Arthritis in Dogs and Cats

Arthritis not only affects people, but our beloved furry friends too. In fact, arthritis affects one in every five adult dogs in the U.S. and is one of the most common sources of chronic pain that veterinarians treat. Although not as common, arthritis also affects our feline friends.

What exactly is arthritis? Osteoarthritis, a.k.a. degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis, is an irreversible, non inflammatory degenerative damage of the bones that make up joints. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, but most often affects the hips.

Signs that your dog or cat may have arthritis: Unfortunately dogs and cats are not able to tell us when they hurt. It is important, therefore, to watch for non-verbal cues closely and take even subtle changes seriously. The following are signs that your pet may have arthritis:
         -Favoring a limb
         -Difficulty standing or sitting
         -Sleeping more
         -Seeming to have stiff or sore joints
         -Hesitancy to jump, run or climb stairs
         -Weight gain
         -Decreased activity or less interest in play
         -Attitude or behavior changes

Management of Osteoarthritis: As osteoarthritis is an irreversible disease, the goals of therapy are not to cure the animal, but rather to control pain, increase mobility, slow the destructive process in the joint and encourage cartilage repair. The following are some ways to help minimize the aches and pains:

  Drug Therapy:
Fortunately, there are multiple options when it comes to drug therapy. Often times, drugs are used in combination with one another to provide better comfort. The following are some commonly used medications:
     -Non steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as Rimadyl and Meloxicam, can be used to help reduce inflammation in the joints.
     -Other pain medications, such as Tramadol and Gabapentin, can be used in conjunction with NSAIDs to alleviate pain and discomfort.
     -Chondroprotective agents, such as Adequan, Cosequin and Glyco-flex, work to protect cartilage as it attempts to repair itself.

Please do not give your dog or cat any pain medications without consultation with a veterinarian first. Many human anti-arthritis drugs can cause serious, even fatal, results in animals.

  Weight Management and Exercise: Drug therapy is most effective when combined with appropriate exercise and weight management. Weight control is probably the most important thing an owner can do to help their arthritic pet. Low impact exercises, such as swimming or walking, are good ways to keep an animal thin and may enhance the nutrition of the cartilage.

  Surgery: If medical management fails to reduce pain and improve function, surgical intervention may be an option. There is a wide variety of surgical corrections, alteration, replacements and salvage procedures that may be helpful in certain situations.

  Other Therapies: Physical therapy, acupuncture and special diets are some more good options for dogs and cats with osteoarthritis.

Should you believe your pet is suffering from arthritis or has been recently diagnosed, keep in mind that although this condition is irreversible there are many things that both you and Encina Veterinary Hospital’s staff of veterinarians can do to control pain/discomfort and slow the course of the disease, giving your pet a full and healthy life!

Nadia Rifat DVM

Anesthesia 101 for the Pet Owner

Having an anesthetic procedure performed can be a scary experience for both you and your pet, but it doesn’t have to be. If you know the right questions to ask your veterinarian or RVT (registered veterinary technician) that will be performing the anesthesia, it will help alleviate some of your anxiety and give you peace of mind.

Why do we perform blood work or an ultrasound prior to anesthesia at Encina Veterinary Hospital and how does this influence our anesthetic plan for your pet? Blood work and sometimes ultrasound aids us in looking for abnormalities within your pet’s organ systems. Some blood abnormalities we look for are low red cell counts (anemia), elevated kidney or liver levels, electrolyte abnormalities (electrolytes are things like potassium, sodium, chloride etc) or decreased protein levels in the blood. In addition, ultrasound helps us diagnose the severity of heart disease if your pet has a murmur or a mass/tumor in the body. These are just a few of the abnormalities that will help us determine your pet’s anesthetic plan. The medical history (previous medical problems or history of hospitalization) of your pet also aids in determining our anesthetic protocol. Anesthesia is NOT a one size fits all. We will choose the anesthetic drugs for your pet depending on its blood work, ultrasound results and medical history. Species and breed type can also influence our anesthetic plan. Sight hounds (Greyhounds, Whippets etc), brachycephalics (Pugs, English Bulldogs, Boxers etc) and cats, in general, can have different reactions to certain anesthetic drugs that differ from the majority of the pet population. Pets that are overweight, old (usually 9yrs or older) or very young (4 months or younger) also have anesthetic issues that can alter their anesthetic plans. All of this is taken into account when deciding on what anesthetic drugs will be safest for your pet.

