Alicia Pet Clinic Weblog

Holiday Health Hazards For Pets

I was recently asked to write a holiday hazards article for the local paper so I figured I would put it here…


1.  Candles: A curious pup or kitty could mess things up in a spectacular way by accidentally tipping candles over and causing a fire.  Keep your flames out of reach so that your pet is not hurt and so that you are not one of the over 2000 people in America who are injured or killed this holiday season in a house fire.
2. Electrical cords: Biting on an electrical cord provides more than a spring in your step.  Puppies are the worst offenders with this one, and electrical cord injuries can cause life threatening lung damage by electrocution.
3. Foreign foods: We’re not talking about Chinese or Mexican food; we mean foreign to your pet.  This could include a bit too much of the traditional turkey or ham which can cause pancreatitis (a cause of severe gastroenteritis symptoms) or severe diarrhea. Even deciding to go with something more oriented to your pet like a pig ear for your pup, or a special can of cat food for kitty might cause some significant stomach problems since they represent a rapid diet change. Remember: “everything in moderation.”
4. Ribbon, twine, tinsel:  Long, thin, shiny things are so tempting to pets, but cats are the most common offenders here.  Every year, thousands of cats get an expensive present called abdominal surgery and it puts a big damper on things.
5. Toys: Action figures or Legos for the kids can be swallowed by curious dogs or cats, and if the toys are the right size, they can end up with an intestinal obstruction.  Same goes with the insides of stuffed animals, pieces of the new ball or Frisbee, and the remnants of the rope toy that the dogs destroyed.  Try to be smart and keep the small things out of reach of those doggy and kitty mouths.
6. Chocolate:  We have all heard about the threat of chocolate toxicity for dogs (cats are too smart for this one!), but every year thousands of dogs get poisoned by the sweet stuff during the holiday season.  Remember that chocolate tastes good to almost every species on earth, but dogs can’t break down one of the ingredients.  It can either make them feel like they have had too many cappuccinos or it can cause seizures and heart arrhythmias.  Keep the goodies out of reach or you might have a very hyper but sick pup on your hands.
7. Bones:  Dog bones are a common holiday present for Fido but they are not as safe as you might think.  If you give a raw bone, make sure that it is the appropriate size for your pup, and if it is something completely new, you might deal with some serious stomach upset.  If it is a cooked bone, they can splinter or break into pieces that are just the right size to block things up.  Be smart about your holiday treats for your dog.
8.  Holiday plants: Holly and mistletoe are extremely toxic if ingested.  Lilies carry a high mortality rate for those that ingest even a small amount.  Interestingly, the poinsettia has a reputation for being very toxic but offers only the possibility of mild upset stomach symptoms.  Bottom line: keep the plants out of reach, especially for cats as their curiosity is notorious.
9. Stress and visitors:  Family and friends coming to your house is exciting for some, but many pets are really stressed out about all of the excitement.  If they don’t escape due to your Aunt Marge not closing the door, they might be so stressed that it could give them diarrhea.  If cats are involved, stress has been known to cause upper respiratory infections and urinary problems.  Try to provide a safe zone for your nervous pet to find peace.
10.  Poor budgeting:  Every year we feel compelled to buy lots of stuff as gifts for the holidays and sometimes we go a little too far.  If you have any of the above things happen, it might cost money to help your pet get care.  Sadly, every year people have to make very hard choices around the holidays due to a very sick pet and financial difficulties.  Try to keep a bit of money set aside to take care of Fluffy in case of an emergency.

What’s up with my dog’s fatty tumors?

I was recently asked a question in an “ask the vet” article:

What’s up with Lipomas.  All the dogs I’ve had seem to get them when they get older and some even before they get old.  Veterinarians have told me they are harmless so leave them alone, but some of them get so large that they have to be uncomfortable.  Is there anything we can do or feed dogs to stop them or is there a safe way to remove them so they won’t come back?  My cats don’t get them?   Tara in Aliso Viejo

Tara poses a question that is asked almost every day at Alicia Pet Care Center by dog owners.  Lipomas are benign tumors that derive from mesenchymal cells and primarily affect dogs.  They are the most common tumor encountered by veterinarians and are typically no big deal.  They are more often seen in older female dogs but can affect dogs of both sexes and dogs of all ages.

Lipomas are basically a group of fat cells that grow excessively and eventually make a bump under the skin or rarely under a layer of muscle.  It is extremely rare for lipomas to form on the inside of chest or abdomen, but sometimes they can be more aggressive if they are an uncommon type called an invasive lipoma.  The invasive lipomas are still benign, as they do not spread to distant sites, but they are extremely aggressive locally and can be very difficult to remove.

Another variant of the lipoma is the rare form that is malignant, called the liposarcoma.  This type of tumor is both locally aggressive and can spread to distant sites.  Telling the difference between a lipoma, an invasive lipoma and liposarcoma is very difficult until the mass is removed and sent into the lab for pathologic analysis.  Luckily, the vast majority of these fatty tumors are just that, a bundle of fat that forms a bump.

At Alicia Pet Care Center, our approach to dealing with lipomas is to perform a needle aspirate of the mass and possibly send it into the lab for cytologic analysis.  If the mass is a lipoma, we typically leave the bump alone unless it is in a bad anatomic location for continued growth or if it is growing too big or too fast.  Most lipomas are simple to remove with surgery.

I suggest that if you identify a bump on your dog or cat, that you have the mass evaluated by having a fine needle aspirate performed on the mass.  Many other types of tumors look or feel exactly the same as a lipoma and can prove to be very serious if not addressed quickly.    Also, remember that lipomas are extremely uncommon in cats, which makes a bump very likely to be cancer in this species.

There is no correlation between lipomas and overweight dogs.  At this time, there is no knowledge of anything that can be done to prevent or slow down the formation of lipomas in dogs.

Why do dog feet taste so good?

Recently I was asked to answer an “ask the vet” question:


My 3 year old mini. schnauzer constantly licks his paws. I tell him to stop but he ignores me. He is always licking his paws, mainly the front 2, but at times the back paws as well. His fur around his paws have become discolored from the constant licking. He probably licks his paws 12 hours a day. I took him to the vet and they don’t really know. They gave him some topical cream which did not work. I put some bitter tasting lotion on his paws, but that didn’t deter him either. After every walk, I clean his paws off with water and unscented baby wipes. I try to play with him but at times he’ll stop playing and start licking his paws. I don’t want to continue bringing him to the vet as this could get very expensive. This problem started happening around the time my son was born. We take him to doggy day care occasionally to socialize with other dogs. I don’t know what the cause could be?  My dog is currently eating Canidae, dry food.





Here is the answer in all of its glory:




Allergic skin disease is the most common reason for dogs to visit my practice and foot licking is one of the most common symptoms of allergies in dogs.  While allergies in people typically manifest themselves as sneezing, watery eyes and sinus congestion, allergies in dogs cause itchiness.  Where on the body the itchiness is, depends upon the type of allergy that we are dealing with and there are 3 distinct allergies in dogs.


The most common allergy by far in dogs is called flea allergy dermatitis.  Symptoms of this allergy which affects up to 90% of allergic dogs, are chewing at the tail base and thighs, licking the belly and scratching with the back legs on the flanks.  You can spot dogs with flea allergy a mile away by the classic symptoms of sudden itchiness on the back end that results with them chewing on themselves as if they were just bit by something.  That behavior is due to the allergy to the saliva of the flea that has been deposited under the skin when they were bitten by the little suckers.  Dogs that have an allergy to flea bites can be itchy for up to 3 weeks from one bite.  Many times it is difficult for people to come to grips that their dog has a flea allergy due to the fact that they do not see any fleas on their pet, in their house or on themselves.  Unfortunately, we live in one of the worst areas in the country for fleas due to the high number of wildlife animals and the lack of a significant freeze.


As a reminder from the last “Ask The Vet” question, the most effective flea control is Comfortis, which is an oral tablet that can be given once monthly, has the fastest flea kill at under 30 minutes and is the only “green” flea prescription.  Despite misinformation on the internet, this medication is extremely safe, but does cause vomiting in a very small number of patients.  Another option is to use Frontline or Advantage every 3 weeks but the downside to these topical chemicals is that they take several hours to kill fleas.  I am not impressed with the effectiveness of Revolution, Vectra, Promeris, Sentinel or Program for flea control.


Affecting at least 25% of allergic dogs, the next most common allergy in dogs is an environmental allergy.  This severe form of “hayfever” actually affects dogs in a very different way than people and causes them to be itchy on their feet, face and underbelly.  Notice that there is a distinct difference in the regions of itchiness with this allergy compared to flea allergy dermatitis.  The way that environmental allergies work is that the dogs come in direct contact with the offending allergen or breathe them in.  The allergens then get attacked by an immune system that believes that it needs to fight off the outside invaders, but this is a futile effort of course.  The result then is that the immune complexes (the antigen and the immune attackers combined) float around in the bloodstream and eventually land in areas of special skin in the dog and cause severe itchiness.  These areas of special skin are feet, muzzle and sometimes underbelly.  More uncommonly, itching will be seen around the eyes, nose and genitals.


The last type of allergy is food allergy.  While I do believe that grain is a significant problem for dogs to eat and can absolutely contribute to allergies, true food allergy (an allergy to the protein source) is extremely rare in dogs, only accounting for about 3% of allergic dogs.  The distribution of itchiness is very similar to the dogs with environmental allergies (feet, face and underbelly.)


As a brief aside, ear infections are exceedingly common with all skin allergies, especially environmental allergies.  It is one of the most frustrating conditions for owners to deal with due to the fact that sometimes veterinarians do not seek to identify the true source of the ear infections (allergies) and the ear infections just continue to come back time after time.


Treating environmental allergies also offers some distinct challenges.  The medications are either ineffective, have too many side effects or are expensive.  There really are only 5 options in dealing with allergies in dogs.


1. Holistic: Grain free food and Omega-3 supplementation.  I covered grain before and the old article can be viewed here: Omega 3 Fatty Acids are potent natural anti-inflammatories and decrease the allergy at the cellular level, before the cycle gets started.  There is a new product on the market that takes advantage of the much more potent source of omegas called the Green Lipped Mussel from New Zealand.  The product is called Moxxor and makes a huge difference managing these cases.  More information can be obtained here:


2. Cortisone: Corticosteroids are the strongest anti-inflammatories around and are frequently used for allergy treatment in dogs.  The upside is that they work quickly to decrease the symptoms; the downside is that long term use causes too many side effects to list here.  This is not a long term option to consider.


3. Antihistamines: In my experience, antihistamines have a failure rate of about 80%.  If they help they must continue to be administered to give relief.  These medications are extremely safe and inexpensive.


4. Allergy testing and Immunotherapy: Lots of people want to know what their dog is allergic to.  I believe that these tests are an expensive exercise to satisfy owner curiosity. However, the information can be used to formulate injections to desensitize dogs to the allergens identified.  Unfortunately, the shots only work about 50% of the time and in varying amounts.  Additionally, they are really expensive and the owner must commit to trying them for a year prior to giving up.  I have not chosen to use this therapy since I started using the next option, Atopica.


5. Atopica (cyclosporin) is a an immune modulating medication that came to market about 5 years ago.  This medication blocks the T-helper cells, which is a small branch of the immune system.  This selective immune modulation is part of the reason why this medication is so effective and has minimal side effects.  Additionally, Atopica attains higher concentrations in the skin, which obviously creates a huge benefit when dealing with skin allergies.  Atopica has a success rate of at least 95% after two months but is extremely expensive.


