A Community of Caring


Life can deal harsh, unexpected blows. Events like job loss, a serious medical diagnosis, or divorce can turn a person or family’s life upside-down, often straining financial resources in the process. Anyone struggling to keep home, family, and life together well knows that when we feel most vulnerable, we want our pets by our side.

Petlandia is not only passionate about pets, but demonstrably committed to keeping pets and their people fed, healthy, and together. Fortunately for those in need, innovative, local nonprofits are there to help. You can help, too: next time you are at the pet store, consider buying an extra bag for one of the organizations below. To go even further, get another to keep in your car — chances are good while driving around town you’ll encounter someone who could use it.

Providing Sustenance

Knowing that tens of thousands of people struggle to feed themselves and their pets, the Pongo Fund Pet Food Bank’s primary focus is fighting animal hunger to help keep families and pets together and reduce shelter populations. This can be life-saving for humans and animals alike. One client shared that when her life went to pieces, if she’d been forced to give up her dog she might have also given up on life. 

In addition to serving more than 10,000,000 meals to date, the Pongo Fund introduced Pongo One this year, a state-of-the-art mobile veterinary hospital providing free care for the pets of very low-income and homeless people, including seniors, veterans, and more.

In Clackamas County, the FIDO Pet Food Bank distributes food for dogs and cats and works with other agencies to deliver pet food to homebound seniors as well.

House-bound senior citizens often rely on Meals on Wheels America for meals, regular check-ins, and social interaction. In the past, workers discovered hungry seniors were giving up substantial parts of their own meals to feed their pets. Now, seniors with pets can request pet food along with their own meals.

In Washington County, the Cat Adoption Team partners with Meals on Wheels to deliver pet food to homebound clients.

Hope and Care


When families struggle just to keep everyone fed, an unexpected medical bill can be catastrophic. Routine care, which can prevent big vet bills later in a pet’s life, isn’t always an option.

Good Neighbor Vet answers this need with clinics at partner businesses like pet supply stores and neighborhood retail outlets. Affordable rates for products and services and no-appointment-needed clinics held on weekends make it accessible to some who might not otherwise be able to find time while juggling work and family to get to the vet.

PAW Team works to bring life-saving care and medicine to pets of people experiencing homelessness and poverty. Clients include the terminally ill, disenfranchised youth, and military veterans.

Animal Aid is a broad-reaching organization with deep roots in the community. In addition to operating a shelter for homeless animals, the organization partners with PAW Team to spay and neuter pets through the C-SNIP program, and operates a Care Fund for emergency veterinary assistance in partnership with Portland veterinary clinics.

Keeping Families Intact

JOIN helped nearly a thousand local people last year transition from the streets to safe housing. The organization collects pet food and supplies so people can care for their animals while rebuilding their lives.

The Pixie Project is well known for its work in pet rescue and adoption. But the organization also works to keep pets in their homes by providing food, medical care, medications, and spay/neuter surgeries. 












A Portland native, Kennedy Morgan, has been around dogs her entire life - from the multitude of strays near the country home of her youth to the crew she calls her own now. Vegas, her retired agility superstar (Great Dane) has been her primary inspiration for all things dog in the last decade, including her passion for writing.

For every creature there is care


Here in Petlandia, our quirks and eccentricities include a love of unique pets. From beloved backyard chickens to ferrets, clown fish, bearded dragons — and dogs and cats — area veterinarians are prepared with the best medical care to keep our motley menageries in top shape. With everything from high tech to high touch, following are examples of the special creature care you’ll find.

Birds of a feather

Treating feathered friends is quite unlike treating dogs or cats. So, what to do when your African Gray Parrot or Henny Penny needs a doctor? Consider The Avian Medical Center in Lake Oswego. Treating all variety of farm fowl to exotics since 1984, services include routine and preventive care, diagnostics, surgery, pharmacy, and boarding. 

For the love of cats

When finicky felines need veterinary care, transporting them in a little box to a place that smells like DOGS . . . well, we all know how hard that can be.  

Never fear. That’s the approach of cat-centric clinics like The Cat Hospital of Portland in Sellwood-Moreland. This cats-only clinic is a fear-free practice designed with feline comforts in mind. Offering a full range of veterinary care, boarding and grooming services, staff say some kitties even find visits enjoyable. 

