Monday, January 30, 2012

Ask the Vet - How to Get Sweet Kisses by Kristel Weaver DVM, MPVM

I know it’s Valentine’s Day, but I just don’t want my dog licking me, his breath is horrible!  What can I do about it?

Periodontal Disease – This is one of the most common reasons for our pets to have bad breath.  Periodontal disease refers to an infection of the gums and bones around the teeth.  The infection starts with bacteria growing in a soft film of plaque covering the teeth.  Over time the plaque mineralizes and hardens into tartar or calculus.  Tartar is an ideal place for more plaque and bacteria to accumulate, creating a downward spiral in your pet’s mouth.  Just imagine what it would smell like if we didn’t brush our teeth every day!

Systemic Effects In addition to bad breath, poor dental care can lead to a variety of health problems for your pet.  First, infected teeth are painful.  Frequently I get phone calls from clients after their dog has had their teeth cared for at our clinic, exclaiming that their dog is like a puppy again.  Can you imagine walking around with a toothache all the time?  Second, these bacteria leak into the blood stream so your pet is constantly fighting an infection.  This makes them feel tired and sick.  Finally, bacteria in the bloodstream can lodge in the kidneys, heart, and liver causing damage to these organs.

Home Dental Care –The best thing you can do for your pet’s mouth is regular brushing.  This prevents accumulation of plaque and the formation of tartar. (Brushing cannot remove tartar once it has formed.)   For puppies and kittens, start brushing at 8 weeks of age and make it a fun activity with praise and treats.  Chews and prescription dental diets have also been proven to help cut down on plaque and tartar.  To see a list of chews and foods approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council check out   Use caution with hard chews or bones as they can lead to broken teeth or an intestinal foreign body.

Dental Cleaning by Your Veterinarian – In order to do a thorough exam and teeth cleaning your pet will have to be under anesthesia.  In general, a dental procedure involves an oral exam (checking for pockets, loose teeth, or other abnormalities in the mouth), scaling or scraping the tartar from the teeth and under the gums, and polishing the teeth.  X-rays may be needed to look at the tooth roots and surrounding bone.  Sometimes additional procedures are performed such as extractions or biopsies.  Veterinary dentists do even more complex procedures like root canals, jaw surgery and orthodontics.  Regular cleanings help to keep periodontal disease under control.

Talk to your veterinarian about how to best care for your pet’s teeth and maybe those Valentine’s Day kisses will be delightful!

Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master’s of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM).  She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007.  She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and their daughter, Hayley. If you have questions you would like Dr. Weaver to answer for future articles, please email

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Scratching & Declawing: Options & Alternatives

Some cats use their claws destructively indoors by clawing the furniture or carpet. For those cats, there are solutions to help curtail this habit.

Scratching is a completely natural and normal behavior for your cat. It helps sharpen their claws, acts as a scent and visual marker, and aids in stretching.  Scratching is important to cats and feels good, however it can be destructive to a household and hard to control. By providing your cat with alternatives to your furniture, you can help discourage destructive scratching.

The first step is to provide some acceptable scratching material for your cat. Cat trees are ideal because not only can your cat scratch it, but it also gives them something to climb and perch on. Cats love high places from which to view their surroundings.  Make sure the cat tree is stable enough for your cat to run, jump, and climb on and has suitable material for their claws to dig into.

There are also horizontal posts available that can be placed on the ground for scratching, as well as vertical posts that hang from the door. These come in many different materials such as carpet, sisal rope, and corrugated cardboard. You may need to experiment to see which kind your cat likes best but a variety of options is ideal to prevent boredom. 

If your cat has already started scratching furniture and carpet in your house, you may want to choose a cat tree or scratching post that is covered in a different material to avoid confusion. Sisal rope is usually very popular with cats. You will want to have scratching options placed throughout your home and especially near or in front of spots your cat has already decided to claw at.  You can slowly move the tree or post a little bit each day to where you would eventually like it to be located.

To help entice your cat to use their new post, try rubbing some catnip on it. When you see them scratching a post or playing on their tree, make sure to reward the good behavior with treats. This will help encourage appropriate scratching. It is usually not helpful to force a cat’s paws onto a tree or scratching post. 

There are a variety of ways to help make areas you do not want your cat to scratch less appealing.  While you are training your cat to use their new scratching materials you can place foil, plastic sheeting, or double sided tape on or around furniture.  Cats dislike sticky surfaces so double sided tape is an excellent deterrent. If you do not want to place double sided tape directly on your furniture, you can place carpet runners with the pointy side facing up in front of anything you want to mark as off limits. Use a water bottle to squirt your cat if you catch them scratching somewhere off limits. While these measures do not look attractive, it is hopefully temporary as your cat establishes appropriate clawing behavior. Patience and persistence are required in order to train your cat to create new scratching patterns.

There are other options besides scratching posts and cat trees. First, there is a non-surgical alternative using Soft Paws. These are hollow “false nails” that fit like a cup over the claw and are glued in place. They stay on the nail for 4 to 6 weeks, and fall off as the nail grows. Replacement for most cat owners is a simple procedure. You can purchase a set of Soft Paws over the counter. We can glue on the first set of Soft Paws while you watch so you can see how we do it. After that we can continue to apply future sets of Soft Paws, or you can do it yourself at home. 

Another option is a surgical procedure referred to simply as declawing. This is the traditional method that has been performed to prevent cats from using claws. Declawing is a drastic and permanent solution when all other options have been exhausted. During the procedure the surgeon amputates the claw and last bone in each toe, from which the nail actually grows. It is essential that this bone be removed with the claw. This ensures that all the nail-producing cells are removed, thereby preventing re-growth of the nail. Either a small dissolvable stitch or tissue adhesive is used to close the skin together at the end of each toe when the procedure is completed. 

This procedure is performed under general anesthesia and multiple forms of pain medications (local, injectable, oral, and patches) are often used to reduce post operative pain. The apparent degree of pain experienced by a cat varies from case to case. Your cat will stay at the hospital 1 to 2 nights with its feet bandaged and pain level monitored.  

Once your cat goes it home it will likely need to continue on some form of pain medication as it is not uncommon for there to be discomfort. Your cat may experience pain for several days or even a week or more post operatively. During this time they will need to be confined in order to prevent trauma to the feet.
Cats rely on their claws for defense and should remain indoors after the surgery. There are reports that some cats show an increase incidence of biting following the surgery (presumably due to lack of claws for defense) but this is not a consistent finding. Any of our veterinarians will be happy to answer questions you may have about this procedure.   

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ask the Vet: New Year’s Resolutions by Kristel Weaver, DVM, MPVM

After all the splurging during the holidays, the New Year gives us a chance to reset our priorities and goals. While you are making your own New Year’s resolutions, consider some resolutions for your pets as well.

Top Five Pet New Year’s Resolutions
  1. Exercise – It’s good for you as well as the dog, cat, bird, guinea pig, hamster or whatever little creature you consider a companion.  Walking or jogging with your dog is a great activity.  An ideal goal is at least 30 minutes of exercise every day for dogs (age and health permitting).  For your indoor critters make an effort to get them to run around and play or enjoy a good scratch on a daily basis.  
  2. Diet - I’m frequently asked which brand of pet food I recommend. It’s a difficult question because one pet may do great on Brand X and another does terribly on it. There are also many misconceptions about pet foods that stem from marketing campaigns by the pet food industry. My answer is to find a food that your pet enjoys eating, seems healthy on, and meets AAFCO nutritional standards. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a consumer protection group that establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods. Not all pet food companies formulate diets that meet these standards so when you are picking out a pet food, check for a label that indicates it has been formulated to meet AAFCO standards.If your dog has a weight problem try giving apples and carrots instead of more fattening treats and cut back on the table scraps, bones, and dental chews.  All those calories add up! 
  3. Preventive care – I recommend all dogs and cats get examined by their veterinarian once a year. This is a chance to discuss your questions; have them checked out from head to toe; update vaccines, heartworm, and flea control; and get whatever routine care is needed. For geriatric pets or animals with a chronic disease, I also recommend an annual blood panel. These visits keep your pet as healthy as possible and provide an opportunity to detect minor problems.  
  4. Learn something new – You can teach an old dog new tricks. Your dog will love learning something new, especially if it means getting treats and your attention. Try teaching your dog high five, roll over, play dead, pick up the newspaper or whatever you think is fun. I guarantee your dog will love the opportunity to learn something new.  
  5. Help others – Based on the temperament of your pet, consider getting him or her certified to visit nursing homes or hospitals. When my grandmother was in a nursing home, the visiting dogs made her so happy she talked about it for days. Check the requirements at your local hospital or nursing home for therapy pets. You can find resources for training and certification online, at the AKC good citizen program website, or the Therapy Dogs International website.

Happy New Year to your entire family! May it be filled with good health, new skills, and charity!

Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master’s of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM).  She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007.  She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and their daughter, Hayley. If you have questions you would like Dr. Weaver to answer for future articles, please email

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lives Saved: Dexter by Erin Selby with Dr. Leanne Taylor, DVM

They may walk on four legs and have a fur coat but our pets aren’t that different from us - especially when it comes to their health. Just like us, things happen unexpectedly.  Whether it is an emergency situation or a serious health condition, our pets are not immune to the unanticipated, the unforeseen, and the unpredictable. And just like us, health insurance can play a huge part in whether the unexpected becomes an unbearable financial burden.

While any pet can become ill or require urgent care in case of an emergency, purebred animals are often born with inherent health problems. English Bulldogs are one of these breeds. Dexter is the reason people adopt English Bulldogs.  He is friendly, expressive, playful, and full of character. All of this is packed into the most compact little short-nosed body, in other words: ADORABLE.  He is also an example of why it is so important to invest in pet insurance. 
Dexter, in all his adorable glory!
Dexter was rushed to Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care with uncommonly severe complications from a soft palate surgery performed at another practice. Poor Dexter was bleeding excessively into his airways and needed immediate care. BRVC brought in a specialist surgeon right away to control the bleeding and perform a tracheostomy in order to help him breathe. 

Bulldogs and other short nosed breeds such as Pugs, Pekinese, French Bulldogs and Boston Terriers, are brachycephalic breeds. These pets are born with anatomical problems due to their short faces and stocky bodies. The most common of these problems is a long soft palate, (the fleshy part of the roof of the mouth) that will cover the airway and contribute to problems breathing.  Brachycephalic dogs often require soft palate surgery in order to help resolve breathing issues. Most of the time these procedures go smoothly, but sometimes complications arise, as in Dexter’s case.   
Dexter and all English Bulldogs are brachycephalic
In addition to the complications that arose from his original procedure, Dexter developed pneumonia (another condition Bulldogs are prone to). Altogether, Dexter required nearly two weeks of hospitalization and follow-up care and underwent three major surgeries in the span of eight days. Everyone at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center became very attached to the little fighter. The specialists, doctors, and technicians attending to Dexter did all they could to help keep the little guy going. His very dedicated owner became a common sight in the hospital halls and spent hours by the side of his beloved pet. It was touch and go for awhile but Dexter eventually pulled through and made a full recovery. He now breathes better than ever and is back to his adorable, playful ways.

Three surgeries. Weeks of hospitalization. Medications and hourly treatments. Follow up care. All of these things add up, and they add up fast. Dexter’s owners loved him deeply and wanted to do everything that could possibly be done to save his life. Fortunately they had signed Dexter up with Pet Plan Insurance when he was younger. Pet Plan is one of the few pet insurance companies that cover hereditary and congenital conditions, which makes it a great choice for purebred pets. While they worried about his health and whether he would make it through the night, they never had to worry about whether or not they could afford treatment. In the end, Pet Plan paid almost 90% of Dexter’s medical care. Talk about peace of mind (and wallet)!
Dexter wants you to pet him...
Dexter is now a regular at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center where he comes in for the decidedly non-emergency kind of visit to have his toe nails trimmed, along with lots of TLC. He has everyone there wrapped around his chubby little paw. The unexpected and unforeseen happened to Dexter. He needed help and he needed it fast. Luckily, he had an excellent insurance plan that allowed his family the financial freedom to spare no expense when it came to Dexter’s health.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Holiday Pet Photo Contest Winner of 2011

Drum roll please... once again, we have a tie! And for the first time ever, one of the winners is a feline! We are proud to announce that the winners of the 2011 Holiday Pet Photo Contest are:
Sydney the chocolate Lab 
Lyla Bean the snoozing kitty! 
Junior, the hide and seek kitty came in second place. It was incredibly difficult to choose, all the entries were truly fabulous. 
 Thanks you so much for sharing all of these precious moments with us!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Monday Pet Tip: Preventive Diagnostics

Performing annual diagnostics such as blood panels, urine analysis, and intestinal parasite screenings are extremely valuable tools in identifying medical problems even before your pet shows any symptoms.  Our pets can’t always tell us how they are feeling, and they may not feel anything in the early stages of many treatable diseases.  Diagnostic screening profiles are the easiest and best way to get an overall picture of your pet’s health, and to track any changes over time.  This allows for earlier, less costly treatment options, and helps us to keep your pet as healthy as possible- for as long as possible.