Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Video showing the dangerous conditions your pet experiences in a parked car

This vet went to extreme measures to demonstrate the devastating effects of leaving your pet in a car in the summer - even with the windows down. Here's his video. Please be safe in the heat this summer and never leave your pets in the car!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Heartworm disease

I recently received a great question about heartworm disease:

Q. I'm relocating from the West coast and have never given my healthy (very!) 6 1/2 y o labradoodle heart worm medicine - is it necessary and if so, what's the least toxic, I hate for a preventitive treatment to harm him in other ways

A. This is an important topic, and is especially relevant in these warm months; when mosquitos are prevalent in many areas.

Heartworm disease is a very real disease in dogs and cats; and can lead to potentially life threatening complications. It is true that this disease is more common in certain parts of the country; as it is transmitted by mosquitos. In Tucson we very rarely see heartworm disease; and cases are usually attributed to the animal having travelled to another location where mosquitos are more common. Unfortunately in my practice in DC and during my time in Georgia and Florida, I diagnosed a few heartworm positive dogs; and the available western treatments were harsh.

In general in my practice I tend to favor a more "natural" approach over western medicine if I have a choice. Unfortunately, with heartworm disease, there is not much research regarding the prevention and treatment of this scary disease with herbal, homeopathic or dietary appraches; and there is a large amount of research supporting the efficacy and relative safety of western medications. That being said; I can tell you a bit about holistic approaches to this disease; and what I do with my own pets; and let you make the best decision for your family.

It is interesting to me that many non- domesticated animals (such as coyotes) seem resistant to heartworm disease (as in this study). While we could argue there are many differences between a coyote and a dog; one of the main ones is lifestyle: a "whole foods" diet and exercise.

To mimic the diet of a dog in it's natural habitat; and to help your pet build a strong immune system I would suggest a minimally processed, balanced diet. There are a few books with recipes for balanced "homemade diets"; or you can look at products such as The Honest Kitchen and Natures Variety Instinct raw.  In my practice I evaluate a pets' overall health and particular imbalances as well as the medicinal properties of various foods when choosing the best diet for them. I also like to add probiotics and digestive enzymes (especially if your dog is on a raw food) to their food.

There are a few western herbs that are commonly used in the treatment and prevention of heartworm disease; however safety and efficacy studies have not been done. Please consult with your pet's veterinarian before trying these (for example, some herbs such as garlic and ginger can interfere with medications); and note that they should be discontinued with any adverse reactions such as diarrhea.
  • Black Walnut: 1 capsule of ground herb/ day. This is often used to treat gastro intestinal parasites as well.
  • Tincture formula: 14 ml Ginger, 9ml Wormwood, 4 ml Garlic, 14 ml Thyme, 9 ml Cinnamon. Give 0.1 ml ml of tincture per 5 lb of body weight; divide this into twice daily doses.
  • Bromelein: to be given with above tincture formula to prevent potential complications from sudden worm "die-offs."  Starting dose is 30 mg/ pound body weight devided into twice daily doses.
I will tell you that I put my own pets on prescription heartworm preventative when we travel from Arizona to states with a higher risk of mosquitos (such as DC in the summer). In the winter months on the east coast; when there is little chance of mosquitos, I take them off of prescription heartworm preventative.  In Tucson I do not have my pets on heartworm preventative; but I do test them for the disease annually.

It is hard to say what the "safest" prescription product would be for your particular pet. In my practice I tend to favor the Ivermectin formulas (which have been around longer) over some of the newer formulas that aim to prevent many types of parasites at once. It should be noted that Ivermectin should never be used in certain breeds such as herding dogs; so check with your vet about your particular pet, though a labradoodle should be fine. For families with children; I would err on the side of caution and use a product (such as Ivermectin with Pyrantel) that also addresses gastro-intestinal worms; which can migrate into various parts of the human body and cause damage.

I hope this gives you some information and resources to help your decision making process for your pet. This is an important topic that all pet owners in areas with a humid, warm climate need to take seriously.

Gator enjoying the great outdoors :)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Staying safe and cool in the summer

In these hot temperatures please remember to keep your pets safe. Just the other day in Arizona, a pet bird named Rusty was left in a truck for too long and was unresponisve by the time firefighters were able to intervene. Fortunately Rusty survived with medical intervention; but many pets are not so lucky. Never leave your pet in the car - even if you are leaving them for just a few moments.

When you walk your dog in the summer; be sure you have plenty of fresh water available for her.  Even if you dont feel thirsty, your furry friend might need a cool break. Especially in Arizona, make sure the surface you are walking on isnt hot enough to burn her paws! You may want to invest in dog booties.

  Gator was really ready for a water break here!
Cooling off by a fountain in DC:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ticks as a cause of beef allergy

A recent discovery in human medicine has linked a bite from a particular tick to beef allergy in humans.  While this link has not been established in veterinary medicine; I do see food allergies (and ticks!) quite often in my veterinary practice... Please be sure to check your pets for ticks daily!

link to wsj article

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

OCD in dogs

Recent research indicates that our dog friends can suffer from the same sort of imbalances and changes in their brains (seen on an MRI) as a person with OCD. In dogs, the condition often "manifests in tail and shadow chasing, spinning, excessive drinking and licking, fly snapping, persistent barking, and pica - a compulsive eating habit where they devour non-nutritive substances."  
In my TCVM pracitce; I have treated patients with compulsive disorders succesfully with a combination of herbs, acupuncture, diet change and massage therapy.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Preventing ear infections in dogs

It is the time of year (especially in DC where the humidity is creeping up); when I start seeing a rise in the number of dogs with ear infections.

In Chinese medicine we describe ear infections as "damp heat" in the ears. In addition to keeping ears clean to prevent infection, in my practice I talk with clients about dietary options to help drain damp and clear heat, as well herbal formulas and acupuncture treatments.

Gator loves to cool off in the pool; but I make sure to clean out his ears afterward

It is important to keep your dog's ears clean and dry (especially after swimming or bathing) to prevent ear infections. One of my favorite "at home" remedies to keep ears clean (after checking with your vet to make sure your dog doesnt have an active infection that needs to be treated) is to clean the ears every few days with pure aloe vera juice. Aloe is a "cooling" plant in Chinese medicine; and it has antimicrobial properties.

I have clients use "George's Aloe Vera Juice". Pour a cup of the juice over a few cotton balls. You can add 1-2 drops of tee tree oil (a potent anti-microbial essential oil) if your dog is prone to yeast or bacterial infections. Be careful to not use more tea tree oil than this (and never use it in cats); as this medicinal oil can be toxic at high doses.

Use the cotton balls to clean the ears. Never use Q-tips to clean your dogs ears at home; as it can be easy to go a little too far and severely damage your dog's ear drum

Here's Gator getting ready for an ear cleaning. It helps to have some treats handy as a reward :)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lifesaving dogs

Sometimes the simplest answers are the most brilliant. I love this approach to detecting ovarian cancer in women; utilizing dogs' incredible sense of smell. Check out this article on dogs who are saving lives :)

Puppies at Penn to battle ovarian cancer. Ohlin (top left), McBain (top right), Thunder (bottom right), Working Dogs Center Director Cindy Otto (lower left) with puppy Sirius (not in the cancer study).

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Healthy treat on a hot day :)

In Arizona this time of year the temperatures are already reaching the 90's. To help my dog Gator cool off after a hot walk; I like to give him a treat based on the principles of Chinese veterinary medicine.
In Chinese medicine we look at each food as having a specific effect on the body. For example, some foods are "warming", some are "cooling", some help drain excess fluids from the body, and some help to circulate "Qi" (pronounced "Chee") - the life force energy.
Watermelon is in the category of  "cold" foods. That is, when you eat it, even if it is at room temperature, it effectively cools the body down. I like to keep a small watermelon in the refrigerator; and offer Gator a few bites after a walk.
If your dog has a sensitive stomach you may want to try a very small amount to start and see how she tolerates it. You could also try a kefir or yogurt (unsweetened, plain) treat. These are cooling foods as well, and often the probiotics help pups with sensitive tummies.

 more please! :)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Heartwarming before and after videos

Not long ago a childhood friend who lives on the other side of the country sent me a message about his sweet 3 legged dog Hank.

Hank had significant arthritis and was showing signs of severe pain that medication alone was not able to handle. I suggested that in addition to the western medications; Hank see a veterinary acupuncturist asap. The following 2 videos are of Hank before acupuncture and after his first couple treatments. I think they are quite heartwarming and show the power of integrative medicine.

Hank before acupuncture (heartbreaking - but I promise it gets better!):


Hank after acupuncture (yay!):


Monday, April 22, 2013

Alternative inflammatory bowl disease treatments

I recently received this question on "IBD"; which unfortunately is a very common disease in dogs and cats. Please see the question and my answer below.
Q. "Do you have any advice about how to cope with a cat who has inflammatory bowel disorder and how to eventually get him off of steroids?  My cat was diagnosed with IBD about a year ago.  During this time, he's been on steroid doses ranging from 2 pills a day to half a pill every third day (and I always transition gradually between dose sizes).  I'd recently gotten him to half a pill every 3 days.  Then he had a backslide, and how he's back to 1 pill a day.  He's living fine with the disease, but he's had several instances of dropping weight and losing appetite -  he swings between 7 pounds and 8 pounds.  Even at his ""healthy"" weight of 8 pounds, he's a skinny cat.  He doesn't have extra weight to lose!
I've researched so many unique protein foods.  He's currently on Hills z/d for dry food and two types of wet food - Ziwi Peak venison and Addiction brushtail and venison. 
I also give him probiotics and shots of B12.
Any suggestions of other ways to manage this disease so that he doesn't back-slide and so I can get him off the steroids?
Thank you!!!!
Thanks for this important question. IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) is a very common disease in dogs and cats.  IBD is characterized by inflammatory cells accumulating in the intestine; leading to signs that include vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.  The cause of the disorder is usually hard to identify; but common causes include food "allergy" (to things like meat proteins, artificial colorings and preservatives in food) and microbial infection (such as giardia and salmonella). IBD is suspected to have a genetic component, as certain breeds have a higher incidence of certain presentations.

In western medicine the most common medical treatments include the use of anti-inflammatory medications (such as steroids); often combined with antibiotics, antidiarrheal drugs and ideally a hypoallergenic diet.

This treatment can be effective at keeping the signs under control; but clinical signs often flare up; and western medications alone rarely lead to a cure.

In my Chinese medical practice I have had great success with treating IBD. I have found TCVM (traditional Chinese veterinary medicine) to be able to nurture a patient's body, to restore health and prevent recurrence of disease in a way that western medicine is often not able to do. You will notice the western medical treatments include many medications that are "anti" something. Western medicine is wonderful at killing invaders of the body and treating "excess"; but it often overlooks the support of the body and the underlying cause of the "excess". Western medicine lacks where Chinese medicine excels; in allowing the body to heal itself and prevent recurrence of problems.

Patients with IBD in my practice usually receive a series of acupuncture and massage treatments, and often take customized herbal formulas to normalize their stools, prevent nausea, and promote weight gain if needed.  Since your cat is receiving vitamin B injections; I would likely use "aquapuncture", and inject the vitamin at acupuncture points for a synergistic effect.

I also almost always adjust the diet of a patient with IBD. In western medicine we recognize that IBD patient's guts often react to certain ingredients, and we therefore put these animals on special diets that exclude these ingredients. In TCVM we take it a step further and customize the choice of ingredients to the patient's particular imbalances. In Chinese medicine every food is considered to have a unique effect on the body, and we use this knowledge to use food as medicine.  I have had great success with simply modifying a patient's diet according to Chinese medical principles with no other treatments to help patients with IBD.

When I see patients that are on western medications I usually leave them on the meds until they have been stable and showing no clinical signs for weeks. I then gradually taper them off the medications; while working closely with the veterinarian that prescribed them.  Remember, western medications are very powerful and effective at getting rid of problems. I strongly believe in using the best of everything available to us - western medicine to quickly damper an out of control inflammatory reaction, and Chinese medicine to balance the body to prevent it from coming back.

As far as "western" supplements go, a good place to start is with digestive enzymes and a high quality probiotic (with multiple species and billions of colonies of "good" bacteria and yeast) to help your pet digest and assimilate his food. I especially like probiotic products that contain "soil organisms”. Occasionally I see animals who do not respond well to probitics. In Chinese medicine probiotics are considered "dampening"; and often I find these animals have an excess "dampness" that must be addressed before probiotics will be helpful. You also must take care to be sure the probiotic does not contain dairy, wheat, corn, etc if your pet is on an elimination diet. For sympotm relief, enteric coated peppermint is a very safe and often effective herb. N-Acetylglucosamine (dose 50mg/pound body weight) is showing promise as  a supplement which helps to preserve the intestinal mucosa and regulate inflammation.

Unfortunately, Chinese medicine is very patient - specific. There is not one acupuncture plan or herbal prescription I can recommend to treat all animals with IBD - the treatments are customized to each animal's unique imbalances.  I would highly recommend making an appointment with a local veterinary acupuncturist to get your kitty started on an integrative medicine plan.

 With all this being said IBD is a disease that veterinary acupuncturists commonly treat with great success. I hope this helps; and please follow up with additional questions if you need.

Please check with your veterinarian before changing anything in your pet’s health care regime.
No information in this blog is meant to replace the advice of your veterinarian

Friday, April 12, 2013

Could your pet's digestive tract be the source of her behavior problems?

  I just read a fascinating article about a recent study linking compulsive disorders (such as excessive licking, "fly biting" and tail chasing) to an underlying digestive problem.
  Holistic health care professionals have known for decades that diet can have a profound effect on a person's (or animal's) psychology and therefore behavior. I have seen many dogs and cats with anxiety, phobias, and aggression problems improve dramatically on a more appropriate diet. In my holistic practice, I tailor a patient's diet according to her particular needs and imbalances. A good place to start is with a minimally processed, high quality balanced diet; supplemented with probiotics, digestive enzymes, and fish oils.
Please check with your veterinarian before changing anything in your pet’s health care regime.
No information in this blog is meant to replace the advice of your veterinarian.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Inspiring dog

I dont have time for a long post today; but I love this story.  The joyful spirits of our dog friends never fail to warm my heart. Reminds me of my Gator dog. :)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hyper kitty

I recently received a question about kitty behavior that I will summarize below. While I am not a vet behaviorist; I am presented with behavior problems frequently in my holistic practice, and find them rewarding to treat.

Q.  I adopted an adult cat. He is waking up around 5 AM, and is quite restless. Is there a way to change his sleep patterns?

AFirst off, cats are nocturnal creatures. This means they have evolved to sleep during the day and hunt and play at night. Many domesticated cats retain these sleep patterns, which can be disruptive to their human family member’s desires to sleep at nite.
See your vet:
My first inclination would be to rule out a potential disease process that may be underlying your cat's restlessness. Your vet may want to make sure his vision and hearing are normal and that he doesnt have a problem such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or even cystitis (inflammation of the bladder). In some cases when a cat's environment changes significantly; they react with behaviors such as night vocalization. In my TCVM practice, I would look to rule out an "imbalance" that could be treated with herbal medicine, a dietary adjustment, or acupuncture.
If your cat is healthy; this is likely normal behavior for him.

Ignore him: :(
To try to adjust his behavior; dont encourage him during his 5 AM antics. Do not respond to his meowing by feeding him, petting him, or playing with him at this hour. If you do, it will teach him that if he meows at 5 AM he will get rewarded by you.
If his nightime antics are exhausting you, I recommend you try to exhaust him first - so that he will be too tired come nite time to be "restless".
To keep him active during the day, and encourage him to use his instincts to hunt for food; I like to use "interactive" toys.  These are contraptions in which you hide food or a beloved toy. He has to work throughout the day to get it out. Do an internet search for "interactive cat toys" and you will find plenty!  If your kitty eats kibble; try splitting up his kibble in a few of these toys hidden around your house. This stimulates his brain as well as keeps his body active.

Luckily, many cats prefer the simplest toys; such as foil balls and empty boxes. I like to leave a suprise out every few days for Sam so he doesnt get bored with his toy selection. :) For inspiration; watch this video of a cat named Maru who LOVES boxes. I cant stop watching him - so cute!!
If you are home during the day; I love for cats and cat parents to bond with toys such as "wands". Many cats love stalking and chasing these; and you will surely end up laughing, and praising your cat friend as he shows off his moves to pounce on the prey.

A kitty going crazy for a feather wand toy:
My cat Sam loves to go outside on a leash (with a harness). Most cats tolerate a harness fairly well after getting used to it - Sam knows when the harness comes out he gets to play outside! These outdoor sessions can be wonderful for their (and your!) spirits. Just please be sure your cat is vaccinated, as some diseases are transmitted thru the air.
                                                      Sam enjoying some fresh air and sunshine: 
If you are not able to play with your cat during the day, consider hiring a petsitter to play with your kitty for an hour or so while you are at work. The added expense might do wonders for your mental health if it gives you a few extra hours of sleep each night! :)
You may also try leaving a radio on or an animal related video or tv channel.  Make sure there is furniture or a perch available that allows your cat to climb, explore, and look out of a window. You may even want to place a bird-feeder on the other side of the window - this can provide hours of entertainment!
This lucky kitty has a lovely window view. I bet he'd love to get outside and play a little (on a leash!) :)
He is a cat...
Having said all of this; we must recognize that nocturnal behavior is normal for cats. If your kitty is still waking you up at nite despite stimulating him throughout the day and ensuring he does not have a medical issue; you two may just need to separate at night. Perhaps he can have a nite-time "playroom"; that is separate from your bedroom. Simple lifestyle adjustments such as this can often do wonders.
 Please check with your veterinarian before changing anything in your pet’s health care regime.
No information in this blog is meant to replace the advice of your veterinarian.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Extra special animals

  I came across this article about an alligator with a prosthetic tail and it made me think of my dog named Gator who is missing a leg. :) I want to share a little bit about him with yall, because he gets stares and gasps every day from people who apparantly feel sorry for him.
 Gator is the happiest, fastest, most affectionate (and dare I say most adorable) dog I have ever been lucky enough to know. When he tries something new, like jumping onto a chair, and doesnt quite make it he keeps trying. He never gets sad or frustrated, and he always seems to find a way.
 I feel so lucky to have him in my life. If you happen to be contemplating adopting a special needs animal, or your pet may need an amputation, enucleation, or other seemingly life-changing operation; please know that these animals do great. In my practice, most of the special animals I have known dont even know they are different. And if they do realize they are different; they dont dwell on it.
 I just wanted to share a little about him because he brings me so much joy; and so many lessons.

Here's a photo of Gator hiking on Mt Lemmon near Tucson (my husband helped him up the rock):
He loves the water:
And looking out the window:
And he is especially amazing at chasing after and killing squeeky balls. Here is a video showing his atheletic prowess (from this summer; when we were staying in a hotel):

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Travel tips :)

Now that spring break is upon us and summer vacations are not far away; I am getting questions about travelling with pets. Here are some of my top tips.

1. Flying with your pet. If you must bring your pet on a plane; do your best to not "check" him as luggage. Airlines are not in the business of taking care of animals; and when a pet is checked as cargo they are often exposed to extreme temperatures and potentially frightening and even life threatening situations. If you must check your pet, it is best to not give him any sedatatives; as no one will be able to check on him if there are problems. Keep in mind that your pet will not be able to get out and pee/poo - so choose the shortest and most direct route possible.
I fly fairly often with my dog Gator, and am lucky that he fits under the seat in front of me. I keep his carrier bag in the house when we are not travelling, and offer him treats in it; so that he has come to love his little bag. This really helps when it is time for him to hang out under an airplane seat for a few hours!

                        Here's a picture of Gator hanging out in his carrier before a trip:

2. Driving with your pet. Please make sure to secure your pet in the car (just as you would your people passengers). I have seen too many cases of pets being seriously injured or running away during a car accident. My favorite devices attach their harness to a seatbelt, and many devices have a booster seat so your pets can see out the window.
While on a road trip make sure you have plenty of water and pee breaks and NEVER leave your pet in the car unattended. Their are countless cases of pets dying from overheating in parked cars when left even just a few minutes. :(
                                                            Gator LOVES his special seat:
3. Diet while travelling.  It is best to keep your pet's diet and routine as normal as possible while travelling. This will help to prevent issues like diarrhea and anxiety. My dog eats a dehydrated human-grade dog food that is easily transportable. If you must switch up your pet's diet while travelling I recommend supplementing with a probiotic to help prevent diarrhea.
4. Travel anxiety. If your pet seems anxious about the changes in her routine; it often helps to keep her active and engaged with "something to do". 

Similarly to people, fresh air and exercise can do wonders for pets' attitiudes. (Dont forget to provide plenty of fresh water and shade if its hot out while you are exercising!)
My dog is a sucker for squeeky toys and Kongs. When we travel I bring a stash of almond butter to fill the Kong (and keep him entertained).
Chinese medicine treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and herbal formulas can do wonders for anxiety; but If you dont have access to these treatments and are looking to try a supplement to "take the edge off" ; I often recommend Rescue Remedy (available at natural foods stores) or pheromone sprays such as D.A.P. (available thru most vets or some pet stores).
Here's Gator in a hotel room with an "interactive toy". It has a space in the middle to hide treats. This one kept him occupied/ obsessed for DAYS :)


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Effective supplements for healthy dogs and cats

The most frequent question I get is: What supplements are the most beneficial for dogs and cats? Let me start by saying that dogs and cats are not the same. These separate species have different anatomies and physiologies; and therefore differing metabolic and nutritional needs.
In my practice, I believe the most important thing I do is to determine the most appropriate and nutritious diet for each of my patients. This is not as easy as it sounds; as all animals are unique, I have found their metabolic and nutritional needs to be unique as well.
That being said, most of our current dog and cat foods that claim to offer a “complete and balanced diet” to our fur babies are lacking in a few specific ways. This is where I believe supplements play an important role:

1.       Probiotics. These are the “good” bacteria and yeast that naturally colonize our pets’ (and our) guts. They are found in rich soil (where nutritious veggies are grown and prey species live), as well as foods like yogurt and unpasteurized sauerkraut. In most commercial pet foods any bacteria is deliberately killed; and brands that add probiotics often aren’t able to add them in an effective quantity or quality.

2.       Digestive Enzymes.  While being super convenient and decently nutritious; most commercial pet foods contain ingredients that aren’t quite “whole foods”. These processed and/ or synthesized ingredients are often taxing on the gut, and difficult to digest. Digestive enzymes can help dogs and cats break down their food, and assimilate as many of the nutrients as possible; as well as promote a healthy stool. I have found enzymes to be especially helpful in older patients with digestive issues.

3.       Omega 3 fatty acids. Similarly to people, our dogs and cats can often benefit from omega 3 fatty acid supplements. Unfortunately, due to their unique digestive processes, our furry friends do not benefit from the omega 3’s in flax seeds in a similar manner as people.  Thankfully, fish oils are a wonderful omega 3 rich addition to our dogs’ and cats’ diets. These special oils have numerous potential beneficial effects, including anti-inflammatory properties which can help with arthritis, allergies, and inflammatory bowel; as well as potentially helping the skin and coat, and chronic diseases like kidney disease.
***Please check with your veterinarian before changing anything in your pet’s health care regime. No information in this blog is meant to replace the advice of your veterinarian.

Monday, February 25, 2013


After much prodding from friends and clients I have decided its time to start a blog. :) I'm planning to offer tidbits about raising healthy fur babies; along with stories about my own pets and the insights they give me into animal wellness every day. Please send me questions and comments; and feel free to share the blog with your friends.

I hope yall enjoy! Cheers :)

Katie Stembler Bockstedt DVM CVA

Here's a little shot of my own fur babies, Sam and Gator, playing hide and seek: