Valentine’s Day Pet Dangers

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, but sometimes those festivities can turn dangerous for our pets. Here are some Valentine’s day treats that can harm our beloved pets:

  • Flowers: lilies, roses,
  • Treats: chocolate (besides the cocoa, ingredients like Xylitol, nuts, raisins, coffee, alcohol, marijuana, can cause further harm to your pets)
  • Alcohol
  • Medication: headache/hangover medications, erectile dysfunction meds, hormonal birth control

If you suspect your pet may have gotten into something they shouldn’t have, please call us asap – we’re open 24/7: 925 937 5000


While the holidays are a great time to decorate and celebrate with loved ones, our furry family members seem to be up to mischief. Here are a few things to be aware of this holiday season:

EMERGENCY VET We’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – including all major holidays. Don’t hesitate to call us with your pet concerns at any hour of any day because we are always here for you: 925-937-5000

PLANTS Did you know holly, mistletoe, and poinsettia plants are poisonous to dogs or cats? If you normally use these plants to decorate your home, they should be kept in an area your pet cannot reach.

DECORATIONS Whether your decorations may be ornaments, or cranberry or popcorn strings — they are like time bombs waiting to happen. These goodies are just too enticing and your pet will surely tug at them, knocking down your wonderfully decorated spruce.

CANDLES Burning candles should be placed on high shelves or mantels, out of your pet’s way — there’s no telling where a wagging tail may end up. Homes with fireplaces should use screens to avoid accidental burns.

WIRES To prevent any accidental electrocutions, any exposed indoor or outdoor wires should be taped to the wall or the sides of the house.

GIFT WRAPPING When gift wrapping, be sure to keep your pet away. Wrapping paper, string, plastic, or cloth could cause intestinal blockages. Scissors are another hazard, and they should be kept off floors or low tables.

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:
Castor beans
Cycad palms (Sago palm)
English Ivy
Peace lily
Autumn crocus
Tulip/narcissus bulbs

Lacey LaVigna, DVM

Summer Pet Tips 101

    With summer approaching, we’re more likely to spend time outdoors with our pets. Whether it’s taking our dog with us camping in Tahoe or on a long walk at Newhall Park in Concord or even taking our indoor cats outside on the lawn for a roll in the grass, it’s important we be aware of what may harm our pets.

Dr. Jill Christofferson of Encina Veterinary Hospital recommends that pet owners apply sunblock on the ears, noses, etc of light colored pets (such as white cats/dogs) or pets with less than full fur (certain breeds of cats and dogs have little to no hair). Also, on the belly of dogs if they sunbathe belly-up. Should your pet suffer a sunburn, aloe vera or vitamin E may help to soothe it but a veterinarian will also be able to prescribe a mild pain-reliever to help with your pets’ discomfort.

Heatstroke in pets is all too common sadly. Leaving your pet in the car (even with the windows cracked), being left outside on a hot sunny day while you are away for hours with no water or shade or even just exercising on hot humid days (especially for brachycephalic breeds like Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boxers, Pugs, Boston Terrier or Pekingese) can all lead to heat stoke in your pet and even death. Here are some symptoms to keep an eye out for:
                           • Excessive drooling or panting
                           • 104-110 degree body temperature
                           • Twitching muscles
                           • Vomiting and/or bloody diarrhea
                           • Pale dry gums that are gray in color and tacky to the touch
                           • Staggering/stumbling when walking or inability to stand
                           • Wide-eyed look of distress or panic
                           • Difficulty breathing and increased heart rate
    Should your pet experience any of these symptoms, your first and best move is to seek emergency veterinary care. If you are unable to do so, here are some things you can do to help your pet cool off before getting them to the veterinary emergency hospital:
                    • Immerse your pet in cool water for about 2 minutes or hose/pour cool water on your pet.
                    • Wrap your pet in a damp, cool towel while traveling with him/her to the veterinary hospital.
                    • Get your pet to shade or an airconditioned area.
                    • NEVER use ice or freezing temperature water; this may lead to shock and cause further complications.
    Preventing heatstroke is quite easy. NEVER leave your pet locked in the car on a hot or even warm day; your car can and will become a death trap reaching temperatures well above 119 degrees. NEVER leave pets unattended outdoors with no access to shade or water; heatstroke can set in very easy and fast if your pet is already partially dehydrated. When walking your dog or exercising them, do it early in the morning before temperatures reach high levels or in the evening.

WARM WEATHER TOXINS: With everyone working hard to perfect their lawn and landscapes, a bottle of pesticides, fertilizer and other garden chemicals may be lurking. Be sure you properly close/seal all of these toxins and keep them away from your pets.

SWIMMING: As with children, never leave a pet unattended in the water; accidents and drownings happen in pets too and they need you to help keep them safe.

PARASITE, FLEA AND TICK PREVENTION: Talk to us about a year around parasite prevention program to help keep your pets, home and you, flea free. Trifexis is also offering up to a $20 rebate through August 31st, 2012 to help you get started.

TRAVEL: Secure your pet using a harness or crate when driving with your pet; though it is not a law in California, it’s better safe than sorry should you get into an accident. But it is against the law to have your pet loose in the bed of your truck; they MUST be restrained!

GROOMING: If your pet is elderly or has a long coat, consider taking him or her in to get shaved down for the summer; this will help them keep cooler as well as reduce the chance of debris (like fox tails) getting stuck in their fur (and eventually burrowing their way into your pet’s skin) since they may be spending more time outdoors.

FOXTAILS: We can never say this enough, fox tails are such a hazard! They’re everywhere and can be anywhere on your pet. Paws, ears, nose, belly and chest are common areas that fox tails get into. Abscesses, surgery, lung collapsing and punctured organs are just a few of the complications we see each year from fox tails penetrating a pet. Once a fox tail gets stuck in your pets fur, it burrows it’s way to the skin and eventually through the skin leading to an abscess which leads to further issues. One way to help protect against this is keep your pet groomed and make it a habit to brush/comb him or her each time they come inside from being outdoors. Another way is by investing in the Out Fox Field Guard (Did you know one of our very own clients designed and this?! We’re so proud!!) to help protect against fox tails in the ears, nose, eyes and face. And be sure to keep your yard trimmed and free of fox tails!

In the end, summer is a great time to enjoy the Bay Area of California outdoors with your family and pets. Keeping an eye out for these hazards will help ensure your family’s summer is full of fun and empty of harm.

Should your pet experience an emergency, don’t hesitate to call us because we are open 24 hours, 7 days a week – holidays and weekends included! (925) 937-5000

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

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)

Pascal’s Thankful Thanksgiving

    Pascal is a very sweet Bedlington Terrier that has been a patient of mine since 2003. We diagnosed him with copper storage liver disease in 2003 and have treated him with medications and a prescription diet. Copper storage disease is when the liver begins to accumulate an abnormal amount of copper, which in the long run can cause liver cirrhosis and is actually common in Bedlington Terriers, Doberman Pinschers and Labrador Retrievers. Since his diagnosis, Pascal has done well and there has been no evidence that his copper storage liver disease has progressed.

    In late November, just before Thanksgiving, Pascal was rushed to us on an emergency. He was reported to have become acutely very sick and was vomiting, lethargic, and not wanting to eat. On physical examination, he appeared very depressed, dehydrated, had abdominal pain on palpation, and a fever. We hospitalized him and started intravenous fluids, pain medications, gastric protectants, and broad spectrum antibiotics, and of course took a blood sample to analyze to see what exactly was going on inside of Pascal.

    Once his blood work came back, it showed us an elevation of liver enzymes and an elevated white blood cell count. We then preformed an abdominal ultrasound on Pascal which showed one abnormal liver lobe and free fluid in the abdomen. A sample of fluid was taken from his abdomen and after looking at it under the microscope; we saw that it showed evidence of a bacterial infection. Based on these findings, our primary differential was a liver abscess.

    Liver abscesses are rare in dogs. Some potential causes are sepsis (bacterial infection in the blood), trauma to the liver, and diabetes mellitus. Pascal did not appear to have any of these underlying causes. It is possible that his copper storage liver disease predisposed him to a liver abscess but this has never been reported.

