Do you have Questions about Vaccines?

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

During the annual health exam for your cat or dog vaccines are likely to be discussed. Do you know what vaccines you pet is being given? Do you know why is your vet recommending particular vaccines? Could they be giving vaccines your pet doesn’t need?

The careful veterinarian knows that vaccines are not without risk and will choose only the vaccines that are appropriate for your pet. Using a vaccine clinic may be quick or save a few dollars per vaccine, but are the people giving the vaccines asking about your dog’s exposure to other dogs or whether your cat goes outside? A careful veterinarian will ask these questions to avoid over vaccination, where a vaccine clinic’s goal may simply be to sell as many vaccines as possible, regardless of risk. If your pet gets more vaccines than is actually necessary you may end up spending money on vaccines you didn’t even need!

Did you know that many different qualities of vaccine are available and some may be safer than others? This is of significant concern particularly in cats. A recent study from UC Davis showed that incidence of cancer rose ten-fold in cats given vaccines that had adjuvant in them. Certain vaccines are readily available in a non-adjuvant form but do cost a little more. Inquire about the vaccine your cat is getting to be sure it is the safest available. In dogs, some vaccines are available that can be given in the mouth, completely avoiding the pain of the injection. Wouldn’t it be great to get your vaccinations pain free?

Two excellent sources to research vaccinations would be the core vaccination schedule as indicated by the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners  If your veterinarian is using these documents to guide your pets vaccination schedule then they are on the cutting edge of vaccination quality. These resources help us choose only the vaccines that are recommended based on your pet’s unique lifestyle.

Many options are available as you choose where to obtain your pet’s vaccines. Informed choices cost less in the long run, help prevent disease, and could potentially be less painful, which creates excellent value. Working with a veterinarian at Copper Hill Animal Clinic will help you choose exactly what vaccines are needed for your unique pet!

Only an Ear Infection?

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

Maybe it starts with head shaking. Or your dog settles down, puts a foot in one ear and scratches gently while giving a deep groan. Or perhaps your dog suddenly smells like a week-old sock. You don’t need my help-you know it already. Your dog has an ear infection.

But what to do? When you bring in your itchy, painful pup to see us we’ll start with an ear cytology by taking a sample from the ear and observing it under the microscope. This test not only tells us what group of bacteria or yeast are throwing a party in your dog’s ear but also shows the level of infection. A medication and cleanser is chosen based on what kind of infection is present and the length of dosing is based on how many bugs showed up to the party.

The next step is the physical exam. A veterinarian will look in the ear to observe the texture and color of the ear canal, how much debris is present, and whether the ear drum (tympanum) is intact. Did you know that using certain cleansers and medications in an ear with a ruptured ear drum may lead to serious side effects such as damage to the inner ear and severe dizziness? That is why it is not possible to buy the really good medication over the counter-a veterinarian must look deep into the ear to prevent damaging side effects from the medication.

The most important part of treating an ear infection actually happens completely separate from medications and ear cleansers. A discussion with your veterinarian is your best hope for preventing infections in the future. Your vet uses clues about this ear infection to prevent future problems. Do the infections only happen in the spring and fall? Your dog may have seasonal allergies. Do they happen year round? Maybe your dog has a diet intolerance. Does your dog have long floppy ears or cropped ears?  Their anatomy may predispose them to infections. These pieces of information helps your vet create a plan for prevention in the future. Because as much as we at Copper Hill Animal Clinic love seeing you and your pet, we’d love to prevent the pain and misery of an ear infection even more!

Swimming with your Pets

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

Summertime and the living is easy! In Santa Clarita we are blessed with beautiful weather but once the middle of summer rolls around even the most confirmed lovers of the high dessert must admit that it can get terribly hot. Many homeowners in this valley are blessed with pools to cool off in and it it a natural progression to imagine your dog will enjoy cooling off as well. I grew up in a Valencia home where it was unusual if our golden retriever didn’t take a quick dip every day during the summer.

Here are some tips about swimming safety with your dog (we will focus on dogs but to be fair, some cats swim too and these rules certainly apply to cats as well).

Always remember that swimming is a risky and potentially dangerous endeavor. You wouldn’t leave a child unattended near a pool and you shouldn’t leave a dog unattended either. The worst can happen to even the very best swimmer so always remember to supervise your dogs’ swimming.

New swimmers (puppies, etc.) will not naturally know how to swim without training. It is often easier for a dog to learn how to swim from another so find an older dog for yours to pal around with in the water! Natural bodies of water or pools with a beach entry arrangement will usually be less threatening to start with.

Always train your dog how to use the stairs or ladders to get in and out of the pool and reiterate this information repeatedly. Dogs that drown in pools are often dogs that fall in by accident and panic, unable to find a place to get out. If your dog has trouble remembering the exit points it is advisable to always use barrier fences to protect them from drowning.

Skin that is frequently exposed to chlorine can get dry and irritated. Hosing your dog off with fresh water after a swim is a great idea. Also make sure to keep those pool chemicals well balanced!

Dog life jackets are widely available and strongly recommended for weak and new swimmers, as well as dogs with heavy heads such as English Bulldogs. Certain breeds are not well formed for swimming, such as those prone to respiratory diseases so always check with your vet to be sure it is a good idea for your dog to take a dip.

Remember to offer fresh water sources for your dog to drink from before and after their swim. Drinking excessive amounts of pool water can lead to health problems so discourage drinking from the pool and offer a nice clean bowl of water instead! Have a great and safe swim!

Traveling with your Pet

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

Traveling with your pet may be for fun or it may be a matter of necessity but with a little advance planning it will be much easier for everyone involved. I have personal experience with traveling across the United States with two cats and a golden retriever in a small car, so hopefully my tips will be helpful and practical. (Oh, the stories I could tell about those trips…)

First, make sure all of your animals are in good health. A health certificate is required if you are traveling across state lines and your vet can write one for you. Just keep in mind that you will need to have your pet examined no more than 10 days before traveling. Also, consider the destination. In places with lots of mosquitoes your pet may need heartworm prevention. Places with ticks means that your pet may need different vaccinations and tick preventive. Your vet can help you plan accordingly.

Planning for the trip is essential. Useful items to have on hand would include waterproof bags for soiled bedding, extra bedding, travel litter boxes and travel food and water dishes. My personal favorite item is a box of baby wipes, which are great for cleaning up little accidents and wiping up fur. If your pets are not already microchipped, this is the time! A microchip may save your pet’s life if they are somehow separated from you during your journey.

If you are planning to travel by airplane it is strongly recommended that your pet travel with you in the cabin. It is difficult for airlines to provide safe travel in cargo, due to the real possibility of excessive heat or cold in the storage area under the plane. It may be necessary to pay an additional fee for your pet to travel in the cabin but the safety it provides is well worth the additional expense.

Some nervous pets may suffer from travel related nausea or extreme fear. Thankfully we’ve come a long way with pharmaceuticals and there are some excellent anti-nausea drugs on the market. There are also some excellent drugs available for stressed pets, products ranging from pheromone emitting sprays and collars to tranquilizers that cause mild sedation and help take the edge off the fear.

No matter your destination, proper planning and preparation will give you and your pets a safe and exciting vacation! Happy Travels!

Peanut Butter Poisoning Pets?

By Tristan Clark DVM

Last month we touched on the dangers of xylitol when ingested by dogs. Xylitol is a sweetener substitute found in human sugar-free candy, cookies, syrups condiments and even some toothpastes, mouthwashes and hair products. However, there have been even more xylitol containing products hitting the shelves lately, including several brands of peanut butter. No one suspects peanut butter as being toxic to their dog and in fact often use it for reward training or to aid in giving medications.

Xylitol is currently an additive in the following brands of peanut butter: Nuts ‘n More, Go Nuts, Krush Nutrition, P28 and Hank’s Protein Plus Peanut Butter. Most of these brands are sold by health-food grocery stores.

The dangers of xylitol can vary but range from a low blood sugar to eventual liver damage or even death. Common signs of xylitol ingestion include vomiting, weakness, tremors and even seizures. This additive can also be absorbed slowly, meaning that these symptoms may appear up to twelve hours post ingestion. A small dog may be affected by eating a small portion of xylitol containing peanut butter. Unfortunately, when it comes to peanut butter, most dogs won’t hesitate to polish off the entire jar.

As the number of xylitol containing products continue to increase so does the number of reported xylitol poisonings, as stated by the Animal Poison Control Center. Last year over 3500 cases were reported in the US.

These toxicologists recommend avoiding any of the following ingredients in anything that your dog may eat: 1,4-anhydro-d-xylitol, anhydroxylitol, birch bark extract, birch sugar, d-xylitol, xylite, xylitylglucoside, zylatol.

A complete list of xylitol containing products can be found at

Be aware of what is a potential danger to your pet, both in your home and abroad. As always, if you have any questions for a veterinarian, feel free to call us at Copper Hill Animal Clinic. And make sure to double check the peanut butter in your cupboard for xylitol before giving your canine friends a treat!

Doggy Separation Anxiety

By Tristan Clark DVM

You leave home and come back to a house destroyed: pillows torn apart, couch stuffing strew upon the floor and entire doors are now splinters. The culprit? Your wonderful and energetic canine companion, relived at your return. Or maybe your dog isn’t being physically destructive but barks or yowls non-stop while you’re away. Maybe potty accidents always seem to occur when they’re left alone.

Why? Well first it’s important to realize that not all misbehavior during our absence is due to separation anxiety. Rather, some pets are acting out of boredom, are scavenging for food or are just exuberant in how they play and chew. Puppies in particular are notorious chewers when your back is turned. Maybe your canine would react better to increased stimulation or food while you’re away, accomplished by filling a hollow toy with peanut butter or placing their kibble in a roll-a-round puzzle cube.

However, pets that are truly experiencing separation anxiety tend to act out once they perceive their owner departing. Often they learn the cues of when the owner is preparing to leave, such as putting on socks or shoes, jiggling keys or even by the words owners repeatedly say when getting ready to depart. Eliminating or repeating these cues over and over without actually leaving can desensitize a dog with enough training.

Other strategies include enriching your dog’s environment and rewarding only calm behavior. Removing the dog from the trouble area and/or adapting your dog to a crate are effective strategies. With crate training, the pet must become familiar and conditioned to staying in the crate, learning that the crate is a safe place over several weeks of training. Start by placing your pet in the crate with some treats for short periods of time while you stay within sight. Overtime, slowly increase the duration of being crated while gradually decreasing your own presence.

Pharmaceuticals can also aid in re-training your dog but remember that drugs alone will not work to change your pet’s behavior and work best while simultaneously working on a behavior modification plan. If you have further questions about any of these ideas, feel free to bring your pet in to Copper Hill Animal Clinic for an exam!

Common Food Questions

By Tristan Clark, DVM

A common question clients ask is “What food is the best to provide for my pet?” Despite what you may hear from advertising, there is no single “best” diet for all pets. What may be best for one animal may not be the right choice for another. Diets often need to be individualized. Keep in mind that in general, the larger the company behind the diet, the more likely that they’ll hire veterinary nutritionists and food scientists to guide their diet creation research.

How about grains? Are grains bad for dogs and cats? Dogs and cats can most definitely digest and gain nutrients from whole grains, which often contain valuable proteins, minerals, fiber and vitamins. Active allergies to grains are seldom seen in many of our pet species. Beware of manufacturing claims that are made to differentiate themselves from other brands. Often, these claims state they’re better since the whole grains have been swapped with other processed starches, which may actually provide less nutrition while being more expensive.

Are by-products undesirable or even dangerous for my pet? The short answer is no, however, like everything else, their quality will vary by how well the quality control is handled by the manufacture. By-products are mostly organs and intestines. While these sources of meat are not considered classically yummy by our dining standards, they are extremely nutritious and some are even considered culinary delicacies (such as foie-gras or pâté).

How do home-cooked diets compare to commercial ones? That greatly depends on the ingredients of the compared diets. In the US, major commercial pet diets have been improved and updated to modern standards. Because of this, certain nutritional deficiency diseases are much rarer today than in the past. One such example would be taurine deficiency in cats, who require this amino acid in their diet since they cannot make it themselves. Without input from a veterinary nutritionist home-made diets run a higher risk of being unbalanced and not containing essential nutrients.

If you have further questions or concerns about your pet’s diet, please come and visit us at Copper Hill Animal Clinic, where we will be happy to help you choose the appropriate food for your loved one.

Safe for you, Deadly for them

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

When was the last time you cleaned out your purse or backpack? You may have a vague idea of what lies within but do you know if everything inside is animal safe? Often, our pets love to root around for goodies, especially when the bag may have an enticing food smell or even the scent of their owner. Most people know to keep things like personal medications and chocolate away from their pets but problems arise when our animals find their way to items and treats that are not commonly thought of as dangerous.

A newer type of hazard includes electronic cigarettes which work with liquid nicotine. The taste is quite bitter and may be enough to stop a pet from taking a second sip, but unfortunately small dogs and cats can ingest a deadly dose in just several licks. Make sure your nicotine cartridges are safely sealed and kept out of reach.

Alcohols of all types cause issues as well and often smell much more appealing. Keep flasks tightly closed and mixed drinks out of reach. Many hand sanitizers can contain up to 75% alcohol and be easily assessable to pets when kept in just a squeeze-tube or flip-top bottle. Keeping these products locked inside an interior pocket or beauty case gives you an additional layer of safety.

Sugar-free gum is great, but often contains xylitol as the substitute and when ingested by dogs can cause a low blood sugar crash and eventual liver damage. A small dog may be affected by eating just one or two sticks of sugar-free gum. Keep in mind that xylitol can also be found in candy or mints. Common signs of xylitol ingestion include vomiting, weakness, tremors and even seizures. This additive can also be absorbed slowly, meaning that these symptoms may appear up to twelve hours post ingestion.

Ibuprofen, Aleve and Tylenol should all be kept away from your pets as they can cause serious damage ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to severe liver and kidney damage. Cats in particular are known to be particularly susceptible to Tylenol as they lack the enzyme needed to internally process acetaminophen.

If you’re a pet owner, take a quick peek through your bag and make sure any potentially dangerous items are removed or secured before leaving. And as always, if you suspect that your pet has eaten anything dangerous, call your veterinarian a.s.a.p!

Fireworks and your Dog

By Tristan Clark DVM

Summer is approaching and with it comes the 4th of July. Does your canine companion harbor a fear of fireworks, once the bangs and explosions of lights appear?

Many dogs become so afraid that they attempt to flee, with the craftiest escaping the house and yard. Because of this, the 4th of July is one of the busiest days for animal control and shelters and as always, if your dog escapes there’s a chance he or she may become lost or hurt. Keep in mind that that outdoor pets should be brought inside and taken out only on a leash. Make sure your pet is wearing identification or has been microchipped in case they escape. Many of these pets do better when their owners remain at home. However, if that is not possible there are several methods that you may look into prior to the holiday.

Many of the following suggestions involve things that you can first try at home, or purchase over the counter. For mild cases of fright, many animals do much better when confined to their crate or a small, safe room. Slightly more challenging cases may respond to other calming effects, such as a light pressure wrap (Thundershirts), reduction of sound or vision (ear mufflers or loud music with a heavy beat), or even pheromone sprays or herbal supplements that are cited to induce relaxation. Even better would be using behavior training to condition your pet to such loud noises.

For more severe cases, medications can be prescribed. A short lasting sedative can do wonders but usually need to be administered 30-60 minutes prior to the fireworks. For animals that show heavy stress to more frequent events, antidepressants (such as serotonin-reuptake inhibitors) can help. However these class of medications require weeks to months to take effect so they are not something to be given only on July 4th.

With so many options available, if you have an easily stressed pet, make plans ahead of time to find the best solution for your home. If you’d like to discuss treating anxiety in your pet further, please call us at Copper Hill Animal Clinic to talk to us!

Guinea Pigs and Tortoises

By Dr. Vanessa Vandersande

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!