Your pet will have many monitoring devices placed on it during anesthesia. The monitors help us make sure your pet has the safest anesthetic experience possible. We monitor your pet’s heart rate with an ECG as well as its blood pressure. Blood pressure is a VERY important vital sign to monitor. It tells us whether your pet’s organs and tissues are getting enough blood and therefore oxygen (blood carries oxygen that is vital in keeping your pet alive). The cells that make up tissues and organs can die if not enough oxygen is delivered to them. Initially this may not be a big deal, but if your pet has multiple anesthetic procedures and blood pressure is not monitored or is low your pet can start showing signs of organ disease. If blood pressure continues to be low during anesthesia we will administer fluids and sometimes drugs to help increase it. Low blood pressure is usually a side effect of most anesthetic drugs. Usually blood pressure returns to normal once anesthesia is discontinued. Carbon dioxide levels are also very important to monitor. If carbon dioxide starts increasing in your pet it can lead to very serious complications and eventually may lead to death. If carbon dioxide levels do start to increase during anesthesia, we will place your pet on a ventilator (a machine to assist your pet in breathing better). This DOES NOT mean that your pet has developed a breathing problem. Most of the drugs that we use for anesthesia cause respiratory depression i.e. breathing depth and frequency become decreased causing carbon dioxide to build up. Once your pet is recovered, breathing depth and frequency will usually return to normal. Oxygenation of the blood is monitored which aids us in making sure that enough oxygen is being transported by the red cells to your pet’s body. Your pet’s temperature is continually monitored with a temperature probe (like a big thermometer you use at home). This probe is placed in your pet’s throat or rectum depending on the surgical operation – don’t worry, the probes covers are changed after every surgical procedure. Usually your pet will have a warming device that blows warm air placed on top or under them to keep their temperatures normal. If your pet is small or sick, we may place two of these warming devices on them as these patients get cold quickly.

After your pet’s surgical or dental procedure is finished at Encina Veterinary Hospital, they will usually receive another dose of pain medication upon recovery. Again, this pain medication is chosen depending on their medical history. If you know that your pet has had a certain anesthetic or pain drug in the past and has not done well on it let the doctor or staff know so we can chose another drug. There are many newer anesthetic and pain drugs that are available to us. Your pet will recover in our ICU or preoperative area depending on the severity of their medical condition or surgical procedure. Patients that recover in ICU have many things that need to be monitored post operatively by our ICU nurses such as IV fluids or constant pain medications. Patients with moderate to severe organ disease will also be placed in ICU along with older healthy patients. Younger and healthier patients will recover in the preoperative area where they are watched by our surgical staff.

Anesthetic complications, though rare, can occur in any pet because ANY patient can have drug reactions that we can not predict. Some drug reactions can be reversed by using drugs that are specifically made for this purpose. Unfortunately, reversal drugs are only commonly available for opioids (morphine type drugs) and certain sedation drugs (Dexdomitor). Most other drugs can not be reversed so if a reaction occurs we can only support the patient with IV fluids and other drugs to minimize the reaction. Unfortunately, sometimes this is not enough and the patient may die, although this is EXTREMELY uncommon. We try to minimize all potential anesthetic complications by obtaining current medical history from you the pet owner as well as having current blood work on your pet. Records are reviewed by the surgical doctor as well as the RVT anesthetic staff the day of anesthesia. Again, once your pet’s history and blood work has been reviewed we will develop an anesthetic plan specific to your pet to minimize all potential complications and risks.

In addition, our anesthetic staff is the only staff in the entire Bay Area that is overseen by an RVT with a specialty in anesthesia (avta-vts.org). This allows our staff and doctors to be current on all anesthetic and pain drugs that are available including being current on new recommendations for their safe use.

Susan Burns BS, RVT, VST (Anesth)

Meet “Bernie”: 4 Week Old Kitten Survives Fire

   You may have heard that on May 23rd, 2012 there was a devastating fire in Bethel Island (click here for news story) that burned down two homes. What you didn’t hear about were the colonies of feral cats who lost their homes and lives that night.

   The night of the fire, this little 4 week old kitten was brought to us on emergency by a neighbor of the fire struck area. At the time, he was named “Amazing Grace” because of his miraculous survival among the feral cat colonies. The woman who brought us to him told us the story of how he had a sibling a mother that often were found nesting together under a car. The woman believes that once the flames started, the mother kitten could only carry one kitten to safety; sadly it wasn’t this guy. He crawled out from under a car on his own while flames chased him and ended up pinned next to a fence where the kind woman came and rescued him. By then, “Amazing Grace” was in critical condition facing issues such as severely burned paw pads, whiskers burned off, eye irritation, melted fur, small burned patches and smoke in his lungs.


