RSS Feed

Category Archives: dogs

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!

Budgeting for Pet Care

Posted on
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

Posted on

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 !

Thunder and Noise Phobias

Posted on
Thunder and Noise Phobias

It’s finally the return of the rainy season here in Florida.  I love that time of year when you can set your clock by the afternoon thunderstorms.  This is the “lightning capital” of the U.S., though.  So, every storm brings another anxiety-ridden few hours for some pets.  They cower, tremble, hide, and generally feel miserable while their pet owners fret over what to do.  And if the cracking of regular thunder boomers isn’t enough to terrify pets, think about what happens around New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July–because the sales of fireworks are not restricted here in Florida.  For weeks around those holidays some neighborhoods sound and smell  like war zones.  Pity the poor noise phobic pets and their owners!  These are times when some pets try to escape, and later find themselves checked in to the closest animal shelter, lost and frightened.

What can a pet owner do to help a pet through such noisy events?

  • If your pet is still young, try to prevent noise phobias from beginning.  During the critical first 4 to 6  months, make sure to calmly expose your young pet to loud noises so they won’t be frightened later as an adult.
  •  Be calm yourself, offer immediate food treats and praise for relaxing while loud noises occur.
  • Train your pet that a crate or a kennel is a safe and comforting place to be anytime–and reward them for going to their assigned dens during loud noises.  Reward them in their dens with special treats and toys.
  • “Jolly” pets through loud events, as you might a young child by playing or distracting them during a stressful time.  If your pet experiences a loud event calmly and associates it with comfort, then future noisy events should  be less of a problem.
  • Microchip your pet.  Update the microchip registration every year.  Also be sure your pet is wearing an ID tag and proper license tag.  Proper identification will help get your pet back to you should they make an escape attempt during a stressful event.
  • If your pet already shows symptoms of noise phobia, employ a good dog trainer to set up a desensitization/counterconditioning program  for  you and your pet.  Such programs might take several weeks or months of practice before achieving good results.
  • Try a “storm jacket” or “thunder coat” to swaddle your pet during noisy times.  “Dog muffs” are also available to help dampen noise for pets.
  • Ask your veterinarian to prescribe a sedative or tranquilizer to give your pet during very stressful times, such as Independence Day.  Certain sedatives help pets relax and focus enough to receive training.  Others sedate so heavily the pet becomes sleepy and cannot focus on training.  Work with your veterinarian to pick the correct medication for your situation.  Your veterinarian will need to do a complete physical exam of your pet before prescribing any medications.

Welcome to summer in Florida!

For more information, visit these websites:

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic


Protect Your Dog from Parvo

Posted on
Protect Your Dog from Parvo

Today I spent lunch discussing  Canine Parvo Virus with a friend who just had a new foster puppy in her home break with Parvo. My friend had agreed to foster the puppy from a shelter in Northern Florida until it could get a permanent home.  She had the best of intentions.  But when the pup arrived, it immediately stopped eating.  Within 24 hours it was vomiting and lethargic.  Her vet diagnosed the puppy with Parvo and  hospitalized it.  Four days later, the puppy is still under treatment at the veterinary hospital.  It is bad enough that the pup’s veterinary care is expensive and the puppy could still die.  But my friend is also worried that she accidentally exposed her personal dogs and all of her neighbors dogs to this highly contagious virus.   And she is worried about bringing the puppy back to her home if it does survive, because the puppy will be contagious for a couple of weeks after it feels better.   She was devastated and ready to quit being a foster mom for rescued dogs.  I tried to assure her that Parvo is preventable.  Here is what I told her.

Parvo isn’t a predator.  It isn’t some alien beast that stalks your pet.  But, parvo is a nasty virus that can make your pet extremely ill.  With aggressive (a.k.a, expensive) veterinary care most dogs survive the illness.  It is a highly contagious virus that is difficult to kill with commonly used disinfectants.   The virus mostly affects unvaccinated dogs, puppies, and dogs with weak immune systems. Well-vaccinated dogs and dogs that survive the infection once are immune to the disease, but they can still shed the virus in their feces.   The virus is common on the ground and on the floors of kennels– anywhere a dog may have defecated, Parvo virus can be lurking.   It is the reason that shelters and kennels pick up dog droppings, scrub with a cleanser, and disinfect with diluted bleach or a product such as Virkon or Trifectant everyday.  The risk of Parvo virus is why your veterinarian warns you not to let your puppies off leash or around other dogs until the puppy vaccination series is completed at 12 or 16 weeks of age.

Dogs exposed to the virus begin developing symptoms within a week of exposure.  Unfortunately, before the dog appears very ill, it is already shedding the virus in its feces.  The virus can live for months on the ground.  A contaminated yard or kennel can stay contagious for up  to a year if not properly disinfected.  It is not wise to bring puppies into a contaminated area for at least 6 months.    Most shelters won’t let puppies play on the ground because sand, dirt, grass, and gravel cannot be easily disinfected.  Puppies get to play on surfaces that can be scrubbed and sanitized because it is too risky otherwise.

A dog infected with Parvo virus develops severe vomiting, bloody diarrhea, fever, and dehydration.  The virus kills rapidly growing cells in the lining of the gut and in the bone marrow.  Bacteria from the gut escape into the blood stream causing a massive infection.  At the same time, the bone marrow is unable to produce enough white blood cells to fight the overwhelming infection.  The dog quickly becomes septic if not treated with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and sometimes plasma transfusions.  Some veterinarians also prescribe antivirals.

Every 4-way or 5-way vaccine is designed to protect your pet against Parvo.  The  DA2PP or DA2PPL vaccines each protect against four different viruses (Distemper, Adenovirus type 2 (also known as Canine Hepatitis), Parainfluenza, and Parvo). The 5-way vaccine adds protection against a bacterium known as Leptospirosis.  All five protections are generally recommended for dogs living in Florida, but exactly how often to give and specifically to which dogs is based on risks and age.  A dog that was properly vaccinated when young then boosted as an adult at least once with a quality vaccine will likely be protected against Parvo virus for at least 3 years,  if not longer.

Check with your veterinarian to be sure your dog is properly protected against infectious diseases.  Remember, giving too many vaccines can be just as bad for your pet’s health as not giving enough vaccines.  And, don’t let puppies play around other dogs until your veterinarian says it is safe.  Before you bring a new dog into the household, check with your veterinarian first to find out how to prevent spreading diseases that might come along for the visit.

For more information about Canine Parvo Virus, visit these websites:

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