Shinrin-yoku for You and Your Dog

Shinrin –Yoku for You and Your dog


We’ve known for a long time about the health benefits of sharing our lives with companion animals. Studies have shown that they reduce blood pressure, boost immunity and may even lengthen lives. Walking your dog has been shown to have multiple health benefits for both you and your dog. New evidence is indicating that where you walk your dog may have even larger positive impacts on your health. While studies have concentrated on humans I’m sure that the same health benefits are enjoyed by dogs. 

I’m writing about a reasonably new concept coming out of research started in Japan. They have developed the concept of “Shinrin-Yoku” which is translated as “forest bathing”. No, that doesn’t mean jumping in a bathtub outside like in those strange commercials, but going out into the forest and enjoying nature in some specific ways. There is an organization that even certifies individuals on how to lead Shinrin-Yoku walks-  It’s fairly easy to find wonderful trails in our area and try some of these techniques for yourself.  I’m attaching some terrific information from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation below. So get out this weekend and take a walk in one of our area’s beautiful forests with your dog. It will improve the health of every one. 

Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health

Most of us sense that taking a walk in a forest is good for us. We take a break from the rush of our daily lives. We enjoy the beauty and peace of being in a natural setting. Now, research is showing that visiting a forest has real, quantifiable health benefits, both mental and physical. Even five minutes around trees or in green spaces may improve health. Think of it as a prescription with no negative side effects that’s also free.

Health Benefits From Forests

  • Boosts immune system
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves mood
  • Increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increases energy level
  • Improves sleep

How Do Forests Make Us Healthier?

Numerous studies in the U.S. and around the world are exploring the health benefits of spending time outside in nature, green spaces, and, specifically, forests. Recognizing those benefits, in 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries even coined a term for it: shinrin-yoku. It means taking in the forest atmosphere or “forest bathing,” and the ministry encourages people to visit forests to relieve stress and improve health.

Research is casting light on how spending time outdoors and in forests makes us healthier:

Exposure to forests boosts our immune system. While we breathe in the fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK. These cells kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days. Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.

Spending time around trees and looking at trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood. Numerous studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at the trees reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Looking at pictures of trees has a similar, but less dramatic, effect. Studies examining the same activities in urban, unplanted areas showed no reduction of stress-related effects. Using the Profile of Mood States test, researchers found that forest bathing trips significantly decreased the scores for anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue. And because stress inhibits the immune system, the stress-reduction benefits of forests are further magnified.

Spending time in nature helps you focus. Our lives are busier than ever with jobs, school, and family life. Trying to focus on many activities or even a single thing for long periods of time can mentally drain us, a phenomenon called Directed Attention Fatigue. Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to focus better and renew our ability to be patient.

In children, attention fatigue causes an inability to pay attention and control impulses. The part of the brain affected by attention fatigue (right prefrontal cortex) is also involved in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Studies show that children who spend time in natural outdoor environments have a reduction in attention fatigue and children diagnosed with ADHD show a reduction in related symptoms. Researchers are investigating the use of natural outdoor environments to supplement current approaches to managing ADHD. Such an approach has the advantages of being widely accessible, inexpensive and free of side effects.

Patients recover from surgery faster and better when they have a “green” view. Hospital patients may be stressed from a variety of factors, including pain, fear, and disruption of normal routine. Research found that patients with “green” views had shorter postoperative stays, took fewer painkillers, and had slightly fewer postsurgical complications compared to those who had no view or a view of a cement wall.  

What happens if we lose trees?

The invasion of the emerald ash borer, or EAB, (Agrilus planipennis) since 2002 has provided an unfortunate opportunity to look at the effect of tree-loss on human health. EAB is a non-native, wood-boring beetle that kills all species of ash (Fraxinus) trees within three years after infestation. In some communities, entire streets lined with ash were left barren after the beetle arrived in their neighborhood. A study looked at human deaths related to heart and lung disease in areas affected by EAB infestations. It found that across 15 states, EAB was associated with an additional 6,113 deaths related to lung disease and 15,080 heart-disease-related deaths.

More Research is Needed

While the research in Japan is groundbreaking, we need more research on trees growing in the Northeastern US. We share some of the same genera with Japan, like pine, birch and oak, which all give off different phytoncides, but we have different species. The more we know about our local trees, the more applicable the science will be.





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Salmonella – a Serious Threat From Reptiles and Amphibians

photo by T.A.Z. Photography

Salmonella – a Serious Threat from Reptiles and Amphibians

My last post discussed proper reptile and amphibian care. One of the most important aspects of that care is protecting you and your loved ones from a potentially serious zoonotic disease carried by these animals. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people.  Common examples are Lyme Disease, West Nile Virus and E. Coli bacteriosis. While there are over seventy listed diseases that are of concern, one which has received much media attention lately is the disease caused by a genus of bacteria known as Salmonella.  Reptile and Amphibians are carriers of this bacterium.. Anyone coming in contact with these animals is at risk of contracting this potentially serious disease.

