Prevantative Wellness

Top 10 Veterinary Myths (that drive veterinarians crazy!)

Old wives tales, half-truths, misunderstandings and some just plain wrong – these are some of the myths (in no particular order) that we hear everyday. Most people are well-meaning in their advice, but it is best to consult with your pet's veterinarian before trusting an assumption!

Myth #1: A cold/warm/wet/dry nose tells us something.


As I always like to joke – I must have missed that day in vet school!

Myth #2: Ticks fall out of pine trees.

My mother and grandmother had me absolutely convinced that I had to wear a hat to keep the
ticks from falling into my hair when wandering through the woods. Nope. They detect their prey via sensing your breath, body heat, motion/vibration or moisture. This is done while either laying in wait where their host would rest (think: your dog's bedding) or on low, outreaching plants (like ferns that branch out into a trail). No jumping or skydiving involved! And with the appropriate preventatives for your pet, this fear can be altogether avoided!!

Myth #3: Grain-free diets are best for all pets.

This is considered a half-truth as something was missed in translation. These diets came about for the right reason – to stop feeding high-carbohydrate diets to carnivores (dogs and cats); however, some of these so-called "grain-free diets" are actually quite high in carbohydrates (peas, potato, tapioca) and are not appropriate for a carnivore. The best diet for your pet can be determined by speaking with your veterinarian about your pet's specific needs.

Myth #4: All vaccines are good... OR all vaccines are bad.

Vaccines are drugs (medications). Some drugs, when used correctly, can save your life. And
some drugs, when used too frequently, or if used in the wrong manner, can kill you. We should not be giving all vaccines to all pets on an annual basis... they should be individually tailored to your pets needs, lifestyle and age.

Myth #5: A pet's mouth is clean/antiseptic.

I admit, here at SPAH most of us love when we get a sloppy kiss from a puppy or a gentle "bathing" from a cat. But we also know that 2 hours ago they were cleaning their nether-regions with their tongue. Icky, but true. A sign of affection, definitely! A miracle antiseptic? Not so much.


Myth #6: Don't feed people food to pets – it will kill them!

Uh, what do you think pet food is (should be) made from? While there are certain foods we
should avoid as they can be toxic to pets, (chocolate, most dairy, grapes/raisins, onions and garlic), they most certainly can have a piece of your sandwich or a slice of apple. Just don’t make it more than 20% of the diet (or you will need to balance it) and please don’t let them get fat from the extra calories!

Myth #7: Rub their nose in it!

When dogs misbehave (or more accurately, behave in a way that we don’t like), such as
urinating in the house or chewing up the wrong item, we often want to 'punish' them. Punishing a pet simply causes them to fear us, and often the misbehavior occurred some time prior to us catching them, which makes it impossible for the pet to understand the correlation. A much better approach is through positive reinforcement training. Please let us know if you are having any behavioral issues and we can teach you a better way.


Myth #8: Dogs/cats only eat grass if they are sick or are lacking something nutritionally.

Or, they like eating grass...

Myth #9: All dogs hate cats. All cats hate dogs.

Tell that to my previous cat, Cyrano, who would spend countless hours cleaning out my dog's
ears. Certainly you would not want to throw two unknown pets together without supervision, but most pets can learn to tolerate, and even enjoy, each others company!

Myth #10: Pets hate going to the vet!

Thank goodness, this is not true, and even is becoming quite the rarity! Here at SPAH, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to facilitate just the opposite: pheromone sprays, quiet environments, hiding places for cats, loads of special treats, and spending a bit extra time to get them used to us are just a few of the ways we try to make it a pleasant experience for them. We have quite a herd of dogs and cats who are all smiles and tail wags when they get to see us, and actually hate to leave!! If your pet has learned to fear the vet, talk to us about Cooperative Veterinary Care and how we can help make visits to the vet easier on you and your pet!

SPAH Staff.jpeg

Is there another veterinary "urban legend" you are curious about? Let us know!!

6 Exercises to Keep Your Senior Dog Mobile, Happy, and Fit

This article is part two of a two post series on maintaining healthy habits for senior dogs.


For keeping the body fit, the emotions uplifted and the mind young, exercise is king. Appropriate levels of exercise vary dramatically depending on the age, comfort level and health status of your senior companion. Even if all the two of you can do is take a leisurely sniff around the yard for 5 minutes, do it every day or better yet, twice a day.

Your companion would benefit even more if you can add some gentle conditioning into her daily life. Spend 5 minutes once or twice a day adding a few of the exercises listed below. Always start with a short walk as a warm up then do the other exercises. Start with only one or two repetitions of an exercise or two. As your dog gets more comfortable with the exercises you can add another repetition and an additional exercise. Remember to keep it light and fun.

Your dog should never be sore or overly tired by her workouts. If she pants excessively, her legs start to shake, or she tries to step away from the exercise, do shorter sessions and fewer repetitions and then build up. If she’s sore the next day (slower to get up in the morning or less interested in her walk), you should back off on her exercises, cutting the repetitions down.

