Dental Disease Prevention

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

When I first graduated from veterinary school there weren’t many dental disease preventatives on the market. While I counseled clients about preventative care I always asked the question, “How often do you brush your pet’s teeth?” I always chuckled a little as I said it though because it felt like a ridiculous question.

Certainly there are some people who are able to brush their pet’s teeth but for the most of us the prospect is a nightmare. My husband and I are both veterinarians, we know tooth brushing is the gold standard, but we simply don’t do it. Lately the market is flooded with dental disease prevention for our pets. It seems every treat and chew promises to cleanse and leave each little tooth gleaming white. But can all these claims be true?

Prevention is the only tool we have to keep our pets from requiring frequent dental cleanings under anesthesia and ideally we would keep those cleanings to a minimum. But how is one to choose which form of dental prevention is best?

The veterinary profession has an answer to this problem. In 1980 a group of veterinary dentists and other dental professionals helped form the VOHC or Veterinary Oral Health Council. This council is a group of veterinary dental professionals who created a series of protocols by which dental disease preventatives are judged. Only products which are proven to reduce the severity of periodontal disease are permitted to bear the VOHC label. When shopping for a dental disease preventative treat or diet, you can feel confident you are making a good choice if you see the VOHC label on the packaging. These products will definitely help protect your pet’s teeth.

The VOHC also curates a list of approved products at where you can log on and check on their list for new products that have won approval. At Copper Hill Animal Clinic, we are passionate about providing only the highest quality preventatives so we only carry dental prevention approved by the VOHC. Let us know if we can pick one out for your pet!

Caring for Kittens

By Tristan Clark DVM

At Copper Hill Animal Clinic we know that spring and summer is a popular time for families to adopt kittens. If you’re searching to add a little loved one to your home here are some tips for a smooth, healthy transition!

When introducing a kitten to a new home make sure to introduce him or her slowly to other pets you already have and always supervise. Toys are a great idea for them to play with but make sure that they aren’t being eaten too!

Offer a complete cat food that is formulated for kittens. Most kittens are able to transition to at least a wet diet by roughly six weeks of age. If your kitten has not already been fixed, we recommend having them spayed or neutered between four and six months old.

Kittens are easy to potty train−just showing them the litter box is usually enough. However we recommend using regular, non-clumping kitty litter to start with. Some kittens don’t like the feel of clumping litter and can form an aversion to it. Also, when adding another kitten to a household with other felines, consider adding in an extra litter box as well. Ideally, there should be one more litter box than the total number of kittens in the home.

Many kittens are born healthy but others may harbor viruses, bacteria or parasites. It’s recommended that any kitten going to your home be tested for such diseases and given the appropriate treatment by a veterinarian.  Monthly preventatives are also recommended for the prevention of fleas, ticks, ear mites and intestinal worms too. A few recommended preventatives include Revolution, Frontline and Advantage, as well as many others and can be used as early as eight weeks of age.

As always, work with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns in providing a new, safe home for your fuzzy kitten! And if you happen to be looking for an addition for your family we have several wonderful kittens in need of adoption at Copper Hill Animal Clinic in excellent health and well socialized!

Fleas, Part Two

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

As a veterinarian, pattern recognition is important. An owner presenting a young, large breed dog that has suddenly started limping on a rear leg often has a knee ligament rupture. A bearded dragon who isn’t moving around much may have a broken bone from calcium deficiency. Recognizing these patterns makes my job a little easier, although I always endeavor to keep an open mind. But as my technician explained the presentation for my next case, I was confronted with a pattern I didn’t recognize at all.

“She says her cats spend all their time on the furniture. They avoid the floor entirely.” “Well that’s odd,” I responded, and hurried into the room to unravel this new mystery.

Mrs. Sandy quickly explained the problem. Boots and Monkey used to behave quite normally, but in the past week they seemed to venture to the floor only for litter box and food. Then they would jump back up on top of the washer, walk along the windowsill and settle on the back of the couch. It had taken her a few days to realize what was going on, but once she had, Mrs. Sandy was perplexed.

