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The Kitten Chronicles: Introducing Finn

By Vanessa Vandersande, DVM

We recently added a charming kitten to our household and he has the biggest purr in the universe. Finn was adopted from a wonderful local cat rescue called Forgotten Angels. Many of my clients have questions about adding a new pet to their home so I thought I would describe adding Finn to our menagerie. We also have two resident cats, two young children and a sweet senior dog, so adding a cat is no small endeavor.

Our first goal was to quarantine Finn to insure he didn’t have a cold he might pass on to our other kitties. I generally recommend a strict two week quarantine period which is always hard. Finn did end up with a cold after eight days so I was thankful he did not pass it to my other cats. He spent his quarantine in our guest bathroom so he could get used to the sounds of my house and grow confident. My other cats and dog spent a lot of time listening to him on the other side of the door so they got used to him too. The quarantine was an opportunity to discuss him with my young children, advising them that he was a baby and must be handled gently. They learned to read him for signs that he wants to be put down and that any child found being too rough with the kitten would have a serious time out.

As Finn’s quarantine ended we slowly started letting him explore the house for 15-20 minutes at a time. Any time he met with the other cats we would praise them and if there was any hissing we would separate them for some quiet time. Finn jumped a mile when he met our dog but she is used to cats and he quickly found she was not dangerous. The children were monitored closely until they proved themselves gentle with the kitten although there were some tearful time outs for being too rough. One month later, Finn has found his spot in the family with a minimum of stress.

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!

Zoonosis and People

By Dr. Vanessa Vandersande

Did you just eat your sandwich after playing with your puppy? Did you remember to wash your hands before eating? If so, you might have just gotten a little more fun then you bargained for! Zoonosis is any disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from animals to humans. One commonly seen zoonosis are roundworms which are often associated with young animals.

Roundworms are a common infestation of young animals such as puppies and kittens, though any dog or cat can be a carrier with little to no clinical signs. It is thought that 30% to 50% of dogs and cats carry gastrointestinal (GI) parasites and that 1 to 3 million people in the U.S. have infections from the same parasites carried by pets. Roundworms are a big reason that veterinarians, as well as the CDC, recommend monthly parasite control for pets.

Infection in the dog and cat can occur in several ways:

  • During embryonic development when an infected mother dog is pregnant (most puppies and kittens are infected this way during gestation).
  • Consuming infective worm eggs from soil in the environment. This happens when the pet has laid on soil with old stool in it and then grooms themselves.
  • Nursing from an infected mother dog.
  • Consuming a prey animal (usually a rodent) that is carrying developing worms.

Animals with roundworms are one thing but the science gets really interesting when a human accidentally ingests an infective egg. Remember the handwashing you missed? Well the puppy had some infective dirt on it which ended up on your hand. The egg passed onto your sandwich and you ingested a roundworm egg on that last bite. Yuck!

Now the egg will start moving through your system, possibly ending up in the lung, brain or eye- a process known as visceral larval migrans. While treatable, damage from the migration can be permanent. I knew of one young child who was affected and lost vision in one eye. That is why every one of my clients always gets the zoonosis talk and a good discussion about monthly preventive at their annual exam. The choice is always in the hands of the pet owner but when children are concerned, my motto is “Not on my watch!”

Cancer in our Pets

By Dr. Vanessa Vandersande

Cancer is among our generation’s most terrible types of disease. I dearly look forward to advancements that wipe out this plague but many misconceptions currently exist. I often hear from clients, “Well if it is cancer, we aren’t going to do chemotherapy or anything extreme.” I understand this sentiment. Human cancer treatment can be frightening, grueling, and unbearably painful. However, treatment for cancer in animals can be very different.

Our goal in human medicine is to save the person’s life, no matter what. In pets, our goal can be different if that is the path we choose. For my animals, that has been my choice-namely to bring as much comfort as I can for as long as I can. I believe many of my clients have the same goal.

The best kind of cancer is the kind that can be completely removed, such as a single skin tumor. It is a wonderful thing to cure cancer with a single surgery.

The second situation is a malignant mass that can be removed but may have spread into the bloodstream. My senior dog had such a cancer. It was removed and she received a kind of chemotherapy to eradicate it from her system. The chemotherapy actually made her feel good-she became more active during treatment and has been cancer free for two years. You can find her photo on our website, enjoying her life.

A third situation would be a cancer that can’t be completely removed may be widespread in the body. Unfortunately, Dr Land’s cat suffers from this. He has been on and off chemotherapy drugs for a year and a half with the goal of keeping him comfortable and he is doing well.

The good news is that we have many drugs that can support our pets and make sure they have mostly good days until the end. Many options exist and as veterinarians, it is our job to support you and your pet through the entire journey. I had one beloved cat I lost to cancer who made me the vet I am today. You will find her pictures on our website too. Her memory will last with me forever. We achieved our goal with her by bringing as much comfort to her as possible for as long as possible. If you have any questions about your pet and cancer please contact us at Copper Hill Animal Clinic, we can help.

In-Home Euthanasia

By Vanessa Vandersande, DVM

The decision to euthanize a loved pet is extremely challenging for everyone. It is something that is also very personal and as your pet’s caregiver, you know your pet best. At Copper Hill Animal Clinic we will help you in assessing your pet’s quality of life and aid you in making an educated and supportive decision.

Euthanasia can be a powerful experience that provides relief from pain, emotional suffering, and chronic debility. In many cases, euthanasia can be the kindest, most humane decision for animals at the end of their lives, or for animals suffering from severe illness or injury at any age.

The overwhelming majority of companion animals’ lives end with euthanasia in a veterinarian’s office. While some pets are quite relaxed in a hospital setting, most are stressed. Many of these animals have mobility impairment that makes travel difficult or even painful. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the euthanasia experience could be as stress-free as possible for pets and as meaningful as possible for their caregivers?

In-home euthanasia can provide a relaxed and personalized experience for animals & families during their final moments together. It is Dr. Vandersande’s belief that we can humanely end an animal’s life without pain, emotional distress or fear, with the goal to make the final goodbye as calm and compassionate as possible. Euthanasia should be a gentle time – un-rushed, peaceful and respectful. The life of an animal is honored when it ends with dignity.

Please call us to discuss if you are considering in-home euthanasia. We are here to help you know when the time is right. You may even request a home visit to help evaluate your pet’s comfort level and see if there are modifications that can be made that will make a difference.

Consider the following questions as markers for your pet’s enjoyment of life. You, as the person who knows your pet best, will be able to answer these better than anyone.

Is your pet enjoying his/her food?

Is your pet able to go to the bathroom where appropriate?

Is he or she still enjoying the company of their people?

Is he or she relatively free from pain?

Is he or she having more good days than bad days?

Fleas Underfoot?

Fleas Underfoot?

Posted by Dr. Vanessa Vandersande

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 light bulb 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!

Copper Hill Animal Clinic is located at 27935 Seco Canyon Road in the CVS shopping center. Please call (661) 296-8848 to schedule an appointment.