What age can you safely take puppies to the park or the beach?

What age can you safely take puppies to the park or the beach?


As long as your dog is on a leash to protect it from traffic and you are diligent in making sure no aggressive dogs are present, a safe trip to the beach and park can be made after 4 months (16 weeks) of age for most puppies. Puppies have a variable maturation of their immune systems. They get antibodies to common viruses—distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis—from their mother, but the timing for when the mother-granted antibodies stop working and the self-made antibodies start working is different for each individual puppy. That is why puppies need a series of shots. This is the reason that Rabies is not given until 16 weeks when the immune system is able to recognize proteins and make antibodies to them. Always check with your personal veterinarian regarding your particular puppy’s antibodies and immune system readiness.

I hear keeping your cat indoors prolongs its lifespan, is that true?

I hear keeping your cat indoors prolongs its lifespan, is that true?

This is a long debate and many people have strong opinions on either side. It is generally true that the life span for indoor-only cats averages slightly longer than indoor/outdoor or outdoor-only cats, barring major medical issues. There are a number of factors that influence life span of outdoor cats: traffic, dogs, trauma, toxins and catfights with risk of infectious disease transmission. As a result, they are likely to live shorter lives and their average lifespan is reduced. That being said, like any statistic, it is an individual decision whether to have cats exclusively indoors or not. As long as you understand the risks and benefits of each, the decision should be yours.

What is the best way to prevent ear infections in dogs?

What is the best way to prevent ear infections in dogs?

Dogs can get frequent yeast and bacterial infections in their ears. Dogs with heavier ear flaps (pinna) and more hair on and around the ears—cocker spaniels are classic for this problem—generally have more problems and infections. If your dog swims often it is best to try and make sure the outer part of the ear is dried afterward. Talk to your veterinarian about preventative wash with drying agents and how frequently you should use them to help keep infections from recurring.

What are some signs to watch for regarding dementia in aging animals?

What precautions might pet owners take if/when it develops? My dog has started barking, when she seldom did before. She also seems to be about 95% deaf. Is her new found barking because of deafness or might it be related to onset of dementia?

Many older dogs will display aging changes mentally as well as physically. It is possible that both the hearing loss and aging changes are contributing to your dogs new found barking. Similar to senility in people, dogs can get Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) which can manifest as behavior changes or loss of ability to perform routine activities. A dog’s loss of sensory input (deafness) and decreased vision at times causes them to use other means of “communication” to feel comfortable in their environment. Since talking with our dogs is how we communicate and deafness takes away this option, other methods become necessary. Some people feel a high pitched whistle still works in dogs that have lost hearing. You might try to work with a whistle and reward her when she comes to create a new form of communication. You may want to put a flashing light on her collar during the summer trips so she will be easier to locate.

There are options for trying to increase her cognitive skills. Talk to your veterinarian about your options and to see what you can safely try on your girl, i.e., diet, supplements and medications. Make sure she is not on any medications that might interact anything you give her. You can read about canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome here. Good luck!

How common is it for dogs to change color?

When I adopted my first puppy Joy, she was cream/white colored. A year later, she was the same color. I then adopted her half-sister Star, who was a dark red/gold color. Within a year, Joy had gotten darker and Star had gotten lighter—so they met in the middle. They became and still are apricot/blonde and now look like twins! I'm blonde also so perhaps it's because our spirits are so connected! Just curious how often this happens.

Many breeds have coats that change over time. Puppies will generally be a different color than the adult dog. Medications, sunlight, nutritional status and skin disease can all be factors in changing and dog's coat color. It might be that your puppies had different nutritional backgrounds and when they were brought together their nutritional and environmental influences matched. Coat color can change without medical or skin disease being present.

However, if you notice any signs of skin disease, hair loss, irritation or discomfort, then a trip to the veterinarian is best. There are breed characteristics that might influence hair color as well. Here's a list of causes of pigment and color changes in skin and coat of dogs that may be helpful.

Sometimes changes in color is just the progression of that dog's pigment in the hair. Thanks for sharing your photos of Joy & Star.

