Category Archives: Cats & Dogs

Tips and insights on life with pets from my lifelong experience as a petaholic.

Heatstroke in dogs. Know the signs and take action.

26th June 2015

Summer is upon us, folks and we are not the only ones who have the suffer through the heat.  Our pets are among the most vulnerable to the dangers of heat stroke.  There are no statistics regarding heat stroke in dogs because most of these cases go unreported but it is estimated that several hundred pets suffer this unnecessary fate every summer.  

Don't let your pet suffer from heat

Dr. Amy Thomason at Westlake Animal Hospital has shared her knowledge and expert advice with us so that we can be prepared in the event our pets become overheated (or hyperthermic).  Obviously, prevention is the number one piece of advice anyone can give pet owners so make sure you take appropriate measures during warm seasons.  Keep your pets indoors during the hottest parts of the day (late afternoon) and always have fresh water accessible and as well as a  shaded, well ventilated area for them to cool off.  Never leave your pet in the car, even if you crack the windows and even if it’s “just for a minute”.  This happened just last week in California.  And, while we’re at it, try to remember not to leave your kids in the car either. 

Now, here’s what you need to know in the event your dog does suffer from heat stroke.  Even the fittest pets can become hyperthermic and this condition, if untreated or treated incorrectly, can result in major organ damage and even death so, please read on.  

Normal body temperature for a dog is at

Reasons why a pet would be unable to dissipate heat: 

  • Obesity
  • Brachycephalic conformation  (lookin’ at you, pugs, bulldogs, frenchies, etc.)
  • Laryngeal paralysis/upper airway obstruction
  • Cardiovascular or respiratory disease
  • Extremes in age (very young, very old)
  • Central nervous system disease, including prolonged seizures
  • Water deprivation
  • Poorly ventilated areas
  • High humidity
  • Heat Prostration (collapse or loss of consciousness) 

This is a LIFE THREATENING CONDITION, not to mention agonizing.  When internal temperature is above 105, a true emergency exists.  Above 109 degrees, organ damage occurs in kidneys, liver, intestines and brain.  Prolonged temperatures over 109 degrees causes irreversible neuronal death which causes coma and permanent brain damage.  

Appears distressedPants

Remember, pets may recover if intensive supportive care is initiated but TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!!!  Here’s what you can do at home before you take the pet in for veterinary care.  

  • Remove your pet from the environment where the hyperthermia occurred
  • Move to shaded or cool environment and direct a fan on them
  • If possible, determine rectal temperature and record it
  • Begin to cool the dog by placing cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, armpits, and groin areas
  • Wet the ear flaps and paws with cool water
  • OR use cool water from a garden hose
  • Transport to the closest veterinarian ASAP

Seems pretty logical, right?  I mean who here hasn’t had used the same methods on themselves after a little too much time in the sun?  But possibly more importantly, here is what NOT TO DO. 

  • Do not use very cold water or ice for cooling.  It forms an insulating layer of tissue to hold the heat inside.  Cooling the innermost structures of the body will actually be delayed.  Instead, use cold tap water.  
  • Do not overcool the pet.  A reasonable goal of cooling pet is to reduce your pet’s body temperature to 102.5-103 degrees while transporting to veterinarian. 
  • Do not attempt for force water into your pet’s mouth, but have fresh cool water available to offer should your pet be alert and show interest.
  • Do not leave your pet unattended for any length of time.

When you arrive at your veterinarian’s office, you can expect swift action to continue cooling and rehydrating your pet.  The following, are some things that may be necessary to help your pet recover. 

  • Monitor temperature every 5 minutes
  • Continue cooling with cold tap water in tub
  • IV Fluids – cooled if possible
  • +/- Isopropol alcohol applied to feet/pads
  • +/- Fan for cooling
  • +/- Oxygen Therapy

With timely and appropriate action both on your part and that of your doctor’s, your pet stands the best chance for recovery.  However, the prognosis will depend on the length of time the dog was hyperthermic, the amount of organ damage incurred, and your pet’s response to intensive supportive care.  If DIC, organ failure, cerebral edema, coma, gastrointestinal damage or septicemia have occurred, your pet’s prognosis will be poor to grave so again, prevent this by acting fast.  

I believe that as humans, we are responsible for honoring and valuing the lives of our neighbors, whether they be fellow humans or man’s best friend.  If you see a dog in distress from heat or this happens to your pet, take action immediately.  It is no joke.  You could save a life.  Thank you, Dr. Amy Thomason and all the staff at Westlake Animal Hospital in Austin, who have treated many pets suffering from heatstroke and work hard each day to educate pet owners in order to prevent this and many other harmful situations, helping pets to live longer and healthier lives.  

The Moment of truth for my dog’s dental health

22nd February 2015

In a recent blog post (okay, maybe not super recent…),  I discussed pet dental health, why it’s important and gave you some key pieces of information about how to prevent dental disease, which can lead to other, more serious problems.  In continuation of my effort to shed some light on the issue, I will chronicle my own dog’s recent teeth cleaning adventure at Westlake Animal Hospital.  Our experience is a direct example of the importance of regular dental cleanings with anesthesia and x-rays.  Read on to find out what the procedure entails (get it?) and what surprises we found  along the way.

(BONUS: February is Pet Dental Health month and Westlake Animal Hospital is offering some great deals! Check them out here.)

So, there we were.   Just a regular snoozy morning in the life of Fiona, the dog,  when she was abruptly awakened before dawn to be driven to the vet for her yearly dental cleaning.  Sorry, girl.

Here’s what we expected:  A fair bit of tartar build-up and some gingivitis. Admittedly, I stopped brushing her teeth a few years ago.  Forgetfulness and downright laziness are mostly to blame.  Still, at eleven years old, she usually cleans up quite well at her yearly cleaning.  This is her before picture:

Hence, the dog breath.

Hence, the dog breath.

Here’s what we DID NOT expect:  A fractured molar and exposed root, needing to be extracted.  For those of you who don’t know which one the molar is (#309). Here’s a chart.  Bottom line, it’s a big one and pulling it requires pretty significant oral surgery, plus a longer recovery period.  But dogs will be dogs, and apparently chewing on hard rock-like objects is her new thing, even though I’ve literally NEVER seen her do it.  Whatever, Fiona.

So, this is how it goes when you hand your dog (or cat) over to the staff at Westlake Animal Hospital for a dental.  Most reputable and AHAA accredited vets will do it more or less the same way so it should be a good indication of what you’re in for.

After check-in proceedings are complete, they draw a blood sample and run a lab test indicating whether your pet is healthy enough for anesthesia.  Fiona passed!


They place a catheter in the pet’s foreleg, allowing access to the bloodstream for medication and fluids, followed by a party hat to keep them from chewing it off.

After the doctor examines Fiona, she’s cleared for surgery.  Chris administers the anesthetic, intubates and hooks her up to the monitoring equipment.  All patients are monitored during the procedure for changes in: heart rate, respiration, temperature, blood pressure and blood oxygenation.  If a change occurs, there are simple measures that can be used to prevent a crisis, making the entire process very safe.  I mention this because some vets do not monitor animals while under anesthesia, so always be sure your doctor does.

Dental Procedure 1

Now that she’s fully anesthetized and hooked up with all the fluids and monitoring she needs, Chris, begins by taking x-rays.  Then, she will clean the teeth using fully sterilized tools.

Fiona's Extraction

After pulling the tooth, they take another x-ray to make sure that they have removed all parts of the tooth and its roots.

Problem tooth

So, as it turned out, my sweet little fur baby was in pain for an undermined amount of time due to a broken tooth and I don’t know if I ever would have found out about it or been able to help her if not for the thoroughness and professionalism of the doctors and staff at Westlake Animal Hospital.  And after all that thoroughness, they even had time to put the beer goggles on Fiona as she was recovering from anesthesia.


There is a technician specifically assigned to assist and tent to pets who are waking up.  They keep their temperature normalized with warm air and blankets and check their vitals every few minutes until they are completely recovered.  Talk about full service!

Fourteen days or so later, Fiona was back on regular dry kibble and happy as a clam with a mouthful (minus one) of clean, healthy teeth.  Now it’s up to me to keep them that way with regular brushing and cleanings.  

So, if you had any doubts or questions about getting your pet’s teeth cleaned, I hope I was able to shed some light on the subject.  All pets and their owners are different and I’m sure many of you had had your share of experiences with not only dental care, but veterinary care in general.  I would love to hear about your own critters and how you take care of their teeth so leave comments or questions below! Happy brushing!



Caring for your pets’ teeth and why it matters. Part 1

25th November 2014

Do you know what’s lurking beneath those whiskers? Get your furry friend into the vet to find out and make a lasting change in their quality of life.

How much time have you spent lifting up your dog’s lip and examining what’s underneath ?  Your cat’s?  Yeah, me either.  Yet, we all complain about the awful breath that hits us like a slap in the face when they share those sweet licks with us.  But caring for your pet’s mouth is not just about fresh breath.  Understanding your pet’s dental health and investing in routine preventative home care may be the key to giving them a long and healthy life.

Many of us hear differing advice on the matter and with no shortage of pet care products out there, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know what steps to take to give your pet’s the healthiest mouth possible.  That’s why I’ve enlisted the expert advice of Christine Walker, Patient Supervisor and Veterinary Technician of over 25 years, who has kindly shared some important knowledge.  Along with veterinarians at Westlake Animal Hospital, Chris tackles some of the toughest mouths in Austin and gets them on track to fuller, healthier lives.

So, why should you care?

Eighty percent of dogs have some form of dental disease by the age of three.  Usually, this appears in the form of tartar buildup and/or gingivitis, both of which can affect and in some cases damage major organs such as the heart, lungs, liver and brain.  Some breeds are more prone to dental issues.  Take smushy-faced ones like pugs, for example.  These little guys sometimes show NO outward signs of dental disease, but once x-rays are reviewed, they are commonly found to have embedded teeth beneath their gums.  Left untreated, these can result in dentigerous cysts (the body attacking the “foreign” tooth) and cause pain, inflammation and infection.

That leads me to the #1 piece of advice  to remember, folks.  Do not judge your pet’s oral health by the looks of his teeth.  Unless you’re Clark Kent, you are missing the whole picture.  X-RAYS ARE THE KEY TO IDENTIFYING DENTAL PROBLEMS.  Read more about this here.

Furthermore, this step should only be taken under full and monitored anesthesia.  So, if your groomer, veterinarian or pet sitter tells you that they can clean your pet’s teeth while they are awake or lightly sedated (i.e. twilight cleanings), please DO NOT ALLOW IT. The veterinary community has found that attempting dental scaling and oral radiographs under anything but total anesthesia is actually very dangerous and detrimental to the health of animals. Learn about that here.  Unfortunately, many businesses offer these services and claim to provide the same results as those who may charge more but follow the correct and thorough protocols for this procedure.  Thus, endangering your pet’s life.  Rude, huh?  

What should you do at home and at the vet?

First, take your dog or cat in to a reputable (preferably accredited by the Animal Hospital Association or AHAA) veterinarian for regular health screenings.  The recommendation is every six months, especially in senior pets (age 7+).  During the exam, your doctor should take a close look at the teeth and gums and grade the tartar index to determine the appropriate dental care for your pet.  Home care will always be encouraged as it is the best tool in preventing health problems that can arise as a result of an unhealthy mouth.  Not sure how?  Here’s a fabulous instructional video. 

But, even with excellent home care, at some point, your vet will likely recommend that you schedule a teeth cleaning.  They should provide you with a detailed treatment plan explaining what is involved and a price range for the procedure.  Because many problems cannot be seen until x-rays are evaluated, you will not know the exact cost until the day of the procedure but the treatment plan should help you plan and budget accordingly.

Important items to look for in these services include:

  • Pre-operative blood work (to make sure your pet is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia)
  • IV catheterization (provides an open line into the blood stream in case medication needs to be administered)
  • Administration of IV fluids during the procedure (to keep organs happy and functioning while your pet is asleep)
  • Monitoring of respiration, heart rate, blood pressure and temperature during procedure (if problems with any of these arise, there are simple measures that can be taken to correct them)
  • Dental Radiographs

If extractions are expected due to obvious tooth decay or infection, make sure that the doctor, and not the technician, will be performing the surgical part of the procedure.  While dental technicians like Chris are well skilled in many ways, you want to make sure you have a surgeon there to handle any unforeseen or complicated issues.

If you live in Austin and you want to schedule your cat or dog for a dental evaluation or cleaning, the experts at Westlake Animal Hospital have decades of combined expertise and innovation in the veterinary field.  

Stay tuned…

In part two of covering this important topic, I will chronicle my own dog, Fiona’s experience as she goes in for a cleaning later this month.  My hope is that, through sharing my experience, I will motivate others to take a deeper interest in their animal’s dental health and give them the best chance for a happy, healthy life… plus fresher breath!  

Let's Brush!

In the meantime, grab a doggie or kitty toothbrush and toothpaste and give brushing a go! It only takes three minutes a day to make a big change.  Even if you can only manage it once or twice a week, it’s better than nothing and will not only prevent disease, but can keep overall health care costs down in the long haul.  Check out some amazing pet dental products recommended by veterinarians here.   Fiona loves the poultry flavored toothpaste! 

Have questions?  Leave them here!  We will get you the answers you need from professionals in the field. 

seven household toxins that can harm your pet

15th October 2014

We all love our pets and we want them to be safe, healthy and happy, right? They’re a part of our family, after all.  Well, there are several surprisingly dangerous items in and around your home right now that could be harmful to your pet.  I caught up with Dr. Brent Rains from Westlake Animal Hospital to find out more about the hidden dangers that every pet owner should know about. 

Make your home safe for you pet by keeping toxins out of reach.

Make your home safe for your pet by keeping toxins out of reach.

You’ve all heard this one before. What you may not know is that where toxicity is concerned, all chocolate is not created equal.  So, what’s a panicked dog owner to do when you find a missing Hershey bar or the brownie pan you left on the counter has been licked clean while you were sleeping?  That depends on two major factors: the size of your dog and the concentration of cocoa in the chocolate. 

The four types of chocolate from lightest to darkest. Darker chocolate is more harmful to dogs.

The four types of chocolate from lightest to darkest. Bakers chocolate is the most harmful to dogs.

Food products with high concentrations of cocoa such as bakers chocolate are significantly more dangerous than those with a lower concentration, like milk chocolate.  Likewise, it will take a larger volume of chocolate to have an effect on a medium or large dog than on small breeds.  Larger breeds may simply develop gastrointestinal symptoms (followed by remorse) and recover on their own, while toy and small breeds like chihuahuas might have more severe reactions.  In any case, here’s what to look for and what to do.

Signs and symptoms of chocolate toxicity in dogs: 

  • vomiting
  • hyperactivity (cocoa is a stimulant)
  • panting
  • tremors

If your dog has ingested any chocolate and you begin to see any of the above symptoms, immediately call your veterinarian and take your dog in for evaluation.  The most likely scenario in these cases is that your doctor will induce vomiting to get the chocolate out of your dog’s stomach. If the dog’s symptoms are severe, hospitalization and further supportive care may be required.  This situation is rarely fatal if treated, so make sure you act fast to help ensure your dog makes a full recovery. 

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in many prepared foods labeled “sugar-free” such as chewing gum, cookies, candy and even nasal spray. Dentists recommend it because it helps cut down on bacteria in the mouth and does not harm teeth like regular sugar.  Xylitol has many health benefits for humans, but has been shown to be very dangerous for dogs.  It causes drastic drops in blood glucose and liver damage. 

Take extra precautions with all foods containing Xylitol.

Take extra precautions with all foods containing Xylitol.

Symptoms to look for:

  • lethargy
  • vomiting

If your dog has ingested Xylitol, he will likely require hospitalization and detoxification therapy as prescribed by your doctor.  This is not something you can wait on, so call right away if you think your dog has gotten into any product containing Xylitol.

Other foods that are toxic to dogs include grapes, raisins, onions and garlic, so keep those our of your pet’s reach at all times. 

What you should know: All parts of the plant are toxic and can cause liver damage.


  • vomiting
  • lethargy

Call your vet right away if your dog displays any of these symptoms and has chewed on or eaten any part of a sago palm.  These plants are very common in the Austin area, so learn to recognize them and keep your dog from investigating them too closely. 

A lovely perennial flower that may help brighten up your home, but don’t let your cat munch on them.  Lilies are highly toxic to cats and cause kidney damage.


  • vomiting
  • lethargy

For both sago palm and lily ingestion in either dogs or cats, hospitalization and detox therapy may be required.

Toxic Plants

If you have kids, you are probably pretty careful about where you store your prescription medication, but over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can be just as dangerous to your pets.  Cats are especially sensitive to high doses of NSAIDs, which cause liver and kidney toxicity.  Usually, ingestion of these requires hospitalization for both dogs and cats. If you’re not sure about a specific human drug your pet may have ingested, the best thing to do is to call a pet poison hotline immediately.  Tell them which drug your pet ingested and how much.  They frequently have more detailed information pertaining to each specific medication and can guide you in communicating the problem to your veterinarian. 

As a side note, I should mention that pets medication should also be stored in a safe place. Even drugs that were prescribed to your pet can be harmful if an incorrect dose is ingested. 

This seems like a no-brainer, but there is something important you may not think of if your dog or cat comes in contact with rat poison.  ALWAYS bring the package of rat poison to your veterinarian.  There are three very different types of rat poison and all three affect entirely different organ systems and functions.  They will either attack the body’s blood clotting mechanism, neurological function, or kidney function.  Your doctor may not know how to best treat your pet if he or she does not know which of the three types of poisons is involved. 


  • vomiting
  • tremors
  • lethargy
  • bleeding

Did you know antifreeze is sweet tasting?  Well, dogs love sweets, so be sure keep this product in a sealed container and out of reach.  Consuming antifreeze causes kidney damage and also requires hospitalization. 

It’s a lot of information, but if you only remember one thing, it’s this website and phone number: ASPCA ANIMAL POISON CONTROL (OPEN 24/7) 888-426-4435

Always keep this number where you can find it.

Always keep this number where you can find it.

Of course, you should always be in touch with your veterinarian if your dog becomes sick or has ingested anything that might be toxic.  If you live in Austin and this happens after hours, there are several emergency hospitals available.  Here are the three I can personally recommend: 

South Austin: 512-899-0955 (Central Texas Veterinary Specialty Hospital)
Round Rock: 512-961-5200 (Central Texas Veterinary Specialty Hospital)
Central/East: 512-331-6121 (Austin Vet Hospital)

I hope your pet never gets into anything toxic, but if this does happen, be sure to call poison control as well as your veterinarian and be prepared to provide as much information as possible to give your furry friend the best chance for a full and speedy recovery. 



Who is Apollo?

19th September 2014

First, take a moment to marvel at my beauty… I’ll wait.


Impressive, huh? But Apollo Mercado is not just a pretty face. I bring you the whole package. I AM the most interesting cat in the world. So, fasten your cat collars because I’m going to take you on the ride of your life. The approximately 4% of my day that is not consumed by snoozing and eating is filled with more excitement than you could ever dream of. So, come back next week to find out what happens on CHRONICLES OF THE UNBUSY (that’s me!).

And now… a nap.