Saturday, February 03, 2018

You’re taking me to the Vet?! Noooo!!!

Co-written by Dr. Gloria Ku and vet assistant, Danielle
For many cats and dogs, coming to the vet can be a horrifying experience. I can often relate to pets that are terrified when they step into the hospital or drive into the parking lot.  For some of us humans, our blood pressure skyrockets when we go to our hospitals. I know that when I step into a waiting area at my hospital, my heart starts to race and by the time I’m in the exam room, my nerves are on edge.  If the location makes a person feel fear, pain or sadness, it can affect their view of the situation. Unfortunately, for pets, it can be the same. Pets can feel our stress or anxiety and it’s common for most pet owners to feel anxious when they take their pet to the veterinary office.  Owners may be extra worried because don’t know why their pet is sick, or they are worried about the financial struggles and vet bills that they know are coming.  For some sensitive pets, when Mom or Dad is upset, the pet may start to go into “fight or flight” mode to try to escape from the staff examining them. Our staff works diligently to be patient with scared pets, and to read the signals that animals give us. We sometimes have to use distraction (like treats) or medication (such as anti-anxiety drugs) to help ease their anxiety, but there are a few simple things you can do to help your furry friend make their veterinary experience less stressful.
Cats like quiet spaces and to hide.  When choosing a cat travel carrier, consider using a carrier that makes the cat feel secure. The wire kennels that people use for puppy crate training can make them feel exposed compared to a hard-sided carrier. Also, consider getting a carrier that has a top-loading option.  It is sometimes easier to put a cat in a carrier that also opens from the top versus only having the option to go in and out through the front door.  Sometimes, when a cat is scared, it’s easier for the veterinary staff to take apart the carrier to get to the patient. A carrier that can be easily dismantled instead of needing tools to take apart helps both the cat and the vet staff in that situation.
A few days before your cat’s appointment, we recommend that you have the carrier placed in your home with the carrier door opened for your cat to investigate. Place a nice blanket or towel in the carrier (something that can be easily washed if needed). You can even use Feliway, a feline stress-reducing pheromone, spray or wipes in the carrier or on the bedding too.
Feliway is an over-the-counter product, click here to visit their website:
Once your furry feline friend is on their way to the vet, you may also consider using a blanket or towel to lightly cover the carrier in the car, while waiting in the lobby or while in the exam room. When you arrive to the office, if you know your cat is sensitive to loud noises or dogs, consider calling the office from the car or briefly coming in to check-in for your appointment then go back to the car and wait with your cat. Most vet offices understand that their waiting area can be loud and hectic. We have had some patients stay in their owner’s car until a room is ready for them.  And just a reminder, if it is warm outside, please turn on the car’s AC for your pet while they are waiting.
Just like cats, dogs sometimes need help when adjusting to visiting the vet too. Most dogs love car rides as it means they are going to the park to play or going on an adventure…however, some dogs also know the direction of the vet office and may start getting anxious right away when they realize you are driving that route.  We’ve seen dogs that were so excited to see our staff—happily pulling on their leash and running up to greet people and the Doctors. We’ve also seen dogs that were terrified as soon as they come in—hiding under chairs, maybe showing signs of submission by peeing when touched, or growling/snapping at staff when we get too close.  We aren’t surprised by these reactions. Honestly, if you couldn’t understand what was being said around you, the smells are very different when compared to home, new people are touching you in odd places and poking you with needles, and especially if you feel sick already, it would make a lot of sense for you to become fearful of this different environment.  Most pets see their veterinarian once a year for vaccines or more often when they are ill. Why not come in to visit the staff when your pet is not sick? Most vet hospitals will understand if you call ahead of time to see when it is a good time for your pet to come in for some socialization. Come in, have your dog step on the scale for a weight, and get a treat from a friendly staff member! The goal is to teach your dog that the hospital is not a scary place every time they come to visit.  Bring special treats with you that you know your dog will love—special treats they only get when coming to the vet.  Also, if possible, taking a nice, long walk with your dog is a great stress-reducer for both you and your dog before the visit.  This is especially true if your dog tends to have a lot of energy that needs to be released before they encounter a new situation. 
When walking into the hospital, consider using a shortened, non-retractable leash. The long retractable leashes can get tangled up around chairs, around your legs, or even wrapped up around another person’s leash.  A shortened leash allows your pet to not wander away from you—even if your dog is very friendly, the next dog that comes into the hospital may not be.  Do you have a little dog that needs to feel safe?  Use a covered carrier to help make them feel more secure.  If your dog is fearful of people, other pets, and noises, consider having him/her stay in the car until a room is ready.  Just like cats, their stress levels can elevate while sitting in the waiting area before their appointment.  Just notify the front staff that you and your pet will be outside and to have someone come get you once a room is prepared for your appointment.  Does your pet need to be muzzled for their exam for the safety of others? Consider practicing putting on a muzzle at home and giving treats/praise for when your dog allows you to put on their muzzle.  Often, once a pet has some practice at home with a muzzle, they aren’t as fearful about it on their face during their exam. 
We asked Dr. Gloria Ku, “Do you have any advice for helping cats and dogs feel more comfortable when going to see their vet?”
"I really like the idea of preparing your pet for their visit in advance.  Even if it is just having an actual talk to explain what is going to happen, your pet will understand your intention, feel calmer because they are not taken by surprise, and even if they don’t know the exact meaning of your words, they can sense that you are preparing for this event as well.  Try to focus on the positive aspects of why you are visiting us.  It is to help with a problem and/or keep your pet healthy.  That’s a good thing!
For cats, avoiding a larger meal prior to coming can make the car ride less nauseating (for some dogs too), as they tend not to be as accustomed to car rides.  Also picking a time of day that is less hectic for you, is also less hectic for your pet.  As was mentioned earlier, our pets pick up on our stress and incorporate it with their own!
Exercising your dog before coming in can make a huge difference for both happy and nervous dogs.  The walk usually helps them calm down and release pent up energy, and helps them and owners to be focused and present.  Often the anticipation is the driver of anxiety, not the actual event. 

Lastly, please let us know if you or your pet is especially anxious, and what your concerns are when making your appointment.   We will do our best to help relieve that anxiety, and offer specific tips for the visit to help it go as smoothly as possible.  Sometimes it can be as simple as scheduling during a specific time of day that will be the least stressful for your pet.  Our goal is to make each visit as stress free as possible.  Happy and Healthy is good for everyone!"
 -Dr. Gloria Ku

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Hey, Do You Want This Ham Bone For Your Dog?

Co-written by Dr. Gloria Ku & Vet Assistant, Danielle

There is the smell of meat roasting in the oven…then a delicious feast on the table…all the while, a dog’s nose is as close to the dining table as possible in excitement for any scraps that may come his way.  His brown eyes stare straight into yours, begging for a taste. But you know that table scraps are not good for him.

Your friend sitting with you at the table asks, “Do you save the bone for Buddy? I’ve heard somewhere that certain bones are okay to give to dogs.”

You then start thinking, ‘I have seen dried bones at the pet store…maybe I can make my own for Buddy! He’d love that!’

Before you start looking on Pinterest for ideas on how to recycle your meat bones into DIY dog chews, consider some of the issues that can arise.  Bones, even the ones sold at pet stores, can not only become an obstruction problem, but they can chip the teeth and also wear down the enamel that protects the teeth. If the bone happens to get stuck internally, it can cause damage that may involve major surgery and treatments following the procedure.

We asked Dr. Ku, “If bones can be harmful to our dogs, why do they sell them in pet stores and what are better options available?”

Dr. Ku replied,

"A dog with a bone has been a long standing picture we all have in our mind bringing up an emotion of a happy dog!  But where did that come from?  That is an image from days past when food was not always plentiful, and the scraps to the dog (or the pig) were what was affordable.  The bone, being inedible by humans generally, often went to the dog and lasted longer than meat (digestible) parts and therefore the “dog with a bone” image holds.  Not to say that many dogs don’t really enjoy chewing or gnawing on surfaces.  And in fact when they are young, for many it creates a teething activity and exercises masseter muscles (jaw muscles) that lead to stronger jaws.  But there is no doubt that bones can be dangerous.  If not gnawed slowly, they can splinter and cause intestinal perforations, occasionally blockages, or with spoiling after a day not being preserved adequately, they can cause diarrhea and gastrointestinal disorders.  Even treated bones can do this, and gastroenteritis following having had a bone is very very common! 

