Why is My Pet Eating Grass and Plants?

     The answer for why many dogs and cats eat grass and other plants is not clear – cut. Some of the more popular theories are that they have a deficiency in diet, need for more fiber, or that it is a natural instinct inherited from ancestors to rid the body of intestinal parasites. Recent research suggests that most pets eat grass when they are not showing signs of illness. In a recent study conducted at UC Davis by Karen Sueda and her colleagues, it was reported that only 9% of dogs appear ill prior to consuming plant material and only 22% were seen vomiting afterward. It also suggested that younger animals tend to eat plants more often and less frequently appeared ill before plant – eating. Younger animals also have an increased likelihood of consuming other non- grass plants.

     If your pet is consuming plant material, it may be normal behavior. If your pet has other signs of illness, please consult your veterinarian. Your pet should have a complete physical exam to rule out any underlying illnesses.

     The following is a short list of some common toxic plants. If you suspect that your pet has consumed these or other toxic plants, please consult a veterinarian immediately:
Oleander
Castor beans
Lillies
Pothos
Cyclamen
Marijuana
Cycad palms (Sago palm)
Azalea/rhododendron
Schefflera
English Ivy
Peace lily
Chrysanthemum
Autumn crocus
Tulip/narcissus bulbs
Amaryllis
Yew

Lacey LaVigna, DVM

Does Your Dog or Cat Suffer From Allergies?

Allergies in dogs and cats can be one of the most aggravating and frustrating experiences possible, for the pet, the owner and even the veterinarian. Often times, it is difficult to find the exact reason as to why your pet is itchy or has allergies, and can be even more difficult to keep allergies under control.

Severe pruritus (itching) in pets can be broken down into a couple of basic categories as to their cause. Most of the time allergies, parasites that live on the skin, or a combination of both are the main contributing factors.

Allergies can include:
      1. Atopic dermatitis: development of an allergic reaction over time to something that is normally benign, such as pollen or dust. Certain breeds can be at higher risk for developing atopic dermatitis.
      2. Food allergies: development of an allergic reaction to certain ingredients in the diet. The most common food allergies developed are towards beef, poultry, corn, wheat and dairy products.

External factors on the skin include:
      1. Fleas: fleas can cause severe itching in dogs and especially in cats. As few as one or two bites in cats can cause a bad reaction.
      2. Bacteria / yeast infections: these are typically secondary infections that can add to underlying problems. Yeast infections, particularly those caused by Malassezia, can be terribly pruritic.

Flea dermatitis in a cat
Unlike in humans, where we typically see allergies manifested as itchy eyes, a runny nose or sneezing, our pets usually show their problems through their skin. This can include red / irritated skin, hair loss from scratching so much, ear infections, and of course, pruritus.
How do we determine why our pet is so pruritic? First, we make sure that they are on an appropriate flea control product. Proper flea control is important to help rule out one of the main factors listed above. Once we know that fleas are not a problem, but pruritus is still present, then we continue to look for the underlying problem.

Atopic dermatitis in dogs
For bacteria or yeast infections, medication is usually the first choice for control. Sometimes, if there is atopic dermatitis or a food allergy present, these external infections may occur over and over again, and will not be able to be easily controlled until the underlying problem is addressed first.
Determining if your pet has a food allergy, and to what food, can take a long time. Patients typically go on a food trial that lasts for 8-12 weeks minimum. A single, “novel” protein diet, such as duck, bison or venison based (a type of meat that your pet has never had before) is used. Once the pruritus is under control with the new diet, other ingredients are gradually added in. This way, we can determine exactly what food ingredient your pet is allergic to, and can then avoid it in the future.
For atopic dermatitis, the exact known cause can be difficult to determine. Ruling out all other causes for pruritus must be done first. Sometimes it is necessary to perform an intradermal skin test, where a very small amount of many different types of allergens, such as weeds, pollens, and grasses, are injected into the skin. We then look for a reaction to the allergen, and can determine what that allergen is and how to avoid it. Sometimes medication is required: in an oral form, topical, or a combination of both. The idea is to keep your pet as comfortable as possible and on as little medication as possible.

Controlling allergies and pruritus can take a lot of dedication on the owner’s part. In following an appropriate plan by your veterinarian, the lives of both you and your pet can be made much more comfortable. No one wants to be awakened every night to the sound of their poor pet constantly scratching. Taking control of allergies can take a long time, and sometimes there are relapses. Just remember to follow the advice of your veterinarian, and in the end, it will all be worth it, for you and your pet.

