Senior Emergencies


Leading causes, and keys to survival

We’ve all been there . . .

You’re walking the pup, and . . . “Is he limping?  I didn’t notice that yesterday.”

Or you’re strutting along and wonder, “She sure is panting a lot. It’s not that hot out. Is that normal?”

Or your cat has been sleeping all day. “I know cats sleep a lot, but he used to be so playful.”

Or, “Wow, she sure has been drinking a lot of water lately.”

Or, you’re snuggling with your lovebug and discover a lump.

Another biggie: they didn’t eat breakfast (or dinner) — a huge concern with a pet who never skips a meal.

These occurrences are all the more worrisome when pets are older.  Any new, little thing brings trepidation and fear.

It’s hard to believe how time flies, and our pawed companions reach their senior years much faster than we do. Aging is an undeniable part of life and, for pets, along with it comes lumps and bumps, limps and gimps.

It’s easy to recognize the outward signs of aging in a pet: stiffening joints, graying muzzle, slowing gait, and once bright eyes growing cloudy.  What can’t be seen but must be remembered is that his or her internal systems are changing too.

So, how can you tell if your senior pet is suffering from a serious health issue or merely presenting signs of age?

Spot spoke with Dr Megan Nyboer, Emergency Director at Cascade Veterinary Referral Center about the most common medical emergencies for pets in their golden years.


Metabolic System Disease

The metabolism makes energy from food and eliminates waste and toxins from the body.  Metabolic function is at the core of good physical health. Disorders include anything that disrupt the process, from disease isolated to an organ such as kidney or liver to a systemic disease affecting the body overall such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism.


Early indications of a metabolic problem include increased thirst/urination and weight loss. More advanced signs include decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting and weakness. “While not curable, metabolic system disease is treatable if caught early,” Nyboer says. The best prevention, she adds, is annual exams and bloodwork for pets six to seven years of age and twice yearly as they get older or as specific health issues arise.


Heart Disease

Dr Nyboer says heart disease is very common in both older dogs and cats, but that it can be managed when detected early.


Signs that trouble is brewing for dogs include a cough lasting more than a couple of weeks, lethargy, and intolerance to exercise. Difficulty and/or heavy breathing, severe coughing, and fluid from the nose are more acute symptoms, signifying a possible emergency that may require oxygen.

As with their canine counterparts, sudden onset of heavy breathing and general lethargy in felines are indicators of heart disease, but Nyboer warns that cats often exhibit no symptoms.  In fact, she says, cats tend to mask signs of illness better than dogs, often delaying detection.

This underscores the importance of yearly physical exams: early detection is key to being able to manage a disease, and hopefully prolong survival. If a murmur is discovered, for example, it can be monitored, and explored further with additional diagnostic tests.



For pets, incidents of cancer increase with age. According to The Veterinary Cancer Society, cancer is the leading cause of death in 47% of dogs (especially over age 10) and 32% of cats. 

With so many different types, cancer follows no iron-clad rule. Symptoms vary, or can be scarce until the disease has become advanced.

The cancer that causes the most life-threatening emergencies — especially in older animals — is Hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive, malignant tumor in blood vessel cells. Because these tumors form in blood vessels, they are frequently filled with blood. When a blood-filled tumor ruptures, it can cause internal bleeding — particularly when the liver or spleen are involved.

“This can happen very quickly and without warning,” says Nyboer. “This an acute, urgent situation where immediate emergency care is needed.”


Because pets may not exhibit symptoms until a problem becomes serious, the doctor urges parents of senior pets to vigilantly watch for listlessness, sudden and unexplained weakness, pale gums, abdominal swelling, difficulty breathing, and collapse.



Regular veterinary examinations and bloodwork establish a baseline for pets, making it easier to detect abnormalities before they become advanced or life-threatening and improving the chances of a longer, healthier life.

You know your pet better than anyone, making you his or her first line of defense. Watch for even small signs that your aging dog or cat is “just not feeling or acting right” and, should they appear, get veterinary care. The sooner you act, the better the chance of a positive outcome for your best friend.

Resource: Cascade Veterinary Referral Center | |  503-684-1800


Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington. She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), and Pedro & Grey Bird (parrots). Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.

How to know when it’s time to see the Vet

Have you experienced that anxious moment when you know something is wrong with your pet and you have to decide what to do? Maybe your dog is vomiting? Or your cat has diarrhea? Or perhaps your pet is limping, has collapsed, or is crying out?

None of us want our pets to suffer, and when such things occur, one of the most stressful aspects can be knowing what to do.

Is it an Emergency?

First, it’s important to recognize the signs of a true emergency so you can seek immediate veterinary care, if needed. It’s important to know if your veterinarian treats emergency cases, and to have a list of nearby emergency veterinary clinics before you need one. Many clinics will discuss a situation by phone to help determine whether it may be an emergency, and some will even provide home care recommendations if your pet has been seen at there in the past year.  You can also increase the chances of your pet surviving an emergency by taking a pet CPR or first aid class.

Some situations that call for immediate veterinary care include when your pet:

●       has collapsed or is unresponsive

●       has ingested toxins or an object that could cause blockage

●       has severe bleeding

●       is choking or cannot breathe

●       has injured an eye

●       has severe vomiting or diarrhea or occurrences more than twice in 24 hours

●       has broken bones or a leg at a strange angle

●       is having seizures or other neurological symptoms

●       is a cat who is straining to urinate or not eating for over 24 hours

If symptoms don’t appear severe, it can be difficult to know when to go to the vet. In these cases, remember animals — especially cats — are masters at hiding illness. This is because showing signs of sickness in the wild makes them vulnerable to predators.

Check Vital Signs

A basic assessment of the following vitals is an important step in determining whether immediate vet care is needed. If any of the following vitals are abnormal, s/he should be seen right away.

●       Hydration Your pet’s gums are a good indicator of hydration. Dr. Heather Dillon of At Home Veterinary Services — a Spot Top Dog winning veterinary practice that treats pets in their homes — says, “A healthy animal should have moist, coral-pink gums. When you gently press on the gums the color should turn from white back to the normal pink color in about two seconds. If the gums look pale, blue, are tacky (dry), or if it takes a prolonged time for color to return after pressing on the tissue, then you should have your pet seen.” With a well-hydrated pet, the skin on the scruff of the neck should move easily back into place if you pull on it gently. Here too, if it takes more than two seconds to move back into place, your pet is likely dehydrated.

●       Temperature Gently insert a lubricated digital thermometer into your pet’s rectum, and follow the instructions on the thermometer to get a reading. The thermometer should be inserted around one to three inches, depending on the size of the animal, and should never be forced in. A normal temperature for a cat or dog generally ranges between 100 and 102.5 F.

●       Respiration Rate. To measure respiration, simply count your pet’s breaths for one minute. A respiration rate of a healthy, comfortable cat is usually 20 to 30 breaths per minute; a dog’s is a broader range of 15 to 30.

●       Heart Rate. For cats, heart rate is usually measured by resting the hand on the cat’s side, behind its left front leg. For dogs, the femoral artery on the inside of the back leg is usually easiest for measuring heart rate. The normal range for a pet’s heart rate is quite wide, and can vary depending on the stress level and size of the animal. A dog’s heart rate is usually between 100-150 beats per minute; a cat’s is generally 140-220. Both heart and respiration rates are best measured when your pet is relaxed, if possible.

Other Factors 

●       Age. When a very young or older pet shows signs of a medical concern, s/he should be seen by a vet.

●       The number of symptoms. If multiple symptoms are apparent, the situation is more serious. For example, a vomiting, lethargic dog is more likely to have a serious condition than one who is only vomiting.

●       Environmental exposure. Consider what your pet may have been exposed to. Is it possible that s/he ingested a bottle of pills or something toxic in the yard? Dogs will often eat clothing or toys, and cats often eat string or yarn; both necessitate an immediate veterinary visit. For a full list of substances that are toxic to pets, visit the ASPCA Poison Control website.

Common Concerns

Symptoms are not the disease, but rather clues you can use — in conjunction with diagnostics like an exam, lab work, radiographs, ultrasound, and sometimes even surgery — to determine the underlying condition.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Most pets occasionally vomit or get diarrhea. If either is occurring and is intense, or lasts longer than 24 hours, veterinary care is needed. When vomiting or diarrhea start, withhold food to give the stomach a rest. Dr. Dillon advises offering small amounts of water, but if your pet vomits the water, consult your vet.

If vomiting or diarrhea stops for 6-8 hours, offer your pet small amounts of bland food, like boiled chicken, turkey or rice. If your pet continues to do well, gradually transition back to a normal diet over several days. If vomiting and diarrhea resume after reintroducing food, it is time to see the vet. Chronic (repeatedly occurring) vomiting or diarrhea calls for a visit to the veterinarian.