More often treating a dog’s anxiety and boredom with exercise and attention other than food rewards is healthier and more lasting.  A 20 minute walk will be as exciting, and the dangers of needing to see your veterinarian after that are significantly less!  Remember that chew toys and treats are not a substitute for exercise and attention.

For young dogs that are teething, or very oral young dogs, appropriate chew toys like Kong toys, or Boomer Balls ( are options.  Given the age, breed, and oral aggressiveness of your dog, you should consult with your veterinarian for appropriate chew toys.  Doing a lot of dental work in my practice, I see fractured teeth in many dogs that have to be extracted because of biting or gnawing on chew toys that are too rigid.  “Young” teeth are more forgiving than “older” teeth, and that transition can happen earlier than you think. 

Lastly, the dog has an incredibly sophisticated nose and all of the aromas of cooking are fascinating to them too.  Especially meals that are less common emit smells that are new and interesting.  The dog may be gathering information as much as, if not more so, than asking for treats.  Often we interpret their interest as wanting the food item, when in fact they really want to investigate it.  That may include tasting it if they are so inclined, but if you indulge them, you can expect them to consider this permission to expect more, and depending on your own degree of discipline, overindulgence and gastroenteritis are common in dogs that are allowed to partake in rich meals that they are not used to having.  They can even develop pancreatitis which is a much more serious problem that can result in extended hospitalization and care.  Staying up with a dog with diarrhea or cleaning up after they have an “accident” is on you, not the dog. 

So enjoy cooking and if you must share, be sure to avoid fatty sauces, trimmings, and bones.  If you are interested in some safe recipes for dogs, we have a good bone broth recipe I like that is good for a “topper” in moderation."

Friday, December 22, 2017

Harnesses Versus Collars: Some Things to Consider

Often here at the hospital, we see many different types of harnesses and collars used by our clients. Some are complex, others are simple.

For a dog that pulls, a harness where the leash attaches to their back can cause discomfort to you (as the handler) and isn’t very effective in controlling their pulling.

Dr. Sophia Yin, who specialized in Animal Behavior, wrote on her blog, “I avoid harnesses that hook on the back unless you want to train your dog to pull a cart or a sled. These harnesses actually help train your dog to ignore you and pull you because when you pull on the leash to try to gain some control, they direct the dog’s attention away from you.”

(Link to her blog: Which Types of Collars and Harnesses are Safe for Your Dog?

A small 5 pound Poodle probably won’t cause you any discomfort, but a 65 pound Labrador can cause pain/damage in your wrist, shoulder, neck and back with his pulling if wearing a harness that helps give him that control to use his weight to take you where he wants to go. (He can also cause damage to his own neck if he’s pulling with a collar.)

If you are considering a harness for a dog that pulls, consider a no-pull harness. According to the Kindred Companions’ No-Pull Harness blog, “The first thing that should to be considered when choosing one of these tools is why it is needed. Each one has its pros and cons and some of the cons very heavily out weigh the pros.” 

Their article discusses the different options to consider when buying a no-pull harness.  Check out their detailed blog here:

Harnesses are great for dogs with medical needs. An elderly dog that needs help getting up or a dog with a collapsing trachea will benefit from a harness compared to a collar when on an outing.

When considering a collar, according to, “a common, traditional collar that does not constrict is fine for dogs that don’t have respiratory problems and aren’t prone to pulling on leashes. They may also be more comfortable for some dogs, especially if you plan on leaving it on all the time. A harness usually isn’t as comfortable for all day use. Also, if your dog has long hair, it might get caught up in a harness. A collar doesn’t have that problem. However, for dogs that pull hard during walks, a collar can increase the risk of neck injury. A harness may be the better option in those cases.”

If you have a dog with a narrower head such as a whippet, greyhound or sheltie, you may want to consider a Martingale collar as it makes it harder for a dog to slip-free from their collar.

