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: www.icalmpet.com/about/why-music-for-pets
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: www.dogtv.com/about-dogtv


  • 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: www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poisons


  • 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: www.cesarsway.com/dog-training/toys-and-play/give-your-dog-a-job-with-a-backpack

  • 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

Monday, April 02, 2018

My Doggie “Smiles,” What Does it Mean?

Written by Vet Assistant, Danielle & Gloria Ku, DVM


In the video below,
his smile is very quick.
Look for it at about the 3 second spot.

My husband and I have never had a dog that smiles”…until now.  Ryker, our Papillon mix, gets very excited and will bare his teeth at us briefly.  Most people he does it to, including a couple of our parents and some of our friends, think it is funny and cute. But some people are more surprised and wonder if its aggressive. I was sure that it was a sign of submission, and then I spoke to Dr. Ku. She reminded me that it depends on the animals body language which got me thinking of our past dog.

Vega, a Shepard mix, had tricked some people into thinking she was happy to see them. A few times, she would look at people and wag her tail excitedly. They would say to me, Shes happy to see me!and I would think, Shes excited to bite you.I knew that Vegas tail wag wasnt because she was happy—she was excited.  Vegas tail would be wagging but her body would remain as still as a statue and her eyes would watch the person intently, unblinking.  If a person got close enough to her when she was showing these signs, she would try to bite them. We worked with a trainer for many years and learned a lot about her body language.

While working at a veterinary hospital, we see a lot of different body languages in dogs (and cats too). Ive seen dogs wagging their tail for different reasons. A happy dog could be wagging its tail and the whole body wiggles as well.  A scared dog could be wagging its tail but also not making eye contact and positioning its body as low to the ground as possible. An aggressive dog could be wagging its tail, standing still and not breaking eye contact with you.  All three dogs are wagging their tail, but it all means something different.


Photo Credit: http://www.tailsfromthelab.com/tag/body-language

Just like tail wagging, a smile can mean different things too.  We asked Dr. Ku to elaborate on why dogs smile.

Photo Credit: www.inuth.com
Dr. Ku responded, "There can be many reasons a dog will appear to 'smile' for us.  For dogs, this type of facial expression has less meaning than it does for humans.  Dogs may move their lips in this way to signal aggression (as when showing their teeth and lifting their lips), to get a better whiff of something they are smelling (as in what’s known as the 'vomer response' to increase olfactory sensitivity), and sometimes just to pant or breath more heavily through their mouth.  I have also seen dogs look like they are smiling just before they are about to vomit! 
As Danielle says, a dog’s posture and body language, tail position and activity, as well as facial expression are needed to fully interpret a dog’s emotional state.  And certain breeds are certainly more emotive than others.  We must remember not to attribute meaning from our human expressions too readily on our canine companions, but that’s not to say they don’t communicate to us with their bodies and facial muscles.  And just like us, they have more than one way to communicate and are very individual in how they do so.  That’s the fun part in developing your relationship with your dog.  Soon you come to know what your dog’s smiles mean, and can help others interpret them, until they get to know your dog too!" 😊


Here are some other cat and dog body language charts you can find online:

Click this link to see images full size:  http://blog.doggiedrawings.net/post/117101969751




Thursday, March 01, 2018

Cat Grass Grazing

We want our kitties to enjoy their time at home while we are gone.  We make them as comfortable as possible with soft beds, interactive toys to play with, and maybe a kitty climbing treewith multiple levels by a sunny windowbut what about the cat grass we see at many retail stores?  Does my kitty need greens in her diet?  What is the reason cats like to eat grass?

We asked Dr. Ku for her insight on cat grass.  

Dr. Ku replied, "There are a variety of explanations that have been posed for why cats (and dogs) seem to eat grass.  Some believe that it is a sign if gastrointestinal problems and one way to initiate vomiting.  This could include anything for mild indigestion, inflammatory bowel problems, or a way to reduce heavy intestinal parasite loads in the “wild.”   Others believe it could be they just like grass, despite not really needing it nutritionally.  My own observation of my own cats/dogs has been that they seem to really like fresh grass at certain times of the year, especially early Spring when it is fresh and green, and likely soft.  ..perhaps it’s a sign of Spring and they are celebrating? 😉 Regardless, it is clearly a thing, because pet stores actually sell grass you can buy to grow for your indoor pet.  A few things to keep in mind if you want to indulge your cat’s wishes to eat grass.  First of all, it is important to avoid letting them eat grass that has been treated with fertilizer or herbicide.  Secondly, be prepared because often cats that eat grass will then vomit afterwards.  If this is ok with you, then growing your own indoor, untreated grass that is young and fresh for them is probably a good way to go.  As far as “Does your kitty need greens in her diet?” The answer is, “No.”  Also, be sure your kitty is not one with gastrointestinal problems that should be addressed in other ways.  Typically, it is not normal for cats to vomit too often.  Once every 2-3 weeks is probably as often as I would consider normal.  More than that is probably too often, and may be symptomatic of a health issue that could worsen if not addressed."

Check out these cat grass garden tips from The Humane Society website:
(Source: http://www.humanesociety.org/news/magazines/2012/01-02/how_does_your_cat_grass_grow.html)


Garden of Eatin'

Tips to keep your kitty garden thriving

• For best results, grow cat grasses from seeds, available at a pet supply store or online. Choose a heavy, shallow container that your cats are unlikely to knock over and fill it about three quarters full with loose potting soil, using a spray bottle to dampen the soil as you add it. Place the container on a saucer or tray.

• Sprinkle seeds evenly over the surface. Cover lightly with about a quarter inch of soil.

• Cover the container very loosely with plastic wrap. Keep at room temperature and away from direct sunlight (and out of reach of curious pets). Make sure the soil doesn't dry out.
• Sprouts should appear in a few days. Remove the covering and move the pot to a sunny spot.

• Water the sprouts when the soil begins to feel dry to the touch. Don't let excess water sit in the container.

• Offer your cats the grass when it's 3 to 4 inches tall. 

• When the grass wilts after a few weeks, pull out the shoots and plant more seeds. For a steady supply, plant several pots a week or two apart. Monitor your cats for signs of over-consumption, such as vomiting or diarrhea, and limit access to the plants if necessary.

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: https://www.feliway.com/us
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 (https://boomerball.com/en/12-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: http://www.kindredcompanions.com/for-the-love-of-dog/no-pull-harness

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 dogtime.com, “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."