My girl kitty has a problem evacuating her urine...

My girl kitty has a problem evacuating her urine...I'll keep an eye out. But, could this possibly pass without rushing her to emergency?

Cats can have a variety of reasons for abnormal urination.  Inflammation, bladder stones, mineral sediment or an infection in the bladder are the most common. Less common is foreign material like a foxtail in the bladder or a bladder tumor, which happens more in older cats.  Cats will strain to produce urine, have bloody urine, frequent the litter box and often produce much smaller puddles of urine.  Blood in the urine is another common sign.  Male cats are much more prone to a serious problem of obstruction in the urinary tract. Because the male cats urethra (tube from the bladder to the outside world) narrows significantly toward the end of the penis, inflammation and mineral deposits can completely obstruct the outflow causing a life-threatening situation. These cats are often very uncomfortable and will strain in the litter box and vocalize. If the obstruction is not relieved life threatening blood abnormalities can develop and it is an emergency.

Photograph of BootyFemale cats are less likely to obstruct because of the wider urethra, but they can develop large enough stones to form an obstruction. Bladder inflammation or infection can be quite uncomfortable and should be addressed but if the cat is passing urine you may be able to wait for a family veterinary visit the next day rather than an emergency room visit. If infection goes unchecked it can start to affect the kidneys and cause kidney infections that will compromise function and affect length and quality of life.

If your cat has signs of discomfort around urination, frequent trips to the litter box or blood in the urine a visit to your veterinarian is indicated. Cats who get in the litter box and do not produce urine while straining to do so need to be taken to the emergency clinic to prevent life threatening bladder obstruction.

What is Recommended for Sunscreen in pets with white or pink noses?

We would like to know what is recommended for sunscreen. My new sister is white with a pink nose! —Thank you, Sadie Wonder Pup

The best way to protect is absence of exposure or a nose protector (shown on the left). However, in lieu of no exposure, baby sunscreen is the next best way.

Essentially the goal is to protect the non-pigmented (white) skin from too much sun exposure because certain types of solar induced cancers can occur in these pets. Cats can also get cancer on their white or pink noses and the tips of their white ears. The use of tatoo ink or permanent marker to mimic pigment on the skin can also help decrease solar damage but are not a guarantee damage won't occur.

Katherine Doerr, DVM Pacific Veterinary Specialists

Quality of Life for a Dog with Pancreatitis

My 10 year-old otherwise healthy terrier mix has been diagnosed with Pancreatitis. He's already been in the hospital for 2 days and recovery is off and on. He eats, then no appetite. Symptoms go, he seems better then they return. Does this have an end and a return to quality of life? What is the reality for his future? I do not want to drag things out and I don't have the funds to keep up recurring supportive care, visits, etc. Thank you for what you do.

Usually with therapy, a low fat diet and careful monitoring many dogs can recover and have a normal quality of life with Panreatititis. It can be a challenging diagnosis because so many other factors can influence the clinical signs that establish the diagnosis. A diagnosis of pancreatitis is often given because of vomiting and nausea—but other factors can influence the intestines and the specific canine pancreatic lipase (spec cPL) level in dogs that are ill.  Gold standard for the diagnosis is a biopsy of the pancreas but most of us veterinarians agree the risks and cost can strongly outweigh the benefit of such a procedure. So, that is not justified in ill animals—particularly when there are cost concerns.  Many veterinarians then will use Ultrasound, clinical signs and history as well as the spec cPL test to help with their diagnosis.  I would recommend a board certified radiologist do the ultrasound of your pet's abdomen and pancreas, and that you share with your veterinarian concerns about cost and longevity so your questions can be answered in your particular case.

—Merrianne Burtch, DVM, DACVIM, Internal Medicine Specialist

Rattlesnake Vaccine & Bites

Is there a list of local vets that do this for the Monterey to Santa Cruz area?
How effective is the vaccine?
If your dog is struck or bitten by a rattle snack after being vaccinated how much does the vaccine increase the time you have to reach medical attention?