Byron Bowers, DVM

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

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

Top 10 Household Pet Toxins According to the ASPCA

We generally think our home is much safer for our pets compared to the outdoors where they face loud noises, speeding cars and not so friendly people. But what if danger crept inside to your home? In 2011, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center answered nearly 170,000 phone calls from pet owners concerned with what their pet just got into. According to ASPCA, here are the top 10 household toxins pet owners called in about and why they pose a danger to your pets:

1. Prescription Human Medications Nearly 14% of all calls last year to the ASPCA’s poison hotline were concerning prescription human medications. While most of the culprits were dogs, cats are known to knock a bottle or two over to play with. The most common medications reported were cardiac or ADHD medications which can both lead to an increased and dangerous heart beat in pets. To be safe, keep your medications up high in a cabinet where pets wont be able to get to them.

2. Insecticides With over 17,000 calls to the ASPCA in 2011, insecticides were quite the consumable item. While you may purchase products that are designed to kill the bugs in your garden or keep that pesky ant problem controlled, you didn’t think your furry friend would try to eat it! It’s important to remember that these are poisons that are typically designed to kill one thing or another. IF you’re concerned with your pet getting into these, store them away from where your pet can get to them or look for a pet-friendly and natural insecticide to use instead.

3. Over-The-Counter Human Medications Medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen can literally kill your pet. These medications were not designed with your pet’s metabolism in mind and it’s important that we keep them away from our pets. You can read more about common household medications in our blog from last month, Self Medicating Pets At Home: A Big “No-No!”.

4. People Food The ASPCA received over 7,600 calls on chocolate alone in 2011. Chocolate can cause vomiting, diarrhea, high heart rate and even seizures when ingested by pets. The second most common food reported was xylitol (a sugar substitute often found in sugarless gum and Tic Tacs); Xylitol is extremely toxic for dogs and can send them into acute (sudden) liver failure.

5. Random Household Products Pets get into things and places we never imagined they would! Some of the calls the ASPCA took in 2011 included reports of fire logs and paint. If your pet is overly curious or enjoys tearing up just about anything, consider confining him or her to a safe room or space while you are unable to keep an eye on him or her to help reduce the chance of them injuring themselves (and destroying your stuff!).

6. Veterinary Medications Over the years, giving your pet a medication or two has gotten easier, thanks to flavoring! With medications flavored to chicken, beef, salmon and more, it’s easy to see why our pets love to eat them. Pet medications are safe when they are given at a specific dosage, but too much of something can be fatal. Like other medications, keep these away from your pet’s reach to avoid any mishaps.

7. Rodenticides Rat bait consumption is no joke (see out blog on Peanut the Miracle Cat to read about a patient of ours who beat the odds after ingesting rat bait). Often times, ingestion of rat bait by cats or dogs, can lead to internal bleeding, kidney failure, seizures and death. Never underestimate your pet and where they can and can’t get into; we suggest you try using a rat trap instead of rat bait to help protect your pets.

8. Plants While your plants are beautiful, they can also be deadly to pets. Lilies can cause liver failure and even death in cats, while aloe plants can cause your dog to have diarrhea and vomiting which can lead to dehydration. We suggest you cross check your plant collection with the ASPCA database to see what is safe and what isn’t for your pets: ASPCA Toxic and Non Toxic Plants

9. Lawn and Garden Products That spray you purchased to help your roses stay healthy and bloom all year long, may be laced with ingredients that are not safe for pets. Some fertilizers contain dried blood, poultry manure and bone meal – all of which are very attractive to pets. Do some research when purchasing lawn and garden products to see if they are safe for your pets, before you bring home danger for your pets.

10. Automotive Products Anti-freeze and brake fluid can be life-threatening for pets if ingested. However the ASPCA is happy to report that because more and more pet owners are keeping their pets indoors, the number of animals exposed to these hazards has dropped!

If you have any reason to believe your pet may have ingested something toxic or alarming, please give us a call at (925) 937-5000; we are open 24 hours, 7 days a week (including holidays and weekends)

Hyperthyroidism in Cats: Introducing Hill’s y/d Diet

    As devoted pet owners we know that as our pets’ age, they become more susceptible to illnesses and health conditions. One of the most common diagnoses in older cats is hyperthyroidism; hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland (located in the neck) makes too much thyroid hormone for the body.

   Often times the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are not visible, but over time and as the condition worsens, symptoms become noticeable. The most common symptoms are weight loss, frequent urination, increased thirst and appetite.

   When a cat is suspected of suffering from hyperthyroidism, the veterinarian will first feel the neck of the cat to see if he or she can feel if the thyroid gland is enlarged. Often times, the thyroid becomes inflamed when suffering from hyperthyroidism and swells a bit. Heart rate and blood pressure may also be checked because when a cat suffers from hyperthyroidism, it causes the heart to work faster and harder which can eventually lead to an enlarged heart. After the exam is complete, a blood sample is taken from the cat and sent to the laboratory to analyze the present thyroid hormone.

   Should your cat be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, you should know right away that there are options. Encina Veterinary Hospital in Walnut Creek offers two key options for treatment: medication or a diet change. We know that many pet owners have a difficult time medicating their cat for multiple reasons; this is why we are big fans of feeding Hill’s Prescription diet y/d Feline Thyroid Health brand pet food. It carefully limits the levels of dietary iodine to reduce thyroid hormone production and help restore health without the need for any other therapy.

   Once your feline friend has been prescribed the new y/d diet, you will gradually introduce y/d over a 7 day period by mixing y/d with your cat’s current food, gradually increasing the amount of y/d until only y/d is fed. Once your cat has been eating y/d exclusively for 2 weeks, you will then remove all thyroid medication from his/her life. In the 4th week after starting y/d, your veterinarian at Encina will then perform a recheck to see how the thyroid is doing compared to before the diet change.

   One of our recent patients, Autumn Pumpkin, was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and was given numerous medications to manage the condition. This was not only a stressful situation for both the owner and cat, but it was costly as well. 3 weeks after Autumn Pumpkin began the y/d diet, she was completely taken off of all medications and maintains healthy thyroid levels on the y/d diet alone! WAHOO!!!

   The most challenging part about feeding your cat the y/d diet is the fact that you can no longer offer the range of treats and snacks you once did. It’s important your cat eats the y/d diet exclusively to ensure it works. However, Hill’s has been working very hard to come up with ways that cat owners can still spoil their feline friends and developed several recipes for loving cat owners to make hyperthyroid safe snacks!

Click here to download the recipe for Snack Triangles from y/d Canned Food, Gravy from y/d Canned Food and Snack Cookies from y/d Dry Food

Thanksgiving Safety Tips for Pet Owners

With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, we saw it fitting to have our own Dr. Jill Christofferson has put together some tips on what’s okay and what’s not okay for your pet this Thanksgiving.

Turkey: White turkey meat is okay for pets to eat; you want to avoid the dark meat and skin though because it is full of fat. Food full of fat is bad for your pet because it can cause pancreatis (pancreas becomes inflamed) which can be life threatening to your beloved pet.

Bones: Bones are a general no-no and cooked bones are an even bigger no-no; cooked bones can often splinter inside of your pet and puncture a vital organ. It’s very important you dispose of your turkey’s carcass securely in the trash. Should an emergency arise, please call us (we are open 365 days a year, 24 hours every day): 925 937 5000.

Green Beans: Green beans with no butter or onions are fine for your pets. The butter is very fatty and can cause damage to the pancreas and onions are toxic to pets.

Potatoes: Cooked potatoes are great for your pet! But as with green beans, be sure there is no butter or onions.

Garlic: If you’ll be seasoning your food this thanksgiving with garlic, a little bit of garlic is okay for your pet. Generally garlic is considered to be toxic but a small amount shouldn’t harm your pet.

Onions: Onions are considered to be toxic for pets and should never ever be fed.

Pumpkin: Pumpkin pie is much too high in fat for your pet and can cause pancreatis. A nice substitute for your pet would be unsweetened canned plain pumpkin (also good for helping firm up stool in pets with an upset stomach or diarrhea).

I want to prepare a safe thanksgiving dish for my pet, what can I or should I include?
White cooked turkey meat, plain cooked or raw green beans (or any green vegetable), baked potato and for desert, plain unsweetened canned pumpkin.

If you should experience any emergency, please do not hesitate to call us! The sooner, the better for your pet’s health: (925) 937-5000.

We will be open all day and night Thanksgiving, staffed with experienced emergency doctors and technicians.