Archives for May 2012

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

Dog Food Recalls – April 2012, May 2012


Below you will find the most current dog food recalls by the FDA. By clicking on a link, a new website will open in a new browser for you to find further information.

Please bookmark the following page to ensure you stay up to date on potential recalls that may affect you and your family: FDA Pet Food Recalls

Recalls are almost always voluntary. Only rarely does the FDA actually request a pet food recall.

If your dog has consumed any of the above foods, please give us a call (we are open 24 hours, 7 days a week) so we can ensure your pet is fine, even if he or she shows no clinical symptoms: (925) 937-5000

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