Oh, so exotic

Imagine a modern Doctor Doolittle who treats nearly any critter that swims, flies, or slithers. Yep, in Petlandia we’ve got that.

At Northwest Exotic Pet Vet in Beaverton, staff put education at the forefront of the patient relationship, making sure caregivers have the info and resources to provide the best possible care for their exotic pets. The clinic offers a full array of service, from routine care to surgery, microchipping, and medical boarding. 

Avian and Exotic Veterinary Care in Northeast Portland is home to the only two board-certified exotics specialist veterinarians in Oregon and SW Washington, meaning they meet extra education standards. The clinic welcomes birds, reptiles, amphibians, rodents, fish, primates, and exotic canine or felines, with services ranging from pharmacy and retail sales to boarding, diagnostic care, and drop-off services. 


Southwest Animal Hospital in Beaverton rounds out our tour of the United Nations of pet care. This clinic, which accepts donations for research to advance exotic animal medicine, emphasizes education along with a full range of wellness, diagnostic, and surgical services. 

Care for Every Need

Pets need not be exotic to need specialized care, and our community has them covered too. From cardiology to dermatology, cancer care to dental services, we have an array of special-focus practices whose doctors work alongside primary-care vets to become part of a multi-discipline care team for your dear ones. You’ll find just a sampling of them here in our resource list.


Bird care:





Cat Care:




Dermatology & Allergy:


Exotics Care:








Oncology and Surgery: 


Rehabilitation/Injury Management: 

Back on Track at BOTVRC.com


A Portland native, Kennedy Morgan, has been around dogs her entire life - from the multitude of strays near the country home of her youth to the crew she calls her own now. Vegas, her retired agility superstar (Great Dane) has been her primary inspiration for all things dog in the last decade, including her passion for writing.  

Pongo Fund rolls out mobile vet hospital

The Pongo Fund To Unveil Groundbreaking Mobile Veterinary Hospital.jpg

The Pongo Fund, Oregon and SW Washington’s emergency pet food bank, introduced Pongo One in December, a state-of-the-art mobile veterinary hospital bringing critical veterinary care and other services to underserved and underprivileged families and pets throughout Oregon and SW Washington.

The 23-foot mobile hospital, featuring two surgical suites, a laboratory, x-ray, pharmacy and more will provide advanced veterinary services at no cost to qualified pet owners in need, including the homeless, seniors, veterans, victims of domestic violence, residents of low income housing and more. The Pongo Fund is a volunteer-driven, nonprofit. Learn more at thepongofund.org.

Baby’s first steps . . . boosters

Puppies and kittens are all tumbling exuberance, innocent naptimes, and the magic elixir of baby breath. It can be hard to remember the practical side of health care — like shots.

Wikipedia states “Solid-fuel rocket boosters (SRBs) are large solid propellant motors used to provide thrust in spacecraft launches from initial launch through the first ascent stage.”

Boosters play a similar role for our furry little rockets.

Mama starts the protection with passive immunity passed through her milk colostrum within the first 24 hours. From there, booster shots continue to stimulate active immunity.

A licensed veterinarian is your lifetime partner and primary source for your baby’s plan of care from the beginning. Many clinics offer tailored wellness packages, providing everything you need and keeping you on track with boosters and more.

“The series of vaccines your new little addition receives as a puppy (or kitten) will be the same as later yearly vaccines,” explains Jessica Forde, Good Neighbor Vet Brand Manager. “It’s important to maintain yearly inoculations to further build your pet’s immunity.”

For puppies, basic vaccines include DAPP, Bordetella, and Rabies. These are considered core vaccines for canines.

“For puppies, additional innoculations like Leptospirosis, Lyme, and Flu are known as lifestyle vaccines,” Forde adds, “and should be considered based upon the pet’s lifestyle.” Lifestyle vaccines may be indicated for puppies who will spend time at the dog park or day care, hiking, or camping.

For kittens, FeLV/Fiv testing is important as both viruses weaken the immune system drastically and are highly contagious. The blood test is quick, and results indicate whether special care is needed.

“Kittens receive a series of boosters of the feline HCP which covers what is better known as feline distemper,” Forde explains, “and the Leukemia vaccine prevents diseases associated with FeLV.”