Salmonellosis, the disease caused by this bacterium, results in severe gastrointestinal distress, bloody diarrhea and sometimes kidney failure. Severe cases can even lead to death. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that over a ten-year period two-thousand human deaths occurred as result of infection.  Interestingly, this genus of bacteria is named for Daniel Salmon, the first person to graduate with a veterinary degree in the US from New York State’s own College of Veterinary Medicine in 1876. Salmonella can infect many animals. People are commonly infected by contact with improperly prepared poultry, meat and eggs. Recently, an outbreak of infections has occurred from contact with small turtles.

     All reptiles and amphibians are carriers of this bacterium and readily shed it in their droppings. Infections had become so prevalent that the sale of small turtles with shells less than four inches was outlawed in 1975. Recently, there has been an increase in the Illegal sale of these pets through the internet, flea market, trade shows and fairs.  An outbreak of this illness in multiple states over last summer sickened over 300 people, most of them children. Children often find these animals irresistible and will kiss them, place them in their mouths and even swim and bathe with them! Because of their less developed immune systems, kids are especially susceptible to the serious effects of infection.

All pet reptiles and amphibians can be considered sources of this infection. Some illegal sellers are trying to convince buyers that their turtles are “Salmonella free”. This is not possible. This organism is carried in every reptile’s body. How can you protect your family from this serious animal-borne illness? The CDC lists several recommendations that can save lives and allow these pets to live safely with people:

How to prevent Salmonella infections transmitted by reptiles and amphibians

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching or feeding amphibians or reptiles, anything in the areas where they live and roam, or water from their habitats.
  • Keep hand sanitizer next to the enclosure and get kids in the habit of using it every time!
  • Keep these pets out of the kitchen and other areas where food is handled.
  • Tanks, feed and water containers and any other equipment should be cleaned outside the house in a utility sink or outdoors. A dilute solution consisting of ¼ cup bleach in a gallon of water will sterilize all surfaces.
  • Don’t allow children less than 5 years of age, older adults or those with weakened immune systems handle reptiles and amphibians.
  • Don’t let them reptiles and amphibians roam  free in your house and never bathe them in the kitchen sink. If bathing them in the bathtub, disinfect it afterwards with the above named solution.

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Basic Reptile Care – Imitating Mother Nature

photo by T.A.Z. Photography

Basic Reptile Care  – Imitating Mother Nature 

Reptiles and amphibians are one of the most difficult groups of companion animals to keep happy and healthy. Successfully raising these animals is a true challenge. It takes a commitment of time, energy and money to provide them with what they need for optimal health. Most people are amazed to learn that reptiles and amphibs have enjoyable, individual personalities. They can be as responsive and loving as any warm fuzzy we share our lives with. All too often though, we see patients come in that haven’t been taken care of properly. Often people receive improper or incomplete instructions from pet store employees and other sources on their proper care. Sadly, many reptiles come to us in such a sickened state that little can be done to help them. There are several things you can do to optimize the living conditions you provide for your scaly friends.

Key to Success

The key to success is to remember that you have to mimic Mother Nature for them. All animals have developed to survive efficiently in the environment into which they are born. This is especially important for cold-blooded animals like reptiles and amphibians. You have to provide them with an environment and diet that is closest to what it would be like for them in the wild. It’s hard. But you can do it.


This is the biggest challenge in living with all of these animals. Reptiles and amphibians are cold-blooded (poikilotherms). They are not able to internally regulate their body temperatures. Their temperatures therefore match their environment. Consequently many come from warm parts of the planet. Each animal has a physiologically optimal temperature zone (POTZ). This is the range of temperatures in which they are able to maximally function and survive. What’s your POTZ? For people it’s actually a pretty narrow 68-78 degrees F. For an iguana it’s 82-95 degrees F. This means you need to provide round the clock supplemental heating for reptiles and many amphibians. Their bodies cannot survive at temperatures comfortable for us. Each species of animal has its own POTZ. You need to find out what that is for your reptile.

Heating and Lighting

Again, the goal here is to mimic Mother Nature. You can provide the POTZ with proper use of external heating pads, basking lights and ceramic heaters. I do not recommend use of a “hot rock” or heating device that is placed on the bottom of the cage. I have seen lizards and snakes burned by laying directly on one of these for too long. An experienced reptile veterinarian can provide you with the exact recommended set-up for your animal. If you have a reptile that is normally active in the day time, you also need to provide a balance of ultraviolet light, both UVA and UVB, to properly mimic that provided by sunlight. Many “reptile” bulbs sold today don’t provide both of these. Make sure you get the right information and provide the appropriate source of heat and light for your reptiles.


You also need to mimic an animal’s natural environment. A desert lizard needs hot, dry conditions but won’t need to climb, while a tropical jungle lizard needs hot, humid conditions with materials to climb. All environments should provide a secure place for the animal to hide. Substrates (the stuff you put on the bottom the tank or cage) should be appropriate for the animal and easy to clean and change regularly. Your reptile veterinarian can tell you what’s best for your animal.


Mimicking Mother Nature is hardest in this department. It’s nearly impossible to provide the variety of foods a reptile would find hunting and foraging in the wild. The biggest key is to try to provide the biggest variety possible. It’s often frustrating because, just as a finicky cat, many reptiles will decide to eat only one type of food no matter how much you provide. But you shouldn’t stop trying. Those that eat meat need to be offered more than just crickets. The bugs that you provide also need to be healthy, well fed and from reputable sources in order to provide optimal nutrition. While Rachel Ray hasn’t licensed a reptile food yet, there are other sources of prepared diets that can be tried as well. It’s much easier to provide variety for vegetarian reptiles. Keep in mind that the balance and type of nutrition provided is as important for them as it is for you. I usually recommend trying this excellent salad recipe from noted reptile veterinarian Dr. Melissa Kaplan:

Basic Salad Recipe

1/2 cup shredded raw green beans

1/2 cup shredded raw orange-fleshed squash (such as acorn, banana, kabocha, spaghetti, and pumpkin) – you can occasionally alternate with carrots

1 medium or 2 small raw shredded parsnips (in areas where these are seasonally hard to find, you can substitute with asparagus or cooked or canned lima, navy or kidney beans that have been well rinsed and minced or mashed. If you use beans, add extra calcium to offset their high phosphorus) *

1/4 cup mashed/minced fruit (strawberries, raspberries, mangos, papaya, figs, cantaloupe, cactus pear)

Alfalfa **

Multivitamin and calcium supplements

* If parsnips are a seasonal vegetable where you live, you can use 1/2 cup shredded asparagus, trading off with 1/2 cup drained, rinsed, and chopped canned cooked lima beans, plus additional calcium to make up for the lousy calcium:phosphorus ratio in beans. Cooked beans are acceptable for short term use only due to their phosphorous content and other chemicals that can impede the uptake of minerals and trace elements. Asparagus is comparable in protein to parsnip, but does contain oxalates, so should not be a long-term staple.

** The quantity of alfalfa you use will depend upon the alfalfa product you are using. You want to add about 15 grams of protein. That is about 1/2 cup of alfalfa rabbit pellets, or about 1/4 cup or less of alfalfa leaf tea or a tablespoon or so of alfalfa powder. The older the healthy iguana is, the less protein they need, so you may end up using only a couple of teaspoons for an adult iguana.

Thoroughly mix all the Basic Salad Recipe ingredients together. Makes about 3.5-4 cups.

Add in a multivitamin supplement (any multivitamin supplement for birds or reptiles is fine, but the best, actually, is powder from a crushed Centrum tablet) and a calcium supplement. You do not need to get a calcium supplement that has phosphorous or D3 in it, as the iguana is already getting considerably phosphorous from the plants and multivitamin, and their D3 is best manufactured in their bodies by regular exposure to direct sunlight or special UVB-producing fluorescents.

If you will be freezing any of the food, mix in some thiamine (B1) to replace the thiamine that will be lost when the green vegetables are thawed.

Serve the salad in the morning.

Never Buy a Wild Caught Reptile or Amphibian

Sadly this is still going on in the pet trade. Make sure you purchase a healthy animal from a reputable store or breeder. These animals are already trained to eat the foods we can provide that makes them easier to care for. Wild caught animals have great trouble adapting to captivity often refusing to eat. Leave them where they should be. Think it’s fun to catch a turtle or frog and bring it home?  Leave it alone. If you really have to bring it home for everybody to see, keep it only for 2-3 days and then release it back where you found it.

This website,, has the best information about care of reptiles and amphibians in general and many specific species in particular. Find an experienced reptile veterinarian in your area (we’re often few and far between). Ask for information and advice.

Reptiles Grow and Live Long Lives

Remember that many reptiles live a   long time (150 years for some tortoises) and can continue to grow to quite large sizes. Make sure that you think about what your plans are when that cute little iguana grows to six feet. These guys are a true commitment in so many ways.








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The Best Way to Save on Prescription Medications for your Pets. “Fairness to Pet Owners Act” – Part 4

The Best Way to Save on Prescription Medications for your Pets

My last few posts have discussed the “Fairness to Pet Owners Act” sponsored by our own Senator Schumer. This bill would require a veterinarian to provide a written prescription for every medication for a pet. A client would then have the option of having a prescription filled either at that hospital or a pharmacy of her choice. I looked at some of the potential dangers if this were to occur. Senator Schumer and his fellow politicians have no real idea on how to reduce the costs you pay out for medications for your animals. Remember that veterinarians have always been fair to pet owners. Here’s some inside information on how to really save on medications for your pets:

  • Most animal medications we use are really human medications that have been proven to work in animals as well. Most people aren’t aware that not many medications are licensed for use in a particular species of animals. Big pharma just won’t spend the money developing and seeking approval for meds that won’t line their pockets with  cash.  Ask your veterinarian if she is prescribing a human medication for your animal. If that is the case, ask if a generic is available. True, some generics don’t work as well as the name brand drug. Many are also made in facilities overseas. But if you’re interested in reducing costs it may be worth trying a generic first. Commonly dispensed generic medications are often available at a pharmacy at greatly reduced prices. Some are even free! Most of the big box pharmacies publish a list of these meds. Ask your vet if he can use a medication that’s on the list. Take a look at this list of discounted meds provided by Walmart: Most veterinarians are not able to match these prices, so ask for a written prescription if you’re interested.
  • Internet pharmacies are not necessarily less expensive. There are several large internet pharmacies that heavily advertise they can provide medications at lower cost than your veterinarian. This can sometimes be true because they are able to take advantage on bulk pricing. Many times their pricing can actually be higher than your veterinarian’s.


  • Ask if your veterinarian will price match. Bring in the pricing from the internet pharmacy where you usually order medications or ask if someone on the vet staff can check pricing before the office dispenses a medication. Often veterinary hospitals are able to price match an on-line price. This is a win for you as it allows for lower costs but still can provide you with the protection of a manufacturer’s guarantee. The majority of manufacturers offer guarantees on the effectiveness of their products but only if the product is purchased from a veterinarian. These guarantees are not in effect for products purchased from an on-line pharmacy.


  • Just because they say it’s just as good as doesn’t mean that’s true. Some of the big box stores are trying to get into the veterinary pharmaceutical market. In fact, two of them are the main drivers behind the introduction of this bill in Congress and the Senate. As we all know, money talks. As they begin to market veterinary products these chains are developing their own versions, “house brands” of some medications. Right now these are generic medications, some manufactured by overseas companies that don’t contain all of the same ingredients as versions we commonly recommend and dispense. Their medication may not treat all of the same parasites or diseases that our brand name medications do. Ask your veterinarian if she thinks a product you may be considering is comparable to what she dispenses and if it will do the same job. These may save you money in the short term, but may ending up costing more in the long term if they are ineffective.


  • Ask your veterinarian about length of time you pet needs to be on a medication. Sometimes you can lower a bill by purchasing a 7 day supply and then renewing when needed. This way, rather than paying for a 21 day supply up front, you can split the cost over 3 weeks. Ask if your veterinary practice will forgo the stocking/dispensing fee on the refills in order to assist you with cost management.


  • Ask if there are any promotions/coupons available.Often a manufacturer will offer discounts if you purchase a certain amount of a medication. While the upfront cost may be higher, you’ll save more in the long run.


  • Purchase Health Insurance for your pet.Most insurance plans cover prescription meds. For ongoing problems this can end up being a big money saver for you. Ask your veterinary practice for information on plans they’ve found to be the most helpful. Here’s a place to start looking at plans:
  • Most importantly – speak up! Every veterinarian wants to fair to every pet owner. If you have concerns about the costs of treatments for your animal, ask.  We’ll always work with you on the best options when feasible. We’d much rather discuss costs at the beginning of or during an appointment than have you disheartened and angry after paying the bill.Veterinarians know that being a responsible companion animal caretaker is a huge commitment particularly in the financial department. We know it costs you at least $1000 per year to keep your animal healthy. We’re here to help in any way we can. If finances are a consideration for you, then feel free to speak about them in advance with your veterinarian and his or her staff. We know what it’s like out there. After all it’s the same for us and our co-workers. We have financial considerations too. I can assure you though, that we’ll always be fair to pet owners.

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Fairness to Pet Owners Act: PART 3 …DANGER AHEAD!

Fairness to Pet Owner’s Act: Part 3…The Dangers



In this series of posts, we’ve been discussing the “Fairness to Pet Owners Act” which has been introduced in Congress and which our own Senator Schumer has promised to introduce in the Senate. This act would require a veterinarian to hand a client a written prescription for every medication prescribed for a patient. The client could then elect to have that filled at the same veterinary practice or any other outlet.  In my last post we learned why veterinary practices, unlike human practices, dispense animal medications directly. While there used to be a financial motivation behind this, the paradigm is shifting. We continue to directly dispense medications out of a concern for the safety and health of your animals. If this act is passed there are some significant dangers and inconveniences that could result which would actually be unfair to pet owners and their pets. Here are some of the potential dangers I feel may be associated with this act: 

  1. This law isn’t necessary in New York. Under present New York State Law a veterinarian is required to provide a written prescription for medication upon a client’s request. We don’t need another intrusive government law telling us to do this every time. We already will do it any time you ask. You can simply ask for a written prescription if you’d like one. 
  1. Pharmacists aren’t required to receive any special training on animal  medications.   Your veterinarian is the most knowledgeable person regarding the proper use of medications for your animals. Every veterinarian has received special training in any drug’s effects, side effects and possible interactions between medications.  Only your veterinarian is aware of the proper drug dosing for your particular animal. Your pharmacist doesn’t know any of this. Pharmacists are required to counsel patients on the medications dispensed. Most get away with providing a white paper with information about a drug and don’t ever actually talk to you about the effects, side effects and possible interactions with your medications. Currently, pharmacies have none of these counseling sheets available for animals. If you are handed one, the information contained in it pertains to people and not animals. Veterinarians know of many circumstances where doses have been changed and improper medications have been dispensed because a pharmacist wasn’t aware of the special needs of animals. There are a few organizations providing specialized coursework for pharmacists to learn more about animal meds. Look for certification from the American College of Veterinary Pharmacists to determine if your pharmacy has become proficient in animal medications. If it hasn’t there could be some dangerous outcomes for our animals. This law needs to include mandatory veterinary drug specific training for all pharmacists and staff in order to be safe. Think that will happen? 
  1. It will slow down your veterinary visit. Think about it. If we have to provide a written prescription for every medication which you would need to then take to our pharmacy counter or to an outside pharmacy to be filled it’s going to take time to do all this. We all know how valuable time is in our time-crunched lives these days. You may be used to your physician transmitting a prescription electronically to your pharmacy. These programs are expensive and often underwritten by third parties. The associated costs are prohibitive for veterinary practices. Electronic prescribing has not yet come to our profession. This means we would have to continue to generate paper prescriptions for every single medication. 
  1. It could delay your starting treatment for your pet. What happens if you take your prescription to a pharmacy that doesn’t have that particular animal medication on hand? It will need to order the drug delaying treatment by a period of time. If we are able to dispense medication, you can begin treatment for your animal right away. In my practice we often administer the first dose right there in the exam room. This law would need to mandate that a pharmacy stock every animal medication in order to avoid delays. Think this will actually happen? 
  1. Veterinarians are already fair to pet owners. If you don’t agree with this, think about finding a new veterinarian. 

These are  some very serious concerns regarding the “Fairness to Pet Owners Act”. I hope you will help me in letting Senator Schumer know that this act is not needed. If he does proceed with his sponsorship, this act should include provisions for training of pharmacists and staff and mandate that a pharmacy maintain adequate inventory of animal medications. In my next post I’ll show you how you can save on prescriptions for your animals.





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A Dirty Little Secret…… The “Fairness to Pet Owners Act” Part 2

A Dirty Little Secret……

The “Fairness to Pet Owners Act” Part 2

I’m going to let you in on a little secret:  veterinary hospitals are a business. Ssshhhhh. As a business a veterinary hospital has to make money in order to survive. That’s right. We have mouths to feed, mortgages to pay (sometimes two counting our home and our business), cars to fill and increasing numbers of employees that we need to pay a wage that allows them to do the same. We also have utilities, supplies, equipment and medications that cost a lot too. Do you love your veterinarian and his or her hospital? It takes a lot of income in order for that place to stay open. Sure there are a variety of hospital types out there ranging from a Dollar Store model to Neiman Marcus with all the familiar trappings. I like to think of mine as Macy’s.  You have a choice of where to seek health care for your companion although I can’t imagine why you would seek health care at a discount. But people do. My accountant tells me that, like most veterinarians, I am actually running a non-profit business. It’s hard to find a wealthy veterinarian. We are actually the lowest paid among all health care professionals. Recent data shows that two-thirds of the veterinary hospitals in the U.S.  fall below the standard which would be considered profitable.

But that’s fine with us. Great veterinarians enjoy devoting their lives to helping animals and people. For most, the business/money aspect is an afterthought. The rewards are often intangible. We do need to make money to keep our doors open to help you and your animals. We do this completely relying on your ability to pay our fees without any government support programs such as Medicaid and without third party insurance payments. We know it’s hard for you and we keep fees down to keep animal health care affordable. However, we’re often seen as too expensive, discussed in the media as gouging the public and caring only about the money. Undoubtedly there are some unscrupulous veterinarians around.  The majority understand that it’s hard for all of us to make ends meet these days and work hard to keep our fees manageable.