Of course, it’s very important to get a clean bill of health from your veterinarian prior to starting any conditioning program.


Go for as long a walk as your dog can tolerate. If she’s sore the next day, or lagging behind more at the end than she was at the start, try shortening the walk by 30% and she should do better. If she can’t go for a walk at all, time for a visit to the vet to see what might be limiting her!


Without balance, the strength of the body deteriorates quickly. In order to keep her balance, your dog uses many “stabilizing muscles” in her trunk and legs. If these muscles have to work extra hard (for example in a dog that’s overweight, or walks a lot on slippery floors), the muscles get really sore and balance is compromised.

If your senior dog is active and free from lameness, these balance exercises should be safe to do:

  • PLANK 101 – the stand - This may be surprising to many, but standing for 10 seconds is really hard for some dogs. Start there. Does your dog stand still and comfortably for the whole time without shifting her weight around or trying to sit or lie down? If not, start with this exercise!
Senior dog plank stand.jpg
  • PLATFORM PLANK – If she does well with the basic stand and can do it for 30 seconds, have your dog stand on a low platform that’s only 2-4 inches high and 1.5 – 2 times as long as her body and 1.5-2 times as wide as her body. An exercise bench can work well. Make sure that the surface is nonslip. Start with just 10 seconds.


  • COOKIE STRETCHES – Have your dog stand comfortably as in the “Plank 101”. Using a piece of her food, lure her nose toward her shoulder, then toward her hip, then between her front legs. Do both sides. She shouldn’t step out of place while doing this. If she does, don’t make her stretch as far. You can do this stretch every day with your companion.
Senior dog Cookie Stretches.jpg
  • FIGURE 8 – If your dog can do all of the other exercises well, try this exercise to keep her spine mobile and help her balancing and stabilizing muscles have a bit of a work out. Use a cookie to lure her in a figure 8 around a couple of cones or trashcans. The cones should be set about as far apart as your dog is long from tip of nose to base of tail. If your dog is small or limber, you can use your own legs as the “cones”. You might need to use her favorite treat to do this the first few times. Only do one or two repetitions to start as this can be a little challenging for some dogs.
                            Figure 8 with leg weave

                            Figure 8 with leg weave


  • BACK EXTENSION – Have your dog stand with her front feet on a platform or step that’s about ankle high. She should keep her head and neck neutral and in a straight line with her back. Have her hold the position for 5-10 seconds then help her step down.
Senior Dog Back Extension .jpg
  • UP & DOWN PLATFORM – This one is particularly helpful for dogs that are starting to have a bit of trouble with the stairs. Set up a platform with a nonslip surface that’s about as high as your dog’s ankle. An exercise bench will work well for medium or large dogs. For smaller dogs a phone book wrapped in duct tape can work well. Have your dog slowly step up onto the platform and slowly (one foot at a time) step off. This sounds easy. For many dogs it’s a work out! Have your dog do this 2-3 times to start with.

Closing Thoughts

If I could have one wish come true for my grey-muzzle patients it would be that their families have the tools and knowledge to help them enter their senior years with more enthusiasm, joy, and comfort.

Educational Workshops with Southpoint Animal Hospital

As we mentioned in our New Year's Resolution blog post last month, we are excited to host pet educational workshops here at Southpoint Animal Hospital this year! We have covered many successful topics in the past, and are excited to share more of our special interests with you in the future. 

Last month we posted a poll on our blog and Facebook page surveying your interest and preference on topics for these workshops. We received tremendous feedback, and for that we THANK YOU!! Below is a summary of the results:

Workshop Poll Results.PNG

As you can see, the topics that earned the most interest were Behavioral Issues, Feline Specific Topics, Alternative Medicine/Herbals, and CPR and First Aid. We are thrilled to announce that we will be hosting an educational workshop on each of these top topics and the dates of each workshop are listed below:

Feline Behavior Workshop with Dr. Elise Hattingh on Saturday, April 21

Alternative Medicine Workshop with Dr. Brian Lapham on Satuday, June 16

Animal Behavior Workshop with professional dog trainer Lynn Rives on Satuday, August 11

CPR and First Aid Workshop with Dr. Brian Lapham on Saturday, November 10

Did your requested topic fall short of the top picks for this year's workshops? Have no fear! We will be pulling ideas for upcoming blog posts from your interest list throughout the year. Stay tuned for more info!

The Five Most Important Things for Our Senior Dogs

This article is part one of a two post series on maintaining healthy habits for senior dogs.


Some dogs are seniors at 7 years of age, while others don’t reach their senior years until well into double digits. What makes the difference? It isn’t always what you’d think. Some of it’s about genetics and size (on average, larger dogs do tend to “age” earlier than smaller dogs). But it’s also related to how lean, fit, and mentally stimulated our companions are.

We can maximize our dogs’ comfort, mobility, emotional and mental well-being, and their joy of life through many different tools and techniques, most of which are quite easy to implement.

