health & nutrition
Sign Up for Monthly Newsletter
JULY 2010
 What's on Your Carpet?
by Dr. Bernstein

A sleepless night with a puppy with diarrhea is enough to make one reconsider your acquisition.  Diarrhea is a common problem, but there are many different causes.
Young dogs often have loose stool due to excitement, stress, dietary changes, and internal parasites. More serious causes seen in young dogs are blockages and viruses like distemper and parvovirus infections.  Other causes seen at all ages include food intolerance, infections, inflammatory disorders, enzyme deficiencies, and cancer.
An acute bout of diarrhea can often be managed at home.  Withholding food (NOT water) for 24 hours is often enough for the disorder to pass.  If diarrhea is accompanied by severe lethargy or repeated vomiting, professional care should be sought promptly.  Dehydration can be a life-threatening condition in a dog with increased output (diarrhea) and decreased intake (not drinking) or vomiting.
Sometimes diarrhea is noted to be associated with straining or mucous or blood.  This usually indicates a disorder of the large intestine (colon) and is managed a little differently from disorders of the small intestine.
Sometimes the observation of diarrhea is actually due to constipation, as only fluid can bypass the hard obstruction.  Conversely, when straining is present, constipation is not necessarily the cause.  Spasms from a colon with diarrhea can make a pet appear to be constipated.
Fortunately, most cases of diarrhea will respond to treatment and result in a happy pet and a happy owner.

MARCH 2010

 Claws on Paws 
Important Facts to Prevent "Claw Damage" and Keep Your Pet's Feet Healthy

By Jon Bernstein, DVM

Claws are complex structures that are derived from modified skin tissue overlying bone of the end of the digit.  Claws serve many functions, including prehension, predation, aggression, defense, and locomotion.

Despite these attributes, claws are sometimes a cause for concern for the pet owner.  Many people have been "marked" by the sharp claws of a puppy or by a cat that pushed off or held on with extended claws.  Digging holes and scratching furniture are also commonly encountered problems.

There a number of things you can do to prevent CLAW DAMAGE:
1.    Although animals can function without claws, they are not usually removed unless they are diseased or are causing unsolvable problems. In some municipalities it is actually against the law to remove your cats’ claws.
2.    Soft plastic claw covers ("soft paws") can be glued over the claw.  These can be helpful, but need frequent replacement.
3.    The most common procedure to limit unwanted claw damage is claw trimming.

How to Trim Your Pet’s Claws
Claw trimming is performed with one of several types of specialized trimmers.  The types include:  guillotine-style, scissors-style, and snipper-style (human nail clippers).  These all work well.  The important factor is to be sure the instrument is sharp. 

Claw trimming is performed in small increments.  Each claw is tipped progressively from the sharp end toward the base.  As each layer is removed, the cut end should be inspected.  A dry white surface usually indicates that more can be removed.  A dark shiny surface means STOP!!

If the claw is inadvertently clipped too far, there will be a painful reaction and blood will ooze from the surface.  You should be prepared for this possibility and have something on hand to stop the bleeding.  You can use styptic pencils or ferric sub sulfate solution or powder to staunch the flow.  By progressing slowly and observing the cut surface, one can usually avoid this complication.

If you Google “how to trim my pet’s claws” there are many sites that offer images and additional tips

 So What If Your Dog Has Fleas
Important Facts You Need to Know

by Dr. Bernstein


“My dog has fleas” is not solely an aid for tuning string instruments. Unfortunately, it is a statement of fact for many Southern Californians. These tiny insects are responsible for making the lives of pets and their owners miserable. Fleas can cause irritation from a bite, but they are often responsible for more severe reactions.

Many animals develop allergies to flea saliva and this results in widespread skin irritation, not restricted to the area that was bitten. The itching is often so severe that many dogs wear their front teeth down to the gums seeking some relief.
There are approximately 2,200 types of fleas in the world, but only four are of significance in the U.S.A. Of these four, Ctenocephalides felis is by far the biggest problem for our pets.

To attempt flea eradication, it is helpful to understand the life cycle of the flea. In order to lay eggs, a female flea needs to ingest blood. After feeding, she will lay 20-50 eggs per day and can live for 3-4 months. Once on a host, the flea will spend the rest of its life there ingesting blood and laying eggs. White eggs are laid on the hair, but quickly fall off. Within a week, the eggs hatch into little white caterpillar-like larvae.

These larvae feed on organic matter in the ground, carpet, or bedding. The main food source for the larvae is flea droppings, which contain partially digested blood. The pet’s sleeping area is the best place for larvae to develop. After 5-11 days, the larvae spins a cocoon, which is a safe hideout since it is resistant to many environmental threats, as well as to flea control chemicals.

These pupae are ready to hatch in 1-4 weeks, but may lie dormant for up to 6 months. They hatch in response to stimuli in the environment, such as touch, warmth, carbon dioxide, or vibration. This “trick” is the basis for a hungry horde of fleas welcoming the family home when returning from a vacation. These newly emerged adult fleas have only 3 objectives: find a host; suck their blood; and reproduce!

For every 5 fleas you see on your pet, you can assume that there are 10 pupae, 35 larvae, and 50 eggs in the environment. For this reason, flea control needs to be systematic and continuous. There are effective and safe products available to eliminate fleas. If you still see fleas after treating your pet, it does not mean the fleas are resistant or the product is no good. Consult your veterinarian to help formulate an effective flea control program.

Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth - Caring for your Dog's Teeth
by Dr. Bernstein

Although this proverb may have some merit for interpersonal  relationships it is not in the best interest of the horse.  Nor is it a good idea to ignore the oral cavity of your dog or car.  Dental enamel is the hardest substance in the body, yet the teeth and gums represent a major source of disease.

Plaque is a soft substance that clings to the surface of teeth.  It is a sticky  film of bacteria that is not readily seen, but can be removed with gentle abrasion (such as a toothbrush or
certain chewables).  Calculus (tartar) is a hard mineral deposit that commonly accumulates on the teeth adjacent to the gumline.  Calculus can NOT be brushed off,  but requires much more effort (scaling) to remove.  Calculus and plaque promote an inflammatory reaction in the gums and can lead to destruction of the tissues that anchor the tooth.
This inflammatory process can also have consequences far beyond the mouth.  Some conditions that have been linked to oral inflammation are heart, lung, and kidney disease, blood clots, strokes, and low birth weight babies.

Although calculus can sometimes be scraped off while an animal is awake, the end result is usually not ideal.  There can be cosmetic improvement, but serious problems may persist unseen.  Under anesthesia, a complete oral exam can detect problem areas that are unseen in an awake animal.  Damaged teeth, root pockets, inflammatory changes and tumors can be evaluated and treated during a complete oral examination.  Teeth cleaning consists of ultrasonic removal of all the plaque and tartar, both above and below the gum margin.  Each tooth is then polished to make it more difficult for plaque to adhere.
Home care is extremely important to maintain oral health between veterinary treatments.  Since hard calculus starts to form in 2-3 days, brushing must be done several times a week.  It has been found that certain "chewables" can be as effective as brushing.
Follow the advice of your veterinarian regarding  oral/dental exams and treatment to avoid many health problems.  Whether your pet is a gift, a rescue, or purchased, don't forget to look in the mouth.

 Tick Talk
by Dr. Bernstein

LOS ANGELES, CA - With the passage of time, changes occur in our environment.  One of the indicators
of this change is variation in the plant and animal species in our community.  In my early years of practice, I would rarely see a dog with a tick.  If a dog presented with one, I could safely assume that he had frequented the local horse race track.  Now, I regularly see tick-infested dogs from many different neighborhoods.

Another change we are experiencing is the increasing ability to identify diseases which previously went unrecognized.  Ticks and disease have a close relationship.  They are known to harbor and transmit many diseases of humans, pets, livestock and wildlife.

Ticks have three developmental stages.  Each stage feeds on an animal’s blood and can transmit disease organisms. 

Tick eggs are laid on the ground and hatch into small, tick-like 6-legged larvae.  These larval ticks attach to an animal host, suck blood, drop off, and molt into 8-legged nymphs.  These nymphal ticks also find an animal host, feed, then drop off to molt into 8-legged adults.   The adult ticks repeat the process and after engorging with blood (up to 1 teaspoon each), drop off to lay eggs.  This pattern of development gives the tick three different animal hosts from which they can pick up and transmit infectious agents.

This pattern of development gives the tick three different animal hosts from which they can pick up and transmit infectious agents.

Since ticks can live several years and produce 20,000 eggs, their threat to the health of animals and humans is immense.  Ticks can be so numerous that weakness or death from blood loss is a reality.