Yet, now some in government want to change all this.  Our own Senator Schumer recently announced that he will sponsor a senate version of the “Fairness to Pet Owners Act” which has been presented to Congress in H.R. 4023. This act would require a veterinarian to provide a written prescription for every single medication an animal needs. You would then have the option of filling that prescription at that practice or taking it to a pharmacy of your choice. This would save you from us “over-charging veterinarians” as Schumer said. This act will change a lot for you. It may actually end up making medications for your animal difficult to find resulting in a delay in treatment. Dangerous outcomes are also possible with more outlets for drugs. More on that later.

Here’s the real dirty little secret that you won’t see anywhere else: veterinarians do take a “mark-up” on medications. Often a very substantial one because we have to in order to survive.  Many years ago some “genius” marketing consultant advised that we should keep our ‘up-front’ costs low but increase income from dispensed items. The thought was that you, the consumer, would not pay the same office visit fees for veterinary care as you do for you own care.  We were told to double the price of a medication and offer a stocking fee. One current veterinary management consultant advocates that this fee should be $27.65, a  number arrived at by accounting for a percentage of all practice costs involved with ordering, storing and delivering a medication.  This means a practice may buy a medication for $20, but you end up paying $67.65 for it. That’s outrageous. I agree completely. This is not the formula I use at my hospital.  This concept was supposed to allow us to then charge only $33 for an office visit (for a total cost for the visit and medication of $100.65). We were told this was much more palatable for you than to charge a reasonable fee for our professional services which is the way it should be. For example $75 for an office visit and $25.65 for the medication for the same total cost outline in the above example. Which seems more reasonable and fair to you? As our profession transitions to this way of setting fees it may seem like veterinary care is becoming much more expensive. Actually we’ll just be adjusting fees to more accurately reflect what we do for you. It’s our way of making sure that we continue to be fair to all pet owners.

Walmart and Walgreens (who are some of the forces behind this bill) and the like are able to sell medications at a lower cost because of an entirely different model. Ever notice how the pharmacy is located at the back of the store? This is because they know that you’re likely to buy some other things on the way there and back. They can keep drug costs lower because they know they’ll make it up on the other stuff you buy. It would be unethical if we ran our hospitals the same way. Internet pharmacies rely on the same techniques but don’t have the overhead of a building and store.  Yet we’re asked to compete with them every day. We’re beginning to understand and change our business model so that we can.

Most veterinarians make sure we demonstrate “Fairness to Pet Owners” each and every day. We don’t need our government telling us how to do that in a way that makes little sense. This act can lead to some possible bad outcomes for you and your patient. You will learn more  about them in my next post, Part 3. I’ll teach you how to best save money on medications for your animals in Part 4. So please keep reading.

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Live Like a Dog

Live Like a Dog




Live like a dog. Or a cat. Or a rabbit, hamster, ferret or so many of our animal friends. This is a lesson I learn each and every day. It is the greatest gift our companion animals share with us. Live like a dog.  

A dog wakes up each morning eagerly ready to face the day. “Where’s my ball? Let’s go outside and see what happened overnight. Give me a chance to catch up on my “pee-mail”. There’s a lot of information on every tree.  A cat wakes up each morning also eagerly ready to face the day. “Where’s breakfast? Think I’ll just relax in the sun for a bit. No need to rush anywhere right now”. Our animals don’t start the day worried about all the errands ahead, what work’s going to be like, how the mortgage will get paid.  They start the day excited about all that lies ahead. What’s around that bend? 

Their greatest gift of all is teaching us how to live with a debilitating illness, especially a potentially terminal one such as cancer. Cancer is a catch-all term for so many diseases. I’ll leave that for a future post.  All of us have some fear of that word. But our animal friends don’t.  I have seen so many patients that have had tumors growing for months without showing any outward signs.  I once removed a soccer ball sized splenic tumor from a beagle. Neither he nor his people had any idea that it was there. So many times we veterinarians hear “But doc, how could it be so serious, I had no idea anything was wrong?” 

Because animals with cancer or other hardships wake up each morning eagerly ready to face the day. “Where’s the ball?” They don’t sit and mope and say, “Why me?” They don’t spend the day worrying about how long they have. You won’t see your ferret rushing out to skydive and check off another hundred things from her bucket list. Animals with cancer face each day with a smile. Eager to see what’s around that bend up ahead. Eager for our care, love and attention without self-pity, anger or giving up hope.  

I learn many life lessons from my patients every day. It never ceases to amaze me how well they are able to cope with serious problems.  It can make a veterinarian’s job harder as this can keep people from realizing their animal is sick. Illness can become pretty advanced before an animal may show any signs. That’s because they wake up eager to face each and every day. Even though a patient may be feeling pretty bad, I smile every time I see that friendly tail wag, feel a gentle rub, or get surprised by that wet tongue no matter how awful that patient may feel. It helps keep things in perspective.  

It reminds me that I need to start every day fresh, eager to see what lies ahead. “Where’s the ball?” It reminds me that today I will live like a dog.

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Not All Pit Bulls Are Dangerous

Not All Pit Bulls are Dangerous…….

There is a horrible ongoing story in the Times Herald Record about a recent attack by on a family by their pit bull dog. I was quoted in an article published 7/25 and just want to clarify my opinions on this breed as I know some people will be upset by my quote.

What I really said was that pit bulls were originally bred to be fighting dogs (and in some places still are). The term “pit bull” is a bit of a misnomer as there is only one breed recognized as the American Pit Bull Terrier.  There are many dogs out there today that are mixes of this breed and many others that maintain what are termed “bully” characteristics. That is they retain some of the appearance of the original Old English Bulldogs and Terriers that were crossed to originate the breed. These were developed to be sporting dogs used in bull baiting, bear baiting which eventually expanded into dog fighting.

What we call “pit bulls” today are often a mix of many different breeds. Yet they share certain characteristics which can make them appear similar or at least give some indication that they have some “pit” or “bully” dog genes in their background. This is what I meant when I said that all pit bull type dogs carry some genes originally developed for fighting. This deserves our respect. It should be noted since many different breeds and mixed breed dogs may be classed under “pit bulls” in statistical studies, the numbers may become a bit skewed. But the fact remains that significant number of attacks occur from dogs in this group

.I know many pit bull dogs that are great, sweet, friendly family companions. I would consider none of these to be dangerous dogs. You’ll often hear that “it isn’t a breed problem, it’s a people problem” discussed about these dogs. In fact, it’s a combination of the two that’s the problem. A long standing genetic predisposition to aggression combined with poor training can lead to the often disastrous stories such as this one.

Pit Bulls can be great companions. But the facts also state that they are responsible for a significant proportion of serious dog bites. It’s one of the breeds that all veterinarians treat with a bit of extra caution. Yes, all dogs have the potential to bite. In fact, in my almost thirty years of practice I’ve been bitten by dachshunds more than any other breed. But pit bulls are bigger, stronger and have earned my cautious respect.

2013 fatal dog attacks by breed
2013 dog bite fatality chart

In 2013, one fatality involved dogs from two different breeds, thus producing a “death credit” total of 33 rather than 32. Four dog breeds each contributed to one death, including: rottweiler, husky, boxer and shiba inu.  (from

Dog Bite Facts:Dog bite prevention

  • Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.
  • Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
  • Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children.
  • Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
  • Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
  • Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims. (from the AVMA)

As a result of some of these breed characteristics our local shelters and likely most across the nation are overwhelmed with pit bull type dogs. They can be a challenge for some families and are often re-homed to those willing to put more effort into their training.  One shelter even has referred to it’s kennels as “pit row”.

Should you live with a pit bull? As I said, many make great family companions. With the normal amount of loving care and training they can be great family dogs. Even some of the dogs used in fighting have been successfully rehabilitated to become good companions. Speak to some people that live with pits and find out what they’re like. You should do this with any dog breed when deciding what would be right for your household.

Not all pit bulls are dangerous. Many can be great family companions. But (like to some extent all dogs) they should be treated with respect. They are fighting against a heritage which included a lot of aggression. They may need your help in overcoming what really amount to “bad genes”.   Not all pit bulls are dangerous – but they carry genes which may be. Be aware and be safe.

1982-2013 chart
Breed Bodily harm Child Victims Adult Victims Deaths Maimings % of total dog population
Pit bull 2792 1114 1047 263 1677 6.0%
Rottweiler 514 290 136 81 294 2%
Husky 79 49 5 25 24 .07%
Wolf hybrid 85 70 5 19 49
Bullmastiff (Presa canario) 105 42 39 15 61 .02%
German shepherd 102 63 30 15 63 2.1%
Pit bull-mix 191 75 45 12 102
Akita 68 43 21 8 50 1%
Boxer 62 19 21 7 29 1.4%
Chow 58 37 17 7 39 .009%
German shepherd-mix 43 28 12 7 28
Doberman 18 9 9 7 10 1.4%

*Chart ordered by number of deaths; includes only a portion of breeds listed in report.

Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to December 31, 2013, by Merritt Clifton, Animal People, December 31, 2013.

  1. This report is ongoing. New attacks are recorded as they occur. Older reports showing fewer attacks include: 2012, 2011,2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007.

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Your Car Is an Oven !

Every year there are lots of warnings posted in print and online about the dangers of leaving animals and children in a car during the heat of summer. Every year many animals and even children die because someone has left them unattended in a vehicle. Every year I see dogs in cars out in the sun – it even happened in our hospital’s parking lot last week!

CRACKING A WINDOW DOES NOT HELP! People think leaving a window open a few inches provides enough air flow to keep the interior from getting dangerously hot. Studies have shown this makes no difference. Air temperatures inside a car can climb very quickly to fatal levels. The table below gives some idea of how quickly the danger develops. 

 Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time

Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time

Elapsed time

Outside Air Temperature (F)









0 minutes








10 minutes








20 minutes








30 minutes








40 minutes








50 minutes








60 minutes








> 1 hour








Courtesy Jan Null, CCM; Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University

That’s right. In the time it takes you to just “run into the store” temps inside the car climb to 120 degrees on a 90 degree day. That’s quickly fatal. That quick “run into the store” can kill your dog or child. Think twice before leaving them behind.

What can you do if you see an animal left behind in a car? Here are some basic tips from the Humane Society of the United States:

How to help a pet left in a hot car

  • Take down the car’s make, model and license-plate number.
  • If there are businesses nearby, notify their managers or security guards and ask them to make an announcement to find the car’s owner.
  • If the owner can’t be found, call the non-emergency number of the local police or animal control and wait by the car for them to arrive.
  • Call 911 only if absolutely needed
  • Taking matters into your own hands like breaking a window is not recommended and can result in legal actions against you. Only a police officer, peace officer, or legal agent of a humane society can seize a dog from a locked car in New York State.

    The owner of the dog will be fined and can even be charged with animal cruelty. Why take this risk? IT IS NEVER WORTH TAKING THE RISK!

    You can help by distributing the flyers provided by the Humane Society of the United States found at the following link:

    Please help every animal lover understand that his or her car is an oven. Leaving any animal unattended in a car in full sun for even a short period of time, even with a window slightly open, is dangerous and potentially fatal. Let’s stop this dangerous behavior.








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Is Holistic Better?

Holistic isn’t Automatically Better…..

It seems that more and more people are requesting “holistic” treatments for their animals just as the medical profession reports they also do for themselves. It irks me when I hear this term as any good general practitioner is a holistic practitioner. While yes the term can connote a better approach to a patient’s problem, it doesn’t mean it’s a safer or better treatment. The term merely refers to treating the whole or entirety of a patient. I do this with every single one of my patients as most good general practitioner veterinarians would. A specialist treats only a portion of a patient, we primary care people treat the whole patient. If your general practitioner doesn’t, find another one.

I think what people are looking for are what are rightly known as complementary therapies. These can be techniques, supplements and medications that are somewhat different than the most commonly utilized ones. Modalities such as acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (herbal medicine), cold and warm laser therapy, electro-magnetic stimulation, homeopathy, physical therapy and reiki are some treatment types that are in this class. These are sometimes wrongly called alternative therapies. I don’t like this term either. All treatments performed on a patient should complement each other.  A return to good health can only be achieved by weaving together several modalities. This is rightly known as integrative medicine. This integrates traditional medications and treatments with tested and safe non-traditional (at least in this country) methods. We use an integrative approach to achieving good health in my hospital – in addition to traditional methods we have veterinarians that also are certified in veterinary acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, cold laser therapy, electro-magnetic therapy, therapeutic ultrasound and physical therapy.

If you are seeking out complementary therapy for your animals, make sure you obtain advice from a veterinarian certified and experienced in the area of concern. It is possible to take a short course and say one is familiar with a treatment. However, it takes years of study and proper certification to become an artful practitioner of any treatment modality. Don’t order supplements and concoctions off of the web. There are still a lot of snake-oil salespeople out there. I always recommend that you be given the proper supplements by a certified veterinarian that has customized them to be exactly what your animal needs. If we don’t perform a required modality in our hospital we maintain a list of certified practitioners in our area that do. We’re happy to set up referrals when indicated. Any good veterinarian should be able to steer you in the right direction.

Remember that supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. There can be great variability in products and some may actually be harmful or create harmful interactions. Why take a chance on harming your companion? Make sure you only obtain them from a veterinarian licensed and certified to specifically tailor a treatment for your animal. Whether using a traditional, non-traditional or an integrative approach always make sure you receive a holistic approach. Make sure your doctors are treating the entire patient.

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  • Blog Author

    Dr. James Zgoda

    Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A. Animal Behavior 1980 Rutgers Univ., M.S. Zoology 1981 Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, D.V.M., 1985 Owner and chief veterinarian of Otterkill Animal Hospital in Campbell Hall, NY ... Read Full
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