“Is your dog behaving oddly as well,” I asked? Maxie is mostly outside lately because of the beautiful weather we’ve been having, but when she comes in to eat, I don’t notice anything different.”

Perplexed, I started examining Monkey while I thought about the situation. It had to be a problem that was affecting both cats. They were both quite young, so arthritis seemed unlikely and didn’t really fit with the presentation. As I completed my exam, I asked my standard questions about diet, and then monthly preventative.

“Are you using anything to control fleas?”

“Oh no,” said Mrs. Sandy. “We never get fleas. I keep a clean house. Besides, we don’t have any carpeting.”

A lightbulb clicked on and I pulled my flea comb out of my pocket and combed vigorously around the base of Monkeys tail. I turned to Mrs. Sandy, who was aghast as I displayed a fine mesh of cat hair crusted with jumping fleas and flea dirt.

We are lucky in Santa Clarita that we are not troubled with fleas nearly as frequently as other geographical locations. When we do get flea problems however, they are fierce! Many people assume good housekeeping or indoor-only pets will prevent the flea situation and that certainly is helpful. But it only takes one female flea hitching a ride on a pant leg or the dog to cause an enormous problem.

The lucky thing is that the flea life cycle also provides us with a perfect way to get rid of an infestation. The flea life cycle is ninety days long. It starts with the female laying eggs, which fall off the pet and sprinkle over the floor. As the eggs hatch, baby fleas jump back onto the pet and start feeding.

Many excellent flea products are available and if the flea jumps back onto a treated pet that flea will be killed in hours, sometimes in minutes depending on the product used. Now we have to go after the eggs and we can kill them with a tool almost everyone has- the vacuum cleaner! A flea egg will hatch out in response to heat and carbon dioxide. People and animals emit heat and carbon dioxide, but fortunately vacuum cleaners do too. Studies have shown that 95% of fleas that are sucked up in the vacuum are killed immediately. It’s easy to see how vacuuming the entire floor every day for several days in a row would decimate the flea population very quickly.

Many flea products are available out there. Only your veterinarian can assess all of your pets needs and help you make the best and safest choice. Some medications sold over the counter last less than a week, which is not enough to stop the flea life cycle. Other products can cause serious side effects in certain species. Your veterinarian may partner with certain drug companies to offer a guarantee that if the product isn’t effective they will send a flea eradication company to your home to complete the job.

Proper flea control can mean a better life for you and your pet!

Adopting a Shelter Dog

By Tristan Clark, DVM

Adopting a new member of the family from the shelter can be a challenging but rewarding process. Many people are determined to adopt a puppy. Know that the older and bigger a dog is, the less likely someone else will adopt it. Puppies in shelter situations are under incredible physical, emotional and mental stress and many run the risk of growing into an adult with severe temperament issues.

A puppy is a basket of unknowns. You can tell if it’ll be a small or large adult, but you may not be able to predict whether it will weigh 40 pounds or 80. Grooming requirements may vary over time and genetic problems may not be exhibited until adulthood. Adopting an adult dog lets you skip some of these issues, plus most are already housebroken.

Before going to the shelter, research the breeds you’ll consider. Know that many wonderful dogs may be mixed exhibit behaviors of both breeds. If possible, take someone with you who is knowledgeable.

Read the dog’s reaction to you when you make eye contact. A dog that looks away is showing submissive behavior, which can be great for a family dog. If it responds with affection that’s a good sign too. Be alert to aggression as this dog will need careful work.

No matter what type or age of dog you adopt, know that there will be some difficulty and surprises ahead. Many dogs may have a short-term problem, such as an ear/skin/respiratory infection and may already be under treatment at the shelter. It is quite likely you will have to provide some level of training. If you already own other pets, make sure the shelter dog doesn’t have a history of aggression with cats or dogs. If you have young children, choose a dog that has a more laid back personality, one that can handle sudden yells/screams and hair pulling. Consider if this dog will fit in with every member of your household.