More information on skin allergies in dogs can be obtained by viewing these two videos:


So, in answer to the short question, you got another long answer.  Here is the short version: Foot licking in dogs is caused by environmental allergies about 95% of the time.  The remaining 5% is composed mostly of food allergy dogs and rarely those with obsessive compulsive disorders.



Dr. Matthew Wheaton


Alicia Pet Care Center

25800 Jeronimo Rd. Ste 100

Mission Viejo, CA 92691


Loose Stool in Dogs: Why to go grain-free with your pet food

I was recently asked to respond to the following question: My dog often has loose stools. What can I use to fix this problem? I prefer natural solutions.


Here is my response:


Loose stool in dogs is a super common problem.  There is a short answer and a very, very long answer.  The short answer is to try a bit of canned pumpkin in the food when you are noticing the problem.  Use one tablespoon full in a small dog and two in a large dog in each meal.  That is probably the best, most reliable remedy that is natural.  Sometimes just feeding cottage cheese and rice or chicken and rice for a day or two will do the trick too.  If those things do not help and the soft stool is continuing, it is probably best to seek the care of a vet.  We have a lot of options on very safe medications to use to resolve diarrhea from multiple causes.


Here is the longer answer: 


Soft stool is diarrhea.  Most people don’t call it diarrhea unless it is straight water, but mild diarrhea is what most people call soft stool.  Sometimes you may see blood or mucous if it is coming from the colon.  Your dog should not have diarrhea more than once or twice per year.  If it is happening monthly, there is probably something serious going on even though they may act normally in every other way.


Common causes here in South Orange County are parasites and the wrong diet.  We are diagnosing more and more giardia all of the time.  Giardia is a common flagellated protozoal organism that affects many species of wildlife and is potentially contagious to people.  There is now a great test for it that is very reliable.  If it is diagnosed via microscope, the diagnosis is very likely incorrect.  Roundworms, hookworms and whipworms are also common parasites in this area that can cause diarrhea in all ages of dogs.  These parasites that are all common in this area are the main reason why I recommend Heartgard plus for every dog, especially since most of them are contagious to people.  If the parasites are diagnosed by fecal exam, there are specific medications to treat and eradicate the infection.


Diet is probably, in some way or another, the other main cause for diarrhea/soft stool in dogs.  Here is the reason: Dogs are carnivores.  It is best to think of dogs as little wolves, coyotes or dingos.  They are biologically the same. Because of this fact, our dogs should eat like carnivores are built to eat.  That means that their diet should consist of mostly animal with small amounts of fruits and vegetables, but most importantly, no grain.  There is not a single dog in the wild that would ever eat wheat, rice, corn, barley or millet.  Think about this fact and go check your bag of food.  Yep, its right there as the second or third ingredient.  And if you are feeding the most popular food in the US, Beneful, you should be shaking your head.  Grains make up the first 4 ingredients in that food!  


About 99% of all pet food in the US has grain in it.  This is due to the origin of the pet food industry 60 years ago and a reluctance on the part of the industry to change things.  Back then, people were feeding their dogs scraps and were really not spending much on that, so the industry needed to offer a cheap and profitable product for people to buy.  Every ounce of grain in food adds more profit to the food.  That formula has really never changed until just recently.  Not only are grains not needed in food (people call them fillers), but they are also very bad for dogs to eat.  The dog intestine is not designed to digest the complex grain proteins, so it mounts an inflammatory response to it, which causes intestinal inflammation and elevates the baseline on allergies.  It also is the wrong way to provide nutrition; like feeding a cow a chicken burger.  The intestinal inflammation is what sets dogs up for intermittent soft stool so often.


Do you ever wonder why your carnivore that is at home can’t even eat a small piece of steak without getting soft stool?  Does that make sense at all?  It should not.  What is happening to most dogs is a double whammy.  First, they are eating a grain-based food which is constantly making the intestine mad, so it is easy to push it over the edge and cause diarrhea.  Second, because they are eating a diet that only has about 30% animal or less, the pancreas and the intestine are not producing the normal amount of digestive enzymes to properly digest food.  This is the same reason why you need to transition to a new, grain free food slowly, so that you can give the system time to adjust by ramping up the digestive enzymes over a period of 2-4 weeks.  Switch too fast and guess what happens?  Diarrhea.  



Some of you reading this may be thinking that you are feeding a great food because it is “organic”, “holistic”, “healthy” or “natural” but if it has grain in it, that is like putting a really high tech filter on a cigarette.  There are no such things as “wholesome grains” for dogs.  

The most appropriate foods are those that do not contain grains and have more animal than vegetables.  Great examples are Orijen (, Ziwi Peak (, or Taste Of The Wild (  Alicia Pet Care Center ( carries this food and you can also find it at local pet stores like Pet Country (  Raw food is another option that I support but it deserves its own write up.


If your dog is having intermittent diarrhea in spite of a diet change to a better and more biologically appropriate food, you should seek care from a veterinarian.  They should test and treat for the simple and common things first, and if that does not resolve things, a deeper search is warranted.  I have a dog at home that we had to take to surgery for intestinal biopsies that showed that he had moderate inflammatory bowel disease.  This is the same as Crone’s disease in people and is a very bad problem in dogs.  After reading this article, I’m sure you could guess what caused that: years of feeding grain-based food.  He is now off of all medication for IBD and having normal stool on Orijen.

Gideon’s Blog
January 6, 2009, 5:48 pm
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Free Spay or Neuter
December 28, 2008, 9:56 am
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Drinking Problem

Had to get your attention somehow!  Well, I wanted to relay some pet info after speaking with someone at a cafe the other day.  An acquaintance had an appointment for her cat to come into Alicia Pet Clinic due to increased water intake, but she ended up cancelling the appointment after one of her friends told her that there was nothing to worry about.  What a great friend!!!  Yikes.  Of course everyone has an opinion but it is so interesting to me how someone can know very little about veterinary medicine and give advice that is going to actually make things worse.  Is the friend trying to save her from spending money?  I would guess that to be the case.  In so doing, she is setting this cat owner up to continue to ignore the problem and allow it to get worse.   

So, lets go over increased water intake in dogs and cats.  The list includes about 12 things but the main culprits are chronic kidney failure, diabetes, liver failure, hyperthyroidism (cats), cushing’s disease (dogs), kidney infection or urinary tract infection.  The others are uncommon and I will just leave them out of the conversation for now.  This older cat most likely will have chronic kidney failure (also known as chronic renal failure or CRF) due to the fact that it is still eating and not losing weight.  If it was losing weight and with an increased appetite, it would likely be either diabetes or hyperthyroidism.  If it had a poor appetite it could be liver disease or severe CRF.  These are the kinds of things that you don’t want to allow to continue to progress without treatment.  I have seen very good success in the last year with using benazapril in the early kidney failure cats to slow down the progression of disease.  There are many other treatments possible for the cats with chronic kidney failure if they start to have symptoms other than increased water intake.  

Bottom line: Bring in the pet with increased water intake!  Delaying a diagnosis and the resulting management of the disease can take a lot of time off of your pet’s life and end up limiting the treatment options available.  After a physical examination of the kitty is performed, labwork will be submitted for analysis which will likely reveal the problem.  Its a pretty simple diagnosis to make in most cases and usually will not break the bank.  It always frustrates me to hear stories like this one because there is so much that we can do to help these little guys age more gracefully and avoid getting really sick really fast.   

You can read more about increased drinking in cats here.

You can read more about increased drinking in dogs here.

You can read more about chronic kidney failure in cats here