   Our registered veterinary technician, Barbara, was working the night “Amazing Grace” came in. The woman who rescued him from the flames was unable to keep him herself but she wanted to be sure he got the best of care, which is why she drove from Bethel Island all the way to us, in Walnut Creek. Barbara decided right then and there that she would take responsibility of the kitten and find him a furever home as soon as he recovered.

   Due to Barbara’s kindness, “Amazing Grace” (now “Bernie”) will heal and spend the rest of his life in a home where he is loved and will no longer need to sleep under cars and escape roaring flames. We would like to help Barbara and her dedication to saving animals in need, even when she isn’t sure how she is going to do it. Please help us, help Barbara, help Bernie, by making a small contribution towards his ongoing care at Encina Veterinary Hospital:


encinavet.chipin.com

    The best part is that Bernie has nuzzled his way into the heart of one of our other Registered Veterinary Technicians, Nicole, and has found his furever home already!


Bernie as of Tuesday May 29th, 2012
(you may notice that his pupils are large; that is due to the pain medication he is on because his paw pads are burned so badly that they constantly hurt, even with burn cream applied and wrapped)

ARF’s Annual “Animals on Broadway” 2012

This year, we had the amazing opportunity to be apart of ARF’s Annual “Animals on Broadway” 2012. ARF has been rescuing and rehoming animals since 1991 — over 20 years! With them being located less than a mile a way from us, it’s easy for us to see the amazing work they do. We often have clients tell us they rescued their pet from ARF and are SO happy! Their pets have been through extensive training, behavior and socialization to help ensure that the pet will work out great with their new family.

We were lucky enough to be part of the wellness fair portion where we hosted the “Ask the Vet” booth with Dr. Cindi Hillemeyer and Dr. Meredith Stepita.

We had TONS of prizes to raffle off!

The place was packed with people out to enjoy the beautiful weather while helping an amazing cause



ARF volunteers were everywhere and helping with everything!

We saw some interesting pets — here are two dogs owned by a groomer in Orinda who safely paints dogs! Can you see what these two masterpeices are meant to be?

While we had an amazing time and enjoyed meeting everyone, we were exhausted at the end of the day!

Thank you to ARF for allowing us to be such a huge part of Annual “Animals on Broadway” 2012, we had a blast and hope to do it again!

For more information on ARF’s Annual “Animals on Broadway” Fundraising Pet Walk, click here.

Dog and Cat Behavior During Fireworks, Thunderstorms

When I was a child we owned a cute little Yorkie/Silky mixed breed dog named Cherry. We rescued her from the local animal shelter and had no information about her past life. She was very shy initially, but over time came out of her shell. I have very fond memories of Cherry, but one thing that always seemed to bother her were thunderstorms. We lived in Maryland and thunderstorms were frequent in the spring and summer. She would shake and hide in the bathtub during the storm. Poor thing; I always felt bad for her but never knew what to do. Years later after having completed veterinary school and becoming board certified in veterinary behaviorist I now know that there is a lot we can do to help dogs like Cherry.

I enjoy seeing the bright lights of the July 4 fireworks, but I also can’t help but think about all the dogs that are panicking due to the loud noises accompanying the beautiful display. I really enjoy helping these dogs develop a more positive emotional response to scary noises because I know with some hard work these dogs don’t have to continue to panic every year.) Some common triggers for noise phobia include fireworks, cars backfiring, gun shots, smoke alarms, and clicking noises (such as the heater or air conditioning turning on)…..and yes, parrots are very good at mimicking these noises, even when you are not home! Dogs with noise phobia may pant, pace, shake, hide, salivate, follow their owners, and even harm themselves trying to escape from their house/yard. However, don’t be fooled by dogs that are abnormally still and quiet during these events as dogs that exhibit “non-behavior” may also be anxious.

As it is difficult to modify problem behaviors when the noise trigger cannot be avoided it is best to start behavior modification well before unavoidable noises occur (such as in May rather than the end of June in preparation for July 4). When noise triggers cannot be avoided we use anti-anxiety medication. These medications consist of short-acting medications to relieve anxiety during unavoidable noises and/or long-term anti-anxiety medication to facilitate behavior modification and for noises that are unavoidable on a more regular basis. Sedative are not usually an appropriate first choice medication as they do not actually treat anxiety and in some cases people report that they are more noise sensitive while taking certain sedatives. Essentially, the pet is sedated and does not display anxiety on the outside, but is extremely anxious on the inside. Before medications are used it is always recommended to have blood work checked as these medications are by and large metabolized through the liver and excreted through the kidneys.

After a trip to your primary care veterinarian to rule out any medical problems that could be making the pet more sensitive to noises (and I have seen dogs react more intensely to noises when in pain), the treatment for noise phobia consists of several steps. The first is avoiding noise triggers as much as possible so that the pet does not continue to experience the fear/panic emotional response. Often, a command-response-reward program (commonly referred to as “Nothing in Life is Free”, “No Free Lunch” or “Learn to Earn”) is recommended to decrease any attention-seeking component of the behavior, create more structure and predictability for the pet and increase the pet’s responsiveness to commands. The “meat and potatoes” of the plan consists of systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning (DS/CC), the primary technique we use to change the pet’s emotional response to scary noises. Desensitization consists of introducing the pet to the noise trigger at elicits fear at so low of a level (volume) that the pet is calm and relaxed. Over time the noise is made louder, all the while staying below the dog’s threshold for fear and panic. Counter-conditioning is changing the pet’s emotional response to the noise trigger by associating it with something positive, such as a favorite treat or activity (ie playing fetch with a tennis ball). A head collar, such as a Gentle Leader ®, may be suggested for better control of the pet during DS/CC. Focus commands including eye contact and hand target commands may also be taught in preparation for DS/CC.

With some work and dedication noise phobias can be successfully treated and managed using behavior modification and in addition, sometimes anti-anxiety medications. For more information and to develop an individualized treatment plan for your pet please contact us at (925) 937-5000

Meredith Stepita, DVM, ACVB
Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behavior

When Your Dog Walks Turn Into a Game of “Tug-O-War”

   We (humans) are too slow for dogs and it is normal for dogs to pull on leash. Harnesses that attach to the leash on the back actually encourage pulling (think of sled dogs). If your dog is pulling on leash as part of an aggressive response, see our blog on aggression since the underlying cause always needs to be treated for your dog to be successful. If your dog is pulling without any stimuli present (I.E. they just pull all the time) here are some different ways to teach your dog to walk nicely on leash:

1. If your dog is pulling, stop walking and stand still. Wait until your dog stops pulling, and then begin walking again. In this exercise, walking again is the reward. You may also find yourself doing this several times in a short period of time.

2. Teach your dog a command that teaches him/her to focus on you such as an eye contact or hand target command. Then, use these commands to keep your dog at your side and reward him/her with treats and attention for following the commands. You can use this method to teach your dog to “heel”.

3. Walk forward with your dog on leash. Before he/she has the chance to pull call him/her back to you and give a reward. Repeat this, extending the time before you call him/her back to you (but before pulling occurs).

   Pick one of the techniques and be consistent. Set your dog up to succeed by starting inside in a non-distracting environment, such as your home. Then, add distractions in the house before working with your dog outside. A head collar can also be a useful tool to help with leash pulling as long as your dog does not have neck problems. The leash attaches under the chin, so when your dog pulls, the leash pulls their head to the side.

Here is a great video for introducing the head collar so that your dog likes (or at least tolerates) it:

Another useful tool that gives you some control, but not as much control as a head collar, is a harness that the leash attaches in the front (Easy Walk HarnessTM or SENSE-ation ® Harness).

If you feel that you and your dog would do better with a one-on-one personal treatment plan that would be customized to you and your life style, please feel free to give us a call and schedule a Behavior Consultation appointment: (925) 937-5000

- Dr. Meredith Stepita, Dipl. ACVB

Anesthesia Free Dental Cleanings

    Dental care is extremely important for our pets. As one of the ICU technicians at Encina Veterinary Hospital, I have personally seen the painful aftereffects of non-anesthetic dental cleanings performed by individuals (feed or pet stores, groomers) and I felt compelled to write about it (as well as some pushing and shoving [read: strong encouragement] from our blogger, Christina!) Although I am not one of the dental technicians, my heart breaks when someone brings in their pet with a tooth root abscess, or some other damage inflicted by an individual who “cleaned” their beloved pet’s teeth.

