Category Archives: Well Care

Dogs and their Sensitive Stomachs

The term “food allergy” is often used to describe any adverse food reactions in dogs, often when an owner sees vomiting or diarrhea in the home.  However, it is more accurate to describe many adverse food reactions as “food intolerance”. A true allergy means that there is involvement of the dog’s immune system, while food intolerance does not involve the immune system. Adverse food reactions in dogs are often confused with food allergies. One characteristic of food intolerance is that it occurs on the first exposure to that food or food additive.  Allergies, and the immune system behind them, generally require several exposures before signs are seen.

There are several general categories of food intolerance reactions that may occur in dogs that are not caused by allergies:

-Food poisoning is a direct adverse reaction caused by food that is a frequent cause of gastrointestinal disease in dogs and may include the ingestion of excessive amounts of a certain nutrient, ingestion of spoiled food, and ingestion of foods that are irritating or toxic to a canine (such as chocolate)

-Food additives are occasionally reported to cause issues, including disulfides. Disulfides are found in onions and can cause damage to your dog’s red blood cells.

-Carbohydrate intolerance in dogs is much less frequent than in people, but does include lactose intolerance.  Signs seen at home include diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal discomfort after ingesting any type of dairy product.

-Dietary indiscretion is one of the most common reasons for dogs to develop vomiting and diarrhea, occurring when they eat garbage or human foods. The gastrointestinal signs may result from bacterial contamination, fat or grease (don’t feed your dog fast food!), or from bones, plastic, or aluminum foil.

When your dog’s stomach seems to be an issue, try to distinguish between it being due to something he has eaten once versus something has eaten multiple times (and therefore may involve the immune system and a potential food allergy). Knowing the dog’s feeding schedule, nutrient profile, and the timing and severity of any signs and symptoms will help your veterinarian distinguish between a one-time adverse food reaction and a more chronic food hypersensitivity. If you would like to discuss any concerns about your dog’s diet, please call us at Copper Hill Animal Clinic.

Pudgy Pets

By Vanessa Vandersande

At Copper Hill Animal Clinic, we absolutely understand how difficult it is to maintain a healthy weight in a pet who gazes up at us so beseechingly while we eat something particularly aromatic at the dinner table. How could it hurt to give one sliver of chicken, a crust of bread, or a spoonful of pudding? Our naughty kitten Finnegan stole a whole drumstick off the table just a few weeks ago, and while we should have been taking it back from him we instead found ourselves laughing at his attempts to drag it across the floor. The silly boy has since been barred from the table.

The truth of the matter is that our pets eat too much and exercise too little. Large dogs bred to pull sleds across tundra languish in their homes on the rug and cats sleep in fuzzy lined beds, barely walking 100 feet to a food bowl, rather than jumping, attacking and working for their prey. The portion sizes listed on the back of the food bag are often vague and confusing, leading to a bowl filled with more food than should actually be given. And all of this leads to a simple truth, that obesity is now the number one metabolic disease of pets.
In the upcoming months, Copper Hill Animal Clinic will be launching a program that we trialed with our own pets and have found to be effective. Anyone wishing for their pet to be a part of the program can make a free appointment to have a technician weigh and measure their pet. Depending on several data points and the pets needs, a plan is built recommending the exact amount of food that should be given, and a graph showing the pets expected weight loss is generated. Only current clients of Copper Hill may purchase food, but clients of other veterinary practices may discuss the plan with their regular vet to insure it is in their best interest. Check out our Facebook page for more information, and let’s all take a swing at obesity this year!

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!

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!

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.

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!