Can you hear me now? Vision and hearing loss in elderly pets.


One morning, shelter staff arrived for work to find a gray-faced black Lab wandering the parking lot. She was stiff-kneed and seemingly confused, but happy to see them. She put a slight bounce in her step as the humans slapped their legs to call her to them. Animals were usually surrendered at the front desk during business hours, and staff were able to get the pet’s history. All they knew about this old girl was what they could see: she was probably about 10, a bit arthritic, and sweet as they come.

Days passed while staff waited through the old dog’s mandatory stray time, doubting anyone would come looking for claim her. She wasn’t lost; she’d been dumped there. In her kennel, she bounced and wiggled when caretakers opened the kennel door, but she rarely lifted her head to make eye contact with people walking by making friendly, encouraging sounds. Maybe she was a bit withdrawn, they thought. Poor old love had been abandoned, after all.

When her stray hold was up staff called me, the first person who always came to mind when elderly black dogs were in the adoption kennels. Big, old, and black (BOB): the well-known trinity of bad luck for dogs in crowded shelters. In those days — the early 2000s — the shelters were always full. For some reason, potential adopters overlooked BOB dogs. And this one, with the way she stared at the walls rather than visitors, it was unlikely she would be adopted anytime soon.

The dog happily got in my car for the short drive home. I showed her to a new dog bed in the living room, and she plopped her old bones down. Never a sound, or a demand, or a nudge from a wet nose: the old girl just kept to herself. She didn’t seem distressed; in fact, she walked into my house and claimed the bed without a hint of surprise — as if she knew she’d be coming to a house like this and a bed like that.

I settled in and picked up the book I was reading. Maybe just sitting quietly nearby would help the old girl come out of her shell.  I realized I needed to call her something other than “Old Girl.” She needed a name. From my spot on the couch, I started calling out names of female characters in my book. “Chelsea?” No response. “Gretchen?” Zilch. “Becky?” Nothing. “Maya?” Hey! She lifted her head and looked right at me. “You like the name Maya?” Her floppy ears perked up, making wrinkles just above her silver brows. “That’s your name then, Maya. Okay? Maya?” Nothing. Her head dropped back down on the dog bed.

By the time Maya had her first medical checkup two days later, I was starting to wonder if maybe she was deaf. The vet said she’d do a quick exam to find out.

“Maya. Hey! Maya!” the doctor called from four feet away. Maya’s ears didn’t move. Her head didn’t rise off the tile floor.


“Yep. She’s deaf,” the doctor said. “Can you believe I have twelve years of college to do this job?” she laughed. Maya was otherwise in generally good health, and there was no way to know whether she’d always been deaf or had lost her hearing with age.

And suddenly, I had a big, sweet, lumbering, deaf buddy. Pretty soon, though, I could easily forget she was deaf. Because Maya settled in and adapted to the household the way any dog would.

None of this surprises Susan Licari, founder of St. Martin’s Animal Rescue in Sheridan, OR. “Having a deaf or blind dog is never any more trouble,” she says. “And that includes finding adoptable homes for them. They always get adopted and they always do well in their homes.”

Licari has rescued elderly and special-needs dogs for much of her adult life. When she founded her rescue in 2012, she became a refuge for many elderly dogs with hearing and vision loss. Animals find their way to Licari when families can’t keep caring for them or when out-of-state shelters with high euthanasia rates can’t devote the resources to help them find ideal homes.

According to Licari, though, the necessary time and energy are almost inconsequential. That’s largely because of dogs’ and cats’ sharp senses. “If they can’t see anymore, their sense of smell and hearing just become more pronounced. Same with deaf dogs: their sight and smell just get stronger.”

For many of us, acquiring a deaf or blind pet is a gradual process. That is, our dog or cat will undergo this loss with age. While some breeds are more prone to vision and hearing loss, all animals (like humans) experience some changes with age. Animals whose faculties diminish over time have the advantage of being familiar with their surroundings. In later years, the dog might get bumped by an opening door because he didn’t hear us approaching, or the cat reaches a paw to feel for a ledge before jumping because she’s learning not to trust her depth perception. Such small things are often the sum of their changes. Once they adjust to their new sight or hearing levels, they carry on as usual.

“It’s good to keep furniture where it is,” says Licari. For her, such practices are a given, and she’s happy to coach new adopters through the steps. By definition, a rescue organization places animals in new, unfamiliar homes. For deaf and blind pets, that transition requires just a bit more attention, but the accommodations are simple.


Licari sometimes outfits animals with halo-type bumpers while they learn the layout of a new home. This allows them to explore without bumping their heads or noses against walls and table legs because the halo bumps first and gives them a warning. Soon, they don’t need the halo.

Licari also uses pets’ sense of smell to help guide them to different zones of the house. She’ll place different essential oils in each zone, such as citrus near the door where the dog will learn to go out to potty, and a comforting fragrance near the cat’s new bed.

Aside from these temporary fixes, Licari says these pets only need a bit of understanding. “Try not to startle them. A lot of times they’ll feel the vibration of the floor as we walk toward them,” she says, adding that can still be easily startled.

At my house, Maya sometimes didn’t hear footsteps in time to move away from a swinging door. I learned to open them slowly. At the dog park, she’d put her wiggly gray nose to the ground to follow a scent, lost in her own fragrant world. I’d only need to catch up and tap my finger near her shoulder, and she’d look up, always surprised. “Oh, hey! You’re at the park, too. Isn’t it great?!?”

Resources: * St. Martin's Animal Rescue on Facebook


Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.



Testing the Bond: Incontinence and your senior


There’s no doubt that dealing with chronic incontinence can challenge even the most patient and dedicated pet owner. The smell you can’t quite get rid of, the endless shampooing, the squish of stepping into a puddle or pile you didn’t see.

Just like humans, aging dogs and cats often suffer physical and sometimes cognitive changes that can weaken bladders, bowels and the systems that control their function. Incontinence can be so trying that it plays a role in why many pets find themselves homeless in their golden years.

“I don’t have statistics, but in my experience it’s quite often that dogs are surrendered because of incontinence issues,” says Susan Brugato, founder of St. Martin’s Animal Rescue. Established in 2012, the foster-based rescue’s mission is to save senior dogs from high-kill shelters.

Sadly, some of those dogs might have been able to stay in their homes had owners known that many incontinence issues can be treated — or at least managed.

“The biggest mistake people make regarding incontinence is assuming it’s behavioral and not taking the dog to the vet,” says Brugato.

Diagnose before you decide

Incontinence can happen at any time and for many reasons. However, some pets are more prone to these types of problems.

“We tend to see incontinence much more in females than males, and much more in dogs than cats,” says Dr. Alicia Zambelli of Murrayhill Animal Hospital.

The most common urinary incontinence is seen in older spayed female dogs, which can be remedied with medication or hormone supplements. Still, the issue may not be age-related.

“Anytime you see the dog is leaking, the first thing you want to check is that they don’t have a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, or other medical problem,” advises Zambelli. Most of those issues can be treated effectively.

Fecal incontinence can be much harder to manage. In older dogs, cognitive dysfunction can be a cause, but other reasons not related to age such as spinal injuries and disease may be addressed with acupuncture and medication.

Luckily for cat owners, true incontinence of any kind is much less common. In senior felines, constipation and kidney disease are more common, and both can have the same root cause.

“Kidneys are the Achilles heel of cats,” says Zambelli. “Over time if kidney function deteriorates — renal insufficiency — in order to compensate they drink more and urinate more. Sometimes that expands into urinating inappropriately.”

This lack of fluid can also create poor bowel function, and if your cat has an unusually poop-free litterbox, you should note that.

There may be another less direct cause if your kitty starts to have accidents. “One thing that’s easy to miss in older cats is arthritis, degenerative joint disease, and pain,” Zambelli says. “They no longer want to jump up into the cat box, so they start peeing on the floor. It’s a solvable problem if we troubleshoot and put a real low pan down, like a baking sheet, and improve accessibility and address pain.”


Oops! I did it again

Taking care of an incontinent senior takes effort, but there are many ways to make this labor of love manageable.

“First of all, no carpet!” laughs Brugato. “Also, make any bedding easy to clean. I take the filling or pad from dog beds, put it inside a plastic garbage bag, tape it up, then put the cover over that. You only have to wash the cover and the filling stays fresh and dry.”

Barrier pads, such as belly bands for incontinent male dogs, work well. With any method, however, pets need to be kept clean so that secondary issues don’t arise. 

“It’s important to make sure there’s no perineal scald [skin burns from urine], skin irritation, or dampness that can lead to secondary itch, infection, and discomfort,” says Zambelli. “Animals can suffer silently and don’t always tell us when they’re uncomfortable.”

But sometimes they do. Constant licking can be the first sign of a problem. “Some dogs just get moist and there aren’t puddles around the house,” says the doctor. “That can be emerging incontinence. It’s probably not just a habit.”

As for clean-up, Brugato says there are many great solutions on the market, including the one she uses with the superhero-worthy name: Airx Rx 101 All-Purpose Odor Counteractant Cleaner. You can also opt for something simpler that’s nearly as effective: hydrogen peroxide mixed with baking soda and vinegar.

“You have to really soak the carpet or fabric and rub,” she says. “Just spraying with a spray bottle does nothing.”

For pet owners, the hardest part of dealing with incontinence may be the realization that your loved one is aging and that your time with them is growing shorter. But Zambelli says it doesn’t need to be a sad time for you or your pet.

 “There’s so much I think we can do for older cats and dogs.” 


Michele Coppola is a veteran Portland radio personality, copywriter and freelance writer who shares couch space with her dogs Ginny and Bailey, Roxy the a cat, as well as Bryon, the stray man she married eight years ago.

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.

New Animal Planet series takes on pet obesity


The rate of overweight and obese pets in the US is more than 50%. In line with this, Animal Planet launched the new series, My Big Fat Pet Makeover Sept 30.

Pet expert and trainer Travis Brorsen begins a four-month weight-loss and behavior modification journey with pet owners and their overweight animals with the aim of helping each pet live a healthier, happier life. Each story ends with a final weigh-in to see just how far the pets and pet owners have come.

Obese animals can experience health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart failure, thus leading to a shorter life. Brorsen creates individual exercise and diet plans in addition to implementing positive reinforcement training methods. He also uses creative techniques such as exercises that help pet parents experience what their pets are going through. For example, wearing a weighted vest to experience the extra weight a dog is living with.

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.

Support for those with aging, ill pets

At-Home Vet hosts twice-monthly support groups for Portland metro area residents who are facing the challenges associated with caring for an older pet or a pet dealing with a chronic or terminal disease.

Facilitated by Heather Dillon, DVM and special guests, the group is called “Halo: Pet Parents Helping Each Other,” and provides access to others navigating a common experience. Together the groups share and learn how to live with the demands of daily care of and decision-making for pets experiencing challenges related to age or disease. Upcoming meetings — which are free to attend but first come, first served —  will be held Apr 4 and Apr 18, 7-8pm, at Multnomah Arts Center on Capital Hwy in Portland.  Learn more at

Recognizing pain in cats

The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association reports that Dr. Heidi Shafford of Veterinary Anesthesia Specialists in Clackamas says, "The signs of pain in cats can be subtle. They evolved to hide symptoms of illness or disease from predators. Watch for changes in your cat's activity level and behavior as these are the best indicators of pain." 

An annual veterinary exam is recommended for all cats, and twice a year for senior cats. While signs of pain are always sought during exams, Dr. Shafford says you should consult your veterinarian if your cat is not acting normally or is showing any of these signs:

  • Trauma or injury
  • Lameness or abnormal gait
  • Difficulty jumping
  • Reluctance to move or jump
  • Withdrawn or hiding
  • Straining to urinate
  • Decreased appetite or changes in feeding behavior
  • Excessive drooling
  • Playing or engaging less with people
  • Mood or temperament changes
  • Squinting or closed eyes
  • Hunched posture
  • Abnormal sleeping
  • Abnormal reaction to petting
  • Absence of grooming
  • Licking a specific body region
  • Unusual growling or groaning
  • Tail flicking

How Veterinarians Alleviate Pain in Cats

  • Treat the illness or injury causing the pain
  • Prescribe appropriate pain medications
  • Recommend weight management and/or special diet
  • Suggest changes to the home environment
  • Acupuncture
  • Laser therapy 

For signs of pain to watch for in dogs, visit

The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association is a nonprofit organization of veterinarians dedicated to helping people give their animals a high quality of life. For more pet health care tips, visit or talk to your veterinarian.

HALL PASS . . . May I be excused?

Yo, Teach! Gonna need a hall pass. Know what I’m sayin’?  

Few topics inspire more jokes and euphemisms than this one. You know: dog logs, kitty roca, doggie doodie, and of course, “Look! The dog just did a Number Three: he went Number One AND Number Two.” 

Let’s face it: we all have a bit of adolescence in us and bathroom humor tickles us. And with furry companions around, there’s no lack of potty jokes.  

I don’t know about your household, but in ours, the first conversation of the morning is usually about poop! My husband is an early riser. He takes the dogs out first thing, and then announces to me, still semi-conscious in bed, “This one only peed; this one both peed and pooped....”  

Sometimes (rarely, thankfully) there’s also an update on any offerings the cats might have left us in the night. 

Truth be told, I never know what to do with this information. If we were parenting human children, we’d be in for a few years of obsession with bodily functions, until they learned to “go” on their own. But parenting pets means never outgrowing potty conversations: did the litter boxes get scooped, who bought litter, what’s that funky smell in the corner, the number of times (and quality) the dogs did Number One and Number Two, which went mining in the cat box, and . . . “Ewww! That is super gross — what did she eat? Did something crawl up there and die?!” 

All the score-keeping seems as if we’re reassuring ourselves our pets are normal and healthy — not that there’s a hard-and-fast rule for how many times kiddos should do their business each day. Are we aiming for a nice eight (two Number Twos and four Number Ones)? Do we need something more like a twelve? Should I sound some sort of piddle alarm if we score less than five? 

Honestly, counting doesn’t do crap for you. Here’s the straight poop: when somebody is going a lot more than usual (either #1 or #2), or having trouble going at all, or straining to go, or showing blood in their poo or wee, or having “accidents” in the house, get to the vet. This is important for your kid’s health, because any of these symptoms could signal a serious medical problem. Also, veterinarians love poop jokes, and they know some good ones. 

Doctor Blake Miller’s favorite poop story happened when he was fresh out of veterinary college and adjusting to the demands of a busy practice. Returning home from work at the Woodburn (Ore.) Veterinary Clinic, he fell asleep on the couch with a half-eaten pork chop nearby. His girlfriend’s cat, Floyd, finished it, and quickly got seriously ill from bone fragments that lodged in his gut. Dr. Miller rushed Floyd to the clinic and gave him “the first of several enemas,” which the cat grudgingly tolerated. The young doctor would wait for the “long and productive” bathroom sessions enemas produce, and then take more x-rays, only to find something was still in Floyd’s gut. Dr. Miller meticulously collected and dissected Floyd’s poop for several days while hoping his girlfriend wouldn’t find out Floyd’s sudden illness was his fault.  

As in all the best stories, Floyd lived happily ever after. The last remaining gut blob that kept appearing in x-rays turned out to be a harmless fat deposit that a senior doctor diagnosed. Dr. Miller counts it as a great early learning experience, and, yes: he eventually confessed. He also thought Floyd was a great patient.  

Floyd has a kindred spirit in the form of a young Boxer whose eating habits landed her in overnight observation at Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center in Medford. She had eaten a toy, and x-rays showed the pieces had a good chance of passing on their own. All night, doctors checked for poop and waited for pieces of toy to see the light of day. Early in the morning, the doctor did a routine rectal exam. She reached in and pulled out an intact, fully functioning squeaker, no worse for its journey through doggy doo canyon. Clinic staff still love to tell this story. They told the doctor her disappearing-and-reappearing-squeaker trick was impressive, and she should do parties.

 You’re no doubt asking the obvious question, but there’s no widely accepted answer. Yes, a poop with a squeaker inside is definitely more than a Number Two. It could change on a case-by-case basis, but it almost never scores less than a 4.5. 

Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband warns you to know she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.

Itching to Switch FLEA Myths into Facts!

Often considered a nuisance, in reality fleas can cause havoc and serious health issues for everyone in the family, especially our beloved pets.

Fleas are tiny (1/16-1/8 inch), flat, dark reddish-brown, wingless, bloodsucking insects. They have existed for more than 100 million years, with approximately 2000 species. They reproduce massively and exponentially during their life cycle stages, resulting in flea infestations in many households. Despite their historical longevity, there is still much to learn in order to eradicate misconceptions about these pesky bugs.

Many people don’t realize that such a miniscule creature can actually kill pets. The most common found on both cats and dogs is the Cat Flea, and it only takes a few to cause a huge dilemma — and they’re not always readily apparent. A flea can jump 7 inches vertically and 13 inches horizontally, but rarely jump from pet to pet. When a flea jumps on its host, be it cat, dog, bird, wild animal (raccoon, skunk), or human, it will start feeding within five minutes and continue for up to two and a half hours. A flea’s saliva can dissolve skin, allowing its mouthpiece underneath to obtain needed nutrients from the host’s blood.

The average lifespan of an adult flea is 2-3 months, depending on the environment and host. Females lay eggs within 36-48 hours of their first blood meal, and ONE adult can lay 40-50 eggs per DAY, potentially generating 2,000 eggs in her lifetime!

The flea lifecycle is similar — just not as pretty — to a butterfly’s, with four stages: egg  - larva  -  pupa  - adult.

Eggs fall off the host and hatch best in humidified temperatures of 65-80 degrees. Flea larvae don’t eat blood, but feed on skin, hair, and flea waste. The pupa stage can last up to eight months, during which fleas await a suitable host and ideal environmental conditions (vibrations, heat, carbon dioxide and moisture) before emerging as adults. It’s no wonder, given the number of eggs laid in an ideal environment, that infestations can really flourish.

Numerous young, hungry adult fleas + a host (your pet) = Fleas, Fleas, more Fleas and A FLEA INFESTATION!

If your pet is found as a host, s/he is at risk of a variety of problems. Flea saliva is an allergen that can cause simple to intense itching, painful red bumps, and allergic reactions in both pets and people. Since fleas suck blood, numerous fleas can cause anemia, and occasionally life-threatening blood loss in pets. Fleas are also responsible for transmitting bacterial diseases and canine tapeworms to cats, dogs and humans.

Fleas lurk everywhere — outdoors, indoors, in wood floors, furniture, and carpets. All pets are at risk, even those with indoor-only lifestyles. You may not see these tiny insects, but they are always awaiting a suitable warm-blooded host (humans are least preferred) for meals and reproduction.

The best prevention and treatment? Annual veterinary visits, flea combing to elicit any fleas or flea dirt, and regular flea preventive and/or treatment.

Denise Kinstetter is a lifelong animal lover and advocate! Once a Pediatrician, she combined her passion for animals and medicine to help at a vet clinic and volunteer 4000 hrs to OHS in the past 5 years.

Managing pet allergies . . . naturally

Atopic dermatitis (allergies to environmental allergens) is the second most common allergy suffered by dogs and cats.  The condition is genetic, and occurs when a pet’s immune system reacts abnormally to allergens inhaled or absorbed through the skin, causing a pet to develop an allergy to environmental pollens, molds, dust mites, and other common airborne substances. The most common symptoms include itching, scratching, licking, and excessive chewing of the feet, legs and body, rubbing against furniture, carpet or walls, hair loss, foul-smelling skin, scaling and flaking.  Symptoms can occur year round, or only during spring to fall seasons. Unfortunately, once allergies develop they typically worsen over time, and with age.

Keeping it in check

There are numerous treatment options for atopic dermatitis, most of which include medications such as prednisone (steroid), antihistamines, Atopica (cyclosporine), and Apoquel, which provide temporary relief of symptoms. Because these treatments only address an animal’s symptoms they require long-term use and have possible long-term adverse side effects. None of these treatment options addresses the underlying disease or stop its progression so again, your pet’s allergies can gradually worsen over time.

A natural solution

Dr. Amy Randall of Allergy Animal and Ear Clinic cites allergen-specific immunotherapy as the only treatment known to alter the course of the disease rather than mask the symptoms. Immunity to allergens is built up through a series of injections or oral drops with increasingly larger doses of an allergy serum specifically formulated to a pet’s sensitivities. The doctor says the treatment is effective for allergies associated with pollen, molds and house dust mites.

“I am concerned about my patients’ long-term health and wellbeing, and immunotherapy is not a medication or a drug. It is an all-natural treatment used for decades on old, young, healthy and debilitated animals without long-term adverse side effects.”

Allergen specific immunotherapy works to regulate or normalize the immune system naturally by using small amounts of the naturally-occurring allergen(s).  It is believed to change the pet’s actual allergic response, and is the only treatment that can prevent worsening of your pet’s allergies.  Over time, immunotherapy can lead to a long-term solution for an animal’s allergies. Best of all, it has shown no long-term adverse side effects.

How is Allergen Specific Immunotherapy Formulated?

Allergen-specific immunotherapy (allergy serum) is formulated based on the results of allergy testing done by either intradermal (skin) or blood testing.  The test identifies which trees, weeds, grasses, molds and house dust mites are causing the allergy symptoms. The gold standard is intradermal testing, as numerous studies have repeatedly shown it to be more accurate than blood testing. Intradermal testing is usually only available from board-certified veterinary dermatologists who are specialists trained through residency programs and years of practice to perform and accurately read the test results and formulate the serum.

Treatment has become easier

Long administered only through injections, allergy-specific immunotherapy is now possible using oral drops, which have proven equally efficacious. Oral treatment is typically easier, and much more readily accepted by the pet. Dispensed with a pump right into the pet’s mouth once or twice daily, oral immunotherapy absorbs through the mucous membranes.

Dr. Randall reports “extremely good results” with oral formulations. “Many patients are getting relief from their symptoms within a few months of treatment. We are even seeing some patients who have failed injectable immunotherapy have success with oral immunotherapy.”

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