Dr. Google and the Smoke Monster

Dr. Google and the Smoke Monster


Are you the type or patient/animal caregiver that likes to do a lot of internet research prior to making an appointment for an examination?  Great! That shows that you are really invested in finding the right answer to you or your animal’s health issue. So is your doctor. Chances are your doctor will also be searching for some answers on the internet at some point. One veterinary school professor recently complained that when he asked students a question during rounds, rather than stating the answer, they googled it first. Be aware that “Dr. Google” (health answers resulting from an internet search) can be both a help and a hindrance in getting to the bottom of a health issue. Perform your research wisely and use the information obtained carefully.  Here are some simple dos and don’ts for you to help you in your research:


Use proper and widely recognized and monitored websites to begin your search. WebMD is a good place to start and has a section for animals. Most universities and veterinary schools have sites with good searchable information on many diseases. So does NIH (National Institutes of Health).



Think that your search as led you directly to the exact problem your animal has. While it probably got you pretty close, it can’t have made a diagnosis without physically examining your companion. Nothing can take the place of a physical exam. In fact, this is required by New York State Law for both people and animals before a diagnosis and treatment recommendations can be made.  Forums where non-professionals can share their experiences and thoughts on conditions are not great places to get good information.  It’s easy to be swayed by persuasive posters. Most are not doctors and most posts don’t contain information obtained from evidence-based medicine, only personal experience.


Bring a list of all the information you’ve collected. It can serve as a great starting point for a conversation with your doctor/veterinarian. It can also allow her to explain why some of those illnesses on your list don’t apply in this particular situation. I love to see a client come in with a sheaf of paper. It indicates that he really cares about his animal.


Bring only a portion of the information. We can’t help you understand this without seeing all that you’ve found.


Allow you doctor to develop her own list of possibilities (called the differential list or problem rule-outs) before sharing your list.


Fall victim to the smoke monster. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of information you’ve found on the internet. Locking in on a single diagnosis and forcing your doctor to comply can have dangerous consequences. You may have to saw your way through a dense jungle of mis-information before you go to the right side of the issue. I have seen doctors misled by a client’s self-diagnosis. While the initiative is commendable, the results can be disastrous.


Understand that sometimes your information may just not apply to the situation at hand.  We may have totally different views of the same health issue.


Be insulted that your doctor may disagree with your thoughts. Don’t become angry. It’s best to work together to find the right diagnosis and treatment plan.


Understand that some doctors can be threatened by your opinions and well researched information. However, a good doctor will be appreciative of your dedication and assistance. It’s impossible for us to know everything about every disease or condition. It’s important for us to work together as a team in order to properly treat every problem. Good health care is a combined effort from patient/client and doctor.


Give up. If you’re not satisfied with a diagnosis, treatment or outcome get a second opinion. Not from Dr. Google, but from a board certified specialist familiar with treating the condition you’re dealing with. How do you find this doctor? Why on the internet of course.



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Ebola Virus and Your Dog and other Animals

Ebola Virus and Your Dog and other animals


I’m sure that you are aware that Ebola Virus has finally made it into the U.S.  We have been expecting it to escape from Africa for a long time. In today’s global village it’s extremely easy for biological agents to spread from source areas to the entire planet in a short period of time given the ease of human travel. In some regards, it’s a bit surprising that it’s taken so long for Ebola to begin its spread. This is a credit to containment procedures that were in place before it began its spread in Africa. What’s surprising is how, given this long period before beginning an epidemic, our government and health care system still does not seem to have been completely and adequately prepared. This is much more alarming than the arrival of the disease itself.

Viruses and other infectious diseases are spread from animal to animal (remember humans are animals too) through either direct contact or indirect contact. Some diseases can be carried and spread without making the host sick.  Animals that carry and spread disease are known as vectors. Inanimate objects that can carry and spread disease are known as fomites.  The humans which were infected with Ebola in Africa and carried it to the U.S. are the vectors for this disease.  It’s not yet clear whether non-human animals can serve as vectors although it’s likely.  You most likely have some experience with a  vector borne disease common in our area – Lyme Disease.  Several different animals serve as vectors in its transmission; some are necessary for the organism’s development. Ebola doesn’t seem to need any intermediate vectors or hosts and transmission appears to be through direct contact with infected body fluids. Which leads us to the big question:

 Can animals be infected with, carry and transmit Ebola Virus?”

The Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association are closely monitoring the situation in an attempt to learn more about this.  It is thought that Ebola virus emerged from non-human primates and or bats in Africa so we know they can be infected.  There is a study indicating both infection and the presence of antibodies in dogs in Africa in the epidemic area. Because of poor and differing sanitation techniques, these dogs may have had direct contact with contaminated tissues, possibly even ingesting portions of infected patients. This scenario would not happen in our country.

Currently, there is no evidence that dogs, cats or other companion animals can be infected and spread the disease to other animals and people. Animals that have been in contact with infected individuals are being monitored and tested closely. While an Ebola patient in Spain’s dog was euthanized out of precaution, the dog belonging to the nurse infected in Texas is in quarantine and being monitored for any disease to help answer this question. At this time we don’t really know the answer to the question.  We do know that  primates and bats can be infected. The medical and veterinary professions currently don’t feel this is likely in our pets and are actively investigating this issue.

So don’t panic. The media is over-hyping this situation as is customary. Many more people die from the flu in this country (30,000!) every year then are likely to develop Ebola during this epidemic.  Rest assured that our profession is continuing its vigilance in containing this infection and monitoring other infectious disease threats.  Orange County is home to one of only a few USDA animal quarantine sites in the U.S. adjacent to Stewart Airport. We have highly trained disease containment specialists already in place in our area should Ebola or any other infectious disease appear here. We’re better prepared here than many areas of the country.  You don’t have to worry. But stay informed, cautious and take any precautions that may be advised. I’ll continue to monitor developments as this epidemic develops and will keep you informed. Stay safe with Pets Power. You can find the CDC’s statement on Ebola Risk with Pets on this link: http://files.dvm360.com/alfresco_images/DVM360/2014/10/14/4fd95878-3d91-4501-b5d0-3e8c855d13bc/Ebola%20handoutAJFV2.pdf




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Obesity,not Curiosity, Kills the Cat (or Dog)

Obesity, not Curiosity, Kills the Cat (or Dog)

Do you know that over half of the dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight? But it’s not fair to say,” well, if only half of my dog is overweight, the other half is ok”. Doesn’t work that way. Just like for the majority of us, weight gain has become a major health issue for our animal companions. It carries the same health risks for animals as for people. Veterinarians are seeing an increase in diabetes, heart failure and degenerative joint disease associated with this weight gain. Heavier animals live shorter lives. Would you like to spend a few extra years with your beloved companion? Get on the program. Become a “life coach” for your animal. There will be multiple benefits for both of you.

There are many factors which can contribute to animal obesity such as feeding habits, lack of sufficient exercise, surgical alteration, slow metabolism, genetics and hormonal disorders. If you valiantly try to help reduce your animal’s weight without success, a veterinary examination is in order to see if there is a metabolic or hormonal reason for the problem.

You can take a simple quiz at www.stopcanineobesity.com to determine if your companion is overweight. These same principles apply to cats as well. Here are some of the signs your animal has a problem:

  • Is he/she a breed prone to obesity such as retrievers, beagles, basset hounds, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, shelties and terriers or a cat (all cats are at risk)?
  • Do you have a multi-animal house?
  • Is your dog or cat over 5 years old and still being fed the same type and amount of food as when he/she was younger?
  • Feel your animal’s ribs. Is it hard to feel where one stops and the next begins?
  • Stand at your animal’s side. Is there a “tuck-up” under the belly or does it sag or have a square shape?
  • Do you often feed table food or multiple treats each day?
  • Do you just pour the cat or dog food into the bowl?
  • Does your animal have trouble standing up or jumping up on the couch?
  • Does your dog get less than 30 minutes of daily outside exercise/play time?

If you can answer yes to any of these, Houston, we may have a problem. But not all hope is lost. There are many simple ways to help both you and your companion regain that svelte figure.

  • Feed a controlled amount of the right quality food. Your veterinarian can make individualized feeding plans for your animal by determining its caloric needs and determining how to meet them. It’s actually easier with animals than it is with us. Their prepared diets are consistent and easy to control.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise. A gradual increase in exercise will help burn off those un-needed calories while you are working on improving the diet.  Just like for yourself, shoot for 30 minutes several times a week. Cats can be encouraged to chase a toy, light beam or ball. Consult with your veterinarian for the proper program for you companion.

Weight loss is hard. Everyone knows that. Everyone also knows that it will improve the quality of life for your entire household. The advantage for animals is two-fold. It’s much easier given the controlled diets they eat and YOU are in control of the program. Imagine if you had a personal coach that controlled what you ate each day and encouraged your exercise. You are your animal’s personal coach. Take that responsibility seriously and improve the life of your companion.


Obesity in Pets

            Animals gain fat internally prior to showing any outwardly signs of weight gain. Being overweight as a pet can predispose them to a lot of the same problems overweight people face; such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, kidney disease, and heart failure.


RIBS – Easily felt with no fat covering
TAIL BASE – Bones are raised with little tissue between the skin and bone
SIDE VIEW – Abdominal tuck
OVERHEAD VIEW – Significant hourglass shape


RIBS – Easily felt with slight (<1/2″) fat cover
TAIL BASE – Smooth but bones can be felt under a thin layer of fat
SIDE VIEW – Abdominal tuck
OVERHEAD VIEW – Well-proportioned waist is present


RIBS – Difficult to feel with moderate (>1/2″) fat cover
TAIL BASE – Some thickening, but bones can be felt under a moderate layer of fat
SIDE VIEW – No abdominal tuck or waist
OVERHEAD VIEW – Back is slightly broadened


RIBS – Difficult to feel under thick fat cover
TAIL BASE – Thickened and difficult to feel under a thick layer of fat
SIDE VIEW – Fat hangs down from the abdomen and there is no waist
OVERHEAD VIEW – Markedly wide


5’4” Woman

5’9” Man

12 lb Pomeranian

249 lbs

290 lbs

90 lb Female Lab

186 lbs

217 lbs

15 lb Cat

218 lbs

254 lbs

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I Always Wanted to be a Veterinarian

“I  Always Wanted to be a Veterinarian”

Veterinarians hear this phrase almost daily. Many people say, “I always wanted to be a veterinarian” and then proceed to explain why that just never worked out for them. I suppose I shouldn’t complain. We’re lucky our profession is so desired. I always wonder if proctologists, plumbers and dentists hear the same thing. We also hear about the youngsters that are thinking about joining our profession. This is a great thing. Veterinarians usually enjoy encouraging students to consider what our profession has to offer them. Most people aren’t really aware what it actually takes to become the veterinarian they always wanted to be.

While it’s great to desire to enter our field because of a love of animals, that alone won’t get you far enough. It takes a large amount of difficult education to become a member of this great profession. Here’s a run-down of what we usually share with prospective students:

To become a veterinarian you must:

  • Have great grades in high school in order to be accepted at good college. Love of science is important.
  • Spend at least 3 and usually 4 years in college. Students can major in anything, but must fulfill the prerequisite courses of the veterinary schools they are considering. Coursework is heavy in the sciences.
  • Obtain first-hand knowledge of the profession by working or volunteering in a veterinary setting. Many schools have specific requirements, for example 400 hours in companion animal practice and 400 hours in farm animal practice. Veterinary schools want to be sure you know what you are getting into.
  • Veterinary School involves another 4 years of study. That means it takes 7-8 years of college to obtain a veterinary degree.
  • Pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, our National Board Exam.
  • If interested in specializing in a field such as cardiology, internal medicine, etc. an additional 3-5 years of study and a specialty exam is required for certification.

    The veterinary curriculum is unique in that students study all animals from mice to elephants and are licensed to treat all of them upon completing the above requirements. We also are licensed to practice medicine, surgery and dentistry from the beginning. Veterinarians are true general practitioners able to do so much more than physicians upon completing our studies.

    This study does come with a hefty price. The current fees for veterinary school are currently around $300,000. Students are graduating with a heavy debt load. The average starting salary for veterinarians is around $68,000. This is less than half of the starting salary for physicians and many other professions making it difficult for many new veterinarians to make ends meet. The profession is addressing this issue but currently has no good solutions at hand. The median salary for veterinarians in this country is currently around $85,000 according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Being a veterinarian can provide a good living, but involves long hours, hard work and dedication to achieve success.

    Yes, I always wanted to be a veterinarian too. And I am. It’s hard work, took a lot of effort to achieve where I am today, but, like most veterinarians, I love my work. We meet new challenges every day. I suspect many people aren’t able to say that about their jobs.

    Want to learn more? Ask your veterinarian! Great information is also available at: www.iwanttobeaveterinarian.org and  http://www.vet.cornell.edu/admissions/index.cfm.




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Rabies, Bats and Your Cat

Bats, Cats and Rabies

The great outdoors is the place to be this time of year. Whether enjoying your back yard or hiking in our beautiful area parks, you should be aware of some hidden dangers easily found nearby. Rabies disease is one of these. Rabies is real and all around us. The virus which causes rabies can infect all warm-blooded animals including people. Infection is obtained through contact with saliva from an infected animal which ends up in the nervous system after migrating through the body. It wreaks havoc on the brain leading to unusual behavior, aggression, seizures and ultimately death. There is no treatment for rabies. This is a serious and scary disease which you can prevent by observing some simple precautions.

In our area, rabies is usually transmitted through contact with wild animals which can carry the virus for awhile before dying.  Common carriers are bats, foxes, skunks and raccoons with bats being the most infected. Domestic animals can be infected with the most common one being cats. Why cats?

Our rabies vaccination program for dogs has been very effective in protecting both dogs and people. In fact, this program functions as a type of national defense against this disease for people. Last year over 50,000 people died worldwide from rabies. None of these were in the U.S because of our effective program for dogs. In New York State, cats are required to be vaccinated too. But because local municipalities aren’t set up to enforce this, many cats go unvaccinated. Consequently, many rabies positive cats are seen each year by the State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center where all testing is performed.

Indoor only cats should be vaccinated too. You may have bats in the belfry or just in the attic but if one gets into your house you and your cat may be exposed to rabies. If a cat is unvaccinated a six month, hands-off quarantine will be enforced. Keep your cat’s rabies vaccination up to date to avoid this difficult situation.

To protect yourself and family from rabies:

  • Don’t handle or approach wild animals
  • Don’t handle a bat if in the house, but keep it confined for capture and testing. Call the department of health to find out how.
  • Keep your dog, cats and farm animals current on rabies vaccinations.
  • People can get vaccines too. Vaccinated people only need to receive 2 post-exposure injections vs the 4 that are normally received. These injections are now given in the upper arm making the process more tolerable.
  • If you are bitten by any animal, wild or domestic wash the wound with warm water and disinfectant immediately. Contact your physician as soon as possible. Delays can lead to serious consequences.
  • Contact the Orange County Department of Health if you have concerns about possible rabies exposure.

    Enjoy the outdoors, but be smart and be safe

  • Sept. 28 is World Rabies Day, designated to raise awareness of rabies around the world. It’s a serious disease in many countries. Visit the World Rabies Alliance to see how you can help:
  • http://rabiesalliance.org/world-rabies-day/

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Ten Ways to Scare Your Veterinarian

Ten Ways to Scare Your Veterinarian

With Halloween only a month away and so many top ten lists and quizzes popular on the internet I thought I’d share some ideas on how to liven up your next veterinary visit.

Ten Ways to Scare Your Veterinarian (but please don’t):

10. Make an appointment for your pet rats to be examined. Show up in the         examination room with an empty carrier saying “ Gee, they were in here when I  walked in.”  (works well with snakes too)

9. Keep checking your cell phone during the examination. This will be easy because it will be constantly ringing anyway.  Answer it and say,“ I’m at the vets. No she’s fine. If you don’t stop calling me I will beat you blue when I get home. Love you, bye.”  Or,“ I hope the police don’t find me here, my license has been suspended for six months.”

8. Laugh hysterically when the vet reluctantly performs a rectal examination on your animal.  Say something like, “That’s funny, he doesn’t squirm so much when I do that at home.”  Remember it requires at least eight years of college for the veterinarian to do that rectal exam.

7. Wait until the appointment is totally over before saying, “Thanks, but I have no way of paying for this.” Or, “No, I don’t believe in credit cards and I don’t have a checking account.”  We’re sorry you may be out on disability but please let us know that there are financial concerns at the beginning of your visit.

6. Allow your children to run around screaming, touching everything and to swing from the exam table. So what if that exam table cost $6,000, it’s your kid right?

5. Walk in the door with a scruffy kitten with a snotty nose and eyes crusted shut. Say, “I just found this kitten, but I can’t take care of it.” Of course most vets will take it in and help this kitten. We are all softies at heart. But we can’t provide free care for every animal.

4. During the examination, suddenly look at the walls. Say, “SHH, I can hear something in the walls, don’t you?”  “Could be rats, or snakes, or kittens.”

3. Pull your car as close to the entrance as possible. Try to drive into the building if you can. Make sure you make it hard for anybody else to enter. After all, you have a real emergency, Scruffy broke that nail two days ago.

2.  If the office closes at 5:00 pm, call at 4:51 pm. Say, “Pudding just had really       bad, bloody something from his back end. I’m coming right over.” Of course we’ll wait for you. Show up at 6:00 pm. Explain that Pudding has had diarrhea for a week and you thought she should be looked at before the weekend because you’re leaving for Italy.

  1.  Laugh hysterically as your dog lunges at the veterinarian when she walks in the room. Repeatedly say, “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok”, thinking you’re calming your dog down when you’re really saying, “Hey, it’s ok to try to bite that vet.” Laugh when your cat tries to bite the staff. Say, “She’s never bitten anyone.” Well, isn’t there a first time for everything? Bring a dog in with a muzzle on, growling and lunging at everyone. Hand the leash to your kid.  Now we’re all scared!



    All of these things have actually happened to me. Sometimes multiple times during my career.  Being a veterinarian can be a scary proposition. We and our staffs are risking physical harm every day. That’s ok, we love what we do.  It would be great if you try to make our days just a bit less scary. Talk to your veterinarian about how you can help do this before your next appointment.





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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- www.shinrin-yoku.org.  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, www.anapsid.org, 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:http://i.walmartimages.com/i/if/hmp/fusion/customer_list.pdf. 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:http://www.reviews.com/pet-insurance/
  • 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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  • 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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