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Category Archives: Animal Welfare

Cat Collars Save Lives

In the near future, the City of New Port Richey will discuss a new animal control ordinance designed to prevent animal homelessness and improve welfare for stray dogs and cats within the City. The ordinance will encourage sterilizing pets as well as identifying pets by using collars, license tags, and registered microchips. I hope the citizens of New Port Richey will embrace this important step in improving the lives of dogs and cats in our community. The mention of licensing, tagging, and microchipping pet cats will likely cause anxiety for cat owners, especially since there has never been an official concern for the welfare of cats in Pasco County

Such ordinances are nothing new for dog owners. Control efforts for canines have effectively reduced the number of dogs surrendered to local shelters and significantly reduced euthanasia rates for local dogs. The same good news does not apply to cats, however.

Historically, our animal control efforts have ignored cats in an effort to save taxpayer’s money. But the principle of “unintended consequences” applies. By doing nothing about cats, the most common animal surrendered now surrendered to our local animal shelters is feline. More than 7000 cats are handed over by citizens to the local animal shelter each year. Less than 10% of those cats leave the shelter alive. That is unacceptable.

The new ordinance will not result in animal control officers searching your neighborhood for loose cats. Nobody has the time or inclination to do that. But the new ordinance will ask cat owners to buy a license for your rabies-vaccinated cat to wear attached to its collar. If you also have your cat microchipped and sterilized, then the cost of the license will be reduced. Funds from the sale of cat licenses will support a fund for subsidizing spay/neuter costs for pet-owning residents of New Port Richey. The funds will also subsidize Trap/neuter/Return efforts to reduce the numbers of free-roaming and unowned cats in the City.

Some will worry that collars aren’t safe for cats, or that cats will refuse to wear such collars. Others will refuse to buy licenses because they keep their pet cats indoors. These are common misconceptions that lead to more suffering by cats. Cats do find ways to get outdoors and become lost. My own cat snuck out one evening and went missing for three months before her microchip helped her find her way back to me. And research shows that cats can safely wear collars. Of course, the collars must fit well, be the type that will break away if caught on an object, and the cat must be allowed to become familiar with the new life-saving tool around its neck. The good news for bird lovers is that research also shows that adding a tiny bell to a cat’s collar significantly reduces the number of birds and other wildlife taken as prey by outdoor pet cats.

Indeed, responsible cat owners will want their cats to wear life-saving collars. Hopefully, it will become the new fashion craze for cat lovers in New Port Richey. And hopefully, all the cats will enjoy the tinkling of tiny bells at holiday time.

Happy Holidays!

If you want more information about how cat collars and identification can save lives, here are some resources for you:

Arm and Hammer Free Cat ID Tag ( just buy two boxes of cat litter with baking soda)

Dr.Lord’s StudyAbout the Safety of Cat Collars

Good Background on Types of Collars for Cats from FAB Cats

Research from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on How Cat Collars Reduced Predation

The Madness of Moving

At our house, we are in the midst of moving. The process begins with thinning of possessions, much like on those “Clutter Buster” shows on cable. For weeks, we have been sorting into piles of “keep, sell, or donate.”

One of our cats tried his own move today. Twice he jumped into the open window of the truck parked in our driveway that was waiting to haul away our donations. We didn’t intend to donate him!

The pets definitely know we are moving. There are empty boxes in which to play and wads of newspaper to bat. The dogs try to escape from the open gate whenever we briefly prop it open to haul out boxes. It is a great game for them. I wonder whether they feel how the game helps increase my anxiety.

Moving creates madness. Each new day seems to bring more frenzied activity and chaos. Routines are disrupted. It is the perfect moment for a pet to escape.

So how can we make the moving process safer for our pets? Here are a few tips:

1. Make sure the pets have proper identification including a collar, a tag, and a microchip that is properly registered.
2. Take current photos of the pets and keep them with you.
3. Have your veterinarian prepare a Health Certificate that documents your pet’s current vaccinations and any health issues.
4. Get an extra supply of any prescription medications your pet may need as well as a copy of their medical records to take with you.
5. Ask your veterinarian to prescribe a mild sedative to give your pet before long trips, or try an alternative to sedation such as a pheromone collar (DAP or Feliway) or a few drops of a Bach Flower Rescue Remedy.
6. Long before beginning to move, make sure your pet is comfortable being confined to a carrier or a crate and knows how to wear a harness or a leash.
7. If traveling by airline, be sure to call the carrier several times on different days before your flight leaves. Confirm the rules for flying with your pet. Carriers have been known to frequently change their rules for shipping pets and you don’t want to get caught by surprise change at the airport.
8. Make a reservation at a good pet day care facility or boarding facility. Your pet may be safer there on the day the moving truck arrives.
9. When you arrive at the new location, do NOT let your pets near the outside doors for several days. They may try to bolt out the door. Now is the time to confine them to one room of the new house or to a crate. Use a DAP or Feliway diffuser in the room where you confine the pets, to help calm them in their new location.

And when the madness seems particularly chaotic, stop and take your pet for a walk. It will do you both good. It will help you both say goodbye to old familiar surroundings and become familiar with your new surroundings.

Bon Voyage!

Good Grief

Today is Sunday, September 11, 2011. As I write this blog, I am listening to commemorative services broadcasting on National Public Radio. I hug my kids, hug my pets, and sing along with “Amazing Grace” while thanking God that my little family is still safe. I pray for peace for those families who were so disrupted by the events that took place a decade ago. The national grief is palpable today. There is no time limit for grieving.

Grief is a process that we must lean into if we ever wish to heal. Good can come from grief. Yes it hurts. Yes it includes anger as part of the process. No we don’t forget. But the process can include both sadness and joyfulness if we allow it. We can be sad that so many innocents lost their lives. But we can also be joyful that we have opportunities to love one another and support one another everyday. Embracing grief together can bring people together.

I am not a grief counselor, but I do grief counseling for pet owners and pets as part of my duties as a veterinarian. Pet owners anquish when their beloved pets become sick with a fatal illness or injury. They struggle with end-of-life care and decisions for their pets. They cry when I can extend quality of life no more and the time has come to end pain. Sometimes I can do no more than touch their shoulders as they weep. Other times I keep pets alive until their owners are ready to say goodbye. Often, euthanasia is a final gift I can give a pet and the grieving family–a gift to humanely end suffering. In the end, a good grief process brings peace. I don’t lose a client, I gain a friend.

Pets provide so much joy. They offer companionship and unconditional love. They provide services to disabled owners. They conduct therapy sessions in hospitals and schools. They search for victims and sniff out illegal substances. They lower our blood pressure and they help us get more exercise. They ask for nothing but food, water, shelter, and a bit of attention now and then. That is why it hurts so much when we lose them. We can be joyful that they blessed our lives for a short time.

People who have never loved a pet might not understand that losing a furry family member is a real grief. They sometimes try to minimize the loss for the grieving pet owners, saying “it was just a cat” or an other well-intentioned but hurtful remark. These people just don’t understand. Good grief! It is better to support a friend as they work through the pain after pet loss.

For more information about how to cope after pet loss, please visit these websites:

Have you ever experienced grief due to pet loss? What did you do to help yourself heal? I’d be interested in your stories.

Checking Under the Hood

One of the things I love about driving in Oregon is that when you stop at a gas station, you actually get service for your auto. An attendant pumps your gas, cleans your windows, and checks under the hood for fluid levels. When I’m left to do this on my own at “self-service” stations, I admit I don’t do this often enough. My bad. I guess I subscribe to the “wishful thinking” school of auto maintenance. Surely all those meters and alarm lights on my dashboard will alert me if the oil level drops or my tires aren’t properly inflated?

I think some pet owners subscribe to the “wishful thinking” school of pet maintenance, too. They hope their pets will sound the alarm when they don’t feel well. Sometimes this is true. When a pet vomits, refuses to eat, or limps, the alarm has clearly sounded that it is time to visit the veterinarian.

However, I would much prefer to learn that the oil level in my car is a bit low rather than waiting until the “overheat” alarm goes on when the reservoir is completely empty. I don’t like leaving my auto on the side of the road with a smoking engine. I would rather top off the oil to prevent an expensive disaster.

The same should be true for our pets. Rather than waiting for obvious symptoms of illness, a bit of preventive maintenance helps to keep pets healthy and avoid expensive hospital stays. Preventive medicine is what veterinarians do best. Veterinarians are trained to diagnose problems early when we can still intervene. For example, I prefer diagnosing early kidney disease, when I can help prolong a pet’s life and decrease its suffering. When I diagnose full-blown kidney failure, there is little I can do to save the pet. And what I can do becomes very expensive.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has identified a frightening national trend. Fewer pet owners are taking their pets for wellness exams. Surveys show that pet owners question the value of veterinary exams. It seems pet owners mistakenly believe that yearly “shots” at the low-cost vaccine clinic will keep their pets just as healthy as wellness exams by their veterinarians. This misconception hurts pets.


Pets do need vaccinations. But pets don’t need every vaccine every year anymore than people need tetanus boosters every year. Over-vaccinating is wasteful, expensive, and potentially harmful for pets and people.

People need annual check-ups. Pets need wellness exams every year, too. Limited dollars for healthcare are best spent on preventive care both for people and for pets. For example, it is more cost effective for your doctor to prevent diabetes than to treat it. At your annual check up, your doctor will monitor your weight, your blood pressure, and probably check your blood glucose levels. If your doctor determines you are pre-diabetic, he/she will start you on a program to help you lose weight, eat healthier, and exercise. It is no different for your veterinarian. Prevention medicine is the goal.

So, spend your dollars on veterinary exams. Your veterinarian will look, feel, and listen to your pet from head to tail. Your vet will advise you on which vaccines your pet really needs. Depending on the pet’s age, your veterinarian might recommend blood tests, blood pressure checks, or other tests to help see how your pet’s internal organs are functioning. This is no different than your own physician recommending a mammogram or a cholesterol screening.

When was the last time your took your pet for a full veterinary exam? If it wasn’t in the last 12 months, time to call your vet’s office. Better to spend a few dollars now for prevention than a lot of dollars later for hospital care.

Instead of wishful thinking, let’s spend some time actually checking under the hood. I promise to do a better job with my car. Will you promise to do the same for your pet?

Budgeting for Pet Care

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Budgeting for Pet Care


We pamper them. We bring them wherever we go. We surprise them
with something new on special occasions. They even get holiday presents. They
are our pets!  (Taken from the American Pet Products Association website)

Yes, the trend is that pets are definitely members of our families.  So, just be thankful that your dog or cat doesn’t want a car to drive or a college diploma!  Such add-on expenses could be deal breakers for pet owners.  Nevertheless, it  can be expensive to keep a pet.

Everyday I counsel pet owners about the cost of veterinary care.  I give estimates, work with owners to create affordable treatment plans, and try to give the best veterinary care the family can afford.  I see families juggling to provide for pets, children, and spouses on their family income.  Families often tell me they didn’t know that pet ownership could be so costly.  Sometimes I witness senior citizens getting health care for their pets before they get health care for themselves.  That just breaks my heart!

So in this blog, let me speak to you as would one of my heroes, Suzie Orman.  I love listening to her straight forward, common sense approach to financial advising. How can your family budget for pet care?  Let me suggest a couple of options.

Option 1:  Consider purchasing a pet health insurance policy. 

Pet-health insurance is now available from a variety of insurance companies.  Pets adopted from shelters often come with a 30-day policy from 24 Pet Watch.  Home Again Microchips include coverage for emergency veterinary care should your pet become lost and injured.  Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) is perhaps the oldest provider in the pet insurance industry.  There are other policies promoted by the ASPCA and the AKC (American Kennel Club).  Some employers even offer pet-health insurance as an employee benefit.

However, do your homework before purchasing a policy.  Read the fine print and be sure you understand whether there are any breed-related exclusions.  For example, you might buy a policy for your new Bulldog puppy only to find that the most common health problems of that breed (related to breathing difficulties) are not covered or that your policy doesn’t cover “wellness care” such as vaccines. It is also important to note that pet policies seldom pay the veterinarian up-front for expenses. So be ready to pay for the policy, pay for the vet care out-of-your pocket, and then apply for a reimbursement from the insurance company.  Also, it is probably in your budget’s best interest to purchase the policy when your pet is young and healthy.  If you wait until a problem develops, you might encounter more exclusions and higher premiums.

Option 2:  Open a Pet-Health Care Savings Account of your own.

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that American pet owners  will spend about $50 Billion dollars in 2011 on pet care.  That number flabbergasts me!  Most of the money ($30 Billion)  is spent on  retail pet food and pet supplies.  Only $14 Billion is spent on veterinary care.  The rest goes for grooming, boarding,  training, and purchasing of animals.  (Clink on the link to see a graphic.)   Spending on Pets

For the veterinary piece of the pie, pet owners report they spend $200 – $250 annually for each pet they keep.  And if their pet needs a surgical procedure (such as a dentistry, laceration repair, blood work etc.) they might spend another $400 to $450.  If you consider that very young ( less than a year) and very old (over 8 years) pets will need more veterinary care, then you might expect to spend the higher end ($600 to $700 annually) for younger and older pets, but only $200-$250 annually for middle-aged pets.  Let’s say your pet lives 13 years; that would amount to your needing $5000 to $6000 over the life expectancy of your pet for veterinary medical expenses.

So open a savings account and deposit your spare change each night.  Think you might be able to find a dollar or two everyday to put into that account?  If you did, you could save MORE than enough to provide excellent veterinary care for the life of your pet.  Giving up just one item from the vending machine at work each day would help you save enough.  It doesn’t sound so expensive when you think of it in those terms.

Option 3:  Limit Unnecessary Purchases

Review the pie graph in this blog one more time.  Most of the pet care dollars go toward RETAIL food and supplies.  Does your cat really need that $10 plastic mouse or would a plastic cap from an empty milk jug offer just as much entertainment?  Does your dog really need that $50 bag of organic salmon and potato diet the clerk recommends or would a premium brand (such as Science Diet, Eukanuba, Nutro, etc) fill his bowl just as well?   If you aren’t sure, ask your veterinarian for advice.  If you save some of your hard-earned dollars in the pet store, then you will have more dollars available to make sure your pet gets all its basic health care needs met.  Sadly, I have seen pet owners spend $200 or more on retail pet supplies for a new puppy, only to scrimp on not getting the puppy sterilized, filling a prescription for  flea and heartworm medication, or enrolling in puppy-training classes.  Scrimping on prevention is a bad trade-off.  The fancy collar and leash might look good today, but it won’t stop your pet from having an expensive health or behavior problem later.

For more on this topic, please visit:

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida   LIKE us on Facebook!


My Pet Peeves

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Writing this particular blog makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.  I don’t like discussing controversial subjects.  But,  I would like to discuss some common pet-related actions that annoy me because they result in harm for pets.  Since pets can’t speak for themselves, it becomes my duty as a veterinarian to advocate for them.  So please let me address a few of my “pet” peeves.  I would appreciate reading your comments.  Do you share my pet peeves?  Do you have a few  more of your own?  I’d love to hear about it!

My  “pet” peeves include:

  1. Dogs riding unrestrained in the back of pick-up trucks.   Really, there should be a law against this in our County.  When the dogs fall out or are thrown out of the truck into traffic it is never pretty.  Most of them die.  The few that don’t die receive fractures and serious injuries to their pads and skin. I’ve had to treat many animals for such unnecessary injuries.  I don’t think it is legal for passengers to ride unrestrained in the beds of trucks, so why should we allow it for animals?
  2. Pets riding on the laps of drivers.  It is not OK to talk on your cell, text, or cuddle your dog while driving.  They are all equal distractions.  I don’t want my family on the road with distracted drivers.  I  also don’t want anyone to crash because they had to pull a barking dog back into the window (remember that scene from Marley and Me?), or because the pet stood on the electric window control and got stuck, or because the dog was thrown to the floorboard of the car under the brake pedal–just as the driver slammed on the brakes.  Like children, pets should be confined to the back seat and away from the windows, or else strapped in carrier or harness while traveling in a car.  Otherwise, they pose a  serious distraction to the driver  and can become potential projectiles during an accident.
  3. Dogs left chained and unattended.  Any tethered, unattended dog is more likely to bite than a dog that is free-roaming and able to escape a perceived threat.  For this reason, even a normally well-behaved dog that is left tied outside a store while the pet owner goes inside can pose a threat to passersby. If the dog becomes fearful, it cannot escape its tether so its only defense becomes biting.  An alarming number of  children are seriously injured by dog bites each year, and many of these injuries are caused by dogs left tied.  And dogs who remain chained  for long periods tend to be poorly socialized, bored, and  territorial of the small space allowed them. I’ve even treated dogs that were accidentally strangled by their chains.   It is a sad life for the dogs.  And it is a public health hazard for people who come near a tethered dog.  In some places, it is a crime to leave a dog tied up and not immediately visible to the owner.  I wish that were true here.
  4. Retractable leashes. These are not leashes.  They are more like zip-lines for dogs.  The pet is really not under  control while walking on one of these devices.  I’ve  cared for dogs severely injured when they zipped to the end of the line and were attacked by another dog they had set out to greet .  One memorable exam left me bound like an insect in a spider web after two dogs wearing zip-lines wrapped themselves around my ankles.  It was chaos in that exam room!   I can only imagine what goes on when multiple dogs wearing zip-lines are walking down the sidewalks.

Thanks for letting me voice my pet peeves.  I only want what is best for the pets and for public health.

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, FL

727-863-2435   Please LIKE us on Facebook !