Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What's So Important About Doing Labwork?

Written by Dr. Gloria Ku
Sometimes it feels like we are always being asked to do a blood test or have a urine test and if you have ever had these tests done for your pet, you know that labwork can be expensive.  When our pet is ill, we understand the need to look for abnormalities and markers to help us guide our treatment and assess the severity of the problem.  But when our pet is healthy or feeling fine, is it really necessary?

From a veterinarian’s point of view, the more information we can gather about your pet, the more we understand and can accurately assess their overall health.  Unlike people, your pet will usually only tell you when something bothers them enough not to eat, to cause them to vomit, or urinate on your dining room floor, or limp..

But problems can start before symptoms are obvious. And if detected earlier, very often we can do more to alleviate the problem.  On top of that, our pets age much faster than we do.  By age 3, my young puppy is already equivalent to a 21 year old, and by age 5 she is middle aged at what is equivalent to 35.  By 8 years of age she is equivalent to 56, and by 10 she is 70.

Between the ages of 35-70, people have likely had multiple opportunities to have bloodwork and urine tests done by our physicians to help us evaluate our health.  Ideally, we would like to have a little data to compare back to by the time your pet reaches 10 as well.

What we are looking for are signs of organ disease (e.g. kidney, liver, pancreas, etc.), infections or conditions that may be low grade and undetected because our pet doesn’t exhibit outward symptoms (e.g. urinary tract infections, blood born parasites, bladder stones, etc.) and imbalances that may be developing (electrolyte or mineral imbalances, hormonal imbalances, etc.).  Sometimes we also need to be sure they are healthy enough for anesthesia for routine dental work or to have a growth removed, for instance. 

If you aren’t sure if it is necessary, it is always best to ask how important it is and why.  That is really the only way to know what the risks of not testing are, if any, and whether the benefits are worth the cost.  Each situation is unique and we are happy to help you make the best decisions you can regarding your pet’s care. 

Saturday, September 01, 2018

What Should I Feed My New Cat?

Written by Dr. Gloria Ku

Over the years, feline dietary recommendations have certainly evolved, and we can expect that to continue.  Although that makes recommendations more difficult to follow, it is the result of continued experience and research.  We now have more data to understand how cats metabolize foods, and what medical conditions can be more readily affected by diet. 

We have always known that cats are more strictly carnivorous as a species, compared to dogs or humans.  There are some essential amino acids that they require from their diet (such as taurine, carnitine and arginine), that they cannot synthesize on their own.  They also differ in their metabolism and utilization of glucose such that they need about twice as much protein than do dogs or humans to meet their energy needs.  Since these metabolic pathways are already in play, extra carbohydrates or sugars are not necessarily utilized in lieu of protein for energy as in other species.  Excess carbohydrates generally will lead to obesity, and sometimes liver or gall bladder disease, pancreatitis and diabetes. 

A few other differences in their metabolism make our human feeding patterns create a slight mismatch in their metabolism.  Domestic cats, while no longer wild, have been domesticated from ancestors who fed on about 8 small prey meals/day.  It takes about 10-15 attempts to catch each prey, so a large part of food consumption centered around the catch as well.  Wild cats are also not as socially interactive around mealtime, whereas people are more likely to want to interact during meals.  Our schedules also lead us to prefer to feed our cats twice a day.  In an effort to meet the demands of a cat looking for 8 small meals, we leave them food all day, which allows them to eat more than they need, without the effort required to capture prey.  And if they want to interact and play (or “hunt”) we mistakenly interpret that as “feed me” and do that instead. 

It is not hard to see why so many domestic cats are overweight.  Commercial foods are relatively easy to feed, but many of our dry diets are not as high in protein as cats need.  In order to create a “dry” food, more carbohydrate needs to be added to keep it “dry” and crunchy.  While this may make feeding more convenient and sometimes help with lowering plaque and tartar accumulation, it deviates from what nature has provided in the past.

We can break down the components of food scientifically.  We can test feed animals to establish minimum nutrient standards for vitamins, minerals, protein, etc. But when a client asks me what to feed their cat, they aren’t asking “what is the minimum I can feed to keep my cat healthy?”  What they really want to know is “what should I feed to keep my cat as healthy as possible for as long as possible?” 

The answer is as variable as when a person asks their doctor “what is the best diet for me?”  The truth is there is no perfect answer.  In general, veterinarians think we have been feeding cats below the optimum protein level for their species, and many diet companies are starting to respond to that.  Many veterinarians are suggesting canned food to compensate for this problem as canned food in general has a higher percentage of protein vs. carbohydrate than dry.  With the exception of kidney disease (which is certainly a concern for many cats as they age), most cats will benefit from a relatively high protein diet.  I would suggest looking for dry food with at least 30-40% protein for most healthy cats, and/or feeding primarily canned food as canned formulations in general will meet this goal.  (The protein percentage listed is somewhat confusing in canned vs. dry food because of the amount of weight associated with water in canned food). 

An average rodent meal is about 30-35 kcal, and the average 10-11 lb. cat needs about 240 kcal/day.  This amounts to about 8 small rodent sized meals, or approximately 10 kibble/meal or about 1/6th of a can/meal, on average.  For individual animals, their activity level can cause that amount to vary.  For example, if your cat sleeps all day, they may actually need less food to maintain their ideal weight. 

While commercial diets may have limitations, the advantages may still outweigh the disadvantages.  Nutritionists are still trying to work out the best balances.  Ingredients can vary based on source and processing.  But the minimum standards are assessed in most commercial diets, and met if they are “AAFCO” approved.  This is important because without meeting even the minimum standards, health issues are more likely to occur.  Home cooked diets or diets formulated by companies that do not get their products evaluated for minimum standards can be deficient and lead to health concerns sooner. 

There are many diets available to choose from and looking at labels can be helpful.  If your pet has a specific health condition, I suggest you consult with your veterinarian.  Hopefully these guidelines will help you in deciding what and how much to feed your new cat!

Meanwhile, here are a few links to examples of feeding/activity toys that may be fun and healthy for your new cat:

For some of you who want more information, the following is a lengthy detailed chart of protein and carbohydrate nutritional composition of a large variety of canned cat foods, put together by a very dedicated feline practitioner, Dr. Lisa Pierson.  While her opinions on feeding may not fit exactly with your own, or your veterinarian’s, philosophy, I include it here for informational purposes as the nutritional content information can be very helpful for individuals who are watching these factors closely.

If you are interested in more information about specific nutritional questions or home cooked recipe formulations, I would suggest the UC Davis VMTH Nutrition Department as a good resource for you through your veterinarian.  They can tailor a diet to your pet’s specific health needs and modify it as time and conditions change through their life. 

Choice and variety are so prevalent down the cat food aisle.  This can be both a blessing and a hardship for us all!  Feel free to consult with your veterinarian further as often opening this door leads to more questions, not less.  But that’s what leads to better information and more appropriate new questions.  Thanks for continuing the journey to happier and healthier kitties! 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Happy 25th Anniversary, Hatton Veterinary Hospital!

In late August of 1993, Dr. Peter Hatton opened the doors to Hatton Veterinary Hospital.

Old sign in front of hospital
Prior to Dr. Hatton building and opening Hatton Veterinary Hospital, he worked at and co-owned Greenhaven Veterinary Hospital in the Greenhaven/Pocket area.  Some of our current staff, Dr. Laura Takata, Dr. Gloria Ku, and RVT (Registered Veterinary Technician) Judy, had also worked at Greenhaven Vet for many years before coming over to Hatton Vet.

When Dr. Hatton first opened his practice here in Elk Grove, some of our current staff, RVT Suzanne, RVT Lisa, and Vet Tech Assistant Rhea, were among the few who were working in the early years.

We asked them to elaborate on their years here at Hatton Veterinary Hospital.  In 25 years, there are a lot of memories amongst our staff…

DR. LAURA TAKATA: Veterinarian

When did you start working with or met Dr. Hatton?
 I started working with Dr. Hatton (and Dr. Sahara)  in 1985 at Greenhaven Veterinary Hospital when I did a preceptorship before my senior year of Veterinary School. They were kind enough to give me the opportunity to work with a great team, and  they hired me upon graduation in 1986.

When did you start working at Hatton Veterinary Hospital?
I started working at Hatton Veterinary Hospital in 1994, a year after it opened.

What inspired you to work with animals? 
When I was in middle school, I knew I wanted to work in a medical/science field. While I was in high school, I began to explore the possibilities and found that I really loved working with animals. For many years  I put in my hours cleaning kennels, walking dogs, working at the zoo, fish and game and wildlife care . As I  gained the confidence that I might be able to go to Veterinary school someday, I really began to focus on that goal.  I  wanted to be able to know as much as I could about the diseases affecting our pets, and wanted to be able to provide the best care to them. I feel a deep connection to animals and to their humans.

What is your favorite story or most memorable moment since working at Hatton?
 I honestly can’t pinpoint a single most memorable moment. There have been so many special pets and moments. I feel very lucky to have such great clients and pets to work with . Every special thank you from them means so much.  We have a beautiful cat quilt on the wall which was made by a very special client who passed away.  Her husband felt she would want us to have it, so we have displayed it ever since, sharing her talents and love  with all who come to visit us.  Our dedicated clients are the reason we are here!

DR. GLORIA KU: Veterinarian

When did you start working with or met Dr. Hatton?
In 1989, I worked with Dr. Hatton while doing my summer internship at Greenhaven Vet Hospital during my senior year in veterinary school.

When did you start working at Hatton Veterinary Hospital?
June 2003

What inspired you to work with animals?
The challenge of working with animals inspired me.  It is not only the science of medicine and disease, but also learning to communicate with different species that don't speak English.  Our pets are so trusting that I wanted to be able to help them and families have optimum experiences together.

What is your favorite story or most memorable moment since working at Hatton?
Most of our pets have originated from work situations, but one stands out especially today, because she is still with me now.  I first met “Flora” when our staff caught her running around the hospital and the field across the street on Labor Day 2005.  She was very friendly and quite happy to be “found.”  She had a microchip but it wasn’t registered and had been placed by Sacramento City Animal Control, so we took her there on the next business day where she was held for 4 days in hopes of her owner finding her there.  No one called.  On her last day before she would have been put down, as the shelter was particularly full that week, I called to check on her.  When I heard that she wasn’t reclaimed, I convinced my husband to come take a look at her and see what he thought.  She had been so friendly when I first met her and her colors matched one of our dogs (black and tan).  We certainly didn’t need another dog because we still had two young large dogs at home, but we had recently said good bye to two of our older pets and we felt like we could handle it.   When we got to the shelter, the dogs had been kept 4 or 5 to a pen because they were so crowded.  He pointed to each dog in the pen asking if that was the one, before I meekly confessed it was the last one, hiding in the back.  But when we brought her out, she lit up again as I had seen her at Hatton’s 4 days earlier.  Now she is probably about 15 years old and enjoying her senior years as an only child.  Kids have left, dogs and cats have “left”, and for the first time, she is “Queen Bee” at our house.  She earned it!  Thanks for finding us at Hatton’s, Flora!! 😊

JUDY: Registered Veterinary Technician

When did you start working with or met Dr. Hatton?
I started working with Dr. Hatton in 1976 at Greenhaven Veterinary Hospital.  I watched Dr. Sahara and Dr. Hatton build the Greenhaven Veterinary Hospital and when Dr. Hatton built Hatton Veterinary Hospital, I came to Elk Grove to work at his practice.

When did you start working at Hatton Veterinary Hospital?
October 1993

What inspired you to work with animals?
I wanted to work with and help care for small pets.

What is your favorite story or most memorable moment since working at Hatton?
I like working with our clients and patients, especially with reconditioning.  A Chihuahua named Lola came in weekly for us to get her desensitized with being here. We were not able to touch her at all.  We used a lot of peanut butter as a treat for her.  With our help, we are now able to pick her up with some “complaints.”

SUZANNE: Registered Veterinary Technician

When did you start working with or met Dr. Hatton?
September 1993 (about 2 weeks after the practice first opened).

What inspired you to work with animals?
I have always had a love for animals and wanted to help them.

What is your favorite story or most memorable moment since working at Hatton?
Evacuating animals by rowboat during the flood of 1996 and Lisa’s car floating around in the parking lot!

LISA: Registered Veterinary Technician

When did you start working with or met Dr. Hatton?
In October 1994, I started out as an ROP (Regional Occupational Program) student.  On my 2nd day, Dr. Hatton offered me an employee position.

What inspired you to work with animals?
To be honest, cats inspired me to work in the veterinary field but I have always known that I wanted to work with animals.  I grew up with a love of animals as my home was always filled with pets.  I have always been passionate about science.  I have always known that I would love and enjoy helping animals in need to love, aid care and support.

What is your favorite story or most memorable moment since working at Hatton?
In 2005, a mama cat with her newborn litter arrived at our hospital.  Someone in the past had borrowed on of our extra carriers here, put the mama cat and her kittens in the carrier, and then slipped the carrier into someone’s car at the nearby gas station!  When the owner of the vehicle saw the carrier in their car, they saw that our “Please return to Hatton Veterinary Hospital” label was on the carrier and brought it to us.  Mama cat was a great tortoiseshell cat.  She had 6 kittens that we took in and we instantly fell in love with mama and her babies.  3 of the kittens went to Hatton Vet employees.  I have the black and white domestic short-haired named Danica.  She is 13 years old now.  The last 3 kittens were adopted out to a few clients.

RHEA: Veterinary Technician Assistant

When did you start working with or met Dr. Hatton?
I started volunteering at Hatton Vet in my senior year of High School, through the ROP program.  Dr. Takata interviewed me and offered me a volunteer position.  I met Dr. Hatton after starting my volunteer position.

When did you start working at Hatton Veterinary Hospital?
September of 1999 as a volunteer and then in October 1999 as a part-time employee.

What inspired you to work with animals?
My Grandma had a farm for most of my childhood so I grew up having many types of animals around me.  She and I would buy fertilized chicken eggs then incubate them and raise them.  My Grandma raised pigs, sheep, chickens, a horse, cockatiels, love birds, an ostrich, cats and dogs.  I gained a lot of animal experience and bonded with them.  I think the love and bond I formed with animals for many years made me want to be a Veterinarian.  I can remember being in the 2nd or 3rd grade and my teacher asking everyone what they wanted to be. I always replied, “A Veterinarian.”  I’ve always wanted to work with animals.

What is your favorite story or most memorable moment since working at Hatton?
Being here for over 18 years, it’s hard to narrow down a single story with all these memories.  We had this chinchilla that came in with a broken hind leg.  Dr. Ku and I were able to bandage the leg, and fitted him with a homemade cone on his head.  Yes, a cone can be used on all types of animals.  We saw him multiple times for rechecks and he was healing as planned, except for his decreased appetite.  Since I have chinchillas, I gave the owners some advice on what my “Chicka Girls” liked.  He began to eat better and was thriving!  Right before he had his bandage taken off, he broke the same leg again, but in a different spot.  This was a bad spot to break as it could not be healed with a splint and bandage.  This now required surgery with a specialist.  The family decided to do surgery and amputate his leg.  He made a full recovery and was a happy 3 legged chinchilla!  It was a great, fulfilling experience to help him through his healing process.
(To read the blog about this Chinchilla’s broken leg, click here: )
I like learning how to work with each patient and learning about their quirks.  I don’t want their experience to be traumatic so I work hard to gain their trust and make them as comfortable as possible in order to accomplish the treatments needed to help our patients.  We get to know families and their pets, especially if we have seen them ever since they were a “baby”.  Unfortunately, it is hard for us to see beloved pets get older or sick and even harder to help them through their last days and then saying goodbye.

Pictures of Dr. Hatton building Hatton Veterinary Hospital.
(Click on picture to see larger image.)


Hatton Staff Boat Outing & Picnic 1995

Staff & Family Holiday Party 2002
Staff & Family Holiday Party 2006

Monday, July 02, 2018

Meet Gracie the Russian Tortoise

Gracie lives with one of our technicians, Lisa, and her family.  This little tortoise came into Lisa’s family in July of 2002.  RVT Lisa explains, “she was found in my best friend’s backyard.  We scanned her for a microchip (yes, tortoises can have chips) and placed found signs all over the neighborhood.  No one claimed her so we adopted her.”

According to PetMD, “Born at about an inch in length, these tortoises may reach 8-10 inches-long when they are mature, with females being slightly larger than males.
The Russian Tortoise’s carapace (top part of the shell) ranges from a tan to yellow to olive color, with brown to black markings. The plastron (bottom shell) is either solid black or has blotches of brown or black. Their tail tip is hard and bony and longer in males, and their skin is tan to yellow colored. One unique feature that makes Russian Tortoises stand out from other tortoises is the presence of four claws on each foot – hence, their other known name, the “four-toed tortoise.”

We asked Lisa a few questions about Gracie:

Do you have a funny or interesting story about Gracie?

When I first brought her home, I brought her to work to get checked over.  I put her in a bath tub full of water because that’s what I thought you did for turtles.  Well, she’s not a turtle, she’s a tortoise—they can swim and she did but they prefer to live on land.  Needless to say, I should have noticed that she did not have webbed feet—that would have been my clue that she was a land tortoise. At the time, I did not know much about turtles or tortoises. 

What did you learn about Russian Tortoises that you didn’t know before?

Hibernation is an amazing thing!  Every year, it amazes me that Gracie digs herself a hole in her outdoor pen about 1 foot deep, then starts hibernating in November and usually wakes up in February.

Do you have any additional information or stories you’d like to share?

§  In 2018, we have had Gracie for 16 years; their lifespan is 40 years.

§  She is a very easy companion.  She enjoys her head rubbed.  When you do this, she extends out her neck and you can tell she loves it!

§  Turtles and tortoises can transmit salmonella so you need to make sure you wash your hands after handling.

§  We built her a pen in our backyard and that’s where she lives.  Her backyard habitat is a pen made out of chicken wire buried a foot into the ground so that she cannot dig out and we have a cover over it so that she is safe from predators like raccoons.

§  Gracie is a vegetarian.  Her favorite foods are organic mixed greens, green beans, mixed corn/peas/carrots, Fuji apples, and strawberries.  When she eats strawberries, they stain her lips and it looks like she is wearing lipstick J

Thank you Lisa for sharing Gracie's story with us!

Monday, June 11, 2018

What Did I Just Step On? Oh, It’s a Hairball.

It happens when you aren’t expecting it…the sound that wakes us from our slumber…the cat somewhere in the house hacking up a wet, slimy hairball.  You lay in bed, thinking, ‘Ick! Why does this keep happening??  Is there anything I can do to stop this?’

We asked Dr. Gloria Ku these following questions:

Why do cats vomit hairballs?

Cats are often thought to have hairballs regularly as a matter of course.  In fact so many do, that there are lots of remedies and strategies to address this issue.   Having had multiple cats myself, I have experienced exactly the above scenario more than once!  Some theorize that the hair accumulated from grooming is too much for the kitty to digest and it will form a ball and be regurgitated or vomited up much like a bird of prey might bring up a pellet after ingesting a mouse or small rodent.  In most cases, wild cats in zoos are not regular vomiters, and so this may not actually be the reason.  In some cases, excessive grooming due to skin conditions or allergies can cause the ingestion of more than a normal amount of hair leading to this process.  Others speculate that there is, in fact, no real correlation with ingesting hair, and that cats are commonly seen vomiting because domestication and the types of food we feed domestic cats have digestibility issues. 

My personal observation is that cats do occasionally vomit hairballs (on the order of once every 2-4 weeks in some cases, less in others), but that cats that vomit more than a few times a week often have other health issues at the root of the problem.  This can be anything from kidney or liver problems, inflammatory bowel disease and/or pancreatitis, to “food allergies.”  If your kitty is one that vomits frequently, it is a good idea to consider that hairballs are not the only reason for frequent vomiting in cats, and that this may not actually be “normal.”

What can cat owners do to prevent hairballs?  Does Cat Lax or hairball diets work?

Typical remedies for hairballs involve giving products like Cat Lax or Petromalt (typically cod liver oil or petroleum based products intended to aid in lubricating the passage of hairballs through to the bowel movement).  These are often safe to use and sometimes very effective. 

There are also commercially available “hairball control” diets which have similar properties (mildly increase lubrication), but also typically add fiber to the diet to increase the bulk of the stool and promote passage of hair along with everything else through to the bowel movement.  Scientific publications have been lacking to prove actual benefit, but empirical evidence  (my own cat included) would suggest that they often do help. 

We also suggest brushing your cat regularly to minimize the amount of hair that he/she may ingest with normal self grooming. Some may even wish to trim their long haired kitties fur.   Flea control and treating any skin conditions or allergies are also important to minimize excessive grooming habits.

However, if standard remedies do not seem to be effective, I would encourage you to speak to your veterinarian about your cat’s vomiting, and determine if there is another cause.  Often early detection of the underlying reason (e.g. liver problems, kidney issues, intestinal inflammation or a dietary intolerance)  makes its correction that much easier.  Remember, vomiting may just be a symptom of something else. 

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Home Alone...This is Scary...

Written by Dr. Gloria Ku & Vet Assistant, Danielle

It’s such a lovely day outside…oh look, a squirrel in my backyard!  Oh how I’d love to spend the day lounging with my family…I love my family…hey, where is my family going??  DON’T LEAVE ME!!!!!!!!

4 hours later…

YOU’RE HOME!!!!! Look, I tore up the carpet by the door because I was worried about you.  And I don’t think the people beyond the fence appreciated my singing, but I was hoping you might hear me and want to come back to sing with me!

I’ve never owned a dog with separation anxiety until now. Our past dog, a female Shepard mix, was independent and didn’t mind being home alone.  We now have a male Papillon mix who is terrified whenever we leave the house. Separation anxiety is a behavior that is different for each pet.  Some pets may become destructive and extremely vocal. While others may just lay by the front door and whine a little.  With my past experience and knowledge, my husband and I tried a few things at home in hopes that it would help his separation anxiety problem.

  • Play music.  Studies have shown that pets may feel calmer with classical music.  We have used the audio CDs of “Through A Dog’s Ear” in our veterinary hospital.  Click here to learn more:
There’s also a dog channel station on the television designed to keep your companion entertained while you’re away. Click here to learn more:

  • Provide “busy work” toys.  Hollow toys, like Kongs, can provide a safe entertainment for dogs left alone.  There are lots of ideas online for mashing food like carrots and apples with dog treats and then stuffing it into a Kong toy.  Some people will freeze the Kong with the mixture to make it more difficult for their dog so that it will last longer.  And of course, as a reminder, make sure that whatever mixture or treats you offer with the toy, be aware that some pets cannot digest certain ingredients or that some peanut butter has xylitol that is toxic for dogs.  Click here to learn more about what toxins are dangerous to your pets:

  • Go for a long walk.  Exercise is not only good for us, it’s good for our pets too.  A nice long walk before your pet goes into a stressful situation can really help ease their mind.  Have a very active dog?  Why not give them a job while on their walk!  Provide your pet with a backpack/saddlebags and have them carry water bottles, poop bags, etc.  Make sure it’s not too heavy for them.  According to television dog trainer, Cesar Millan, “For most dogs, a good rule of thumb is 10 to 12% of their body weight, but you need to take into account your particular pup’s health and energy level. If your dog suffers from any health issue, or you’re uncertain about their ability to carry the weight for any reason, contact your veterinarian for guidance. Many owners also find it beneficial to start out small and increase the challenge as your dog gets more fit.”  Click here to read more from his website about the benefits of having your dog wear a backpack during his or her walk:

  • Interested in adopting a second dog?  Sometimes a second dog can help the first dog’s anxiety.  However, this is a gamble as you may either get the perfect pair or double-trouble.  (We personally are only a single dog household, so this was not an option for us.  Thankfully, both of our jobs allow us to take Ryker to work with us which means we leave him at home less often.)

  • Hire a dog walker?  Take your pup to daycare?  These are other great options to help with separation anxiety.  As usual, do your research. Contact friends, family, or neighbors and ask them if they have places they trust and recommend.  Contact and visit the facilities.  See how the staff interacts with other pets.

  • Seek professional guidance. We have reached out to our dog trainer as well as our Veterinarian.  After trying to help him on our own, we realized we needed more guidance with this behavior problem.  Our dog trainer will be working with us and has also advised us to speak to Dr. Ku regarding anti-anxiety medication.  Just like with humans, sometimes we need psychological assistance and there are prescriptions that chemically alter our emotions.

We asked Dr. Ku for her advice and what she would recommend for separation anxiety:

"I too have had a dog with extreme separation anxiety, and it can be very difficult for them, once they escalate to a place of high anxiety, to understand the necessity of being alone or confined by doors or fences most often for their own safety.  As with all cases of anxiety, helping to de-escalate the anxiety before it reaches the point of no return is critical. 

The most effective things most people can do to help their dogs are non-pharmacological to start.   Downplaying greetings and good-byes can do a lot to avoid the big emotional swings associated with owners leaving and returning.  These swings can literally escalate the anxiety despite their best intentions.  Always remember that our pets are like sponges for our own emotions.  If we are anxious, worried, and afraid, so are they!  Being calm when you leave and treating it as calmly as when you leave you houseplants, and returning with the same matter of fact behavior, can help your pet realize that comings and goings are NORMAL. 

Releasing pent up energy with regular exercise and release time BEFORE leaving is essential.  If your pet is already frustrated about not having a way to release energy, you can be sure they will find a way to release it without your supervision while you are gone.  They will often make poor choices in these cases, and chewed up rugs, garbage cans, work projects, door jams, carpeting,  etc. are common victims.  A 20 minute walk is usually sufficient for most dogs, but every pet is different.  Some do fine with 15 minutes and others need an hour.  We must own our dog’s needs as our own, and make the time for them, especially if they need help adjusting to a new routine. 