    Here at Encina Veterinary Hospital we recommend dental cleanings to our patients which require full anesthesia so that our Doctors and Technicians can do a safe and thorough job of fully examining, evaluating, cleaning and polishing your pet’s teeth. There are many places out there now that advertise non-anesthetic dental cleanings for very little money, who also convince/put the fear in pet owners that this is a safer technique than general anesthesia cleanings performed by licensed professionals like registered veterinary assistants and veterinarians. The problem lies in the fact that they may not be cleaning and polishing all the teeth properly. If teeth aren’t polished after scaling, bacteria can work its way deeper into the tooth cavity and create abscesses and many more (expensive) problems. It may seem like an easy and inexpensive alternative, but if not done correctly can be both expensive to your wallet, painful to your pet and even deadly.

    I know I have enough trouble trying to brush my dog’s teeth on the outside, never mind getting in all those nooks and crannies on the inside! And she certainly wouldn’t allow me to spend time scraping tartar off any of her back teeth and then polishing out the microscratches that the scraping leaves behind. The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) opposed a bill (AB 2304) recently which would allow unlicensed individuals to scale pet’s teeth as long as it is with an unmotorized instrument without veterinary supervision. There are companies and websites out there touting the benefits of non-anesthetic cleaning, which are ill informed and send the wrong message to owners. They leave owners scared of veterinarians and general anesthesia, while subjecting your pets to harmful and scary improper dental cleanings. While cleanings here Encina Vet Hospital may be more expensive than the “cleanings” at your groomers, we have your pet’s best health and care in mind; we always treat your pets as if they are our own and we don’t lie to our clients to make a buck. Aren’t your pets worth doing what is right for them?

- Meg Davies, RVT


Here is an excerpt from Dr. Jill Christofferson’s advice article in the Contra Costa Times regarding anesthesia free dental cleanings:

When an animal is anesthetized, the area under the gum line can be properly cleaned using ultrasonic or sonic instruments and any pockets can be assessed and treated properly. The teeth are then polished. Dental X-rays and oral surgery can also be performed when needed. Many pet owners are frightened by anesthesia and think that having the teeth cleaned without it will be safer for their pet.

Anesthetic deaths do occur, and almost every veterinarian can tell of a death that occurred under their care. These deaths are rare, however, and the anesthetic agents currently used in veterinary medicine are considered very safe.

Animals who have had their teeth scaled without anesthesia can suffer from cuts to the gums, bruising of the skin due to excessive restraint, neck injuries, and even jaw fractures. I have known a few dogs who have had expensive and even life-threatening illnesses as a result of having their teeth cleaned in this manner.

The law in California states that performing dentistry on an animal constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine and needs to be done under the supervision of a veterinarian. The people performing anesthesia-free dental cleanings are not state-licensed or regulated and rarely work under a veterinarian’s supervision.

- Dr. Jill Christofferson

Aggression Behavior in Cats and Dogs: What to Look For & What to Do

This week, we asked our newest addition to the practice, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Neredith Stepita, to write a piece on pet aggression. She explains to us what some signs of aggression are, how to avoid aggression developing in your pets, reasons for aggressions and treatment. It’s important to know that aggression can develop at any time in your pet’s life. If your pet is experiencing aggression and/or other behavior problems, give us a call to schedule an appointment with Dr. Meredith Stepita to help you and your pet lead a happier and healthier life together: (925) 937-5000

    The most common problem I see in my dog and cat behavior practice is aggression. Aggression can be directed at other animals, people or objects (I.E. vehicles). In dogs aggression can include lunging, barking, growling, snarling, lip lifting, snapping and biting. Cats can sometimes show more subtle signs of aggression such as staring as well as more overt signs including hissing, scratching and biting. Most of the time aggression is a normal behavior (your dog growling is equivalent to you as a human raising your voice), but not acceptable in our human society.

