Archives for April 2011

Kitten Season: TNR

With kitten season approaching us quickly, we thought we’d take a moment to shine some light on Trap-Neuter-Release programs and how you can help.

A female 5-6 week old kitten recently rescued from a
bush by one of our Registered Veterinary Technicians, Sarah S.

TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) is a strategy used to solve the feral cat problem by humanely trapping wild, unowned cats in order to spay and neuter them, and then releasing them back into this wild. Spaying and neutering wild/feral cats is beneficial in multiple ways: no more kitten reproduction, cuts down on cats fights and cat yowling, helps prevent the cats from developing cancer in their reproductive system and possibly makes you a new friend!

The East Bay SPCA currently offers FREE spay/neuter surgery to feral cats. You simply need to be sure you and the cat qualify and rent out a trap for $1/day.

If you’re interested in learning more about the TNR program offered at East Bay SPCA, simply click here.

Also, check out some other pet related blogs on the Saturday Blog Hop!

Big Al's Glamour Shot

Over the Shoulder Smoulder

There was apparently some confusion when Big Al agreed to star in his very own blog post. You see, Alex recently became a big brother to a child of the human variety, and he was under the impression that this blog would be solely about him…just like a baby blog. He has grown to be quite the doggy-diva since becoming an Internet sensation as our premier blood donor. In order to appease him, I have agreed to post a glamour shot of Big Al from time to time just to keep the world apprised of his good looks. So without further adieu, feast your eyes on what I call Alex’s Over the Shoulder Smoulder (patent pending). This alluring stare has been known to garner treats and hearts alike from passerby of Encina’s A-Ward, also known as Tommy’s Ward, also known as Alex’s office.

How to Become a Veterinarian

As I continue my journey to one day becoming a veterinarian, I am often asked about what it takes to become one, both at Encina and dinner parties alike. People tend to have a general concept of how one becomes a human doctor, but even I was unclear about veterinary school when I began my career as a kennel technician so many moons ago. So, for all of you with a dream to become an animal doctor (or a niece/friend/neighbor with one), this blog is for you! I have broken down the process step-by-step, so you will know more about the person on the other side of the exam table next time you bring your pet in to see us.

Basic Formula: 1) High school diploma, 2) Undergraduate College degree, GRE test, Fulfill Vet School Requirements for admission (4+ years), 5) Veterinary school (4 years), 6) Internship (optional unless you are planning on specializing, 1 year), 7) Residency (optional for general practice doctors, required for specialists, 3-4 years)

High School: If you are struck by the veterinary bug early, there are a few things you can do before college to help ensure your chances at getting into the veterinary school of your choice. 1) Maintain good grades and get as many AP science classes out of the way as you can, as this will optimize your time spent in college. Chemistry, physics, and biology are all requirements for veterinary schools across the board. 2) Get some work experience by applying to work at a veterinary hospital over the summers or on weekends as a kennel technician. Dr. Atwater, Dr. Nurre, and Dr. Christofferson all started out this way, I can remember Dr. Atwater once telling me you could “eat off of” the kennel floors he scrubbed because they were so immaculate. Kennel technician duties vary from animal restraint, cleaning and restocking duties, to caring for the hospital’s boarders.

College: Choose a degree program that will enable you to get as many veterinary school requirements out of the way while obtaining your BS or BA. It helps to have a school in mind so that you can make sure that your degree program meets the admissions requirements. For UC Davis, the lower division science requirements are as follows: 1 year each of biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry, all with labs, and 1 year of physics without a lab. Upper division science requirements for admission (also at UCD) include 1 semester each of biochemistry, genetics, and systemic physiology. Also required are statistics, English, humanities, and social science classes. Some majors that enable you to meet all of these requirements include general biology, physiology, and of course, pre-veterinary. Tantamount to taking the classes is doing well in them, although most vet schools only require a 2.5 GPA for both science and cumulative coursework, the unwritten minimum for many schools is a 3.5 GPA because admission is highly competitive.

Other Requirements for Admission:

As mentioned above, the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) test is required for admission to veterinary schools. The GRE is sort of like the SATs for graduate school, it contains verbal, quantitative (mathematical), and analytical sections, all taken on a computer at a registered testing site. If your GPA is below 3.5, a high score on the GRE may be used to counterbalance your grades.