Make your pet’s schedule as predictable as possible for them.  Dogs like routine and are very good at following schedules.  If you can make your time away from them part of their routine, they will accept it much quicker.  Typically the most difficult period for pets with separation anxiety is the first 20-30 minutes you are gone.  If you video taped them, you would probably find that most of the signs you are concerned about (howling, pacing, frantic and destructive behavior) will occur shortly after you leave.  Often after the damage is done, they lay down and go to sleep!  Practice first with short trips (5 minutes, then 10, 15, etc.) and work your way up to the longer absences.  Practice with a routine for leaving (e.g., put on your shoes, turn off lights, give them a treat in a very casual and informative way, and then leave - you really have to leave and not just stand outside).  Do the same thing every time and your pet will start to understand what is happening.  If you get anxious and start petting them and hugging them extra at this moment, their anxiety is starting to ramp up.  A tearful goodbye will almost always be worse for them!

Certainly safe toys that will occupy and distract your pet when you leave are good ideas.  They also provide a “reward” in some ways for tolerating your absence. 😉 They also signal to them that this is one of those times you are leaving, and you will return. 

Trying DAP diffusers, or additives like Stress Stopper or Rescue Remedy, are some more holistic options to help calm you pet in general, but if their anxiety level is very high, these may not be enough initially.  They typically do not hurt, and sometimes, especially in combination with everything else, these will be helpful.

And finally, when things still don’t resolve with all of the above, and particularly if your pet is prone to hurting themselves or destroying property because of their anxiety, we can try mood modifying medication to help reset their anxiety threshold.  This usually means long term medication so there must be a commitment to the regimen.  The medication we have had the most success with is Clomicalm (clomipramine) which takes about 6 weeks to build in their system, and therefore may take that long to reach efficacious levels.   Medication is only effective along with behavior modification training as we just discussed. 

We had a dog for many years that was an abuse case from the City Animal Shelter.  Dillon was a 70 lb. Coonhound and he would urinate, howl, destroy unattached objects, or break through fences or seemingly unbreakable crates if confined.  He once crawled under a 4 inch opening (I have no idea how).  When he was with us he was full of exuberance and joy, but on the videotape, when we left him, he clearly went into a panic.  It was painful to watch his whole being transform into a frenzied anxiety attack, escalating from a whimper, to howling, to escape by any means possible within a 15 minute time span.  It took several months of working with him before we found the right balance of activity, safe space, and how much room that actually was for him.  We did in fact move, in large part, to give him more space.  In his case, we had another dog, a foundling Rottie with a tail, that became his stability.  They were about 6 months apart in age and bonded immediately.  That worked out for them, but to be honest, I have also seen a “companion” dog just end up creating a second set of issues for owners.  I would only advise getting another dog if you truly want that second pet despite its ability to bond with your anxious pet.  It can be a 50/50 proposition most of the time. 

Occasionally, your pet may need medication for situational anxiety only.  This would be for the pet that only is asked to stay alone on rare occasions (e.g. less than once a month).  Or the pet that is afraid of thunderstorm or parties, or fireworks.  These pets have what present as similar anxieties but may or may not require long-term medication.  Your veterinarian can help you assess your pet’s situation and tailor a plan to help alleviate that anxiety with you. 

Anxiety is a real issue for many pets.  Socializing them, helping them to cope with new and changing circumstances, and building confidence is the best way to help them in the long run.  Our instincts tell us to protect them, but the best way to do that is to give them the tools to feel confident enough to take care of themselves, safely, in the safe environment that you are providing. That requires confidence and trust on both parts, and is a learned and acquired skill.  Once you have fed them, given them potty opportunities, walked them (i.e. met their physical needs), they need to feel safe.  If that safety is tied only to your presence, you will have an issue.  Give them the confidence to trust that you will provide them with a safe environment until your return (that also means you have to be sure it is secure and safe for them).  That trust comes from a variety of interactions.  From learning to walk in public on a leash, dog training class, learning to look to you for direction rather than having to develop their own plan when uncertainty arises, etc.  Coddling and hugging our pets is wonderful, but if that is the only way a pet feels secure, they are going to be insecure the rest of the time.  We need to give them the tools to survive some emotional independence as well.  When they are settled emotionally, you will find that bond to be even more special between you."  -Gloria Ku, DVM