ImageSpring is in the air, and it is time to clear out not only clothes, but old cleaning supplies, garden supplies, expired medications and the ancient roach trap that has been hiding in the corner of that cabinet for years. When we are tackling our cluttered storage areas, our pets are at a higher risk of being poisoned by some of the materials we are bringing down from shelves and out of cabinets.

In the kitchen, watch out for bits of foods that may have dried up, but are nevertheless  irresistible to a dog or cat. Rotten foods contain molds or bacteria that can lead to serious poisoning.

In attics and closets, remember that dried-up rodent poisons and baits are potentially dangerous to pets. These products taste yummy, which is why the rats or mice like them, and dogs or cats will eat them in a flash. Some rodent poisons have no antidote and can be quickly fatal if eaten by an unsuspecting pet. Old roach baits and traps aren’t very poisonous to pets, but the plastic casing can cause quite a severe gastro-intestinal upset.

Human medications are a constant source of pet poisoning. When cleaning under stoves or bathroom cabinets, keep a close eye out for stray pills that might have rolled under an appliance, even years before. A friend of mine lost her cat to Tylenol poisoning after she had been spring cleaning under the stove in her rental apartment. A previous tenant must have allowed some spilled Tylenol to roll under the stove where they were left until my friend started cleaning. Her young cat must have eaten the rolling “treat” before anyone knew what had happened.

Even expired pet medications can be quite dangerous, as they are often flavored to make a yummy treat. If tasty pills or liquids are accidently left where a pet can get to them, they will eat every last bit, often resulting in dangerous poisonings. (Of-course, these same pets won’t eat the medications when you actually need them to, which is probably why you have them leftover in the first place, but that is another story.)

There are so many poisons stored in people’s garages that I cannot even begin to list them all, but keep your pets away as you are cleaning up auto supplies, especially anti-freeze. Even a teaspoon of anti-freeze can fatally poison an animal, so seal it up well before you dispose of it, and it is best to take all automobile related fluids to the “liquid disposal” section of the landfill where they can be properly disposed of, away from domestic and wild animals.

When cleaning out your purse, be especially careful with artificially sweetened candies or gum that may contain xylitol. This artificial sweetener can cause your pet’s blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels and can cause liver damage in susceptible dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol can be extremely dangerous, so keep and dispose of these items where your pets cannot get to them.

So, think twice before starting your spring cleaning while your pets are around. It is best to secure them away from the area you’re a cleaning until you are finished. You’ll also find that the work goes much faster without your furry friend’s “help”.

If you do suspect that your pet may have been exposed to or ingested anything toxic, don’t waste any time.  Collect the product container! It does little good to call your vet and say “fluffy just ate a box of ant killer”. We need to know the actual chemical and the maximum amount that your pet could have eaten. So, keep the label and have it with you when you call for advice. It also helps to establish your pet’s age and weight before you call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435).  The ASPCA does charge for this service, so have a credit card handy.  Many poisonings can be treated effectively if caught early, so time is of the essence.


ImageDoes your pet have bad breath? This could be a sign of much more serious disease, and now is the time to find out. February is National Dental Health Month and during this month, many veterinarians are offering discounts on dental exams and care.

How do you know if you need to take advantage of dental care promotions for your pet? The answer to that is pretty simple: you probably do. Eighty percent of all dogs and seventy percent of cats over 3 years of age have some form of dental disease.  So why is this disease so ignored by pet owners?  Mostly because you can’t see it.  A dog will often come to see me for a mild skin disease that is bothering the owner because it makes the dog scratch or because it is smelly.  During the course of the exam I find severe dental disease that is causing pain for the dog.  Yet, the owner doesn’t want to deal with the disease in the mouth because they can’t see it.

Dogs and cats hide pain in their mouths by chewing on the opposite side of the mouth or by swallowing their food whole.  You won’t get symptoms of drooling, pawing at the mouth or loss of appetite until periodontal disease is extremely advanced.  Please, for your pet’s sake, don’t wait this long.  A veterinary dentist once told me that pets continue to eat, because if they didn’t, then they would have a toothache AND be hungry.  Might as well alleviate at least one of those discomforts.  I remind people that if your pet had nasty, stinky infections on their toes, you’d treat it.  So why not in his mouth?  Our pets deserve better.  Maybe some of these tips will help.

Remember that dental disease doesn’t affect just your pet’s mouth. Periodontal disease is a silent killer that starts with a bacterial infection in the mouth. The bacteria then sneak through the blood stream to the heart, lungs or kidneys where they exacerbate existing disease or cause disease by themselves.

The first sign of periodontal disease is bad breath, and it shouldn’t be ignored.  If plaque is present as a brownish staining of the teeth, your pet has stage I periodontal disease and  it is time to initiate an aggressive brushing or dental chew program.  Nothing beats brushing a pet’s teeth daily with a pet-friendly enzymatic toothpaste, but if you didn’t start doing this when your pet was a baby, he or she may not tolerate it.  The second best thing that I have found are the raw-hide chews that have been infused with an enzymatic toothpaste.  These work well for the back teeth where most of the chewing occurs, but it doesn’t work well for the teeth toward the front of the mouth.  Don’t use human toothpaste.  Pets hate the sweet flavors, it can make them throw up, and it doesn’t have the enzymes in it that help to break up the plaque.  Unlike human toothpastes, pet pastes are safe to be swallowed, so there is no rinsing necessary.

If there is a black line where the teeth meet the gums, your pet has stage II periodontal disease and the bacteria has made its way under the gum line.  You won’t be able to get this off with brushing or chews, so you need to schedule a professional dental cleaning with your veterinarian.

Your pet has stage III periodontal disease when thick tartar has formed.  When this happens, you have missed your opportunity for a simple cleaning.  These teeth need to be x-rayed for disease under the gum, cleaned and if pockets of detached gum are forming around the teeth, then your veterinarian will need to perform some type of periodontal treatment and you will need to maintain an aggressive home-care regimen to save the affected teeth.  Unfortunately, once tartar has formed, it is hard to tell how bad the periodontal disease is until the pet is anesthetized.  Sometimes we find stage IV and V periodontal disease under the calculus.  These pets will require tooth extractions or root canal therapy.  So, when you bring your pet in to have that mouth cleaned up, be available for your veterinarian to call you in the middle of the procedure if he or she finds periodontal disease beyond stage III.  This can lead to increased costs to you, but treating these bad teeth immediately brings immediate comfort and relief to your pet.

I have seen that once painful teeth are removed, older pets suddenly act like they did when they were younger.  A decrease in activity that you are allotting to “old age” could very well be from an achy painful mouth.  You won’t know until you have that periodontal disease treated.





January 16, 2013

ImageIf all this talk about the fiscal cliff and higher taxes has you worried about how you are going to be able to afford to keep your pets healthy in 2013, then this article is for you.

There are many different approaches to keeping health-care costs down while still keeping your best friend fit and healthy but perhaps the best way is to look at the problem the other way around; keeping your pet healthy will actually keep your health-care costs down.

Don’t skimp on routine check-ups

Because pet’s age faster than people, the yearly check-up is crucial to detecting health issues that could cause expensive problems in the long run. As pet’s get older, it pays to increase those check-ups to twice a year. Finding and treating disease early will decrease costs of treatment in the long run, and more importantly will also prevent or delay onset of discomfort and pain for your pet.

Be familiar with the genetic diseases from which your breed of pet is prone to suffer.  If you know what to look for, you and your veterinarian can watch for these problems and act early. Stay in contact with local and national breed clubs because they often offer screening tests for genetic problems at low or no cost to you and they may even have funds to assist you with the costs of caring for a pet with certain ailments.

Prevent common problems

Ear infections are one of the top reasons pet owners seek veterinary care. Asking your veterinarian about a regular ear cleaning regimen that you can do at home might prevent this problem. Dental care is very expensive for pets. Start brushing your pet’s teeth on a daily basis to minimize dental care costs in the future. Keep your cat’s environment stimulating and stress free to reduce the risk of urinary tract diseases.

Don’t smoke around your pets. Secondhand smoke can exacerbate respiratory diseases and lead to nasal and lung cancers. As cats groom, they ingest the toxins from the smoke which can lead to oral cancers. Quit now and you’ll save money on your veterinary bills. At the very least, consider not smoking around your pets.

Overweight pets have expensive orthopedic problems and higher risk of ailments such as diabetes and heart disease. Give the body what it needs, but not too much, and it can do amazing things to heal itself. By feeding your pet a high quality food and keeping him lean, you will drastically reduce veterinary bills.

Spay or neuter your pet

The costs of owning an intact pet are higher due to several factors that include an increased propensity to fight or escape, higher rates of ovarian, uterine, testicular or prostatic disease and the high cost of having and raising a litter of puppies or kittens. Most veterinarians spay and neuter pets at competitive rates, but if cost is still keeping you from having your pet spayed or neutered, contact Pet Helpers or The Charleston Animal Society. Thanks to local donors and grants, these organizations can spay or neuter your pet with minimum cost to you.

Keep parasites at bay

Fleas and ticks are not only nasty, but they carry diseases that can affect you and your pet. Use a veterinary approved flea, and if needed, tick, prevention year around on all dogs and cats to prevent costly diseases. If just one flea gets into your house, you will need to undergo an expensive regimen to get rid of all the progeny that little flea left behind. Heartworm disease is very expensive to treat in a dog and we cannot even treat cats if they become infected. So, keep all pets on a monthly heartworm prevention too.

Your vet can help you find the most inexpensive combination that will protect your pets. Veterinary staffs are used to doing cost comparisons and helping you get the prescriptions you need to keep costs down.

Don’t over vaccinate your pet

Only have your pet vaccinated for the diseases to which he or she is likely to be exposed. This varies widely from pet to pet and must be discussed with your veterinarian every year. Avoid veterinarians who appear to offer “low cost vaccinations” but then vaccinate for everything under the sun. It  may be true that one clinic’s vaccinations are cheaper than another’s, but if your pet doesn’t even need some of those vaccinations, then you have not saved a dime by going the cheaper route.

Save money on medications

In today’s world there are infinite suppliers of just about anything you need, and this includes pet medications. There are many reasons to consider buying your medications from your veterinarian: products have been stored correctly, experienced veterinary staff are familiar with doses and dosing, you are supporting a local business and prices are often competitive with online sites. That said,  your veterinarian won’t always be the cheapest place to get your pet’s medications. As more pharmacies, both onsite and online, begin to carry pet-specific drugs, you can ask your veterinarian about getting a written prescription for medications so that you can shop around. This is especially important to consider if your pet is going to be on a medication for a long time. If you want to read more about your choices on this topic, refer to

Prepare for future expenses

Sometimes there is just no way around an expensive treatment or surgery for your pet. In these cases it is best to have prepared ahead of time. You can do this by establishing a little Health-Care Savings Account for your pet or by purchasing health insurance. Just setting aside $50 every month into your pet’s savings account is probably more economical, as the money earns a little bit if interest if you don’t use it. However, most of us don’t have the discipline to put in money every month and then stay away from it. Insurance companies can help if you are one of these people. The catastrophic  plans that only cover for major illness or injury are very affordable. If a more broad plan encourages you to provide more preventive care for your pet, then this may prove to save more money in the long run.

Find someone else to pay

If your pet has been diagnosed with a serious disease, do a quick search to see if there are any clinical trials going on that could help your pet. The website coordinates this information into one place.

If your pet is having an expensive crisis right now and you just don’t have the funds to pay for his care up front, find a veterinarian who accepts CareCredit or a similar payment plan. Companies like CareCredit ( extend credit for both human and pet health care costs with low monthly payments.

Be persistent, proactive and honest

Prevention truly is the best medicine, and it is the cheapest too.

If the economy is causing a drain on you, tell your veterinarian up front. If you are a good client and a friend of your veterinary hospital, your vet may give you a discount on some services. But, most importantly, veterinarians are experts at prioritizing medical care. They can help you pick and choose the best tests and treatments for your pet and your budget.

Take the time to research and shop around for the lowest pet care prices, but remember that establishing a relationship with a veterinarian can be the best and most effective cost-saving investment that you can make.

Losers on Leashes

December 21, 2012

ImageIt is time to start working off those holiday pounds and your pet pals should probably do the same. Roughly 40 to 55% of pets are estimated to be overweight and at least a third of those are obese. Let’s reverse this unhealthy trend this January, which is National Walk Your Dog Month (who knew?).

Why should you care? Overweight pets suffer from many of the same ailments as overweight people, including diabetes, debilitating arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and increased rates of cancer. Ignoring obesity is like ignoring any other chronic disease and it results in worsening of the complications. And obesity is a completely preventable disease! Why wouldn’t you want to join in the campaign to fight pet obesity?

Most people don’t even realize that their pet is overweight. Maybe it is because the weight came on too slowly to notice, or the pet owner simply doesn’t know that pets should have palpable ribs and a visible waist. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your pet is overweight. If he or she is, then join this year’s Losers on Leashes weight loss challenge and help your pet lose that extra fat.

First, find out from your veterinarian how much weight your pet should lose and set a goal weight. Then start following these rules of thumb:

  • Pets are meal feeders. Our primarily carnivorous pets, if left to their own devices, would eat one big meal and then not eat again for 24 or more hours. And, they would have to work for their meal. They are not meant to be grazers. Pets that nibble on their dry food all day long tend to get fat. This isn’t always true, but it is something to think about changing if your pet is fat. Feeding a good meal once or twice a day is often sufficient.
  • Treats are the true nemesis. For every treat you feed your pet, you need to remove that number of calories from the main meal. You can read pet-food labels to determine which treats have the lowest calories and try to use those or simply break treats in half to decrease calories. Pets do expect treats at certain times, but they don’t care if that treat is large or small. They are just excited to get their treat at all.
  • If it is bad for you, it is bad for your pet. So potato chips, fried chicken and ice cream are going to make your pet fat. Low-fat microwaved chicken breast, carrots and broccoli probably won’t.
  • There are lots of foods, and even a medication now, that will help patients lose weight, so, really there is no excuse not to pursue true fitness for your pet.
  • Pets should lose about 1-2 % of their body weight per week and no more. Rapid weight loss, just like in people, usually results in regaining of the weight over the next year. Rapid weight loss in cats can be very dangerous, so keep it slow and steady.
  • Pets won’t lose weight without a coinciding exercise program. Dogs should be walked a minimum of 20 minutes twice a day. (You may have to slowly work up to this if your dog is very overweight) Ball playing and swimming are also excellent exercises for dogs. Cats need encouraged play-time. If you spend 20 minutes with a toy or laser-pointer at bed-time, cats rest more easily and let you sleep later in the morning.
  • Use a peg-bowl to slow down those rapid eaters. Use a feeder-ball for cats. They have to bat these around to get the food to drop out, so it is an excellent way to make cats work for their food.

To join Losers on Leashes, come in to Bees Ferry Veterinary Hospital at 3422 Shelby Ray Court to register and learn how to qualify for a free bag of Royal Canin Food. There will be prizes for the dog who loses the most weight (based on percentage of body weight), the cat who loses the most weight (based on percentage of body weight) and one for the dog/owner team who logs the most miles walked.

Even if you don’t join an organized weight-loss campaign, take your pet’s weight seriously in 2013. His or her quality of life will be greatly improved and it might mean that he or she is around a lot longer. So, watch what you feed your pets and GET WALKING!!

December 11, 2012

ImageAs the time for giving is upon us and the year-end approaches, it is time to recognize those organizations that have made a difference in our community in 2012. As an advocate for animals, I could not resist this opportunity to write about the Lowcountry’s 2012 Nonprofit of the Year, the Charleston Animal Society (CAS). This group of dedicated individuals has made a difference beyond your wildest imagination.

To help you understand the impact this organization has on our county, you must understand the numbers. Every month nearly 1,000 animals are taken to the CAS for care, treatment and housing. Can you imagine if these animals were left on their own to roam the streets? This would be a public- health nightmare, not to mention that these animals would suffer needlessly. The CAS takes in more animals than all our other awesome area shelters combined. And they have never, since their inception in the late 1800s, turned an animal away.

Their mission is simply “to prevent cruelty to animals.”, but when asked what the Charleston Animal Society does, one employee said “we find homeless animals a home.” And they take this task seriously. When a hoarder has been discovered or a natural disaster results in overcrowding at the shelter, the CAS holds fee- waived adoption events. Grants and your donations make these free adoptions possible .In June of this year, during one of these free adoption events, CAS emptied their adoption floor. Every single adoption cage was empty for the first time in 138 years.

Not only did this event make local news and bring elation to our community, it brought in calls from shelters all over the country. From New York to Los Angeles, shelters wanted to know how they could do the same thing. “We asked our community to open up their hearts and their homes to make room for just one more pet, and they did,” the CAS chief executive director Joe Elmore said. That is the kind of community that Charleston is.

When employee Christina Ellwood was asked what she did at the shelter, she said “I reunite loved ones with their families.” She tells emotional stories about these reunions, including one involving a 23 year old cat. The videos she has of pets being reunited with their pets will tear your heart out.

The CAS also runs a food bank so that people who need the help can continue to feed their pets. In today’s economy, the last thing families need to worry about is where they are going to get enough food for their pets. By providing food to needy families every Saturday, CAS keeps pets in their homes.

When asked what CAS does, Pearl Sutton, senior director of animal services said “We save lives.” Toby’s Fund is one way that CAS is doing this. Toby was a dog who came to the shelter with 2nd and 3rd degree burns on his back. He was aggressively treated and eventually placed in a loving home. The fund in his name allows people to donate the medical equipment and treatment needed to treat every sick or damaged animal that comes into the shelter. No longer are animals euthanized just because they are sick or injured. From simple heartworm treatments to major surgeries, Toby’s Fund is helping CAS make animals whole again.

 To reduce animal cruelty in the future, CAS goes into schools to teach students to be humanitarians. They have reached over 15,000 students so far. Not only are these kids learning how to care for animals in a responsible way, but their interest in science and learning increases after the visits by the CAS education team.

As Joe Elmore says “CAS is solving the problem. We are decreasing pet over-population by spaying or neutering over 12,000 animals per year. We are changing the face of sheltering thanks to the Charleston community.” So, if you are wondering what non-profit to give to this year, consider helping the CAS heal damaged animals, find every single one of them a home or even just help keep a pet in his home. Why? Because that is the kind of community that Charleston is.

Image“When the snow is gone and the season is spring you can trade this in for the real thing.” This was the note on the hobby horse that I found under the tree on that very special Christmas day when I was 13 years old. I had hurdled all of the obstacles that my parents had set for me. They of course never thought that I would actually become an accomplished rider, learn to care for a horse in every way, get a job at a farm and even take on the responsibility of caring for other people’s horses every day – just to prove that I could do it for my own. They had finally run out of excuses to deny me my greatest wish.

My parents must have done a little research about how to find a horse for a young girl, because they did not make the mistake of picking out an animal without my input and tying it up out front in the snow – which is, of course, what I always dreamed of: one Christmas morning there would be my new friend and companion out in front of the house waiting for a carrot. This, I know was unrealistic, but you wouldn’t believe how many well-meaning parents do make this mistake. Not so much the horse-in-the-yard thing, but they faithfully pick out a pet for their children, present him on Christmas day and are then left with the reality of caring for an animal and a young, needy family. By presenting me with the promise of my new pet, we were able to spend the next few months deep in research, reading my new books about finding the perfect horse and talking with my mentors about this prospect. In the end, we all found the right four-legged addition to our family at a time when school was ending and the weather was appropriate for walking to the barn every day.

Parents must put a lot of thought into bringing a new pet into their home, and holiday time may not be the best time for this. Before you think about a Christmas pet, remember that pets are not toys. They are living, breathing, pooping and peeing beings who need a lot of attention. Winter can be a hard time to raise a puppy who needs to be taken outside in the cold to housebreak him.  Even a thirteen- year old child who has promised to care for the new pet will likely be asleep when he or she needs his final walk of the day. In reality, the addition of a pet ultimately becomes the responsibility of the parents, and usually Mom. So, if you are going to bring a pet into your household, Mom and Dad have to want this pet. They have to want to care for him when kids are asleep, at a baseball game, on a road trip and eventually away at college.

The first few months of a new pet’s life are crucial as bad habits are far easier to prevent than they are to break later. For some people, it may be easier to put the time into caring for a new pet or training a dog while the kids are in school, but, if your child really wants to be the new trainer, then this is another reason to wait until spring or summer to adopt.

Pure bred puppies will be more expensive and of lower quality at Christmas time. For this reason, unless you have a unique relationship with a very good breeder, I would avoid them all together at this time of year. Shelters are by far the best places to adopt a pet at any time. You may even decide that you want to avoid kittenhood or puppyhood. There are many adults available at shelters all year around, so maybe you can begin your search after Christmas, but don’t be compelled to come home with a pet on your first visit. Shelters also have puppies, kittens, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets and hamsters all year around. What better Christmas than the promise of saving a life? It is the promise to do this that counts, not the timing. So, re-think the idea of a Christmas pet standing under the tree and use the time instead to give the gift of learning to love and care for another being forever and ever.

Winter Care Tips for Pets

November 14, 2012


Although today hovered around perfect room temperature, the colder days are coming and it may affect our pets. I think it is particularly difficult for us South Carolinians to prepare for the cold because it simply doesn’t last long. But, it does get bone chilling damp and by February we may see temperatures cold enough to freeze our pipes. It really doesn’t get cold enough to put young healthy dogs and cats who have appropriate shelter at risk, but what about those without adequate shelter? What about the old and the young?


Since our temperatures seem to go up and down, our pets don’t adapt to below freezing temperatures as well as those who get used to temps in the 50s, then the 40s, then the 30s etc… Our pets have to deal with drops from 70 to 40 in 24 hours. This does not give their bodies time to adapt to the cold. So, if it is going to get cold, we need to make sure our pets, especially the young and old, have appropriate shelter, like access to the inside or a dry, draft-free dog house with warm bedding.


Arthritis really acts up in Lowcountry winter weather so our older dogs seem the most affected by our damp, chilly cold. If your older pet lives outside, I recommend you bring him or her inside, especially at night, during this time of year. But remember that concrete, tile and hardwood floors may be quite cold. Thick wool bedding is important to get these older pets off the cold surfaces. One of my patients, an elderly boxer, refuses to sleep on her comfy bed. She used to sleep on the couch, but now that she can no longer jump on and off, she seems to prefer the hardwood floor. But, she awakes so cold and stiff that her owner was concerned. This problem was solved by putting her in pajamas at night. She seems to love them and she wakes up less stiff. Other older pets may benefit from non-electric heating pads (electric heating pads can be a fire hazard and can burn a pet if they get wet, say from inappropriate urination or drooling) or light bulbs overhead. Just make sure that your pet can easily move away from the heat source if they get too hot. Puppies should be treated in the same way because they have a decreased ability to maintain body heat.


Indoor dogs eat less in the winter as they sleep more and burn less calories. So, be careful not to overfeed during the cold weather. Outdoor pets need more calories to help them keep up their body temperature. Water bowls must be free of ice, so keep an eye on your pet’s outdoor water source.


Cars are particularly attractive to animals in the winter. Frigid cats love to climb up under the hood and curl up on the warm motor. This, as you can imagine, has led to many mishaps when motorists start their car. Avoid such accidents by tapping your car’s hood before starting the vehicle. Many motorists also break out the anti-freeze this time of year. Keep your pets well away from this poison. Even a single lap of anti-freeze can be deadly. And, despite its green color, animals love anti-freeze as it is sweet in flavor.


If you have your dog at the beach or near a favorite swimming hole, he will probably still want to swim despite the colder temperatures. Be prepared to thoroughly towel dry a wet dog so he doesn’t get chilled.


And finally, remember that fleas and mosquitoes don’t go away in the Lowcountry winter. You must continue flea and heartworm prevention throughout these winter months. Trying to skip a dose or two in order to save a few bucks can cost you a bundle in the long run, as heartworms are deadly and treatment is expensive. Eradicating a flea infestation is equally expensive, so keep your pets health this winter by adhering to the old motto that prevention is the best medicine.