Also required by UC Davis (and most veterinary schools): 180 hours of veterinary experience, 3 letters of evaluation (one from a professor, one from a veterinarian, and one from either a professor or veterinarian of your choosing), and a personal statement.

Why is getting in so hard?

Getting into veterinary school is a dog-eat-dog race (pun intended), in fact, it has been said that getting into veterinary school is harder to get into than medical school. If I had a dollar for every human doctor or professor I’ve met that told me they wanted to be a vet but couldn’t get into to school, not only would I be making money in a very strange way, I would have amassed enough to catch a movie with popcorn. There are over 150 medical schools in the US but only 28 veterinary schools. The number of veterinary school applicants is smaller overall, but with fewer spots available the odds of getting in are stacked against the future veterinarians of the world. Many people get master’s degrees in science to increase their chances of getting into vet school.

Veterinary School: Once you are in, veterinary school takes 4 years to complete, the light at the end of the tunnel being a doctorate degree. Programs are considered to be highly involved and rigorous as a result of the fact that a veterinary doctor must master the inner workings of more than one species. The first two years of veterinary school are mostly spent in the classroom, studying subjects from animal nutrition to virology. During the last two years the student spends more time in a clinical setting, learning how to communicate with animal owners, as well as the evaluation and treatment of patients, all while under the supervision of attending veterinarians. After veterinary school the graduate must complete veterinary boards, at the national and state level.

Internship: Spend enough time at Encina, and you will catch a glimpse of a herd of white-coated interns trailing Dr. Johnson or one of our other specialty veterinarians in and out of exam rooms. These doctors are graduates of veterinary school who wish to further their education by completing rotations in oncology, internal medicine, emergency medicine, neurology, surgery, and dentistry, among others. Encina is unique in that we are a teaching hospital, and has had an internship and residency program in place for several years. The internship program provides our top doctors with an opportunity to teach another generation of vets about what they love the most, be it oncology or ear infections. Dr. Nurre has told me that some of the most important lessons about being a vet are learned after school, and our internship is a place where these vets are able to do just that in a safe environment where they are overseen by experienced veterinarians. Internships are not required, and a veterinarian may legally begin practicing right out of veterinary school.

Residency: Encina currently has one resident, Dr. Jenifer Wang, who is studying to become an internal medicine specialist. Dr. Wang joined us the year she graduated from veterinary school, as an intern, and decided to embark on her residency immediately after. She is overseen by Dr. Johnson and Dr. Nurre, and sometimes goes up to UC Davis for various aspects of her training. Other specialists such as Dr. Atwater and Dr. Johnson, completed their residencies at veterinary schools. The process takes 3-4 years to complete, and requires the resident to publish work, as well as pass a myriad of tests.

Feeling overwhelmed just reading this? If you did your math correctly, you probably figured out that a general practice vet spends about 8 years after high school in college to become a veterinarian (that number is increased to 10-11 years if that person got a master’s degree prior to attending veterinary school). Specialists such as Dr. Johnson spent 8 years in college and another 3-4 in an internship and residency, making for an impressive 11-12 years in school (increase that to 13-14 if a master’s degree was procured). Still interested in becoming an animal doctor? It is a rewarding job that is unique in that you get to help animals and the people who bring them in. If you or someone you know is thinking about becoming a vet, come in to our clinic for a free tour any day of the week between 8am and 10pm, and feel free to email your questions to us at

Happy (and Safe) Spring!

A certain bunny will be hopping down the trail in less than a week. Although a recent movie has rendered the origin of jelly beans to be a bit dubious in nature, I feel it is safe to say that many of us are looking forward to the arrival of the treats and decorations this season brings. Unfortunately, having worked in emergency for many years, I also know that some of our holiday fun also has the propensity to turn into a veterinary disaster if we are not careful. Keeping this in mind,  I have compiled a list of pet hazards tailor made for the spring holiday season.

1) Easter Lily: This beautiful spring bloom packs a toxin that can cause kidney failure in kitties curious enough to taste it. Vomiting, lethargy, and refusal of food are among the first signs of lily toxicity. Other members of the lily family are also bad news bearers for felines. Dogs are typically not affected by the toxin found in lilies, but even a single leaf may be enough to kill a cat.

2) Daffodils: Same story as the Easter Lily, see above for details.

1) Easter grass: This ubiquitous filler of baskets attracts cats with its string-like appearance, and dogs with the candy scent often attached to it. Easter grass is indigestible, thus increasing the chances of it causing an intestinal obstruction or perforation of the intestines, both of which often require surgery to fix. If you can see easter grass hanging from either end of your pet, do not try to remove it as it may be attached to something deep in the body.

2) Passover Candles: My fire chief father wanted me to warn you to anchor your candles down out of the reach of whiskers and tails.

3) Plastic Eggs/Toys: Also indigestible, please call us if your pet swallows any other basket goodies, including the basket itself.

Human Foods
1) Chocolate: I like to tell people the story about how my eighteen-year-old miniature poodle Monet once used a complex network of furniture to gain access to my Easter basket. She was sick for days, but recovered and lived on for another six years. What I did not know then was that my childhood distaste for dark chocolate may have saved her life, as the toxic components of chocolate (caffeine and theobromine) are less present in lighter chocolates. If your pup decides to help his or herself to your chocolate bunnies, call us to see if treatment is required. We will ask you the amount of and type of chocolate ingested. The first signs of a reaction include vomiting, diarrhea, and trembling.

2) Xylitol: Used as an artificial sweetener in many gums, candies, and baked goods, this chemical compound is extremely toxic to dogs. It creates huge swings in blood glucose, and requires immediate and extended treatment.

3) Wrappers: Cats love to play with wrappers almost as much as dogs love eating them, so be sure to stow your trash securely, as they pose a choking and obstruction threat if ingested.
In closing, I hope that you all enjoy whatever spring festivities you have planned, and keep in mind a favorite quote of mine from Goeth:

“The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.”

Big Al, Lifesaver Extraordinaire

Big Al Enjoying a Day Off in the Sunshine

Many people are surprised to see the list of animal blood donors on the board listing our staff members in the Encina lobby. Blood donation just seems so human I suppose, most of us associate it with the emergency room antics of doctors that we see on TV. What many of our clients don’t realize is that with so many specialists on our team, we see a lot of very sick animals that often go through dramatic shifts in health while staying with us. Some of the reasons why we do blood transfusions at Encina include treatments for low platelet count, complications from disease, and blood clotting disorders.

Included in our blood donor list is our most prolific giver of blood, Alex P. Nurre, to whom I affectionately refer as “Big Al”. Alex was rescued by Dr. Peter Nurre, one of our hospital’s co-owners, in 2002 at the age of 1 ½ from the San Francisco SPCA. It was puppy love at first sight for Dr. Nurre, but Mrs. Nurre (a.k.a. Dr. Jenifer McBride, also a talented veterinarian) wasn’t so sure. She was looking for a dog to scare off potential attackers during her nightly runs, and at a very slim 60 pounds Alex wasn’t very intimidating. Eventually Dr. Nurre sold the Missus on Alex’s sleek black physique, and home they went.

Flash forward to today, and Alex weighs in at an impressive 85 pounds (hence the nickname, “Big Al”). The black and white charmer graces us with his presence every day that Dr. Nurre works, and has saved many lives just by being a great blood donor candidate that is readily available. What makes a great donor, you ask? A calm temperament and the right blood type, and according to Alex, his good looks don’t hurt either. There are over a dozen blood group types in canines, and we use a cross-matching kit to determine if a donor’s blood is safe to give to a potential blood transfusion recipient. Alex happens to have a type of blood that does not tend to cause a strong antibody response, in which the patient’s existing blood cells react to and destroy the transfused blood cells, which can be problematic for an already sick dog.

I recently asked Dr. Nurre to tell me the story of Alex’s best “save.” It was hard to narrow it down to one, but about a year ago we had an emergency case in which a dog was rushed in on the brink of death, bleeding into her chest from a necrotic (dead) lung lobe. We had no time to thaw frozen blood, but thankfully Big Al was “working” that day. We were able to draw a pint of blood from him without sedation, which was probably the difference between life and death because the extra time needed to sedate a donor may have been deadly for the critical patient. When we rushed the patient into surgery she still had a pulse (just barely) thanks to Alex’s donation. Dr. Koehler opened her up to find that she had several liters of blood in her chest cavity. He clamped the “bleeder,” removed the problematic lung, and the patient went home the next day. Big Al got an extra meal for his troubles, and we added another tally to his list of lives saved.

