put the carrier in the area where the cat spends most of his/her time so that he/she can become accustomed to it.  Put treats in the carrier every now and then which they will find when they explore the carrier.  You can even put the food in the carrier with the door left open.  This will help get the cat accustomed to walking into the carrier willingly and make it a less scary place when the door is closed.  You can also practice putting the cat into the carrier.  There are several methods.  They include 1. Free will walking in – the cat is trained to willingly walk into the carrier for a treat, 2. Scooping them in – the cat allows us to hold them by the chest and rear legs and feed them into the carrier face first, 3. Backing them in – the cat allows us to put them in the carrier rear end first (it helps to hold both rear legs in your palm and press them to the cat’s abdomen), 4. Removing the top and setting them in – the cat can be placed in the carrier with the top removed, then replace the top and door once they are in, and 5. Standing the carrier up – the cat is held by the shoulders and allowed to extend their back – the rear legs are placed in first and the cat is lowered into the carrier while it is sitting upright.  Once the cat is in the box, the next step is habituation to the car – short trips are best.  Take the cat around the block, and then back home for a snack or dinner.  Eventually, if you practice this on a regular basis – the frequency depends on how upset your kitty is, they will habituate to the car and the trip to the vet won’t be as strenuous.  Finally at the vet, hopefully it can be arranged that there will be minimal fear-factor.  An extended appointment in which the examination is not rushed if it doesn’t have to be, willingness of the vet to sedate your pet if anxiety is a big issue, and hopefully minimal to no dog interactions during the visit will ensure the experience is as good as possible for your cat.
If your cat has not seen a vet in the past year, please call to schedule his or her appointment today.  A wellness exam will help provide peace of mind for you that your beloved friend is feeling as well as you suppose he/she is.
Please look at the healthy cats website at:

Back Pain In Dogs

I wanted to share some information with you about Intervertebral Disk Disease in dogs.  The disease can occur in cats, but it is more common in dogs.  I recently attended a lecture on this topic and wanted to summarize some key points for you.  First, this disease is most common in dog breeds that have long backs.  Namely, Daschshunds but also Beagles, Corgis, Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and others.  These breeds have a genetic predisposition to developing disk herniation, but it can also occur after trauma such as a car accident.  Disk herniation is literally movement of the intervertebral disk into the space normally occupied by the spinal cord.  The disk normally serves as a  cushion between the vertebrae, but it can move upwards and impinge on the spinal cord with this disease.  When the disk herniates in the mid to lower back it can cause paralysis and/or the inability to properly urinate and defecate.  If the disk herniates in the neck, it can cause neck pain, lameness in a front leg, or even paralysis of all four limbs.  The herniation can occur suddenly, or can happen slowly over a long period of time.  Definitive diagnosis frequently requires specialized imaging.
The key point to remember is that if your dog is experiencing neck or back pain, this can be a significant medical problem.  Furthermore, if your pet is losing the ability to move his or her legs or is paralyzed, this is a medical emergency.  This condition is one of the few that I have experienced dogs’ vocalizing in pain.  Besides vocalization, dogs will demonstrate pain when certain spots on the back or neck are touched, they sometimes cannot feel sensations such as pinching of the toes, and they can experience wobbling of the limbs, crossing the feet, or the inability to stand.  With paralysis comes the question of whether or not to move forward with back surgery.  This can be an expensive proposition and the cost alone is frequently the determining factor in the pet’s treatment.  If you are worried about this disease or suspect that your dog may be predisposed, please consider purchasing a pet insurance policy.  I have met many beloved family pets who’s treatment decision would have been different if an insurance policy had been in place.  Keep in mind that your vet will work with any pet insurance company you choose.  Please ask your vet if you would like to learn more.

Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care (WCVC)

Winterize your outdoor cat!

I have been thinking recently of things that often get missed.  This discussion on feline preventative medicine is long overdue.  I mentioned to a group recently that they should not forget to “winterize” their outdoor cats and they got a chuckle out of that.  Let me explain what I meant.  I am talking to two different types of people – they are cat owners and cat caretakers.  There are many people who care for outdoor cats who are reluctant to take that final step and admit they are the primary caretaker for the cat.  There are plenty of neighborhood cats that fit this picture – they are outdoors all year round and several people share the responsibility of feeding them.  However, there is usually one person to whom that responsibility primarily falls and this is the person that is actually the owner of the cat, whether they would like to admit it, or not.  So face it, you own a cat.  Now read on to see how to better care for that cat.  I know you care – you keep feeding it!  
Cats that are outdoors for ANY length of time during the day should be protected against all they face while they are outside.  First there are parasites.  External parasites include fleas, lice, and mites.  Internal parasites include roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, heartworms, and coccidia.  Next there are viruses such as Panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, leukemia, FIV, and rabies.  Finally there are opportunistic bacteria that can attack the skin, respiratory tract, digestive tract, wounds, etc.  It only took four lines of text, but that is a lot of stuff these cats are faced with.  Keep in mind that indoor cats have susceptibility to a lot of these things as well.  Add to this the fact that outdoor cats have to avoid cars, keep warm, deal with fighting, watch out for predators, and still get their daily meals, find a spot to rest, and monitor their territory.  There is a lot to keep them busy.

Winterize your cat: be sure to deworm, get vaccinations updated, and test for FeLV (leukemia), FIV, and heartworm disease.  Put prevention on your cat to keep them safe from fleas.  I like Revolution and Profender, but there are other products that you can use.  If you use Revolution and Profender, you can protect against heartworms, fleas, hookworms, roundworms, and ear mites.  You can kill existing roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms.  These products cover a lot of ground!  See you vet to discuss the situation with the cat for the upcoming months.  Remember that fleas are at their worst RIGHT NOW and fleas transmit tapeworms.  Get your cat tested for the common transmissible viruses and update vaccinations regularly.  These cats are in need of your support – provide more than just kibble for them to eat – keep them safe from all they face on a daily basis.  Thank you for caring!

Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care (WCVC)