Neither harnesses nor collars are perfect. Dr. Sophia Yin explained in her blog, “they are all just tools. But some are more likely to cause problems in your pet or may just provide a less than ideal match for your needs.”

When choosing a collar or harness, it is best to discuss any specific health issues or needs your pet has with your veterinarian to ensure the best health and experience.  If your dog needs help understanding how to properly walk on a leash, your vet office most likely can recommend a list of trainers to work with.

Our Veterinarian, Dr. Gloria Ku, would like to remind dog owners to "keep in mind that harnesses and flat collars  are not necessarily good for training your dog as they provide little directive information from the handler. For training collars, such as Gentle Leader collars, it is best to discuss options for your pet's specific needs with a trainer or veterinarian."

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Why Is My Dog Scooting?

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Written by Danielle and Dr. Gloria Ku

As a dog owner and a veterinary assistant, I have often asked our veterinarians many questions due to curiosity or due to a pet problem I am dealing with. Most recently, I asked “Why is my dog scooting?”

I noticed at home that our Papillion mix was scooting across the carpet in our living room and wanted to lick at his rear end which alarmed me. My first reaction was to check his rear end for anything stuck in his hair around the anus.  Occasionally, when dogs have a bowel movement, they will unfortunately get some material stuck to their hair around the anus which can cause some irritation.  I also looked at the skin on his rear end for signs dermatitis (skin irritation) which can include inflammation, bumps, or redness. After investigating the problem area and not seeing anything wrong, I made an appointment and took him in to see my veterinarian.

A dog scooting and/or licking can be caused by many possible reasons such as intestinal parasites, allergic dermatitis, behavioral issues such as boredom or finding a new way to itch their rear end, or full anal glands.  It is always best to consult your veterinarian for medical or behavioral pet problems.
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We spoke to Dr. Ku for advice about a pet scooting. She responded, “Most often scooting is the result of some type of physical irritation to the area around the anus that is difficult to reach any other way.  The act of scooting also helps apply pressure to the anal gland area and sometimes can allow a dog to self express a mildly plugged or inflamed anal gland and/or duct (the short passageway from the gland on either side of the anus and out to the edge of the rectum).  Most groomers will help dogs express their anal glands by applying external pressure such as would happen with scooting.  But if the duct is plugged or the gland is infected, the itchiness can sometimes be so intense that the animal scoots repeatedly to alleviate the itch, yet is unable to self express the glands.  This is when a trip to your veterinarian is best as he/she can do an internal expression and treat any infected glands.  If left untreated, the area can actually rupture and the pet will develop a bigger problem.  

Parasites, such as fleas or intestinal parasites can also cause itchiness that leads to biting, licking, and scooting.  Of course as you did, examining the area for any debris or irritation (I’ve occasionally had to pull out a long hair or blade of grass that wouldn’t come out on its own!) is always the best thing to do first.  Fecal parasite tests and regular parasite control can help prevent many of these issues too.

Lastly, as you mentioned, dermatitis, or skin infection or irritation can also lead to itchiness and scooting and biting or licking.  This can be caused by allergies (to food or environmental allergens) or yeast or bacterial infections.  Determining which of these issues the cause is can take some investigation but generally, it can be resolved and should be, before more harm is done.

And by the way, although less common than in dogs, cats can have all of the same issues we just discussed as well.  Good luck with Ryker and hopefully he will stop scooting as soon as we can get to the bottom of it…no pun intended lol! ;)”                                -Dr. Gloria Ku

Thanks Dr. Ku!  After Ryker’s exam, we have a better understanding of what we can when our little doggie starts scooting again!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Your Fur-baby...

Co-written by Danielle B. and Dr. Gloria Ku

In April 2016, my 12 year-old dog, Vega, started showing swelling in her neck area that didn’t seem normal. She had been healthy most of her life, so of course my husband and I were concerned and brought her in to see Dr. Ku the following day. After a physical exam and lab work, test results were still inconclusive as to why she was swollen. As the days went on, we tried antibiotics but that didn’t seem to help with the swelling. We continued testing, radiographs and a biopsy until results gave us an answer…it was a form of aggressive cancer.

So now what? After discussing our options with Dr. Ku, we knew that we didn’t want her to put her through surgery at this stage in life, and financially we could not put ourselves in debt for the small chance that we’d have more limited time with her—it’s always hard to make that decision when you can say, "we did the best we could." And we did. She had a wonderful life with us and we soon made plans to continue our happy lives with her for as long as she was comfortable and content.

Vega was our first dog. This was our first time we were planning to say goodbye to a beloved fur-baby. Of course, sometimes other pet owners don’t have that luxury to plan their goodbyes, so we are grateful we had this opportunity. We knew for sure that when the day arrives, we would take her out for a burger, fries and vanilla cone (she’s always had dietary restrictions due to sensitive stomach issues, so this would be the ultimate treat for her!). But as we talked about remembering her in the future, we reached out to our friends and family for advice and support:

*Cherish the memories you shared. Pictures or small items that have meaning will help during this time of adjustment and something to look at fondly in the future.

*Use pictures to tell your pet's story.  Frame a photo to display. You can get creative with scrapbooking supplies or order a nice printed book from an online retailer.

dog tribute photo book
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Or make a collage or shadow box to display with love.
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*Have a lack of space at home? Consider making a DVD or a using a thumb drive to store a collection of your pet's pictures and video.

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*Have a friend or photographer do a photography session to capture special moments.

Image may contain: 2 people, outdoor
Some of our "family" pictures taken by a wonderful friend.
Photo credit: Photography by Tammy Nguyen Le

*Custom-made jewelry can be very special like charms with imprints of your pet’s paw.
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Remember, it’s ok to be sad…and it’s ok to cry. As you are going through this adjustment period, it will take time. Each person is different on how we handle grief. Talking with others that have gone through this can help too. If you are looking for a support group, Sacramento SPCA has information on a free support group (

Yolo Hospice Pet Loss Support Group
First Monday of every month from 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Yolo Hospice
1909 Galileo Court, Ste. A
Davis, CA
For questions, please call (800) 491-7711 or (530) 601-5756 or visit

This service is provided for free.

There are also books for children and adults about dealing with the loss of a pet. Here is a link to a list of books:

Like most people, we had questions about what to expect towards the end of her life. We also asked Dr. Ku if she had any advice on the process we will be going through for the last of her days…

"As a veterinarian and pet owner, the question "when is it time?" is inevitable. For each pet and each situation that time may vary, but some of the things I ask pet owners to consider, and I ask myself are:
- Is the pet interacting with their surroundings and loved ones still?
- Are they still eating and enjoying meals as well as before they became ill?
- Do they still react positively when you come home? Have energy to greet or respond to you? Recognize you?
- Can they control their elimination behavior and if not is it manageable for all parties?
- Are you sleeping? Is you pet sleeping?

End of life issues are not only extremely variable by circumstance, but also very personal as to how we address them. Our own beliefs about life and suffering, and pain and comfort, are based on a lifetime of experiences that help us make the decisions we make. There is no right, and there is no wrong, way to do things. But we doubt ourselves because we do not want to be in charge of this decision. It is however, a responsibility as pet owners that we will all most likely face as our pets do not live as long as we do. Most often, once we accept that inevitability, and we consider life and health from the perspective of love for our pet, the decisions become more clear." -Dr. Gloria Ku

2 months later, my husband and I said our goodbyes to Vega as Dr. Ku was by our side.  And as we go through our daily life at home, there are wonderful reminders that she will always have a place in our heart and home.

Danielle (receptionist at HVH)
with Husband and Vega.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Pet Insurance 2015

"Should I get pet insurance?" People often ask this question, and over the years my answer has gone from maybe, to YES!  This is why:

Today, we can diagnose and treat your pet for as many illnesses as we can for people.  This means we can do xrays, ultrasounds, CT scans, transfusions, experimental drugs and specialized surgeries, if needed.  As with most people, at some point in your pets life, he/she is likely to experience some sort of health related issue that will be costly.  For many of us, that is not going to be something we plan for, and will undoubtedly take us by surprise.  But with at least major medical insurance, the cost of an $8000 issue can be much more affordable if your insurance covers on average 80%.  $1600 is expensive, but not as formidable, and could mean the difference between treating your pet, or simply not being able to afford it. 

There are many more different pet insurance options on the market today than there were 15 years ago.  Some do major medical only (e.g. Trupanion) and others will do this plus routine coverage for annual exams and vaccines, dental cleanings, senior labwork, etc. (e.g. Pets Best).  Some are even offered by employers at a discount as an employee benefit.  Things to consider when choosing coverage may depend on how old your pet is, her/his likely health concerns due to their breeding, background, or conformation, and how active your pet is going to be outside the home (hiking, camping, etc.).  Insurance can be more expensive or can even exclude coverage if your pet has pre-existing conditions, so the best coverage begins before those conditions arise.  Some insurance policies can also include additional riders for cancer treatment, and many reset with regard to allowable expenses or maximums paid out with referrals to specialists, should that be necessary. 
Pet insurance is however not quite as easy to use as our own health insurance where the doctors offices bill insurance companies for us.  With most policies/practices now, the pet owner has to prepay the medical bills and file a claim for reimbursement with the insurance company.  Nevertheless, our clients who have insurance have not regretted or cancelled their policies, and many are able to provide the kind of healthcare they want to provide with significantly less economic worry as a result of carrying these policies. 

Its important to do your research and speak to your veterinarian about insurance companies they have had experience with before deciding which would be best for you.  In addition, some companies have comparison applications built in to their websites to help you decide the best fit for you and your pet.  Hopefully your pet will be lucky enough to never need insurance, but should he/she become ill, you will be more prepared financially to address the expenses associated with illness with it.

Here's a list of a couple Pet Insurance companies to review and compare:
Trupanion Pet Insurance:
Pets Best Health Insurance:
Veterinary Pet Insurance (A Nationwide Insurance Co.):

Friday, July 24, 2015

Rattlers and the Wild West

Last year, the drought and warmer spring temperatures drove many rattlesnakes out of wintertime dormancy early in search of water and food.  The effect was that we had more human/rattlesnake encounters than typically noted.  In some cases, Californias fire fighters even had to delay entering fields to fight fires due to heavy rattlesnake encounters.  
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California actually has several different types of rattlesnakes. You can find a good synopsis of snakes in California, what to do should your pet encounter one, what to do should your pet get bitten, and whether or not you should consider the rattlesnake vaccine for your dog at

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Basically there are several things to remember.  The severity of the bite depends on the species of the snake and the size of the pet among other things. Some have more toxic venom than others, and how long it is been since the snake has last bitten, how mature it is, and if it is able to control the amount of venom ejected, can vary.  Statistically approximately 20-25% of bites have no venom, and on average 5% are fatal.  The venom is a toxin that spreads through the blood stream and circulates quickly.  It inhibits clotting and damages the blood vessels leading to swelling and loss of circulation.  Treatment is most effective the earlier it is given, and immediate medical or veterinary treatment should be sought.  One should not try to suck out the venom or cut open the wound in any way.  

Treatment usually involves immediate IV fluid support to prevent circulatory collapse, and usually antibiotics and antihistamines.  Approximately 1/3 of the bodys total blood volume can be lost to bleeding within a few hours.  Antivenin is a product made from horse or sheep antibodies to several common rattlesnake venoms.  It can cause an anaphylactic reaction if your pet has an immunologic reaction to horse or sheep serum and therefore a scratch test” is usually done before administering.  It helps to counteract the venom but needs to be administered intravenously within about 4 hours of a bite to be effective.  It is also quite expensive (over $800/vial not including supportive care here in Sacramento) and depending on the size of your pet, he/she may need several vials.  It is important to know that not all hospitals carry the antivenin as well.   
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There is a vaccine against the venom of several rattlesnakes that can provide protection similar to giving 2-3 vials of antivenin.  It is typically given as a series of 2-3 injections initially, and bolstered annually.  Even with vaccination, however, immediate care should still be sought.  A snake bite is always an emergency.  

Hopefully this will not be an issue for you and your dog(s), but with the increasing pressures of habitat, food resources and water in our state, we hope you will be aware of what they might encounter.  Happy trails!