Home Environment

As dogs age their joints start to hurt and aren’t as mobile as they once were. They have a bit more trouble getting around the house. Imagine yourself this way – perhaps it’s a stretch, but bear with me – what if you had painful hips or knees, or you had trouble walking around? Now imagine you’re wearing plush socks on your feet and you’re walking on a polished hardwood floor. You’d have to shuffle a bit, be a bit more careful, and take shorter steps. Your whole body would have to work hard to help stabilize you.

That’s the situation for many senior dogs I see. The slick surfaces might as well be ice. The hair on the bottom of their feet creates a slipper that makes it hard for them to walk (or even stand!) on slick surfaces. Here’s how we can help:

  • Provide runners, rugs, and other nonslip surfaces wherever our dogs need to walk or stand
  • Trim the hair on the bottom of the feet every 2 weeks so that the pads are completely visible
  • Trim the nails at least monthly
  • Toe Grips (which go over the nails and stay on all the time) or boots (there are many options, all should be used intermittently) provide even more stability
  • Ensure that stairs have nonslip runners or treads or that you assist your dog up and down the stairs
  • Outside provide grassy areas (keep the grass short) or firm dirt surfaces for your companion. Deep mulch, tall grass, and uneven surfaces are all difficult for the senior dog to navigate.
  • His bed should be thick enough to provide plenty of padding for your dog’s hips, elbows, and chest. The best bed is supportive but also fairly thin since many dogs have trouble getting up on thick plush beds as they age. Consider an orthopedic dog bed.
                                  Untrimmed paw

                                  Untrimmed paw

                      Trimmed paw with short nails

                      Trimmed paw with short nails


Dogs benefit from keeping their minds and bodies active as much as we do. In fact dogs that experience dementia (cognitive dysfunction) find relief through increased physical and mental stimulation. You heard me right, mental stimulation. These are some key ways to keep your dog mentally, emotionally, and physically stimulated, no matter what their age.

  • Enrichment toys – all dogs that like to eat, like it even more if they have to “work” for it. One of the most basic of kibble-dispensing (enrichment) toys is the Kong. Once he’s an expert at the Kong (which might take 3 seconds or it might take a few days) you can progress to more challenging toys, which you can find at most pet stores.
  • Play – all mammals enjoy play, which stimulates the body, the mind and the emotions. There’s nothing better than a good laugh. For your senior dog, that laugh is probably going to be a wagging tail. If your dog isn’t interested in tugging or toys, try conditioning exercises. For most dogs, they’re really fun and will get that tail wagging.  We will be presenting specific suggestions on the blog in two weeks!
  • Field Trips – if your companion enjoys other people, consider taking him to the dog-friendly outdoor café at your local coffee shop, or on an excursion to your favorite pet store to pick out some treats and get some pats from the friendly staff.
  • Brushing – make sure to use a brush your dog really likes. However, if he doesn’t enjoy brushing this doesn’t count as enrichment.


As our canine companions have more trouble getting around, it can be hard on our own bodies helping them. It can certainly be harder on their bodies when slips and falls result in painful muscles and joints. Thankfully there are many devices that can help.

  • Harnesses and slings – The Help ‘Em Up Harness is my favorite for dogs with compromised mobility. With parts for the chest and the pelvis, it allows you to easily help your dog to rise, go up and down stairs, or walk. For most dogs, the harness can be worn all day and is adjustable at many points, allowing for a comfortable fit.
Help 'Em Up Harness.jpg
  • Boots – there are many types of boots and other paw coverings available to help dogs to walk on slick surfaces. You can find options at most larger pet stores.
  • Ramps and pet steps – consider a pet ramp to help your companion get in and out of the car and pet steps for getting on and off the bed or couch
Lean dog top view.jpg


A lean body weight is critical for our senior companions. The very first pain relieving measure for a dog with mobility challenges is a lean physique. Not only do studies show that a dog will live up to 2 years longer if kept lean, fat is actually pro-inflammatory, meaning your dog is fighting an uphill battle with the inflammatory pain in his joints if he’s overweight. Don’t stop at “not fat”; get your companion all the way to LEAN.

How to tell if your dog is lean:

  • There’s a waist between his ribs and his pelvis
  • Easily felt ribs – place your hand on a table in a relaxed position and feel the bones in your hand. This is close to how easily you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs. They should be easily felt, but not visible.
  • There’s a tuck to his belly between his chest and his hind legs      

    For the fifth important thing for senior dogs, check back in two week's for Dr. Blackmer’s companion article, "6 Exercises for Your Senior Dog."

    This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of The Triangle Dog.

    Fat Cat Solutions

    A fat cat is a happy cat, right?   Well, they might tell you that at meal time, but the rest of the day (and there will be less of those) not so much. There are very alarming and very critical clinical consequences of obesity, including (but not limited to):

    • Diabetes

    • Urinary disease

    • Osteoarthritis

    • