Dog shows are more than just pretty dogs

2019 Annual Westminster Kennel Club Best in ShowCongratulations to last night’s best in show winner, GCHB CH Kingarthur Van Foliny Home at the Annual Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden. Best in Show completes a week of canine events with a sprinkling of cats thrown in for variety.

In addition to the Westminster Kennel Club show, Westminster week features both Masters Agility and Obedience competitions. Meet the Breeds hosts both dogs and cats from the Afghan hound to the Turkish van and every breed in between. To get the inside scoop on the dog show, last week’s guest on “Ask the Vet” (SiriusXM Stars 109) was AMC’s own Anne Marie Kubacz, LVT. In addition to being AMC’s longest serving nurse, Anne Marie has shown dogs at the Westminster Kennel Club show, worked as an expert during the broadcast and been involved in veterinary care for dogs from the show treated at AMC. Here are some of her insights on the second longest running sporting event in America.

Dog shows are for families

Anne Marie got her start in dog shows when someone noticed her beautiful Irish setter in Prospect Park and suggested she show her dog. She met her husband showing dogs and her son is now a professional dog handler. This family trio of dog show specialists spends nearly every weekend at dog shows, but Anne Marie said devoting every weekend to dog shows is not necessary to have a great family experience.

Dog shows have something for everyone

Anne Marie’s family specializes in showing purebred dogs, but dog shows provide opportunities for every type of dog. Dogs in five height divisions competed in the Masters Agility event at the WKC show. These energetic dogs raced over and under obstacles, through tunnels and zipped back and forth competing for the best time. There were even cameras inside the tunnels and the view from inside made it look like the dogs were running inside a set of lungs! To see for yourself, watch the highlight video.

The Masters Obedience competition is a more creative event where the dog and his partner perform a routine of obedience moves. This year’s winner is the Tiger Woods of the dog world and became a four time Masters Champion in Obedience. This year’s performance will bring a smile to your face.

Dog shows have cats too

If you’re not interested in participating with your dog, Anne Marie suggested attending the event just to meet some dogs and cats. Meet the Breeds gives dog lovers the unique opportunity to meet and play with more than 100 different dog breeds in booths cleverly decorated to depict each breed’s country of origin, historical purpose/function and attributes as a family pet, all while learning about responsible dog ownership and which breeds may be right for them. This year, cats made their triumphant return to the AKC Meet the Breeds® event with The International Cat Association® giving animal lovers the unique opportunity to meet and play with 35-40 different cat breeds.

The dog show and AMC

When I asked Anne Marie what her best back story about the WKC show was, she recounted the story of a Doberman pinscher, Indy. He flew to New York City for the WKC and when he got off the plane, everyone knew he was not right. Indy came straight from the airport to AMC where a case of bloat was diagnosed and treated. Indy went on to win Best in Show that year to the cheering of many delighted AMC veterinarians.

AMC congratulates all winners from Westminster week, but the biggest winners of all were the humans who had a wonderful time with their dogs.

Dental Don’ts in Celebration of National Pet Dental Month

Pet Dental Health Month: Slab FractureDuring a routine examination of your pet, your veterinarian will look in the mouth to assess his pearly whites. During National Pet Dental Month (every February), veterinarians and pet owners alike should remember to focus just a little bit more on healthy teeth. This concern for animal dental health is nothing new. In a recent article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, archeologists from the Max Planck Institute have found evidence of equine dentistry in Mongolia as early as 1150 BCE.

To help you celebrate National Pet Dental Month using the most up to date veterinary oral hygiene recommendations, this blog post points out some common pet dental mistakes to avoid.

Don’t use human toothpaste

Fluoride-containing toothpaste has helped to revolutionize dental care in humans. But there is something drastically different about pets when it comes to toothbrushing: spitting. Dogs and cats don’t spit. This means toothpaste gets swallowed when you brush your pet’s teeth. Chronic ingestion of toothpaste can result in fluoride accumulating in your pet’s body, which can be toxic. Some toothpastes contain xylitol, an artificial sweeter. Dogs are exquisitely sensitive to xylitol and just a little bit can cause dangerously low blood sugar and liver damage. Way better to use the meat flavored toothpaste from your veterinarian’s office or get some nice dental wipes at your local pet emporium. Not sure how to brush your pet’s teeth? Watch our video featuring AMC board certified dentists.

Don’t chose anesthesia-free dental cleaning

The Animal Medical Center board certified dentists administer general anesthesia to all pets undergoing a dental cleaning. During this procedure they can clean both the cheek side and the tongue side of the teeth as well as beneath the gumline to prevent periodontal disease.

Anesthesia-free cleaning is currently in vogue in pet dental care. However, even the most well-trained pet will not tolerate dental instruments in their mouth and under the gums. Anesthesia-free dental cleanings just can’t provide the level of care your dog or cat deserves.

The American Veterinary Dental College has a policy statement on anesthesia-free dentistry in companion animals.

Avoid a nasty slab fracture of your dog’s tooth

The photo above shows a slab fracture (circled in red) of a canine premolar. This type of tooth injury is common and completely preventable. Dog’s given the opportunity to chew on bones, hooves, antlers, nylon dog chews and similar objects tend to crunch down on these hard, inflexible objects, cracking off half of their premolar. If the central pulp of the tooth is exposed, an infection can easily develop. AMC’s dentists either must repair or extract these fractured teeth.

By avoiding these dental don’ts, you will accomplish a major dental do – better oral health for your favorite fur person.

10 ways your family can enjoy animals without owning a pet

pet ownershipIn every family without a pet, there’s at least one child begging for one. But for health reasons, finances, travel or time in the daily schedule, a pet may not fit into your family’s lifestyle. But there are other ways, that you can bring animals into your family’s life without owning a pet of your own. Here are my top ten tips to add the fun and rewards of animals in your life without actually owning a pet:

  1. Attend a local animal show. The owners of dogs, cats, birds and reptiles love to show off their pets and talk to children about responsible pet ownership. In New York City we have the annual Westminster Kennel Club Show and Meet the Breeds. Local, smaller shows are great fun as well.
  2. Volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter or to help socialize the cats residing there. Our friends at Animal Haven Shelter have a great webpage on how kids can help shelter animals.
  3. Be a foster pet family. My local rescue group is always looking for host families for cats in need. I wrote about my experiences with my foster cat family several years ago and since that time we’ve hosted more than 60 kittens or cats in our home.
  4. While it sounds a bit low tech, there are plenty of books on being a veterinarian for children of all ages. Here’s a really nice list of some of them.
  5. If your child loves dogs, but doesn’t love reading, sign up for one of the therapy dog programs where children read to dogs. This might be in a library, school or animal shelter. Participate in your library’s reading program featuring certified therapy dogs to promote reading skills in children. Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) has local programs nationwide. Therapy Dogs International sponsors “Tail Wagging Tutors.” A program like this might transform your child’s reading skills.
  6. Volunteer to pet sit for a neighbor while they are on vacation. This could be a really fun family project.
  7. Become a member of your local zoo. Many zoos have an area where children can pet the animals. In the New York metropolitan area, the Wildlife Conservation Society — which includes the Bronx Zoo, the Queens Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and the New York Aquarium — has hands-on programs for various age groups, as well as educational exhibits and free demonstrations daily. Some zoos even have sleepovers and summer camp!
  8. Volunteer at a pet outreach program at your local hospital, Ronald McDonald House or senior citizens home. Ask the program coordinator if they know of a pet volunteer who you can “borrow” for the visits.
  9. Check out veterinary camp. Besides camps at zoos, many camps like the ones on this list are run by colleges of veterinary medicine. Most are for high school age students, but some accept students as young as 10 years of age.
  10. If your child dreams of being a veterinarian, it is never too soon to start planning. For tweens, Vet Set Go provides age appropriate resources and fun games. The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges has information online for prospective students in high school and college.

I hope these suggestion will help fill the gap in your pet loving child’s life until the time is right for your family to love a pet of its very own.

How to feed your cat

Last fall, the American Association of Feline Practitioners released documents Tips and tricks to feed your cat for optimal healthfrom an expert panel of feline specialists including a client brochure entitled “How to feed a cat.”

Since one contributing factor to feline longevity is an ideal body condition, I thought summarizing the panel’s recommendations would be helpful to feline families.

Nota bene, this the point of these recommendations is not to help you choose between canned versus dry food, or premium versus grocery store brands, but how to take normal cat behavior into consideration when choosing feeding methodology.  Feeding strategies that capitalize on your cat’s normal predatory drive will enhance your cat’s health and well-being.

Feed frequently

In the wild, cats hunt multiple times per day to meet their daily calorie requirement.  Most housecats are fed one or two large meals per day.  This meal feeding method leaves your cat unsated and with time on her paws to pester you for snacks, irritating you and packing the pounds on her.  An automatic feeder will help in this regard, since it can dispense multiple small meals per day, but it will not be as mentally challenging as puzzle feeding or forage feeding.

Use puzzle feeders

Hunting for small rodents is a mentally challenging activity for cats.  Eating tasty, soft food from a conveniently placed bowl offers no mental challenge.  Puzzle feeders, also known as food puzzles, are objects that hold and release food when your cat manipulates the feeder.  No matter how smart your cat is, expect a learning curve while she solves the puzzle feeder.  Monitor your cat’s weight as she learns to use the feeding puzzles to sure she’s getting enough calories.

Try forage feeding

And no, I don’t mean feed your cat a bale of hale.  Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat as their main protein source.  Here I use the word forage as verb meaning “to hunt.”  Since cats are programmed to hunt for their food, instead of putting the food in a bowl, make your home a cat buffet by putting bowls in various locations. Better yet, put puzzle feeders throughout your home and let your cat forage to find out where lunch is being served today!

Optimal feeding locations

Avoid putting food too close to the location of your cat’s litter box as cats do not like to eat near the box.  Be sure the food location works for all cats.  Cats don’t necessarily understand sharing and if there are not enough opportunities to forage, some cats may go hungry.  Some cats fare better if they are fed individually.  Don’t forget to use your cat’s elevated space (window sill perch or cat tree) as one of the feeding locations.

Ready to get started using puzzle feeders?  Try your hand at making some before you shop.

Everyday medicine: fecal analysis

Visual fecal analysis exam“Everyday Medicine” is an intermittent series of blog posts highlighting tests, treatments, and procedures common in daily Animal Medical Center practice. Some past examples of this type of blog post include hospital wards and vomiting or regurgitation.

Today’s post focuses on fecal analysis.

The 2011 American Veterinary Medical Association and American Animal Hospital Association Canine Preventive Healthcare Guidelines recommend a minimum of an annual fecal examination to diagnose intestinal parasites.  This recommendation explains why your veterinarian gives you a little cup or tube in advance of your dog’s annual exam and asks you to collect a fecal sample.  Fecal analysis is frequently part of the testing performed when your dog has a bout of diarrhea.

Visual examination

Most intestinal parasites are not visible to the naked eye.  The exception is tapeworms.  Tapeworms are a segmented worm and the little segments pass out of the intestine with the stool.  Above, you can see the tapeworm segments the owners found when cleaning up after her dog.

Microscopic examination

In cases of acute diarrhea, a bit of stool and some saline mixed on a microscope slide can result in a quick diagnosis of Giardia when your veterinarian sees the little parasites swimming around when the slide is examined using a microscope.  Occasionally, if I am are lucky, I might identify a coccidian organism or a worm egg.

Fecal floatation

The fecal floatation technique requires the stool sample to be mixed with a special solution and sometimes the protocol requires centrifugation of the sample.  The process causes worm eggs to float up and stick to a coverslip which is then placed on a microscope slide and evaluated.  This is thought to be one of the most reliable tests for intestinal parasite like roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms and stomach worms.

Baerman technique

While the fecal floatation technique identifies eggs in the stool sample, the Baerman test looks for larva or immature worms.  Baerman technique requires special equipment and is not typically done in a private practice but in the commercial veterinary laboratory.  This is the test veterinarians use to diagnose lungworms which can cause a chronic cough in dogs.

New generation of fecal analysis

The newest type of fecal analysis uses a technology called enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) that recognizes a protein on the parasite.  The advantage of this type of test is that the parasite does not have to be shedding eggs for the test to detect an infection like for a fecal floatation.  This allows earlier diagnosis and prompt treatment.  The most commonly used ELISA detects Giardia infection.

The importance of a fecal analysis in keeping your dog healthy is undeniable, so be sure to bring that sample to your dog’s next examination.

Making your cat live to be 100!

This photo is my patient, Jake, celebrating his 18th birthday which is approximately 86 in cat years.  But Jake is not my longest-lived patient, Sparky, an orange gentleman at 18 and a half takes that prize.  Weezer, a stripey spring chicken is the runner up at nearly 16 years.  What do these three elderly cats tell us about aging in our feline companions?

Many diseases, one cat

Research stemming from a Swedish pet insurance database indicates that cats like Jake represent the typical older feline patient.  In the Scandinavian cohort of cats, cancer, kidney disease and intestinal disease increase in frequency as cats age. Medically speaking, Jake has intestinal lymphoma, recurrent kidney infections, heart disease, pancreatitis and an occasional flare up of diabetes, all of which are currently under control.  Older cats, with a myriad of medical conditions, need a plethora of carefully titrated drugs to keep their problems well controlled.   From my veterinary viewpoint, these cases are incredibly challenging because one disease may need a medication like steroids while another disease like diabetes can flare up with steroid therapy.

Intestinal lymphoma

One diagnosis common to all three of these cats is cancer.  Jake, Sparky and Weezer all have lymphoma and for that matter, the same form of lymphoma, gastrointestinal small cell lymphoma.  This little fact should give you hope since all three cats have exceeded the reported average lifespan of cats which is 14 years, despite a diagnosis which is expected to send their owners into a blue funk.  Gastrointestinal small cell lymphoma has become the most common form of lymphoma diagnosed in cats and carries a good prognosis when treated early.  The take home message here is if your cat has a cancer diagnosis, despair should not be your first emotion.

Good news, cats are living longer

Sparky, Weezer and Jake reflect a new trend in cat lifespans.  Information from the Swedish pet insurance database I mentioned above suggests that cats are living longer.  For example, between 1998 and 2002, 58% of Birman cats lived on average 12.5 years and between 2003 and 2006 68% of Birman cats lived 12.5 years.  An increase in longevity was seen across the spectrum of cats including other purebreds and domestic cats.  The reason for this increase is currently a mystery.

How can you get your cat to live like Weezer, Sparky and Jake?

To have a geriatric cat, you first need your young cat to be healthy. Some very simple lifestyle modifications will help that happen.  Neutering has been shown to be associated with an increased lifespan.  Since trauma is a big killer of young cats, make your cats indoor ones.

Another killer of young cats is infectious disease.   Keeping your cat indoors will help protect your favorite fur person against contracting an infectious disease like FeLV and FIV, but vaccinations are another important component of protection against infectious disease.

Finally, feeding the right food will also help your cat grow old, but not too much, since overweight cats have a truncated lifespan.

Taking Medical Photos of Your Pet

The smartphone has revolutionized much of life today. Not only can we stay in constant contact with family and friends, but we can also listen to music, watch sporting events, and record life’s important moments in photographs and video. In a previous blog post, I suggested how you could use your smartphone to keep your pet healthy.

Smartphones have also revolutionized veterinary care via apps, access to scientific journals, and rapid communication with pet families. Your smartphone has improved my ability to care for your pet when you use it to send me images to keep me abreast of changes in your pet. Some photos are more helpful than others. Here are my suggestions to help you take the best medical photos possible.

Below is a very crisp, clear photograph of a healing incision. The photographer owner was concerned the incision was red on one end of the incision. I agreed with her assessment, but it was not severe enough for a trip to the ER, and the over the next two days the skin around the incision became normal again.

crisp photo

Compare the previous photo to this one. You can see it is out of focus and because it was out of focus I could not determine what the owner was trying to convey using this image.

fuzzy incision

Zoom In, Zoom Out
Sometimes, two photos would be helpful. The first photo should show where the problem is on the body, and the second should be closer in to show what the area in question actually looks like. On left is a photo of the elbow of a pug. The wider scope of the photo helps me see where the lesion is and how big it is. On the right is a close-up and I can readily see a bald patch without infection or swelling. If you send me only the second photo, I am at a loss as to the location of the abnormality.

zoom photo

Title Your Photo
Sometimes you are so worried about your pet, you snap a photo and send it to me without a label or caption. Without more information, I am at a loss as to what I am looking at or how I should respond. For example, the heading in the email said “Rosie today”. I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. Turns out the photo was an out of focus close up of a stool sample with a fleck of blood on it. If the title was “Rosie’s poop today”, I could have grasped the owner’s concern.

And because a picture is worth 1,000 words, you can tell me a lot more about your pet with one well taken photograph rather than a very long email. So get clicking and start sending, but focus, title and frame those photos!

Finding the Right Sitter for Your Pet

pet sitter

In my last blog post, I wrote how smart devices like automatic feeders and pet cams make pet families lives easier. Technology is a poor substitute for a human being who watches over your pet while you are away on a business trip or vacation. Since I recommended a human pet sitter and not a robotic one, I thought I should give my readers some guidelines for selecting the right pet sitter.

Sleepaway Camp or Stay-cation
One of the first decisions you should make about care for your pet is where your pet will be taken care of: at home, at someone else’s home, or at a boarding facility. Each of these options has its pluses and minuses. A stay-cation might be great for your sedentary, octogenarian cat, but a puppy who needs exercise and training might be very bored and potentially destructive if left alone except for daily walks during your two-week vacation. If you have a dog who is the life of the party, a boarding facility will provide the perfect opportunity for a sleep away stay. The introverted dog will probably find a week at a friend’s house more to his liking.

Credentials and Qualifications
The pet-loving neighbor kid might be a good person to feed your young, healthy cat while you are away for a couple of days; on the other hand, the neighbor kid is definitely not qualified if your cat needs medications while you are away. The skill level required of a pet sitter increases dramatically when medications are involved. Your veterinarian’s office will likely know of an experienced veterinary technician or assistant who can both feed your pet and administer medications while you are away. Some veterinary hospitals will also do “medical boarding” which can be a good solution to the pet care problem. If you use a boarding facility, check on their policies regarding medication administration. Don’t forget to alert the boarding facility if any heartworm or flea/tick preventive medications are due while you are away.

God Forbid, an Emergency
Another point of inquiry is how the facility handles medical emergencies. If the boarding facility uses an emergency clinic, be sure the boarding facility knows who your pet’s regular veterinarian is and also notify your regular veterinarian regarding your pet’s boarding schedule. It wouldn’t hurt to make a quick one-pager on your pet’s current medications, health concerns and your contact information while you are away. You might also consider designating a medical proxy to make decisions in the event you cannot be reached at a critical moment.

With a bit of advanced planning, both you and your pet can have a wonderful time away even if you are apart.

Do you really need a cat sitter?


This week marks the beginning of the 2018 holiday season and with the holidays comes travel for celebrations with family and friends. Grandma may not have your cat on the holiday guest list, and other cats are just homebodies. With all the smart devices available to cat lovers, is a cat sitter really necessary when your cat is not traveling with you?

Remote Feeders
One of my very tech oriented millennial clients stopped by for new food and medication for his cat. We discussed the exact amount of the new food she should eat. After we settled on one quarter of a cup three times daily, he simply sat in the chair in my office and used his cat’s smart feeder app on his phone to dispense the exact amount of food from the feeder’s dry food reservoir. Get a water fountain at your local pet emporium and you don’t even have to worry about refilling the water bowl.

Robotic Litterboxes
For those that hate scooping poop, a self-cleaning litter box eliminates that chore. These litter boxes also allow you to leave your cat home unattended but maintain their litter box in pristine condition, at least until the waste drawer is full. Robotic litter boxes require a power source and are bigger than traditional boxes, so you will need the right space to take advantage of their convenience. Cats must weigh over a certain amount (>5 pounds) to trigger the automatic scoop function, so this might not be a good choice for petite cats.

Treat Cams
Smart technology using cameras and microphones will allow you to check in on your cats and talk with them via Bluetooth as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection. Some smart cams have additional functionality and can dispense treats, spritz aromatherapy, and stream video from the internet. With all this connectivity, will your cat even miss you?

Who’s in charge while you’re away?
While smart technology will allow you to provide food, water, a clean litter box, and some remote human interaction, some glitches could thwart your best laid plans for a sitter-free holiday. If your cat needs medication, smart technology may not be able to ensure your favorite feline isn’t spitting out the pills just out of camera range. Since all these devices depend on internet service and electricity, a winter storm that knocks out the power could leave your cat hungry and thirsty and in the dark. All your smart devices will make the cat owner’s life easier, however nothing can replace what your cat craves most, you. So give your cat a special holiday gift, her very own cat sitter!

Having a Heart to Heart Talk with Yourself About Your Pet’s Cancer Diagnosis

Cure Pet Cancer

November is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month. One in every four dogs and one in every five cats will develop cancer in their lifetime and @amcny is doing its part to raise pet cancer awareness by tweeting to #CurePetCancer to raise awareness.

Since cancer diagnoses are common in pets, many of my readers will face the difficult task of choosing cancer treatment decisions for their pet. Here is a list of questions you should ask yourself as you work through that decision-making process.

What kind of cancer specialist does my pet need?
Veterinary cancer specialists are not all the same. At AMC, we have three different types of cancer experts for pets: those that focus on administering chemotherapy, some who specialize in delivering radiation therapy, and the third type have special training in surgical oncology. We all know the basics of cancer treatment principals, but have different strengths within that core information. Your pet may need a consultation with one of us or all of us, depending on the type of cancer that has been diagnosed. The answer to this question lies in the biopsy because the type of tumor your pet has dictates the treatment options.

What kind of treatment is the oncologist recommending and is it right for my pet?
There are three main treatments for cancer: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Not every treatment is appropriate for every type of cancer and based on the biopsy, an oncologist will discuss what options are available to your pet and the expected outcome for each treatment option. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy require multiple treatments over several weeks to months. Surgery typically requires only a few visits to the hospital and has the highest chance of curing certain cancers. Cancer is most common in older pets and the grey muzzle set is also most likely to have other medical conditions which have to be taken into consideration in making the decision to pursue cancer treatment.

Do I have the resources to undertake the recommended treatment?
This question isn’t just about money, although cancer treatment can be costly. Another consideration when making the decision to treat your pet’s cancer is your time. Sometimes a trip to the surgical oncologist is all that is needed and other times 20+ trips are required for a course of chemotherapy. Be sure you understand what is required for the recommended treatment protocol. Your emotional resources count too. Maybe you are also caring for a seriously ill human family member and cancer treatment for the pet is more than you can handle. Or maybe it is the other way around and you can’t bear to lose two family members at once.

What is the prognosis for my pet with and without treatment?
This is a loaded question. The question is fair, but pet families who choose not to treat their pet’s cancer don’t often consult with an oncologist. That means oncologists, like me, don’t always have a good handle on the prognosis without treating many types of cancer.

If you have decided to make an appointment for a consultation with a veterinary cancer specialist, read about fancy cancer words that we try to keep out of our conversation with you, but sometimes accidentally slip into a conversation about treating your pet. Being prepared for a visit with a specialist will help to make sure all your questions are answered.