While some hospitals do carry the vaccine, it is not a usually carried item for most vets. However, most emergency hospitals will carry or have access to the anti-venom.  You'd still have to contact your personal veterinarian to confirm whether they carry it and have it in stock. Check with our list of Associate Member hospitals.

In theory the degree and rate of swelling at the site of a bite will be slowed by the vaccine. However, regardless or whether your dog has had the vaccine, you should still seek immediate medical attention for dogs that are bit. Many people who backcountry hike will vaccinate their dogs so they buy time to get them to a facility for treatment. One cannot say how much time is increased with the vaccine as that is dependent on where the dog is bit and the amount of venom released.

Rattlesnake aversion courses are very effective—some say more reliable for avoiding the consequences of a bite than the vaccine is. These courses are available throughout California and more available in Southern California where hotter weather prevails.

*About Rattlesnakes:
There are several species of rattlesnakes found in California. Rattlesnakes generally hibernate in Northern California’s chilly winter weather, but in Southern California’s warmer winter conditions, rattlesnakes can be active year round. In this area, they tend to be active from March to September. Anytime you and your pet are in or near rattlesnake habitat, it is possible to encounter these venomous snakes. With a curious, protective, or even a fearful dog you may not be able to intercept a bite.

About the Rattlesnake Vaccine:
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is thought to cause most of the snake venom related fatalities in Northern California. The rattlesnake vaccine was created using the venom from this species. Venom does vary between rattlesnake species and even individual snakes, depending on environment. Although the vaccine is manufactured using the Western Diamondback venom, it does provide partial immunity to bites from other commonly found venomous snake species in California including: the Sidewinder, Timber, Massasauga, Copperhead, and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. The purpose of the vaccine is to decrease the reaction severity and chance of mortality for a bitten dog. Upon vaccination, the body produces protective antibodies that will help neutralize rattlesnake venom for a bitten dog. The vaccine can decrease pain, swelling, tissue damage, and the risk of permanent injury or death. Basically, it can give you more time to get back to your car and drive to an emergency clinic and the anti-venom. Regardless of vaccination, a rattlesnake bite is considered a medical emergency.

When to Vaccinate:
The best time to vaccinate is in March or April of every year, right at the beginning of Rattlesnake season; it is still important to vaccinate, even after the season has started. The vaccine creates the highest levels of immunity in your dog between one and six months after the most recent vaccination. If your dog has never had this vaccine before, a booster 4 weeks later is necessary to create those protective antibodies discussed earlier. In areas with warmer weather conditions, where rattlesnakes are active year-round, a vaccination is recommended twice yearly.

Symptoms of a Rattlesnake Bite:

  • Inflammation – increasing with time, don’t wait to get in to the vet!
  • Redness and bruising at the site
  • Pain and sensitivity
  • Sloughing of skin with time
  • The gastrointestinal system can become affected, creating vomiting and diarrhea
  • The nervous system can also be affected, creating possible trembling, stumbling, and excessive drooling. Don’t wait for this to happen, take your dog to an ER veterinary hospital right away.
  • Ask your veterinarian if the Rattlesnake vaccine is a good choice based on your dog’s lifestyle.

Note: It is ideal to call the emergency clinic while on your way to make sure they have the anti-venom in stock.

*Partial Source: Thanks to Sacramento Animal Hospital for some of the information in this post.

—Merrianne Burtch, DVM, DACVIM, Internal Medicine Specialist

Lumps and Bumps

Question: I have a male Chihuahua Terrier mix that is 8 years old. I have
noticed that he has 2 lumps protruding from either side of his "waist" in
front of his hips. He is urinating fine as well as drinking water. I worry
that there may be something cancerous.  What should I look for to to see if
he may have cancer without having to get xrays? Thank you

Answer: Some dogs will get irregularities on the body wall. Some are cancerous and some are benign. The best next step is to visit your veterinarian for a physical exam and express your concerns.

—Merrianne Burtch, DVM, DACVIM, Internal Medicine Specialist