Most puppy/kitten shots begin around eight weeks of age. Boosters are typically given every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks of age to antibody production within a healthy immune system, and “boost” immunity until the pet’s immune system begins creating its own long-term protection. It is recommended to wait a couple of weeks after the last vaccination in the series before exposing a puppy or kitten to other pets, giving their immune system time to build.

“It’s during this time you want to be careful taking your pet around other animals that may not be vaccinated, or in areas where wildlife may leave excrement,” says Forde. “Both unvaccinated puppies and kittens and those currently in their vaccines series are at risk of zoonotic diseases and even fatal diseases such as parvo. A puppy or kitten is much safer on a short leash, inside the home, or even better, cuddled in one’s arms.”

Early trips to the vet for shots are also an opportunity for little ones to learn that vet trips are a good thing, so heap on the praise. “Pawwwwsitive reinforcement!” says Forde. “Treats before the vet visit, during the visit, and after.”

It’s also important to protect both puppies and kittens against parasites – worms, fleas, ticks and mites seek warm fluffy bodies as hosts. Babies can acquire internal parasites like round worms and hook worms at birth. And while parasites can cause discomfort and serious disease, thankfully they’re easily prevented or treated. Trust your veterinary team for the safest, most effective products available for all of these concerns.

Shots can make anyone feel punk, including fur-kids. But if s/he doesn’t bounce back within 24-72 hours, contact your vet. Typical side effects include low-grade fever, lethargy, injection site soreness/tenderness, and loss of appetite. If a more sensitized reaction appears, like suddenly scratching the head or neck, difficulty breathing, facial swelling or hives, call your vet.

“Keep puppies away from other pups and communal areas (parks, shared sidewalks, parking lots) until they are totally done with their distemper/parvo vaccination series,” sums up Amélie Rivaleau, DVM, Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency. “The vaccines are done in a series so that when the maternal antibodies from mom wane, the immunity from the vaccines is high — but they are not fully protected until the series is done. The diseases vaccinated for in those series are expensive to try to treat and even tragic.”


Good Neighbor Vet * Goodneighborvet.com * 888-234-1350

Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency * tanasbourneveter.com * 503-629-5800

Christy Caballero writes from the heart about all things pet-related, from a couple deer trails off the beaten path, typically juggling a cat (or two) on her lap as black kitty AsTar teeters on her shoulder and Mojo the retired Greyhound quietly calls for reinforcements!!

Life with Kittens is Busy!

Photo by Debbie Brusius

Photo by Debbie Brusius

Be prepared, and set them up for success

So you’re thinking about adopting a kitten. Congratulations! These fluffy little cuties can be such a fun addition to your family. Of course, like all babies, kittens need help from their new families to set them up for a successful, happy life.

Start Your Kitten in a Safe Room

Kittens are curious and active! They will sometimes play so long that they forget about things like how to find the litter box and taking time to eat. When you first get home, start your kitten in a room that is small enough for them to see the essential items — food, water, bedding, toys, and the litter box. This “safe room” is a place for them to get comfortable with you without getting lost or overwhelmed.

You should kitten-proof this room by removing anything your kitten does not need. Knickknacks will get knocked down, and like any toddler, a kitten will put anything in its mouth. Make sure sharp objects and things like hair ties, paperclips, pen caps, ribbons, etc. are removed from the room. It’s best to use a bathroom or a room where no one sleeps as the safe room. Kittens will be up before you, racing around, wanting you to play with them at 4 am.

Make Playtime Fun

Kittens play to have fun, and also to learn. When it comes to toys and activities, add variety so your kitten doesn’t decide that your blinds are more fun! It is also important to not use your hands or feet as toys. While it can be cute for a kitten to pounce and nibble your fingers, it is not a good idea to encourage those behaviors. A bite or scratch from an adult cat isn’t cute at all, and this behavior is a big reason cats are taken or returned to shelters later in life.

Teach Good Eating and Litter Box Habits

Kittens are active and should eat frequent meals to get them through their day. It’s a good idea to offer three small canned food meals, as well as offering dry food in a bowl. Always use cat food — not people food or milk — and measure the portions so you can track how much your kitten eats. Food and water dishes should be in a place that is easy to find and far away from the litter box.

Speaking of litter boxes, kittens need a shallow litter box so they can climb in easily and safely. Unscented litter and uncovered litter boxes often work best. Kittens and cats have sensitive noses, and you don’t want to do anything to make them not want to use the box. The general rule is to have one litter box per cat, plus one. You should also have at least one box on each floor of your house, especially while kittens are young. As your kitten gets bigger, you can graduate them to a regular-size litter box.

Keep the Peace with Other Pets

If you have other furry friends in the household, you will want to do slow introductions. This is your best route to fight-free greetings and lasting friendships.  

Before you try face-to-face introductions, use “scent swapping.” Take a bed from your resident pet and put it in your kitten’s safe room. Then, move a bed your kitten has used to a room with your resident pet. Let them sniff each other’s bedding, lay on it, lick it, whatever they want to do. This gives them a chance to explore the new scent and helps you gauge how the first meeting might go. Another option is to start feeding the pets on opposite sides of the door so they can smell each other under the door at mealtime. This supports bonding by helping the pets associate positive things (like eating) with each other’s scent.

Once your pets seem ready, you can begin meetings. Put your kitten in the carrier and take them into the family room. Let the resident pet approach the carrier and sniff. If this greeting goes well, you can open the carrier and let them meet. If ever you are concerned, return the kitten to the safe room and keep working with scent swapping and door feedings. Don’t rush this process. It often takes time for animals to get used to each other, and they are less likely to get along if the friendship is forced.

Prep for the Vet

Visits to the veterinarian and in-home healthcare will go best if your kitten is used to handling.

  • Play with their paws daily. Softly squish their toes so the claw comes out. This way, when it is time to trim their nails, they won’t mind a bit.
  • Keep the carrier out for your kitten to use as a hiding place and soft bed. If cats are used to the carrier, they’ll be more relaxed in it when going to the vet.
  • Look in your kitten’s ears monthly to make sure they are clean and clear of any debris. This helps you see any concerns and gets your kitten used to this touch should they ever need ear treatment.
  • Gently open your kitten’s mouth and look inside. Again, a monthly check will help you see if something isn’t right, and gets your kitten used it, making it easier if s/he ever needs oral medication.

Stay Safe

Most kittens adopted from shelters are microchipped. If not, your veterinarian should offer this service. Even if your kitten has a microchip, a collar and tag with your contact information is smart. A kitten used to a collar and tag will continue to wear it comfortably through adulthood.

If you decide to take your kitten outdoors for a walk, wait until they are fully vaccinated (typically around 4 months of age). At that time, you can try harness and leash training. It is a good idea to take them out through a door that they normally do not see open and close (such as a bedroom sliding glass door or the garage door). You don’t want your kitten thinking it can just leave through an open door at any time. 

Fostering kittens fills your heart - and arms - with love!  Photo by Cassidy Devore

Fostering kittens fills your heart - and arms - with love!  Photo by Cassidy Devore

Fostering Saves Lives!

Not sure if you and your family are ready for a kitten? Fostering helps shelters save more animals by giving them a loving home where they can grow and prepare for adoption outside the shelter.

Foster volunteers help young kittens get the care they need, giving them a great start to life. Fosters often meet the people who want to adopt their foster kittens, and get to tell them all about the kittens. Fostering can take as little as a week or up to two months, depending on the pet. At CAT, the kitten foster program includes training, assistance from a mentor, preventive kitten care, and more. All you need is a spare bathroom or bedroom and the desire to help. Learn more at catadoptionteam.org.

Kristi Brooks is the director of operations at the Cat Adoption Team (CAT) and lead trainer for the Fostering 4 Rock Stars program. She is regularly invited to speak at national animal welfare conferences about successful community collaboration and best practices for kitten fostering. Kristi lives in Tualatin, Oregon with her husband, daughter, and Kate the cat.

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.

HSSW receives substantial gift

Late last fall, the Humane Society for SW Washington learned that the newly-created Banfield Foundation was donating $30,000 to the shelter for radiology equipment — something it hasn’t had during its 119-year history. Heretofore relying on local veterinary clinics for radiology services, this meant animals in distress had to be transported, and limited the shelter clinic’s ability to diagnose and treat many animals.

The HSSW team determined that whole body and dental radiology equipment were required, plus specialized staff training and a server for image storage. A 3-month fundraising campaign was launched with 25 “investor donors” contributing an additional $100,000 to the BF donation. The equipment is now installed, staff has been trained, and x-rays have been taken of more than 30 animals since early June.  Lives have been saved, and animals are now leaving the shelter healthier and happier than ever. 

Diagnostics Make a Difference

Bruiser celebrating his 12th birthday  

Bruiser celebrating his 12th birthday  

If you live with a senior dog or cat (7 years or older) who’s starting to show some gray fur, you’re probably hearing familiar statements from friends and fellow pet owners, like: “Small dogs live longer than large-breed dogs…” or in my case: “I met a woman with an 18-year-old Dachshund once.”   

The oldest dog on record lived to be 29; the oldest cat, 34. Aging is inevitable, and the time seems to pass in the blink of an eye. And because dogs and cats age approximately seven times faster than humans, we must cherish every moment we have with them.

So how to ensure the very best care for your senior dog or cat? The proof is in the pudding — or in this case, the diagnostics.

If you look at wellness plans for pets, some “senior” regiments may include:

  • Wellness exams twice a year, including bloodwork. Frontier Vet Hospital in Hillsboro, Oregon recommends this schedule and provides various levels of wellness exams.
  • Acupuncture — prescribed to treat Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and other conditions common to senior pets.  
  • Annual dental procedures (Doxies, for example have “junky Doxie mouths). Regular dental care is important for both dogs and cats to reduce plaque, which can cause and create multiple health issues in aging pets.

Why diagnostics are important

Some level of clinical disease is commonly diagnosed through screening tests. These may include blood panels and/or x-rays. Blood panels are used to detect diabetes, anemia, and liver, kidney and thyroid disease, while x-rays screen for arthritis, cancer and heart disease.

Once an animal reaches the geriatric stage, it’s time for a thorough physical exam including a blood count, blood chemistry analysis, and urinalysis. Frequent exams and twice-yearly bloodwork and urinalysis are the best preventive care for senior pets, according to the doctors at Frontier.

“Diagnostics, like blood and urine tests, help to determine if all body systems are functioning as they should, as well as screening for health issues to which your pet's breed may be genetically predisposed,” says Dr. Scott Loepp, DVM. “Bloodwork also tests for conditions like kidney or liver disease. Early detection and treatment can often make the difference between a relatively easy and affordable treatment and a more expensive, and perhaps riskier, intervention later on.”  

Top health concerns for seniors include diabetes, kidney (renal) disease, thyroid disease, and heart failure.  Blood and urine tests screen for dysfunction in the major organ systems, including kidneys and liver. Chronic renal disease is among the most common seen in geriatric patients, especially cats.

Entubating a Cat

Entubating a Cat

Renal disease

Bloodwork can show signs that a kidney is no longer functioning, and the earlier this is known, the better the chances of adding months or years to a cat’s life.

Endocrine conditions

Endocrine disease can be managed once detected through diagnostics. Common disorders include Hyperthyroidism, Diabetes mellitus and Hyperadrenocorticism.  

Well-known veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker recently discussed hyperthyroidism in cats 10 years and older in a VetStreet article. “The diagnosis can come as a surprise as owners think their cat is doing great given his good appetite, but blood work is needed to diagnose the condition,” Becker says. An annual thyroid test is the most effective diagnostic for identifying thyroid issues in both dogs and cats.

Diabetes Mellitus affects middle-aged to older dogs and cats. Signs to look for include excessive thirst, increased urination and appetite, and weight loss. Diagnostic screening helps identify developing diseases.

Doctors at Frontier state that one in 400 felines is diagnosed with diabetes, so it’s important to have blood work done routinely during your pet’s senior years.  

The importance of X-rays

Longtime pet owner and Certified Vet Technician Grace Brown recently had an experience where prolonged diagnostics played a major role in determining why her beloved senior dog, Tica, started limping.

“Diagnostics with Tica were a really big part of figuring out what was going on,” Brown says. “As she aged, she started limping. Then, this spring, her limping got worse. She got really tired after exercise, and it lasted days after an outing instead of her being able to sleep it off. I did her annual dental cleaning, checked her blood work (which was perfectly normal), ran a urinalysis and took x-rays looking for the cause of limping. We thought it was localized to her elbow and wrists because this was where she showed pain on palpation. Sure enough, x-rays showed Chronic Degenerative Joint Disease.”

A month or two later, the limp returned. Worse this time, says Brown. Even after Tramadol and Gabapentin regiments the limp continued. “She was limping even worse. So back to the vet for more exams. This time we went over her symptoms, and her increasingly long list of arthritis medications that were having no effect. The lameness exam showed ZERO response. We could have stopped there, assuming nothing was wrong. But we did more x-rays, and we found it. A mass on her right humerus.”

After consulting with an oncology specialist, Brown opted for amputation. “I really could not have known what was happening without prolonged diagnostics, and I couldn't have made the decision to amputate without much more testing. The one thing I did learn was: NEVER assume. Just a limp in an old dog can be so much more.”

Thankfully, Tica’s biopsy showed Chondrosarcoma, which is less likely to metastasize and requires no chemo. “All of the diagnostics and heartache could have literally saved my dogs life by giving me the information I needed to get the procedure she needed. I may just get her to 13 after all,” Brown smiles.

In fact, given the frequency of certain conditions, routine screening can add years of health to a senior pet’s life.

Learn More at VetStreet.com and FrontierVet.com and at the links below:

·        http://www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/9-common-health-problems-senior-cats-face?Wt.mc_id=facebook&page=2

·        http://frontiervet.com/services/common-health-concerns-in-senior-pets/

·        http://frontiervet.com/services/wellness-plans/

·        “Geriatric and Hospice Care: Supporting the Aged and Dying Patient”

·        http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/hypothyroidism-and-your-dog/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=Dogs%20Naturally%20Magazine

·        More on the importance of wellness exams: http://frontiervet.com/client-resources/videos/wellness-visits/

As a Certified Vet Tech, longtime PR veteran and content marketing expert, Christy Caplan brings her unique understanding of social and digital media to connect dog lovers to brands both on and offline. She lives with three hounds – two Doxies and a Beagle/Basset Hound mix, who constantly teach her about life and companionship. Follow Christy at mylifewithdogspdx.com 


It’s a fact . . . with age comes creaky joints

Today treatments are abundant and improving

Levi receives laser therapy at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Levi receives laser therapy at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital

It can happen anyone. Whether caused by genetics, lifestyle, excess weight, or a no-pain-no-gain approach to sports and play, many middle-aged and elderly humans and animals develop some arthritis. The condition, osteoarthritis, is a wear-and-tear condition. It happens when the soft, lubricating cartilage that protects and cushions the joints wears down. The resulting increased friction causes inflammation and pain.

As common as it is, it’s nothing to dismiss. Arthritis can become debilitating, drastically decreasing quality of life or shortening a pet’s life. There is a silver lining, though: treatment options abound. Early treatment is key, so when an animal friend is limping, stiff, painful, or less willing to do daily activities like playing, climbing stairs, or grooming, it’s time to visit the veterinarian. Your biggest challenge may be choosing from the many options, but here’s a summary for you to discuss with your vet.

Lifestyle Changes 

All arthritis patients benefit from weight management coupled with moderate low-impact exercise. While weight management can be a bit more challenging for older, more sedentary pets, keeping extra pounds to a minimum lightens the demands on painful joints. Exercise helps control both weight and arthritis pain, but doctors with the American Veterinary Medical Association warn that either too little or too much exercise can increase pain. With some time and attention, you’ll likely learn the right types and amounts of exercise for your arthritic friend, and can couple that with home massages, supportive bedding, and mats or rugs to make hard or slippery floors more paw-friendly.

Food and Supplements

As with the many contradictory theories about the best diets and healthiest foods for humans, any research about proper pet nutrition and supplements can lead you down a rabbit hole of confusion. Always ask your veterinarian. Few doctors recommend supplements as the sole treatment for arthritis pain, but many see them as a helpful part of a treatment regimen. Some, like Chicago-based Dr. Donna Solomon, wholeheartedly recommend glucosamine chondroitin and omega 3 oils as a complement to anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medication, and acupuncture or physical therapy. Bear in mind that nutritional supplements are largely unregulated and vary in quality and effectiveness. For this reason, doctors often recommend veterinary-specific supplements with dosage and formulas geared to your pets. One chondroitin supplement called Dasuquin comes in a tasty chewable for dogs and a break-apart capsule for cats.

The author, left, comforts her dog Levi, age 13, as he tries out a wheelchair

The author, left, comforts her dog Levi, age 13, as he tries out a wheelchair

There are veterinary diets formulated with supplements to support joint health, although, as always, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian about the best options. And while vegetarian diets are difficult and controversial for cats, they help many arthritic or arthritis-prone dogs. Meat-free diets show some promise in relieving inflammatory conditions, but making home diets that are nutritionally sound for dogs can require research and vigilance. Some commercially available formulas by Natural Balance and other manufacturers take away the guesswork. 


These widely-available drugs often are the first recommendation of veterinarians. There are several non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs available and approved for dogs, cats, and other species.  Some even come in tasty chewable or liquid form. With all NSAIDS, there are possible side effects and health considerations with long-term use, so your doctor will likely want to do an initial blood test and re-check every six to 12 months.

Pain Medications

Veterinarians are increasingly willing to prescribe pain medication as attitudes and treatment options continue to evolve in the pain management field. Drugs like Tramadol and Gabapentin are widely available and fairly affordable in pill form. Another common pain med, buprenorphine, comes in liquid or injectable form for notoriously hard-to-medicate cats. Pain-management views vary by veterinarian, and might not be necessary for milder conditions that are well managed with other therapies. However, don’t hesitate to advocate for your arthritic fur kid if their pain level seems to warrant medication. As Dr. Solomon writes, withholding pain medication when it’s needed is “antiquated and non-compassionate.” 

Specialty Clinics

Rehabilitation services available for pets now rival the care available in any human physical therapy clinic. From therapy pools to underwater treadmills, laser therapy, neurological re-education, and ultrasound therapy, these clinics can customize a treatment plan for your buddy’s condition and ability. The veterinary teaching hospital at Oregon State University in Corvallis has a state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility for large and small animals. A referral from your veterinarian is required, but visiting with the specialists there will expose you to multiple options. 

Alternative Therapies

Therapies once considered alternative are fast becoming mainstream, as growing numbers of local clinics offer Traditional Chinese Medicine modalities such as acupuncture and herbal medicine. Local clinics, such as Whole Pet Veterinary in Salem, increasingly blend Eastern and Western treatments. At Whole Pet, Dr. Julie DeMarco says acupuncture can dramatically increase quality of life in arthritic pets, and Chinese herbal treatments sometimes cure conditions that Western medicine cannot. It’s also increasingly easy to find non-veterinary practitioners who offer massage therapy that may soothe aching joints and increase flexibility.

Emerging Therapies

Levi learns to use the underwater treadmill at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Levi learns to use the underwater treadmill at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Among the growing field of proven arthritis treatments, there are more promising ones on the horizon. Stem-cell therapy is a prime example. An extensive article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association says, “The anecdotal evidence for stem cells as a therapy is compelling, but research is still under way.” Even while research is ongoing, numerous doctors across the country — including Oregon and Washington — are already relying on this treatment for animals who don’t tolerate anti-inflammatory medications or whose conditions haven’t responded well to other treatments. It’s a more costly and complex procedure than most, because doctors must collect blood, fat, or bone marrow from the patient, send it to a lab where stem cells are grown and harvested from the sample, and then inject those stem cells back into the animal. Many doctors and clients report impressive improvements in patients who are able to regrow deteriorating hooves or regenerate joint cartilage in previously painful joints. The procedure can cost $2,000-$3,000.


·        Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association regarding stem cell therapy in horses, dogs, cats. https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/110215a.aspx

·        Dr. Solomon writes in Huffington Post about caring for an arthritic dog or cat http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donna-solomon-dvm/caring-for-an-arthritic-d_b_1916427.html

·        The Oregon State University veterinary teaching hospital has a summary of rehabilitation services here http://vetmed.oregonstate.edu/hospital/small-animal-rehabilitation

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.