The list of tick-borne diseases is extensive.  It includes:  erlichiosis, tick paralysis, tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, babesiosis,  Q Fever, and Lyme Disease.

Although ticks can be controlled with topical treatments, elimination is more difficult that it is for fleas.  Be sure to inspect your pet daily, especially after outings in the fields or woods.  By combining vigilance with routine preventive treatments, you can minimize the risks of encountering these blood-sucking arachnids.

MAY 2009

 Vaccines - An Ounce of Prevention
by Dr. Bernstein

LOS ANGELES, CA -  Can you imagine a world without vaccines?  A world with diphtheria, typhoid, poliomyelitis, smallpox and rabies running rampant through the population?  Fortunately, prevention against many serious diseases is readily available.  Our animal population is likewise protected against many serious diseases by vaccination.

Most pet owners know their dogs and cats should be vaccinated, but there is often confusion as to when or why.  Veterinarians are sometime presented with a very ill puppy because the owner was told (usually by a well-meaning friend) that vaccines should be started at a later age.  Another common scenario is an animal that was purchased with the understanding that it “had all of its shots”, yet develops canine parvovirus enteritis or feline distemper.

It may be helpful to understand why these illnesses occurred.  The answer lies in understanding “maternally derived antibodies”.  Antibodies are produced by the immune system of the pregnant mother in response to exposure to a vaccine or a disease-causing organism.  These protective antibodies are passed on to the newborn when they nurse colostrums (first milk) during the first few days of life.  These antibodies protect the baby from disease for a limited period of time.  If the youngster is vaccinated while it has high levels of maternal antibodies, the antibodies will attack the vaccine virus.  The antibodies cannot distinguish between a vaccine virus (good) and a pathogen (disease-causing virus).  For this reason, the puppy/kitten needs to receive a series of vaccinations until the maternally-derived antibody level has decreased sufficiently to prevent its cancellation of the vaccine virus.  We know that this will occur by 16 weeks of age, so that is the age at which we are virtually certain that the vaccine will be effective.  The youngster will therefore make his own antibodies against the disease.

One might think that waiting until the puppy/kitten is 16 weeks old would be a way to avoid maternal antibody interference (remember the well-meaning advice to wait until the new pet was older?).  In theory, this is true, but if the antibodies decrease prior to this age, the young one will be susceptible to infection.  The vaccine series is the attempt to make the window of susceptibility as small as possible.

Your veterinarian will explain his or her vaccination program at your first visit.  The ideal age for the first visit is at 6-8 weeks.  We all want your new family member to start off with at least an “ounce of prevention”.


 Regular Teeth Cleaning Maintains Your Pet’s Health and Prolongs Life

LOS ANGELES – It’s ideal to have your dog’s teeth cleaned twice a year at my vet and it's a piece of cake!  It's a very important thing for dogs to do!  Dogs don't get cavities but they do get tartar. If the tartar isn’t removed your dog can get gum infections and, like humans, can develop gingivitis, not to mention bad breath. This is a potentially serious gum disease, which could cause your dog’s teeth to fall out or worse, they could become very ill as the gingivitis bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause infection of the heart valves, liver and kidneys.  
Veterinary dentistry is becoming more common and more sophisticated utilizing the same procedures as for humans including root canals, crowns, and even braces. Some veterinarians specialize in dentistry and are board-certified.
Minimize Vet Office Visits By Cleaning Teeth With a Cloth

The most non-invasive dental care option is to clean your dog’s teeth regularly (once a day is ideal) with a damp cloth. Simply rub your dog’s teeth with a damp cloth. This simple routine can prevent tartar build-up, gum disease and thus visits to your veterinarian.

 What’s In Your Pet’s Food?

LOS ANGELES - How much do we really question the ingredients in our pet's food? Like most pet guardians, we assume that when we purchase an expensive food, that we are assuring the best possible nutrition for our pets. But how much do we really know about the ingredients in our pet's food and the possible implications to their health?

Popular Food Brands May Not Provide Adequate Nutrition

Some of the most popular brands do not provide adequate nutrition and worse, may contain ingredients that could harm our pets. Over time, some of these ingredients could cause liver damage, diabetes or even cancer. Unfortunately, many of the ingredients in question are perfectly legal for use in pet food so it really is a case of buyer beware. For that reason, we thought we would kick off a series on pet health and nutrition to help us all stay informed and make the most informed decisions when feeding our pets.

Cheap Fillers

Pet food manufacturers often use cheap fillers which contain no nutritional value. For example, white rice is a cheap filler ingredient that is commonly used in dog foods. All of us have enjoyed a delicious bowl of white rice for dinner. I also have several friends who routinely add white rice to their dog's dinner without any adverse affects. This seemingly harmless staple, however can cause blood sugar disorders in dogs, just as it does in people. The only difference is that dogs are more susceptible to the detrimental effects of refined white rice because their digestive systems require far more protein and fewer carbohydrates than humans. So why take the chance.

Additional fillers often used in dogs foods include wheat gluten, corn gluten, soy, corn bran, corn cellulose and many more.

For a more complete list of ingredients to avoid and a detailed explanation of each item, read The Dog Food Project.


 Two New Year’s Health Tips for Your Pet

LOS ANGELES - While you’re making New Year’s resolutions for yourself, make a few for your pet. Add these two resolutions to the top of the list:


This is probably the number one New Year's Resolution. But face it, both you and your dog need it. Set your alarm clock a half hour early and take your dog for a gentle stroll before work - it will give you more energy to face your day, and it will wear your dog out a bit before you leave him or her alone all day.  Southern California has many dog friendly hiking trails, dog parks, and even beaches, and winter is the perfect time to get outdoors and enjoy our beautiful weather.

Get a check up!

Even if your pet seems healthy, there could be something happening medically that you don't see. Just like people, dogs (and cats) need routine vaccinations, dental exams, and regular check-ups. Catching something early will make treatment easier and less expensive, and will greatly improve your pet's well-being and help them live longer.  (And while you're at it - make yourself a dentist appointment as well.)


 Decorations To Avoid During the Holidays

LOS ANGELES - The holidays are coming! Tis the season for festive parties and sharing time with friends and family. And, if you're anything like us at the Squad, your furry friends will be part of the merriment. Now is a good time to remind us of some safety issues during the holiday. I know, I know -- we're always on the "safety" bandwagon. But we wouldn't be doing you any favors by not providing these simple reminders:

•    Tinsel, ribbons, ornaments and garland are beautiful on your tree or centerpiece -- but if swallowed, can choke your dog or damage his intestines. Place these decorations above your dog's reach or better yet, find a safe alternative. Bernie would recommend edible dog cookies but that could be tempting fate!
•    Poinsettias, holly and mistletoe add that special holiday touch to any arrangement. Unfortunately, they are toxic for your dog. Make sure they are high up and out of reach. If your pet eats any part of the plant he could experience vomiting, diarrhea or worse!
•    Christmas lights are a decorator's staple for any tree. However, some dogs acquire an unexplained taste for these beautiful orbs. Avoid locations where your dog can reach them as they could electrocute themselves.


 Cooked Bones of ANY Kind Are Extremely Dangerous to Dogs

LOS ANGELES - Bones which have been cooked have had all the moisture drained from them, thus they become dry and brittle. As they move down a dog's intestinal tract, they splinter into tiny pieces as sharp as needles and thus can perforate the esophagus or scrape, puncture or block the stomach and intestines. This is how a dog may find itself in a threatening situation.

Turkey bones - whether they have meat on them or not - are the ultimate splintering bones, and should never be given to dogs! Any sharp point on a bone can scrape and cut your dog's gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus down to the rectum, causing damage on its way in or out. A sharp bone can even cause perforation or get stuck and cause a blockage that does not allow food to pass.

If you have fed your dog cooked bones and never had an issue you have been fortunate so far!  Although we don’t recommend human food for your pets - if you want to give your dog a treat, sharing a small amount of gravy on potatoes or veggies are left over is a safer alternative.  Sometimes we get scraps of turkey but not too much...we are not THAT spoiled and we NEVER EVER get cooked bones.  Please tell your co-worker that dogs love mashed potatoes, gravy and veggies and just give him that for a Thanksgiving treat. NO MORE BONES!


 Enjoy Halloween But Keep Chocolate Out of Reach of Pets

LOS ANGELES – We all enjoy Halloween for the costumes and parties but mostly for the candy. Some of us prioritize chocolate at the top of our list. But this is a treat that is off limits to your dogs and for good reason. It's highly toxic.

Why is chocolate toxic for dogs?

Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine that your dog cannot metabolize as efficiently as humans. As a result, it builds up in their systems until it reaches a toxic level of concentration, which may lead to a variety of problems with the most serious being death due to cardiac arrest. Also, the less your dog weighs, the higher the toxicity level. This means that even a tiny piece of a Kit Kat can be very dangerous for your Chihuahua, poodle, or other small dog.

So enjoy Halloween, the parties, the costumes - but keep the chocolate all to yourself and out of reach of your pets!


 Flea Medication Keeps Diseases At Bay

It is important to maintain a regular flea control program for your all pets.  Some animals are so allergic to fleas that they can lose their fur and suffer skin irritation and infections from scratching and biting.  What’s worse, your pet can develop painful and serious ailments from fleas.

These ailments can include:
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Anemia
  • Tapeworm
  • Rickettsiosis (cats only)
  • Cat scratch disease (cats only - can be passed onto humans)
Warning Signs That Your Pet May Have Fleas
Black specks - Check your dog’s body and bed for black specks. This may be "flea dirt" – the fecal matter from adult fleas. Two simple ways to check for black specks include:
  • Flea Comb – run the metal flea comb over your pet, making sure the comb reaches the skin through the coat. If black specks appear on the comb they may be flea dirt. If you see fleas on the comb, drown them in a bowl of soapy water. Otherwise, they will find their way back to your pet.
  • White paper towel – place a white paper towel beneath your pet and rub your hands across you pet’s fur. If black specks appear on the towel, it may be flea dirt and your pet may have fleas.
Agitation or scratching - Your pet may seem agitated or nervous and scratch excessively, particularly around the tail, groin or backside.
Flea dermatitis - When a flea bites your pet, it deposits a small amount of saliva in the skin. Your pet can have an allergic reaction to this saliva, which causes severe itching.  Scabs or bumps may appear on your pet's neck or back.
Anemia - Fleas can affect young and old alike. However, young, sick or old animals can develop anemia (which can cause further illness) if fleas aren't treated quickly. The signs of anemia include pale gums, weakness and lethargy.
How to Treat Your Pet for Fleas
  • Flea Shampoos will kill the fleas but that will only last for 4-5 days then they'll be back. 
  • Frontline or Advantage are good options to control fleas. Apply the flea medication between the shoulder blades so that your pet can't lick it off.  Repeat every 4-6 weeks to kill the adult fleas.
  • There is another option called Program. This is a pill administered to your pet. It sterilizes any eggs laid by the fleas but it does not kill the adult fleas. 
  • If you have a serious infestation you may have to call in a professional to spray the yard and house to get rid of any fleas in the environment. 
  • We do NOT recommend flea collars. Many dogs are allergic to these collars and their skin can become quite irritated. 
  • Vacuum - any areas that your pet frequents, especially dog beds, carpet, furniture and your car.
  • Wash your pet's bedding, blanket and any other washable items in hot water  (check laundering instructions to make sure this won’t damage items).

Talk to your vet for more information on flea prevention and treatment.

JULY 2008

 Beat the Heat With a Summer Safety Tips For Your Pet

LOS Angeles - Here at the Dawg Squad we love summer. Plenty of fun activities and Long days full of sunshine and sizzling heat. But just because the kids are on school vacation doesn't mean safety takes a break. Pets need a little extra care at this time of year. Here are a few tips to keep summer fun and pain free:

  • July 4th is only days away and so are the fireworks. Shelters experience a spike in strays following July 4th celebrations. Make sure your pet is secure and away from open doors and windows when the fireworks kick off!
  • Leave an extra water bowl for your pet just in case the temperature takes a sudden spike. They'll need the extra hydration.
  • Always provide a cool place out of the sun for pets to relax.
  • Kids and pets should both wear life jackets when swimming. I know we tend to think all dogs can swim but that isn't necessarily the case. Life jackets keep them safe and look cute too!
  • Pavement can be painfully hot at this time of year and your pet can burn his feet. Choose a path in the shade or walk early or later in the day when the heat of the sun is at its mildest.
  • Bugs thrive in hot moist weather. Check pets (and kids) for any small stowaways.
  • And never leave your dog unattended in the car. It doesn't take long for temperatures to rise to dangerous levels.
We hope these tips help you enjoy a safe, pain free summer. Just a few minutes forethought will keep your summer fun. Thanks for supporting the Dawg Squad and see you next month!

Enjoy the heat!