Above all, keep in mind the chemistry between you and the dog. Adopting a new animal is an emotional experience but can result in love that lasts a lifetime. And remember, Copper Hill Animal Clinic offers a free first exam for all shelter adopted pets.

Passion in Dental Care

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

Pet dental health is a passion of mine. I was fortunate to study under one of the east coast’s prominent board certified veterinary dentists and ever since have been amazed by the many varied repercussions of good dental health.

I have had cats with bad teeth promptly gain as much as a pound after treatment. After a canine dental cleaning, I have had a client tell me that her elderly dog started wagging its tail again after three years of no tail wagging. I had a patient who kept walking backwards and no one could figure out why; after some bad teeth were removed it stopped walking backward.

The level of pain that animals suffer without showing any obvious symptoms is astounding and nothing makes me happier than when clients come in to their dental recheck with a story of newfound happiness, improved appetite and increased vigor. These stories have cemented my passion for high quality dentistry.

Signs of dental disease can widely vary and there are differences among species. Bad breath, swelling of the cheeks, tooth grinding or broken teeth are obvious signs. More frequently the signs are so subtle you would never notice them. A slow weight loss over many months, slightly crabby behavior, or change in the pet’s usual routine are much more frequent presentations.

These changes are easily overlooked but our weapon in this fight is your pet’s annual exam. When we examine your pet’s teeth every year we are carefully looking for signs of disease to determine the need for a cleaning.

Once bloodwork and heart health have been cleared we schedule the dental. The pet will have an IV catheter placed for fluid support and sensors to monitor heart rhythm and oxygen levels. Once the pet is under anesthesia a complete set of dental x-rays are taken. This is one of the most important parts of the dental procedure. It is impossible to evaluate the roots of the teeth without x rays and the roots are important since they are the attachment point of the tooth to the skull. We look for signs of bone loss around the roots, cracks or holes in the teeth themselves, or sometimes roots that remain behind long after the crown of the tooth has broken off, leaving an excellent seed for infection. These things can only be seen with x-rays.

At this point, we call the pet’s owner and discuss what we have found. If all the teeth are healthy, we rejoice, clean well under the gum line, polish, apply fluoride and wake the pet up. If teeth need to be removed for the pet’s overall health, extractions begin. A local anesthetic is given, just as a human dentist would do. Single rooted teeth are wiggled out using special tools.

Multiple rooted teeth are divided into sections using a drill first. The remaining hole is closed with absorbable suture, allowing the gum to completely heal together and providing the pet with a disease free mouth.

Post dental pain control and antibiotics are important to healing. Several research papers have indicated that excellent pain control improves speed and quality of healing. Once your pet is awake we call to let you know that they have done well under anesthesia and arrange for a discharge appointment.

After the dental, we always discuss preventives, so we can minimize dental care in the hospital and keep it at home where it will be more economical and beneficial for your dog or cat. Come and investigate high quality dental care at Copper Hill Animal Clinic, for lasting value and health for your pet. We would love to hear your story of the improved quality of life that comes with your pet’s dental care.

Neutering your Rabbit

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

Rabbits make lovely pets! They are affectionate, pleasant animals who enjoy human companionship. During vet school one of my best friends had a house rabbit that would often be found lounging on the living room sofa or chasing her cats.

Although most people are quick to neuter cats and dogs, often neutering a rabbit is not so quickly considered. (The word neuter actually refers to both sexes, though the term spay is also correct in the female) There are many significant benefits to neutering rabbits. Clearly, pregnancy prevention is one of the primary advantages. Male and female rabbits housed together will mate very early in life, so neutering group housed rabbits is important.