Dr. Dillon warns that cats should not fast as long as dogs. “Any time food is withheld from a cat it should be done under the advice of a veterinarian because of the potential for hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome).” It is important not to give your pet any medication without consulting your veterinarian.

Possible causes of vomiting and diarrhea include: recent change in diet, dietary indiscretion (eating unusual or unnatural items), parasites, viruses, gastritis and gastroenteritis, pancreatitis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or bloat.


Limping can be caused by a wide variety of conditions — some easily resolved, while others are more serious. According to Dr. Lillian Su at Sunstone Veterinary Specialists, most pets who limp are experiencing pain, and the most common causes of limping are musculoskeletal or neurological pain.

If your pet is able to put weight on the leg and is not experiencing other symptoms, the limping may be caused by a strain that could heal by applying a cold pack, and limiting his or her activity to short bathroom walks for several days.

With limping, a veterinary appointment is urgent if any of these is true:

●       there is a broken bone or wound

●       the pet cannot put weight on the leg

●       the leg is at a strange angle, is swollen, or has obvious instability

●       the limping appears to originate from the back instead of the leg

●       For cats, paralysis of one or both rear legs can indicate a dislodged blood clot. If your cat has limited use of ANY leg, the foot feels cold, or the cat is vocalizing loudly, it is a medical emergency.

Do not give your pet pain medication unless prescribed by your veterinarian. “While it is natural to want to give your pet something to help with their pain, many over the counter anti-inflammatories and pain medications are harmful to pets,” Dr. Su says.

Possible causes of limping include: broken or fractured bone, ligament injury, developmental orthopedic disease, stroke, arthritis, infection, or foreign body in the leg.


Although lethargy is a common symptom, it can be difficult to find its cause. Dr. Stephanie Scott of Pearl Animal Hospital explains, “Lethargy is a difficult symptom to interpret. It can run the gamut of something not concerning, like being tired from a busy, active day, to a very concerning symptom of a serious potentially life-threatening problem.” Because lethargy is such a general symptom, your veterinarian will likely want to supplement a physical exam with detailed lab work and radiographs. If a pet parent is worried, Scott advises that they have their pet seen by a veterinarian — especially if there are any other symptoms.

Possible causes of lethargy include: gastrointestinal upset, cardiac disease, infection, immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, muscle or joint pain, bloat, cancer, urinary issues, or kennel cough.

In appetence/Anorexia

Like lethargy, loss of appetite is a common but vague symptom that can be caused by a variety of conditions. When accompanied by other symptoms, or the pet has a major systemic disease, it should be seen by a veterinarian. For instance, if your pet has diabetes, you should contact your vet if even one meal is skipped.

It is especially important for a cat who is not eating to see a vet within 24 hours, as s/he is vulnerable to hepatic lipidosis, or liver failure, a life-threatening disease. If your pet seems hungry but does not eat, you can try to make the food more enticing by heating it to room temperature or adding tasty, aromatic treats, such as water from canned tuna. According to Dr. Dillon, “Sometimes offering small amounts for food at a time can be a little less overwhelming.”

Possible causes of in appetence include: gastrointestinal upset, foreign body blockage, cancer, kidney or other organ disease, pain, pancreatitis, or thyroid disease.

When in Doubt

Only a veterinarian has the training and tools needed to fully diagnose and treat your pet. Dr. Scott encourages, “I am here to help your pet feel better. Your pet, my patient, can't speak, so I rely on you, the pet owner, to help me figure out what is going on. Lab work and/or radiographs [x-rays] can really help me determine what is or what is not going on.” There are many options for low-stress, patient-focused veterinary care — from clinics with separate entrances for cats and dogs to veterinarians who provide in-home care — and your veterinarian is there to help.  As Dr. Su says, “If you’re on the fence or at all uncertain, call your vet!”

Daniela Iancu, founder of Animal Community Talks, has worked and volunteered with veterinary practices and animal welfare organizations in the Portland area for the last decade. Her happy home includes a wonderfully supportive husband and sweet senior cat, Maya.

The Dodo Asks DoveLewis: How Do You Handle Bee Stings?

Bee stings can cause cats and dogs swelling, hives, and difficulty breathing — and the onset can be fast. Do you know what to do? The Dodo reached out to DoveLewis Critical Care Specialist Dr. Erika Loftin to find out.

"It is possible for a pet to go into anaphylactic shock resulting from a bee sting, so it's important to get them treated as soon as possible," Dr. Loftin told The Dodo.

Though cats and dogs share reactions to bee stings similar to those of humans, it's extremely important to consult your veterinarian before treating them with any type of medicine, especially medicines intended for humans. Learn more at

Washington Cat Shelter Destroyed By Landslide



Seven Cats Need New Homes

December 2015 was one of the wettest months on record for our bit of paradise in the Pacific Northwest and it wasn’t kind to many. There was flooding, landslides, tornados and evacuations to name a few of the calamities. One family that fell victim to Mother Nature was Mike and Alison Day.

The Days had a nice existence. Their home in Kelso was their oasis on 3 acres of land, on a hill with a view, plenty of room for their kids and the Isles of Day Cat Sanctuary that they had on their property. The Days would rescue homeless, abandoned and neglected cats, give them the love and medical attention they needed, then find new homes for the kitties.



Shortly before Christmas while the Day family was sleeping, there was a loud boom. Turns out their entire front yard slid down the hill in a landslide. Their house was barely spared from following down the hill. They were ordered to evacuate and the house and cat shelter were considered a total loss.

They were fortunate to find a rental house owned by Furry Friend volunteer Marci Koski in Vancouver. Marci and her husband were just moving in to their new home and their previous home was available. But moving with two children a dog and nine cats was not an easy endeavor. They built a make-shift pen for the cats, but that will be a temporary fix. Seven of the nine cats will need to find new homes. Furry Friends, which is an all volunteer, no-kill, cat rescue organization in Clark County has stepped in to help the Days find new homes for the kitties.

Via Diane Stevens and Furry Friends Washington

Learn more about the cats at Contact Furry Friends at or 360-993-1097 (please leave a message).
To learn more about the Day family and Isles of Day Cat Shelter and/or contribute to a crowdfunding campaign in progress, visit Facebook/islesofdaycatsanctuary or

Survivors...still in need of safe harbor

Jasmine, Tritone, Little Bear

Jasmine, Tritone, Little Bear

This bonded pair must be adopted together. They will do best in a quiet family in which they are the only kitties or where they have just one
or two mellow cat friends. Jasmine is a 4-year old white Calico who is friendly, energetic, and sometimes skittish. She loves to be petted and
chase feather wands. Four-year-old Little Bear is a friendly, gentle and snuggly Tortoiseshell who loves to be petted and held. Both cats are shy & cowardly with other cats or in stressful situations.



This little girl (5 lbs) is a 9-year-old Tiger Calico. She has dominance issues, often picking fights with other cats, though she gets along with dogs. She is very friendly to people, but bites when excited or doesn't want physical touch. Ocelot’s luscious coat requires some grooming.

This guy is super affectionate. An 8-year-old “tripod,” he moves just fine, and can even jump very high. While athletic, he also loves food and to overeat and laze around. Snuggly Tritone will make an endearing friend, and he gets along with dogs.

Little Bear

Little Bear

Ocelot and Allison Day

Ocelot and Allison Day

This guy loves everyone — people, cats & dogs! 10 years old with big, beautiful eyes, Toof loves to be petted but will bite if overexcited. Toof
has a distinctive low-slung, slinky gait due to poor knee development as a kitten.

This 11-year-old Tuxedo is sweet and mellow, cuddly and loving. She will pace her territory when nervous, is unfriendly to cats, but gets along
with dogs. While she loves affection, Bella will sometimes bite to say affection time is OVER.

An extremely friendly girl, Bootsie loves to climb up and sit on your shoulder. A Tiger-striped Calico, this 8-year-old beauty has a huntress,
alpha personality — dominating other cats when in a group. She’s very dog-friendly though, and loves snuggling. Quite a “talker,” Bootsie has

New emergency pet care opens

Lake Oswego Veterinary Emergency (LOVE) has opened, with the help of DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital, in the Animal Care Group of Lake Oswego facility. Opened in June, the practice provides advanced emergency veterinary care for small companion animals nights, weekends and holidays.

Emergency services require distinct training, high medical standards, and specialized policies and procedures, which is where DoveLewis comes in. Ron Morgan, DoveLewis CEO, said, “The local landscape for the veterinary industry is changing. We identified a need to evaluate new partnerships in order to keep growing while corporate entities become more significant in the Portland area. We saw this as a great opportunity for our animal-loving community, and it aligned with our mission as an organization. As a teaching hospital, it is another way for us to share our extensive knowledge and training in emergency veterinary medicine.” LOVE is located at 3996 Douglas Way in Lake Oswego. Learn more at

VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists Celebrate 15 Years Of Caring

Veterinary technicians help a patient with an MRI.

Veterinary technicians help a patient with an MRI.

There’s a belief among people who aren’t veterinarians that those who choose to become vets do so because they prefer animals to people. 

According to veterinarian Heidi Houchen of VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists (VCA NWVS), nothing could be further from the truth. “As a veterinarian, you work with people at their core level, which is their relationships with animals,” she says. “The doctors here are highly people-oriented.”

In fact, Houchen says everyone she knows in the profession considers it a calling.  “What all of us love about it is the opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of animals and people. As a veterinarian, it’s important to respect the dedication that owners feel for their animals.”

Dr. Houchen and the staff at VCA NWVS must be doing something right — this year they’re celebrating their 15th anniversary as the largest veterinary specialty group in Oregon. In addition to treating critically ill and injured pets at their fully-staffed, 24-hour ICU and emergency service, VCA NWVS also offers specialty services in cardiology, oncology, ophthalmology, neurology, radiology, and both orthopedic and soft tissue surgery.

Grown with Care

The original three partners in the practice — Drs. Robert Mack, Paul Scherlie, and Scott Lozier

— worked together for nearly a decade before starting VCA NWVS in 1999. “Their whole core mission when they started out was to create a culture of compassionate care,” says Houchen.

The practice grew quickly. The hospital facility was originally 10,000 square-feet; 15 years later, an additional 12,000 square-feet has been added, and a third building will be completed by the end of this year.

While it’s true that VCA NWVS is a large facility with cutting-edge equipment, people and patients remain the focus. As Houchenputs it: “We want to provide high touch as well as high tech.” Maintaining active participation in the neighborhood is an important component of VCA NWVS's core beliefs. The highly trained veterinary technical staff are dedicated not only to their hospitalized patients, but also to volunteering for a variety of community programs, such as VCA NWVS First Aid and CPR classes.

Internist Dr. Mack

Internist Dr. Mack

The Lifeblood of Care

Houchen manages the VCA NWVS Critical Care Blood Bank, an important community resource.

The blood bank was created in 2006 in response to a severe, unexpected shortage of blood for cats and dogs. In 2008, the Oregon Zoo invited VCA NWVS to help with the delivery of the first elephant born in Portland since 1994. Administering antibodies from mother to calf — along with elephant plasma if needed — would decrease the risk of infections.

Turns out it was needed. VCA NWVS drew blood from Tusko, the dad elephant, processed it into plasma, and administered three liters during the calf’s first day of life. He eventually thrived.  

The hospital has provided more than 6,000 units of blood components in the past eight years, thanks to donor dogs and cats. 

Uncommon Care for More Common Pets

Less exotic patients are referred to VCS NWVS by partner veterinarians when specialty services are needed. “We see the sickest animals sometimes, with complicated issues,” says Houchen. “For instance, an animal that’s diabetic may also have a thyroid problem. Or perhaps a patient has degenerative joint disease or a complicated fracture. Maybe you have a Dachshund with a disc issue or an epileptic animal with seizures. They will be referred to specialists just like with human care. We do oncology, radiology, MRIs and CTs.”

VCA NWVS doctors’ dedication to animals extends beyond their already successful practice.

Ophthalmologist Dr. Scherlie often flies to Alaska to help care for sled dogs. “Who would have thunk it that someone would allow me to be an ophthalmologist for a dog?” he laughs. 

Dr. Scherlie performing an eye exam on Gus at the Oregon Zoo.  Photo courtesy of Oregon Zoo.

Dr. Scherlie performing an eye exam on Gus at the Oregon Zoo.  Photo courtesy of Oregon Zoo.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lozier has worked with African wild dogs and tigers at the Oregon Zoo, and has lectured around the world about orthopedic surgery for animals.

Those exciting high-profile excursions aside, Houchen reiterates that most veterinarians don’t choose their profession for prestige.

“You’re covered with muck and blood and poo a lot of the time,” she says. “You go into it for the incredible high level of satisfaction you get from the work, and the ability to affect peoples’ lives. And you do it because at your core you feel that’s where you belong.”

Vanessa Salvia's love for animals began as a child, when stray kittens just seemed to follow her home.  She now lives on a sheep farm outside of Eugene, Oregon, with a llama named Linda, a dog, a cat, a rabbit, two kids and a patient husband.

DoveLewis: 40 years of community commitment and service

Photo credit: Gary Lewis

Photo credit: Gary Lewis

Given the wealth of animal services in the Portland area it may seem hard to believe that emergency services for animals is relatively young.  In 1973, local veterinarians typically handled their own emergency cases or spelled one another in times of need, but a void existed, especially in extreme cases.  Enter A.B. Lewis, who honored his late, animal-loving wife, Dove, by donating funds to open Portland’s first emergency veterinary clinic.  Members of the Portland Veterinary Medical Association formed a board of directors, and the nonprofit DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital was born.  

In August 2013, DoveLewis celebrated its 40th anniversary of providing emergency and critical care services to animals.  Over the last four decades the hospital has also pioneered community services such as the Pet Loss Support Group, Blood Bank, and Velvet Assistance Fund.  From state-of-the-art medical care to free educational and therapeutic workshops, DoveLewis has a hand in almost every aspect of animal services. 

“We talk about DoveLewis as being an octopus,” says Marketing and Communication Manager Marin Aultom.  “There are so many different tentacles to us and ways in which we support our community.”  Aultom says it’s not uncommon for people to know only one or two aspects of DoveLewis’s reach.  “Sometimes people know us as a hospital or pet loss support program, but we’re so much more, and I think that contributes to our longevity.” 

CEO Ron Morgan, who has been with DoveLewis in that capacity for 10 years, says that in looking back over DoveLewis’s legacy he’s been impressed with how many people have contributed to the organization’s success.  “I’ve read board minutes from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and I see these familiar names, many of whom are still around.  It really shows that so many people put time into the complexity of making DoveLewis.”  

Along with medical staff and volunteers, Morgan points to the vital importance of the DoveLewis’s donor base.  “I’ve met some amazing people over the last 10 years whose hearts are just in the right place and they want to do the right thing — it’s phenomenal.  Dove is a little unique I think, in that 98 percent of our donors have had hands-on experience with what  it’s like here, what the staff is like, and how they get treated — and they want to support that.” 

Another much-unknown aspect of DoveLewis, Morgan feels, is the breadth of knowledge of its veterinary staff.  He says many people don’t know that Dove is a teaching hospital, drawing medical professionals from across the country and the world, to learn from its medical staff.  

DoveLewis's critical care is one of the best in the country.

DoveLewis's critical care is one of the best in the country.

“DoveLewis is very well known in emergency circles,” says Morgan.  “Our ICU, and critical care medicine, outside of the university setting, is probably in the top five in the country.”  But that’s not all that draws top docs to Dove.  Morgan says, “A lot of our staff is attracted to our nonprofit mission and the programs we offer.  They can help people with financial needs, they can help strays and injured wildlife, and they can get people involved in the pet loss program.  They like that our mission is focused on the human-animal bond and not on driving profit.” 

Morgan is particularly proud of the recently launched Portland Area Canine Therapy Teams (PACTT) program.  DoveLewis has partnered with Guide Dogs for the Blind, giving new opportunities to retired or career-change guide dogs.  “We are taking these wonderful, highly trained dogs who love being in service and taking them into senior centers and hospitals.  We’re really excited about it.” 

Another new program expanding upon the hospital’s educational efforts is an on-demand, online training tool, “On The Floor at Dove,” which offers veterinary professionals — including doctors, vet technicians, practice managers and even front desk personnel — educational videos on procedures and management practices.  

“We saw a real niche in our industry,” says Morgan.  “There are many people working in places where there’s no access to good education, and if there is, it’s just a PowerPoint presentation or webinar that’s never on their time.  This [DoveLewis’s program] is on-demand and easy to access.”  The high-quality videos are shot at DoveLewis, and range from how-to’s on placing an IV catheter to advanced surgical procedures to managing cage aggression.  The program has been a hit with the medical community, which accesses the service by subscription.  Nearly 500 clinics around the country are currently participating, and subscribers are growing in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Great Britain and Europe.  “Our goal is to help improve the level of veterinary medicine, and when the program becomes profitable, that money will come back to Portland and help us grow our programs locally.” 

A DoveLewis Blood Bank Superhero

A DoveLewis Blood Bank Superhero

Expanding programs and finding ways to further its mission are at the forefront of DoveLewis’s vision for the future.  “We’re spending a lot of time now looking forward, not just on what got us here, but what’s going to keep us here and thriving,” says Morgan. 

For Aultom, this anniversary has also been a time to reflect on the importance of the entirety of DoveLewis’s community.  “The donors and volunteers are a huge part of our support, as well as our referring vet partners who trust us with their patients for emergency care when they’re closed.  We’re so excited to celebrate our 40th anniversary and have the community’s support, because without the community, there really isn’t a DoveLewis.” 

To learn more, visit

nikki jardin.jpg

Nikki Jardin is a Portland-based freelance writer who loves to write about people dedicated to making the world a better place for all beings.

Bloat, a stealthy killer


It’s early evening.  The dogs have been fed, had their after-dinner potty break, and everyone is settled in for a little chill time before bed.  A typical, drama-free night . . . until suddenly one of the dogs becomes oddly restless — standing up, sitting down, standing again, sitting again.  You give him a favorite chew toy and tell him to settle on his bed.  He doesn’t.  He begins to pant and then retch, but nothing comes out.  He doesn’t seem to be choking, but is obviously distressed. 

Deeply concerned, you call your veterinarian and describe your dog’s symptoms.  They ask you if his stomach seems larger than normal.  When you affirm it does look swollen, the receptionist says to get in immediately.

The above scenario is not uncommon and often results in a diagnosis of “bloat,” the generic name for a potentially fatal condition those in the veterinary world call Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV).

Bloat happens when a dog’s stomach becomes distended with air or food and then twists, essentially creating a tied-off balloon inside the abdomen — nothing can go in or out — causing all kinds of problems as the gas inside the “balloon” expands and normal blood supply is blocked.  If not treated quickly, dogs can experience shock, irregular heartbeat, in some cases lost blood supply to the spleen and/or parts of the stomach, and even death. 

Scary stuff — even more so given how frequently it occurs.  

“Bloat is a very common problem,” says Michael Flynn, DVM, DAVCS, a surgeon with Cascade Veterinary Referral Center (CVRC) in Tigard, OR.  “Not only is it common, but when it does happen, it constitutes, in every sense, an emergency.” 

Because of the seriousness of this condition, the mere mention can cause shivers and even terror for pet parents — even those with years of professional experience.


Patricia London, DVM, an emergency veterinarian for nearly a decade, has seen more than her share of bloat cases working in the ER at DoveLewis in Portland, OR.  “It’s really very scary,” London says, offering a personal anecdote.  “I went backpacking with my own dog.  We were three days out and I kept thinking, ‘this would be the most horrible place for bloat to happen.’”

Fortunately, Dr. London and her pup made it out of the woods without incident, but the very nature of bloat — no known causes, cases occur suddenly without warning, and they’re frequent — is cause for grave concern.  “You could be looking at your dog,” says London, “maybe they’ve just eaten their dinner and they’re acting normal, and then they’re not.  It’s not like you missed something — you just watched it happen.”

While vets aren’t absolutely sure what causes GDV, some dog breeds are more susceptible than others.  Statistically, larger, deep-chested dogs seem more vulnerable to bloat.  These include Great Danes, German Shepherds, Weimaraners and St. Bernards.  But you can’t rule out smaller dogs.  Dr. Flynn has seen bloat occur in a Bassett Hound.  Dogs with littermates or parents that have suffered the condition seem high-risk as well.

As to causes, you can scan the Internet for a dozen possible reasons why, ranging from ingredients in your dog’s food to variations in canine temperaments.

Common preventions for bloat include not elevating a dog’s food bowl, feeding several small meals throughout the day instead of one big one, and reducing water intake before and after meals — all of which can help minimize the amount of air going into a dog’s stomach, something many vets agree is a common factor with bloat.  Avoiding feeding dry kibble is also recommended as a preventative.  If dry kibble is preferred, some vets advocate presoaking the kibble.

Dr. Flynn also suggests that feeding a food-competitive or nervous dog separately can be helpful, preventing him from bolting his food.  This is especially important for the more at-risk breeds.  It is also recommended to allow a dog to rest after eating, and not immediately going for a walk, to the park, or playing. 

One thing both Drs. Flynn and London know for sure is that bloat is NOT a “wait and see” illness. 

“Don’t wait for your vet to open in the morning,” says Dr. London.  “The longer the stomach sits in that twisted position, the more things can become complicated very quickly.  I always say, ‘I don’t like a bloat in the morning’ because that means a dog could have been sitting overnight with this.” 