    I discussed with Pascal’s owner that this is a very serious condition and without surgical removal of the abscessed portion of his liver, Pascal might die. Pascal’s owners elected to pursue surgery and we were able to isolate the section of the liver that was abscessed (the left medial liver lobe) and remove it successfully. We flushed his abdomen cavity with warm saline (salt water) to remove residual infection that had spread throughout his abdomen.

    Pascal has recovered well from surgery and it is great to see him back to his normal activities. You would never know that just a few months ago Pascal was deathly ill and had major surgery!

                                      Written by Dr. Peter Nurre, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM

Pascal’s owner Judy had some beautiful words for Dr. Nurre that we would like to share with you:

Dear Dr. Nurre,

   I sat down to write you a “thank you” note and I’m finding it very difficult to say what I feel. I don’t have the words to express how much Pascal means to me and then I realized that it’s okay because I think you know.

   Thinking and thinking and thinking – how can I possibly convey the flood of gratitude I feel for your incredibly generous offer to save Pascal’s life. You are in every way extraordinary special; both as a person and as a doctor!

   I normally don’t consider myself to be a lucky person but whenever I think about November of 2011, that’s the word that comes to me – lucky! I’m the luckiest person in the world to have miraculously had the good fortune to have Pascal in your care. This was a thanksgiving I will always remember. We will forever be thankful to you!

   I very best thing I could ever wish for you is that should you ever find yourself in the worst of situations, as I was, one that seems hopeless – the best thing that could happen to you is for there to be someone just like yourself, right there for you, like you were for us!

   The words “thank you” don’t even begin to come close to how grateful we are, but please except them and know that they mean infinitely, so much more.

               Wishing you the very best!
                      Judy and Pascal

EVH’s 2011 Halloween Costume Contest Winners!!!

Announcing the Winners of our Staff Pet Halloween Costume Contest, 2011!!!

The competition was fierce for this year’s annual Encina Staff Pet Costume Contest, and though it was hard to choose, both employees and clients voted and winners have been chosen!

FACEBOOK FAN FAVORITE “Stupid” of Barbie (Doctor’s Assistant), Jedi

CLIENT FAVORITE “Loki” of Sarah S. (Patient Care), Cowboy

FUNNIEST (and MOST TORTURED PET)“Chloe” of Shannon P. (Client Services), Mermaid

MOST CREATIVE “Larry” of Ashley (Doctor’s Assistant, Blogger), as Prince Larry

CUTEST “Willow” of Meg and Lisa (both Patient Care), Butterfly

OVERALL FAVORITE “Banana” of Giselle (Client Services), as a Banana

HONORABLE MENTION “Leila” of Rebecca S. (Patient Care), Boxer

“Toby” of Angela (Administrator), Pirate

Congratulations to this year’s winners! I know that Larry will enjoy his gourmet canned crickets! To see all of our contestants, please visit our Facebook page at!

National Veterinary Technician Appreciation Week!

This week is the National Veterinary Technician Appreciation Week. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to say “thank you” to the hard working members of our patient care team! Without the dedication, expertise, and hard-work of our technicians and kennel assistants, Encina Veterinary Hospital would not be able to provide the high level of patient care that we boast about! If you happen to stop by the practice this week, please take a moment to say “thank you” to the registered veterinary technicians, technician assistants, and kennel assistants who excel at keeping our patients happy and healthy.

Thank you to Registered Veterinary Technicians: Jessica, Susan, Meg, Rebecca D., Amanda, Elaine, Kailie, Danielle Q., Pattie, Sarah, Rebecca S, Barb, Lisa, and Nicole.

Thank you to Technicians: Julia, Zavira, Kristyn, Vanessa, Lesette, Danielle P., Lindsay, and Alicia.

Thank you to Kennel Assistants: Fiona, Lauren, and Tim.


Thank you to Registered Veterinary Technicians: Jessica, Susan,Meg, Rebecca D., Amanda, Elaine, Kailie, Danielle Q., Pattie, Sarah, Rebecca S, Barb, Lisa, and Nicole.

Thank you to Technicians: Julia, Zavira, Kristyn, Vanessa, Lesette, Danielle P., Lindsay, and Alicia.

Thank you to Kennel Assistants: Fiona, Lauren, and Tim.

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.”