Disease prevention in the rabbit is an excellent second reason for neutering. In males, testicular issues such as certain cancers can be avoided. Unwanted behaviors such as urine spraying in sexually mature males can be a very smelly problem and difficult to stop once they start. Prevention of aggressive striking, biting, and chasing is also a benefit of neutering.

In the female rabbit, the argument for neutering is particularly compelling. Uterine adenocarcinoma is an aggressive malignant cancer that starts in the uterus. Uterine adenocarcinoma can spread rapidly to other organs of the body such as the liver, lungs and even the skin and it is not treatable once it metastasizes outside of the uterus. The staggering reality of this cancer is that it seems to arise in as much as 80 percent of the rabbit population at some point anytime after the second year of life.

While anesthesia in the rabbit can be challenging, the benefits, particularly in the female rabbit far outweigh the risks! At Copper Hill Animal Clinic, we recommend neutering your rabbit between 4 and 6 months of age, so you and your bunny can spend many happy and healthy years together!

Dealing with Jumping Dogs

By Tristan Clark, DVM

How many dogs have been relegated to living in the backyard because they jump all over family and guests whenever anyone walks through the door?

We encourage dogs to jump on us by petting them, starting when they are puppies, when they stand on their hind legs to get closer to our face and hands. This attention-seeking behavior is normal. Our pets don’t mean anything bad by jumping on us but very few people like being jumped on by a dog, plus as the dog gets bigger, he may scratch and knock people down. At this point, trying to push them away and saying no is actually rewarding your pet with attention, rather than being interrupted as a punishment.

Proper training starts when a dog is still a young puppy. Don’t let anyone pet your puppy unless all four feet are on the ground. If you teach your little puppy that all petting happens when four feet are on the ground, your big dog will not be jumping on people. For older dogs the same principle to training applies, only it will take longer.

Teach your dog to sit, even when excited. When the dog is sitting, pet, give praise, and treats. Do not praise after the dog has stood up, because that is not the desired behavior. Teaching the dog not to jump isn’t enough. We have to teach the dog that the petting will come when the dog is doing the right behavior. Teach your dog to sit when he or she comes to you or anyone else. People should ask her to sit every time she approaches them.

When you have guests arrive, keep your dog under leash or in a separate room for roughly fifteen minutes until everyone is settled. This is the time of wildest excitement for the dog, and it will be much easier for the dog to muster self-control after this initial period. The best remedy for jumping up is to withhold attention. For most dogs you can have guests keep your hands to themselves and turn their side toward the dog until they properly sit. People can be inconsistent about ignoring a jumping, excited dog and inadvertently reward bad behavior, so you may have to choose who your dog interacts with. If even one person encourages jumping, your dog will continue to perform the behavior.

Be consistent with this method of training and with time and love you can train your pet to be more gentle and less excitable, leading to more petting and proper attention. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to give us a call at Copper Hill Animal Clinic.

What is a Cat Friendly Practice?

By Vanessa Vandersande, DVM


A Cat Friendly Practice, as designated by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, is a veterinary practice which is especially sensitive to the distinct characteristics of felines and is equipped to address both their physical and behavioral needs. Veterinarians and their team members who have achieved Cat Friendly Practice status regard the practice with the cat in mind.

Cat Friendly Practices elevate the standard of care afforded to their feline patients. In order to be awarded the designation of being a Cat Friendly Practice, the veterinarians are specifically trained on the distinct needs of cats and to assess their physical environment, as well as the delivery of medical care provided. The staff are trained in special gentle methods of handling cats in order to reduce their stress and not frighten them.

Decreasing stress is important in a Cat Friendly Practice. Special feline pheromones are administered in the exam rooms in order to decrease fear and particular techniques are used to limit a cats time in a stressful situation.

Medical approach is specialized in a Cat Friendly Practice. The veterinarians are required to have a particular understanding of the specific needs and medical concerns of cats in all life stages. Specialized equipment is available for assessing a cat’s health that is specifically made for or sized for a cat’s needs. Cat safety and comfort is regarded as an imperative.

Tick Talk, it’s time for ticks!

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

California is a great place for ticks to live since temperate climates don’t force the tick to go dormant or the winter.  Walks at Central park or Placerita Canyon Nature Center are one of the great joys of living in Santa Clarita, but you don’t want to come back from the park with extra eight legged pets!

Ticks are a very resilient and amazing organism. They are found in the taxonomic class Arachnida. There are many species of ticks. Some are hard ticks from the family Ixodidae, soft ticks in the family Argasidae, and some can only be found in certain parts of the world. Most ticks have a three stage life cycle which includes the larva, nymph and adult. Each life cycle will generally feed on a mammal or bird.

So now that you feel itchy and crawly all over, I bet you’d like to know how to protect yourself!

A common misconception about ticks is that they jump onto their host from trees. Ticks are actually incapable of jumping; they don’t have the anatomy for it. A tick will spend his night curled up in some leaf litter absorbing moisture. When the day begins, the tick climbs up a bush, never more than three feet in the air and starts waving around his two front legs. This is called questing. The legs have sensors on them that detect host odors and carbon dioxide. When a host walks by and brushes against the ticks bush, the tick hops on. In an animal, the tick burrows in and begins feeding. Left undisturbed, it will feed for 3-14 days and drop off. In the human, the tick will walk up the clothes until it finds a bare spot of skin and then attach. The first bare spot is often the human’s neck, so this leads us to the common misconception that ticks drop from trees.

It is essential to remove a tick as soon as you find it. You must remove the head with the tick, because many diseases are found in the ticks’ saliva. If you are not confident, have your doctor or vet help you. An excellent product to help keep the ticks off a human is Deep Woods Off. A variety of excellent and satisfying tick killing products to protect your pet are available from your vet.  Our current favorite is Bravecto, as it protects up to 3 months with one dose, and it’s water-proof!

It may be tempting to purchase the many pet tick treatments that are available at the supermarket. Be forewarned that these products have been shown to be much less efficient than the products that are available from your vet. Also, it is extremely important that you NEVER use a product that is formulated for a dog on a cat. Cats are not little dogs and some tick products for dogs will kill your cat.

Husbandry in Exotic Pets

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

At Copper Hill Animal Clinic we see exotic pets every day.  Reptiles, birds, small mammals, and amphibians all have very particular needs. The most common illnesses we see in these interesting pets are almost always related to errors in husbandry. The best place to ask questions about your exotic pets’husbandry is at your neighborhood veterinarian!  The following covers some quick points in caring for your exotics.

Guinea pigs make for a charming small mammal pet. These cheerful pocket pets require a particular diet to stay healthy.  Just like humans, guinea pigs must have vitamin C in their diet regularly to avoid scurvy. The best way to get vitamin C is through their diet, in foods such as guava, kale, broccoli and red peppers. Many guinea pigs enjoy these foods but if yours does not our hospital also carries a high quality vitamin C supplement that is very palatable to guinea pigs. Most eat them like a treat!

Desert tortoises are well suited to life in Santa Clarita and have smart, stoic personalities. However, they are subject to upper respiratory infections when stressed and an unbalanced diet can worsen their constitution. The following plants make for excellent sources of food: grass, weeds, dandelions, alfalfa (in moderation), nopales (Opuntia cactus), mulberry tree leaves, grape leaves, common cheese mallow and other mallows, chickweed, and nut grass.
Supplements include endive, escarole, squash (such as zucchini), chopped carrots, small amounts of kale, romaine and other dark-green leafy vegetables.  Rose petals, nasturtium and hibiscus flowers can occasionally be given as extra treats. Additional calcium should be dusted on the food as well to properly balance their diet.

This is only a small sampling of the many varied needs of exotic pets. Make an appointment today if you need further information about your scaly, shelled or feathered friend!