Dr. London notes that while it’s not uncommon for a dog to lose its spleen from this condition, that can be the least of the vet’s concern.  “The scarier part comes when a portion of the dog’s stomach has died and the condition still hasn’t been treated, so fluids start leaking into the body.  Now we have a septic abdomen to worry about.”


Dr. Flynn agrees that time is of the essence.  “There are other things it could be, but the only way that distinction can be made is by a veterinarian doing an evaluation and getting an X-ray.”

Once GDV has been confirmed immediate surgery is usually indicated, during which the stomach is rotated to its correct position and fluids and gas are expelled safely.

Typically during this procedure doctors will also perform a gastropexy, attaching the stomach to the abdominal wall in an effort to reduce the risk of the condition recurring.  Some guardians of high-risk breeds like Great Danes have the gastropexy procedure done preventatively, hoping to reduce the chances of bloat happening in the first place.  The procedure can easily be done when a young dog is spayed or neutered, and in some cases, by laparoscopy.

Bloat is a serious condition and dog guardians should know the signs.  If caught quickly, the prognosis is good in the majority of cases, according to Dr. Flynn.  “In the hands of experienced personnel, recognized early, there’s a very good chance these dogs will survive the emergency and go on to a normal life.”

Beaverton Vet Celebrates One Year of Emergency Care

Dr. Shawn Thomas and Vet Tech Julie Spencer splint Kipper's Leg.

Dr. Shawn Thomas and Vet Tech Julie Spencer splint Kipper's Leg.

Dr. Shawn Thomas cradles an English bulldog puppy in one hand and reaches out to greet his visitor with the other.   No worries, he assures:  the puppy isn’t in need of treatment.  He belongs to the doc and has been visiting along with his littermate.  The puppy is handed off to a vet tech and the energetic doctor takes his guest on a tour through the building, pointing out recovery rooms, a surgical center and hi-tech diagnostic tools — including a state-of-the-art X-ray machine.  “This one is just two weeks old,” he says.  The equipment testifies to how well things are going at Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency, Thomas’s practice that is celebrating its first anniversary.

Indeed, the practice is growing.  “It’s definitely gotten better,” says the doctor.  So much better that Thomas hired a second vet last fall and is hoping to add a third by summer.  He attributes the success to the hard work of his staff, who he considers family, and “picking a good place; knowing there was a need for emergency medicine in this area.”

Located just off of NW Cornell Road in Beaverton, Thomas says his is the only emergency service in a 12-16-mile radius.  And, unlike conventional vets, TVE is open 5pm to 8am weekdays, and round the clock on weekends. 

It is weekends when staff sees the most patients, with the most common concerns being upset stomachs, vomiting and diarrhea.  They also see plenty of fractures, as well as more serious concerns like injuries from car accidents and issues that require surgery. 

The variety is what keeps Thomas engaged and enthusiastic about his work, he says.  To date he’s seen more dogs than cats and an occasional ferret or rabbit, but “no reptiles . . . yet.”

An x-ray showing Kipper's fractured front leg

An x-ray showing Kipper's fractured front leg

When asked how people can prevent winding up at the emergency room with their pets, Thomas says most of all, pay attention.  “Trust your gut instinct.  If your animal seems off, it’s off.  The number-one thing that we see is people saying, ‘I wish I had brought him in two days earlier.’”  The doctor says animals have a greater capacity than humans for pain or discomfort.  “We are weenies compared to animals – they will go days without showing anything.  If they eat half as much as they usually do, watch them and see if that becomes a trend.  I’m not saying run them in if they ignore a meal, but use your gut instinct.”

Currently working an average of 80-100 hours a week, Thomas is excited to get that number down to about 60 over the next year so he can spend more time with his wife, Christina, their 4-year-old daughter, and a baby on the way.  Though the hours may seem grueling,   Dr. Thomas says he wouldn’t have it any other way.  For this doctor, realizing the lifelong dream of being a veterinarian is something he says wouldn’t have happened without the support of his family, and one he wouldn’t trade.

This past year has also brought great appreciation for his community of colleagues with whom he regularly consults.  “I’m not the type of guy who thinks he can do it all on his own,”  says Thomas, once again reflecting the seriousness with which he takes his profession and his desire to provide the highest level of care for those who find their way to his open door in the middle of the night.

Emergency vet opens in Beaverton

Dr. Shawn Thomas (right) and Mary Benton with GraceUntil now, options for after-hours urgent veterinary care on the west side have been few and far between. That’s changing, with the Jan. 22 grand opening of an emergency clinic named Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency.