Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

Allergies in Pets – Scratching the surface

April 22nd, 2014

Have you noticed your pet scratching a lot lately?  Shaking their head or chewing at their paws?  If so, most likely it is due to allergies (Atopy).  We need to schedule your pet for a comprehensive exam to have several diagnostic tests done to best determine the cause(s) of their allergy problems.  The most common symptoms that owners will notice from their pet is excessive licking, scratching or chewing, odor from the ears or skin, hair loss, crusted skin lesions, greasy or oily skin, scaly, dry or red skin, stained or inflamed paws.  Recurrence of skin infections and/or ear infections is also common in allergic pets.

Depending upon the specific allergy that your pet has different recommendations and course of treatment will be made.  After a complete physical exam, complete blood panel, and fecal testing, the doctor can establish a complete history and better picture of what the issues are affecting your pet.  Allergies can be caused by various things including environmental, food, or flea allergies but all are associated with the immune system overreacting. This over-reaction by the immune system causes the body to release numerous chemicals that start an inflammatory cascade, or chain reaction effect.  The endpoint being that the skin is red, inflamed, itchy and irritated.  The skin can additionally become dry, crusty, and hot, with secondary bacterial or yeast infections.  Once the cause of the allergy is known we can maintain the best health for your pet by controlling what is causing the body to react and the discomfort that your pet is feeling.

Several diagnostic tests can be done by the Doctor in our veterinary office (many with results on the same day).  This is needed to indicate how to best treat your pet. Examples of this would be a skin cytology, skin scrapings, fungal culture, skin biopsy, urinalysis, thyroid profile along with complete labs, and allergy testing to determine the underlying allergen predominately causing the issues.

These tests are very important to indicate how we should be treating your pet and the cause of the allergy symptoms. Often, treatment is an ongoing process. And once your pet is diagnosed with allergies (depending upon which type of allergy they have, sometimes with multiple issues) it can be an ongoing lifestyle maintenance issue.

Flea allergies will go away if the source is removed and no more flea exposure occurs. Being on a monthly preventative is very important and the treatment would be to avoid the pet from being exposed to fleas.

Food allergies will work the same as with flea allergies.  Avoidance of the offending allergens is needed.  Food allergies are diagnosed by using an elimination prescription diet.  This cannot be accomplished with any over-the-counter diets, as they have cross contamination of ingredients.  This is a diet provided by the Veterinarian and is selected to restrict allergic components.  A pet must be fed this diet and this diet alone for 3-4 months to rule out food allergies.  Many pets can have combination food and environmental allergies.

Environmental allergies require more maintenance and can be a year round concern. Weekly, bi-monthly or monthly medicated baths,  using daily ear washes, Hypoallergenic prescription diet food and treats, medications (Apoquel, Atopica, antibiotics, antifungals, allergy immunotherapy, etc), routine lab work and exams are necessary to keep your pet in their best health to avoid flare ups and addressing any skin issues before they become worse.

Environmental Allergies (Atopy) is diagnosed based on the clinical signs and presenting complaints.  The specific allergen, to which the pet is allergic, is diagnosed via a blood allergy panel or skin prick test (performed by a veterinary Dermatologist).  Our hospital utilized the blood allergy panel.  Once the allergen(s) are known, specific immunotherapy is used.  Immunotherapy is the administration of very small amounts of the items to which the pet is allergic.  These can be administered via injections under the skin or via drops administered under the tongue.  The veterinarian will discuss what the best treatment option for your pet is.  Immunotherapy is designed to train the immune system to be less reactive.

Another common concern are skin issues that can be contagious to people. Certain types of mites from pets, and ringworm are contagious. Ringworm can live in the environment due to the spores for over one year and still be contagious.  Once your pet is diagnosed with ringworm the best protocol to follow would be to clean and disinfect all areas that your pet has lived on or within the home. This may include bedding, floors, countertops, carpeting, and window sills.  Any concerns should be discussed directly with your Veterinarian.  See our other articles discussing Ringworm.

Dr. Hodge is a Tampa Florida Veterinarian and owner of Harbourside Animal Hospital

How to Choose the Best Boarding Facility for your Pet [Part 1]

July 15th, 2013

Dog and Cat BoardingLooking for quality care for your pet while you are away, having some work done on your home, or welcoming a new baby into the family?  No matter the reason, it is important for your peace of mind, and your pet’s health and safety, that you do a little homework ahead of time.

One of the best ways to finding a reputable boarding kennel is to ask other pet owners, neighbors, reputable dog trainers, or your veterinarian for a recommendation.  You may also want to do some research online to see which facilities in your area meet your requirements for your pet’s needs.  Do you have a young puppy or kitten?  Does your pet have some special health needs such as medication or diet?  Do you have a giant breed dog, or perhaps a small pocket pet?  Once you have decided on a few kennels, and confirmed that they can accommodate your pet’s needs and the dates you will be boarding, then it’s time to do some investigating.


The kennel owner and staff should take great pride in the appearance of their kennel.  The facility should be tidy, organized, and smell clean.  Ask for a tour so that you can see where your pet will be spending their time while boarding.  While some facilities do not allow visitors to come into the areas where animals are housed, there should be viewing windows allowing a visual inspection of the kennel.  Don’t be afraid of a “No Visitors beyond This Point” policy, as this is to protect the pets.  Some animals may become fearful or anxious when strangers are present causing intestinal upset, aggressive behavior, or even injury to themselves.  Good boarding kennels follow strict disinfecting protocols.  Visitors can unknowingly transport contagious agents into the kennel.


Look for secure and locked fencing where dogs are exercised, sturdy gates and dividers between runs, and separate quarters for cat boarding with secure, enclosed quarters.  The facility should be free of any sharp objects.  All toys and equipment should be in good condition.  There should be no exposure to harmful chemicals.  Pets should have their own enclosed sleeping quarters where they can relax and sleep without being bothered by their neighboring boarders.  A security system and fire fighting plans and equipment should be in place.


Be sure the kennel is clean, free of fecal matter, odor, and parasites.  There should be stringent policies on disinfection and cleaning.  All boarding pets should be given a pre-entry exam for ticks and fleas, and treated appropriately if necessary before admission.    The kennel should be regularly and safely monitoring outside and in for pest control.


Are the staff members regularly monitoring your pet throughout the day?  Are staff members trained to recognize symptoms of illness or distress?  Competent kennel staff observe and note sleeping and eating habits, bowel and urinary function, general appearance and health of the pet.  The staff should be trained to seek veterinary assistance when needed.

Ask about how often and what times of the day your pet will be walked?  Frequent walks especially after meals are important for your pet’s comfort and health.  If your pet is a cat, how often is their litter box cleaned?

How are your pet’s exercise or play sessions supervised?  Are many pets let out together, or are the play sessions more closely monitored?  Be sure that your pet is well supervised during play or exercise to prevent injury, exhaustion, or over heating.  If your pet is a cat boarder, be sure your cat has plenty of room to stretch and move around comfortably.

Food and water should be closely monitored.  Ask about the kennel’s feeding schedule.  Do they provide the food, and if so, what is the diet? Can you provide your pets food if you prefer?

Immunization should be required.  If your pet is not current, can the kennel provide the proper immunizations for your pet?

Inquire about medication policies.   Does the kennel accommodate pets on medication?  Are they able to administer and monitor your pet’s medication?  What are the additional charges for medication administration?

It is very important to know how your pet will receive veterinary care if necessary while boarding.  Some kennels are affiliated with a veterinary hospital on site and can provide services right there.  If an onsite veterinarian is not available, it is very important to give the kennel your veterinarian’s name and phone number.  Remember, you, the pet owner, are financially responsible for any veterinary care that may be required during boarding.

To be continued….

On the next installment, the following will be discussed:

  • Sanitation and Parasite Control
  • Supervision and Care
  • Other Considerations

Linda Metzler is owner of a Clearwater Florida Dog and Cat Boarding business called Metzler Pet Boarding which is part of Metzler Veterinary Hospital.

Pool and Water Safety for Dogs

May 6th, 2013

by Mike Barton

Here are some great tips about how to keep your pet safe around pools:

There are many myths out there about pool safety with pets.  First of all, many people think all dogs can swim.  This just isn’t true.  Some breeds as well as older semi-disabled pets may have difficulties staying afloat.  Other breeds have problems swimming in general.

St. Petersburg Pool ServiceRule 1: See if you pet can swim under supervision.

Another myth is that children are the ones that need to be supervised around water and that dogs have an innate ability to keep them safe.  This is false!  Many pets do not have the skills to survive in water.

Rule 2: Always supervise your pet around water.

Another misconception is that people without a pool don’t have to worry about water safety.  This is also false. Dogs can escape to others’ yards, rivers, ponds, and even hot tubs.

Rule 3: Make sure that if your pet is near water that you supervise them.

How to Avoid Pet Drowning

  1. Keep the pool area secure.  Just because there is a child gate does not mean small dogs cannot circumvent their defenses.  Be sure to test the child gate for its ability to keep your pet out.
  2. Teach your pet that the pool surface is NOT solid by putting them into the pool while being held.  If your dog swims in the pool, be sure to be in the pool and teach them the best area for exit (i.e. the steps).
  3. Dogs cannot see well through water so understand that if there are steps, the only way he or she will know there are steps is by repetitive guiding.
  4. Freezing cold pools are more dangerous than in the summer time.  This might not be a problem in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I work, but your should be sure to keep your pets away from water even if they can swim when it is winter because the temperature can be enough to overwhelm their swimming abilities.  Even if they can exit, they can enter hypothermia if not attended to.
  5. Purchase dog-protecting pool gear.  These include ramps, collars, pool alarms, and life jackets for dogs.
  6. When boating, always be sure that your dog has on his or her life jacket.  Take into consideration the tide and current before letting your dog swim.
  7. And remember… NEVER leave your dog unattended near open water.

Mike Barton is the owner of Blue Aces Pool Service.  Blue Aces is the premier St. Petersburg, FL Pool Service company.  Mike is a dog-lover and his business is dog-friendly.