Euthanizing a Beloved Family Pet

      Euthanasia is a topic that many pet owners face as their animals get sick, injured, or near old age. The decision of whether or not to have your pet euthanized is a very personal one that must involve you, your family, your pet, and your veterinarian.

       Knowing when it is time to have a pet put to sleep is one of the most difficult aspects of the decision. No one wants to end their pet’s life too early, but many struggle to find the “right” time. When guiding clients in the decision-making process, I often have them think about their pet’s quality of life. Some things to consider are: is your pet in pain? Can your pet move around comfortably? Can your pet eat and drink? Does your pet still enjoy some of his or her favorite things like a special toy? When owners break down their pet’s life into smaller pieces, the choice sometimes becomes clear.

      No matter how sure an owner may be that it is the right time, putting a pet to sleep is a very emotional experience. It is helpful to be well informed about what to expect as there are a few decisions that need to be made regarding the euthanasia. Your veterinarian can guide you through the process and choices, but here I will describe some things you and your pet may experience.

      The first decision you’ll need to make is whether or not you and your family want to be present for the euthanasia. If you are present, an intravenous catheter is typically placed in your pet’s leg to allow the doctor to have access to their vein. Your pet may be taken away from you for this process – do not fret! The technicians that put in catheters are very skilled and the process is usually much quicker when a pet is away from their owner and not distracted. After the catheter, you can spend as much time with your pet as you would like. When you are ready, the doctor will come into the room and perform the euthanasia. Sometimes, a pet may be sedated prior to the final injection and this is a case-dependent procedure. The final injection is an overdose of an anesthetic that causes your pet’s heart, lungs, and brain to stop. It is a very peaceful process, they will feel no pain, and they will just fall gently to sleep. Some things you may see during the injection include your pet looking around and possible vocalizations. These are side effects of the anesthetic and rest assured that your pet is not in pain, they may just feel a little strange from the drug. After the injection, you may see muscle movements and your pet may take a few breaths. These are the final nerve firings and muscle spasms and occur after your pet has already passed away. Finally, they may go to the bathroom because they are relaxed and often times their eyes will not close. If you decide not to be present for the euthanasia, there will be loving people surrounding your pet, talking to them and petting them while they pass away. You can visit with your pet for as long as you would like, before and after the euthanasia.

      Another decision you will need to make is what to do with your pet’s remains. Taking them home for burial may be an option if you have a yard. Another option that many veterinary hospitals offer is cremation – ask your veterinarian about specific details.
      Euthanasia is a difficult topic to think about, but the ability to end suffering for your beloved companion can be a priceless gift. If you have questions about your pet or euthanasia, please give us a call: (925) 937-5000

Kerry Thode, 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.

SUNBLOCK:
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:
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

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

Pet Insurance 101

As you may know, we’re BIG fans of pet insurance here at Encina, but we’re the biggest fan of Trupanion. We make it a point to talk about pet insurance with every person who comes through the door because we know how hard it can be to come up with a large lump sum of money to treat, care or even save the life of your pet, and we don’t want anyone to not be able to help their beloved furkid.

Here’s why we love Trupanion and what you should know:

Trupanion allows you to choose how much you would like to pay a month and how much of a deductible you would like.
     Example: Sally finds it easier to pay $56/month for her dog Rover, and has a deductible of $250 while John finds it harder for month to month payments so his monthly payment is only $35 with a deductible of $750.

Trupanion pays up to 90% of the bill back to you
     Here is a real claim from Trupanion:

Harmony the 5-year-old mixed-breed dog recently experienced some serious health complications. She was rushed to the emergency vet for lymphocytic/plasmacytic gastroenteritis, which is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Secondary issues with this condition were septicemia and bacterimia which are conditions in which the bloodstream becomes infected by bacteria and can be life-threatening.

Harmony was at the clinic for 6 days receiving surgery, medications, fluids, and regular monitoring. Harmony was released and we are wishing her a quick recovery.

Costs can quickly add up in an emergency situation as you will see below. It’s fortunate that Harmony’s owner had her insured so that she could take care of all the necessary veterinary treatment without cost concerns.

     Total claim amount: $12,216.99
     Deductible applied: $500.00
     Exam fees: -$149.00
     10% co-insurance: -$1159.80
     Trupanion repaid: $10,411.19

Trupanion allows you to add on extra services
     Reward for a lost pet, boarding for your pet should you be hospitalized, acupuncture, physical therapy, feline kidney transplants and more are available through Trupanion

NO LIMITS!!!
     Other pet insurances may give you a yearly or lifetime limit of how much they will pay out, but Trupanion doesn’t! If you’re unlucky enough to have a dog who eats everything or a cat with a chronic illness, you may find that other pet insurances will say, “ok we’ll cover you but only up until we have spent $5000; after that, you’re on your own!” but that is not the case with Trupanion.

In the end, we feel that Trupanion is a simple plan that gives you the ability to customize it to your financial needs and your pet’s medical needs as well. We like the flexibility they give customers and we love that 90% coverage! If you’re interested in more information, be sure to let us know next time you are in.

CClick the image to see the larger version!
Pet Insurance 101
Pet Insurance 101 graphic created by Trupanion.

“Miracle Maggie”

On February 23rd, the world dimmed a little bit and a new star was created in the sky. Maggie, a long time patient of ours, was returned to heaven. We often find that we get attached to many of our patients because so many of them come in so often for their advanced diseases or health conditions, and Maggie was no different. Maggie burrowed her way into all of our hearts and when she passed, we all felt the loss. While we smile knowing that Maggie is healthy and happy, frolicking in the pastures near Rainbow Bridge, we frown because we no longer have her here with us or expect to see her soon.

Her furparents put together a beautiful video dedicated to the celebration that was Maggie. And even if you never met Maggie, we hope you take a moment to remember the wonderful times you’ve had with your furkids who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge and are now another star in the sky shining over us:


A special heartfelt thanks to the doctors and staff at Encina Veterinary Hospital, most especially, to Dr. Stephen Atwater. It is due to Dr. Atwater’s exceptional skills as an oncology specialist that “Miracle Maggie” became one of the most famous patients in Contra Costa County. An additional thanks to Drs. Peter Nurre and Jenifer Wang for their expertise in internal medicine and for helping greatly enhance Maggie’s quality of life in here final years.

A Thousand Thanks from New Mexico

Back in July of 2011, we received a phone call from a gentleman named Kyle who was looking to schedule an appointment for a rhinoscopy for his pooch. Everything seemed fine until he explained to us he is currently in New Mexico and lives there as well. Kyle was doing some online research on what could have been causing his pooch, Oakum, to sneeze excessively, when he came across a previous blog entry of ours on a patient named Ice Bear who had a foxtail or two lodged in his lungs. This story prompted Kyle to give us a call and schedule an appointment with our Board Certified Veterinary Surgeon Specialist, Dr. Carl Koehler to help figure out what was going on with his beloved dog, Oakum.

Below you will find the detailed recount of events that Kyle went through as a pet owner with a pet in distress; the moment of panic, the numerous veterinarians and the lengths we as pet owners go to for our pets.

    As we all know, our lives change day-to-day, and often are not even remotely predictable. Events occur in an instant that can completely alter the course and thrust the most well meaning and responsible travelers on that familiar road into a fork, and an unmarked one at that. Life doesn’t come with an ‘‘instruction manual’’, and choices have to be made daily, hourly, minutely, and even second by second. Any one choice can be the wrong choice, and the devil of it is, you almost never find out until it’s too late to select ‘‘reverse’’.

    Living with an animal companion can be a very worthwhile and rewarding experience. Unfortunately, every reward carries it’s own distinct and definite risk. Illness is a very powerful force against those of us who have the fortune to be alive, and just because we love someone or something very much, doesn’t always protect the subject of our respect and our well-wishes. Love can help a great deal, but modern medicine is the only real foe for illness. The claws of medicine are instruments, it’s gaze is one of knowledge. The skill and strategy of medicine lies in the learned, and articulation and agility is empowered and enforced by scholars. To have all four in one place is certainly remarkable, and that is exactly what I found at Encina Veterinary Hospital. I traveled over a thousand miles to challenge my expectations, and when I arrived, I found them distinctly defined, and most certainly exceeded. Quantity is almost never an acceptable substitute for quality, whether it is in a book or a play, in a relationship, or even with veterinarians, quality pays for itself.

    My limits of attention were tested one evening, as I went into the backyard to work on one of my many projects. My dog followed me outside into the yard with which I share with a neighbor, and although I had asked her to keep the gate latched and shut, one way or the other it was left open by mistake, and my dog quickly exited to her delight, as to prowl and ponder the neighbors bushes and lawn. It couldn’t have been more then a minute from when I walked outside and from when I decided that it would be a good idea to check that the yard was secure and everything was OK before I set to continue construction on my home air purifier project. I let the dog out several times a day, and I try to always check that the yard is secure, but it is easier said then done, because the yard is long and the gate is around a blind corner. The dog has gotten out before, for this very same reason, so I was well aware of the danger of the risk of my neighbor leaving the gate unlatched. I had drawn up plans for a supplementary positive latch for the gate, but soon became conditioned after finding the gate closed several hundred times in a row.

    I found the dog right outside, about 20 feet from the gate, and I was quite relieved that I had found her quickly. As I got closer however, something was immediately apparent. My dog was sneezing quite violently, which is something I wasn’t accustomed to. My dog Oak was standing smack in the center of a Foxtail weed thicket, and as I looked closely, I could see that one of the crisp, lightly colored seeds had entered her little black nose. I told her to stop sneezing (a lot of good that did…) and attempted to prise the seed free with one of my fingernails. I have plenty of tools, and I even carry a select general few with me (knife, disposable lighter, ball point pen), but in the short seconds I had to attempt to fasten onto the seed and recover it, my attempts proved vain, and quite hampered by the fact that the animal was having a sneezing fit, and with each sneeze, the seed traveled further and further into the nose. A few sneezes later, it was too late, the seed had entirely disappeared into her nose, and I had to make a decision about what to do next. With my dog continuing to sneeze, I became on the verge of a panic. I figured that the seed could most certainly lodge in the throat of my dog and prevent breathing, (something that may have been entirely incorrect), and feeling totally helpless, I decided to seek assistance at the local emergency clinic. I called on the way to the clinic and was greeted coolly and not-quite-so cordially. Upon arrival, I found only that my helplessness was furthered, after waiting 8 hours for my dog to be sedated and examined with only the short stub of an otoscope, which I could have likely produced myself in that amount of time, and with a far lesser charge. The clinic was dirty, it smelled bad, and the nurses assistant acted like she had gotten in to the medicine cabinet and gave herself a little ‘‘treatment’’. I didn’t have a good feeling, but I couldn’t just change the plan now and give up! Not surprisingly, no seed was located or recovered, and I found myself wondering what to do with the rest of my weekend. Over the course of the weekend my dog continued to sneeze, and so I brought her to my usual general veterinary practitioner. This time, we held Oak to a metal table and again the vet used an otoscope to observe the immediate area local to the opening of the nostril. With the same result of no seed being observed, I again began to wonder about what to do next, as the vet had instructed me to ‘‘wait and see what happens’’. Several days passed, and my dog continued to sneeze and choke, and she became more and more out of character, as she layed around and seemed to be in somewhat of an agony. In my spare time, I researched foxtail seeds and the prognosis. I found that generally, acute foxtail inhalation usually was treated as an emergency, and that it wasn’t so unusual for the seed to enter one of the lungs and cause pneumonia, or pass through the lungs into a blood vessel and end up in the heart or brain and cause death that way. The seed could of course just remain local, and cause infection to the sinus cavity, or it could be expelled or swallowed.

    I’m not the kind of person who just sits by idly, likes to be told what to do, or even does what other people think I should be doing! I just feel better making proactive decisions that change the course of my life the way I feel it should be going. I decided that I again would seek professional assistance to fight illness, and this time I would take the most decidedly extreme approach I could afford or even design. I find that usually if you throw everything you’ve got at a problem and give it your full attention, it has a tendency to wither and disappear, and quickly. I called Denver, Phoenix, Ft Collins, and Santa Fe. In addition, I called every clinic that anybody that had a recommendation had, and still I found that I was either treated queerly and coldly, I was never given a return call, or most importantly, the equipment to look inside of the nasal cavity was not available. I must have called over ten DVMs in all. The stand-out was Dr. Köhler at Encina. I found the clinic while researching. Not only did he actually call me back and took the time out of his busy schedule to answer every question I had (I had plenty), he recommended that I see somebody closer to New Mexico. That was the silver bullet. I knew that someone who would recommend another’s services instead of himself had indeed the character of true responsibility. I again called around Denver and was told that ‘‘no information can be given without an examination of the animal.’’ That’s a nice rule to follow, but rules aren’t always the most practical items.

    My friend helped me drive to make the appointment at 9:15 am in California. We left Albuquerque. at around 2pm and drove through the night to arrive at Encina Veterinary Hospital at 9:10 am. Driving is not the safest of tasks, and my friend and I took quite the risk doing it. If you have one problem, you will be stuck on the side of the road with a sick animal, possibly in severe desert heat. We had no major problems getting to the clinic, but that could have certainly been different. I did have mechanical trouble (wheel alignment) that prevented me from leaving San Fransisco immediately. So take this medicine with a pinched nose, and be sure to explore all the information you have before making a decision.

    Using fiber-optics, there was a determination made that irritation was most certainly present in the side of the nostril that I saw the seed enter. No seed was found however, which indicates that it had become mobile and exited the body or located itself in another part of the body. It could most definitely have been swallowed, and since the chest radiograms were clear, and Oak is no longer sneezing or showing any symptoms, I may never find the seed, and I hope I never do 🙂

A thousand thanks from New Mexico,
Kyle C.

Kyle has sent us an updated picture of Oakum and has shared with us that he has trained her to now respond to a hand-bell so she comes inside to a pleasant sound!

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!

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

Persians are Purrfection!

Persians are one of the most recognizable and popular cat breeds on the planet. Known for their calm, laid back demeanor and beautiful (yet high maintenance) coat, this cat breed is said to date back to the 1500s. The gene for long hair is recessive in cats, and researchers believe that it “appeared spontaneously in the cold mountain areas of Persia”. Queen Victoria of England owned two blue Persians, which made them quite desirable in the early 1900s. In North America, the Persian is considered to be one breed, regardless of color, however, in Britain each color of Persian is considered a separate breed.

The fact that Persians are brachycephalic (flat-faced) means that the breed is prone to breathing difficulties, as well as skin and eye issues. Polycystic kidney disease is also prevalent, in which the kidneys become enlarged as a result of cysts that grow in and around the organ.

One of Dr. Johnson’s more famous Persian patients is named Gabriella, known around cat shows as KIT’Z PAWS GABRIELLA BLISS. Gabi is the beautiful kitty you see in these pictures. I asked her mom Felicia to share their story:


“Before I started showing Gabbi I had never shown any cat.  I had gone to a few cat shows, but just as a spectator.  I bought Gabbi as a kitten  with
the intention of showing her, and ran into all kinds of health issues within the first few days of owning her. These health issues went on for about a good year,  however with the excellent  care of Dr. Roger Johnson, Shannon, and everyone at Encina, she bounced out of all that and is a wonderful pet and show Persian.  Some people that show believe in caging their show cats to keep the cats coat in show condition,  I am not one of
those , Gabbi has the run of the house with my other 3 cats.  Nobody thought she would be in the place she is now, which is in the Ribbons at the Shows! Gabbi loves to go to the shows, and she is just looking better and better.
I started showing her in August of 2011,  her first show she received her “Premier”   title, and four shows later in October she received her
“Grand Premier”   title . I am currently competing for a Regional win, then she will have a “Regional Winner” title.

Encina would like to wish Gabi and Felicia the best of luck in all of their future endeavors, on and off the show circuit!