    The most common reason for underlying aggression is fear. Other reasons may include territoriality, possessiveness (over a particular type of item such as food or a toy), hierarchical/ social status aggression between two animals, dominance, play aggression, medical or pain-induced, maternal and re-directed aggression (when aggression is directed not at the primary target, but a closer target or a target that interacts with the animal when they are in an aggressive state). In cats another form of aggression is called petting-induced aggression. It is important to determine the reason for the pet’s aggression in order to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

    Aggression is usually not cured, rather it is a problem we manage to decrease the chance of the behavior occurring. Prevention of behavior problems, including aggression, is the best medicine and this is why we recommend socialization for puppies 8-16 weeks of age (a week after an initial parvo/distemper vaccination and deworming). Puppies should meet new people and healthy, vaccinated dogs on a daily basis during this time. They should be exposed to anything else they could encounter later in life (I.E. vacuums, stairs, rain, people in uniform, men with beards, etc) to help minimize the chance of fear and aggression later in life. It is important to take precautions and not take puppies to places highly trafficked by dogs of unknown health or vaccination status (I.E. parks, streets, dog parks or pet stores).

    The first step in treating aggression is having your pet examined by your primary care veterinarian, since any underlying medical problem can lead to irritability and aggression. It is also recommended to avoid all situations in which the pet is aggressive so they do not continue to practice the behavior and learn that it works. For example, if your dog looks out the window and barks and growls at strangers passing the house, then close the blinds or put up wallpaper for windows.

    Other behavior modification techniques will be prescribed based on the type of aggression and situations in which the aggression occurs. These techniques may include creating more structure and predictability for the pet, learning new commands such eye contact or hand target, in dogs introducing a head collar for better control and using pheromones (AdaptilTM for dogs and Feliway ® for cats). Often these steps are in preparation to begin a desensitization and counter-conditioning program, the primary technique we use to change your pet’s emotional response to triggers of fear and aggression. In addition, sometimes anti-anxiety medications are recommended; however medications are generally not a first line treatment and should not be used without concurrent behavior modification.

- Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB

Bernie: A Golden Story of Triumph

Below you will find a blog piece written by one of our former Doctor Assistants, Ashley. While with us, Ashley had the privilege of meeting and working with “Bernie,” a patient of ours who continues to amaze us each and every time we see him. Through out all of his ailments in 2011, Bernie continued to be a burst of positivity for us and we’re grateful he’s doing so much better, thanks to his doting father, Forrest.

    I originally met Bernie the golden retriever a few years ago during an annual exam. I was immediately taken by two things, 1) Bernie’s exuberant personality (he was all wags and barks) and 2) how much his parents cared for him. My coworkers and I became steadfast fans of Bernie’s infectious outgoing energy, so you can imagine our dismay when our lovable golden friend’s health began to fail two winters ago. It began with a diagnosis of diabetes in early December of 2010. Bernie mysteriously stopped eating, a sure sign in most retrievers that something has gone awry. Dr. Peter Nurre started Bernie on Humulin insulin. Soon after his change in medication, Bernie came in feeling crummy, and Dr. Roger Johnson performed an abdominal ultrasound on Bernie to find that he had an infection in his abdomen. Surgery was necessary to search for the source of infection, which is typically a perforation (hole) somewhere within the bowel, but in Bernie’s case the source of infection was not a perforated bowel, and remained a mystery. Dr. Johnson cleaned the infection out of the abdomen as best he could and stitched Bernie back up.

    After surgery Bernie’s troubles were not over, as he had several mysterious post-operative infections in spite of being treated with a battery of antibiotics. Soon after surgery Bernie went blind from cataracts, a common problem for diabetics, but had lost so much weight that the corrective surgery could not be performed as a result of the fact that his eyes were sunken into his skull so much. When I caught up with Bernie in February of 2011 I was shocked to see that he had dropped from a robust 80 pounds down to a paltry 55 pounds. His tail still wagged, but he was so thin he was nearly unrecognizable. It is hard to admit, but I was starting to lose hope for my furry friend. However, Bernie’s dad Forrest was vigilant during the whole process. Utilizing the latest in iPad applications and spreadsheets to track Bernie’s blood glucose and insulin doses, Forrest communicated regularly with Dr. Johnson via e-mail in hopes of controlling the diabetes.

    Bernie’s health seemed to decline even further when his jaw seemed to stop working in March of 2011, as he was diagnosed with a condition known as trigeminal neuritis by Dr. Filippo Adamo, our neurologist. This rare condition effects the nerves that wrap around the face, which control the ability of the jaw to open and close normally as well as the blinking reflex of the eyes. The symptom Bernie experienced was that of a “dropped jaw,” in which the jaw cannot close properly. Forrest had to hand feed and water Bernie for six weeks until the condition spontaneously resolved. During Bernie’s bout with trigeminal neuritis he would often bleed profusely from his mouth because when he would drink water, he would take in such large amounts that he would rupture blood vessels near the back of his tongue.

    After the trigeminal neuritis resolved Bernie began to gain weight again, and he was able to have cataract surgery in June of 2011. Bernie’s parents were thrilled when he regained his sight the same day as the surgery, and according to Forrest, the golden retriever’s happiness returned with his vision. Forrest noted the intense eye medication regimen that followed surgery, but Bernie’s renewed sense of self made the process worthwhile. Bernie’s eating stabilized, and in July of 2011 Dr. Johnson wrote the phrase, “getting fat! :)” in his chart.

    I caught Bernie and Forrest in the clinic a few months ago during a recheck visit to see Dr. Johnson, and I was thrilled when Bernie barked at me for attention as Forrest was showing me the latest blood glucose monitoring applications on his iPad. He looked like his normal Bernie self, and his wagging tail never stopped moving the whole time I was in the room. Dr. Johnson found some discrepancies within Bernie’s blood work recently (high tryglycerides and evidence of blood proteins), and he has since began a medication regimen to treat those conditions. Clinically, Bernie looked fabulous! I am happy to report that this past December the ten year old golden is once again at his fighting weight of 77.5 pounds. Dr. Johnson and the staff at Encina would like to commend Forrest for his vigilance in monitoring and caring for Bernie.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @BernieLitke

A special thanks to Bernie’s dedicated father, Forrest Litke, for his contribution of information and pictures to this blog, and for allowing us to share Bernie’s story with everyone!

The Everyday Kennel Staffer and the Extraordinary Ordinary Work

Encina Veterinary Hospital is composed of over 70 employees among multiple teams; Doctors, Interns, Administration, Client Services, Doctor Assistants, Patient Care and Kennel Assistants. Alicia Pickard is one of the team members on the Kennel Assistant team and her wide range of skills and duties are priceless to Encina. Below you will find a piece co-written by Alicia, giving you an insider’s look into the team that is always ready to help in one way or another.

Alicia, a Kennel Assistant at Encina Veterinary Hospital in Walnut Creek, helps keep a patient calm and still during a bandage change


    As the first kennel assistant to appear each morning at Encina, I’m right on top of my game. I always like to see what’s up for the day first before I begin any task. Once I’ve looked at what the day holds for EVH, I look to the boarders (pets who stay with us for medical boarding while their human is out of town or unable to care for them at the moment) as they are usually the most enthusiastic when asking for some attention and love. First, I feed our medical boarders, supply them with fresh water, clean their kennels and give them clean fresh bedding, dispense and give them their appropriate medications , walk the dogs and spend some time snuggling each of them. Then I make my way to our in house blood donor cats (we have two cats each year who live with us to provide blood to cat patients who may need it and once that year is up, we work VERY hard to find them loving homes that will spoil them silly!). As I take care of one, the other will start talking and purring because I’m the ‘lady who feeds them’ in their eyes. It’s rewarding to be greeted so nicely, even if you know that they’re just in it for the food. Depending on the situation, some boarders may take some extra time if I have to coax or encourage them to either eat or take their medications. This takes patience, a gentle touch and dedication as some pets may be out of their comfort zone while staying with us.

    Once the boarders and blood donor kitties have been taken care of, it’s time to turn on my talents (my favorite part of the day!). For a day, I could be a chef – we make a bland diet of chicken and rice when animals have had medical issues and need to revert to eating something light and easy on the stomach. Chicken is also used to encourage patients to eat their meals and tends to work great. I could be a dog walker; dogs have their own personal needs and sometimes they just need to stretch their legs, enjoy the outdoors, sniff around and have some time to themselves. I’m the person who keeps the treatment room clean; laundry, dirty patient food bowls, tables to floors to the kennels, anything I can reach I can clean. I’m the additional hands for technicians and doctors; count on me for holding a patient during a blood draw, chemotherapy treatment, echocardiograms and ultrasounds, x-rays, nail trims and everything in between. I am also often the person who comforts a pet while getting an injection or any other type of uncomfortable procedure. When I’m not cleaning, cooking, or being an extra set of hands, I help sterilize tools and put together surgical packs for upcoming surgeries. Throughout the day, I find myself utilizing many of my talents to better serve my team and the patients.

    Each day is a little different from the last which keeps me on my toes and ready for anything that the next day brings. The role of the kennel staffer is a broad spectrum of efforts that collected together makes us a strong part of the work force at EVH. I’m happy to be able to always say “yes” when it comes to helping my team!