Tuba or Not Tuba, That Is the Question

Toward the end of January, Dr. Jenifer Wang had a very unusual patient on her endoscopy table. Toward the end of a slow afternoon, a woman walked into our office with a large black case and a strange request. The mother of two sons was desperately seeking help; she needed someone to save her son’s tuba from a one-way trip to the junkyard. As it turns out, while one of her sons was practicing the instrument for the school band, her other son decided to show his opinion of the music being played by throwing a plastic air freshener bottle toward his unsuspecting brother. Incredibly, he missed the mark of his brother’s head and the bottle went straight into the mouth of the brass instrument. Further inspection by the brothers showed that the bottle was lodged in the belly of the tuba. After fruitless trips to several music repair shops, their mother finally arrived at Encina, where her husband had suggested the use of our endoscope machine. Dr. Wang saved the day by using the grabber of the scope to free the tuba of it’s “foreign body,” saving the family from having to replace the costly instrument. It happened to be my day off, but I received a text from Dr. Wang that afternoon stating that she had “just scoped a tuba.” Thinking that “tuba” was a rare cat breed or perhaps that the animal belonged to a brass enthusiast, I asked for further explanation…and after seeing the pictures I wish I had been in the pre-op room for this one. Enjoy!

Lesette and our new "patient"

Dr. Wang removing the "foreign body"

The tuba on our pre-op table

Lilies Poisonous to Cats

Ahhh, Springtime! The showers start to disappear, the sun begins to shine, flowers bloom, birds chirp — you get the idea. Unfortunately, along with all the beautiful things that this time of year brings, concerns for our pets are prevalent.

With gardens starting to blossom, it’s important we all keep in mind the danger of, gulp, LILIES! Though these flowers prove to be very beautiful, they also happen to be deadly toxic to your cats. True lilies (Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese Show lilies) are all considered to be deadly to your cat; a simple ingestion of the leaf, petal or pollen stems, can send your cat into acute renal failure and eventually death.

Here’s a visual of the lilies that are considered to be deadly toxic by the Pet Poison Help Line:

We’d like everyone to be aware of these dangers, and should your cat ingest any part of the lily, we highly encourage you to bring your cat and the plant into our hospital. We are open 24 hours, 7 days a week; no need to call ahead in an emergency.

Adoptable Pet of the Week: Stevie

Every Friday, we’d like to share a furry friend with you who is looking for their forever home.
Our first pet is Stevie and he is a 1 year old Shar Pei/Hound mix, currently residing at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF). After going through an extensive evaluation at ARF, Stevie is said to be suitable for children of all ages and great for a first time dog owner.

Interested in Stevie? Click here to learn more on how you can meet Stevie and maybe even make him your newest addition to your family this weekend!

Pet Health Insurance Comparison

The Veterinary News Network (VNN) did a direct comparison of one test case using four popular insurance companies.

There are many companies with many different coverage limits, deductibles, restrictions and even add on coverage. VNN only had time to look at four companies. But they gave them the exact same case for a head-to-head comparison. You may be surprised at what they found …

As always, Encina Veterinary Hospital only recommends only the best: Trupanion Pet Insurance. Click the image below to check out their website.

Greetings from Encina Veterinary Hospital!

The Blogger Ashley and her "nephew" Tucker

Greetings and welcome to the Encina Veterinary Hospital blog. My name is Ashley Core and I have worked for Dr. Roger Johnson for nearly 5 years, both at Encina and at our Antioch facility, East Bay Veterinary Emergency. I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up, suffice to say like all of my friends here at Encina I live to serve you and your fur-coated friends during both sickness and health. I hope that you will join me as I share the true tales (no pun intended) of our clients and patients, and reveal what happens behind our treatment room door… where you’ll never hear that it was “just another day at the office.”

This blog is also a platform for your questions, comments, and stories, please e-mail me at or comment below the blog posts. This blog will be updated a minimum of three times per week, so please subscribe to our RSS feed or and check back for new posts regularly. Thank you for reading, I look forward to sharing our unique world with you!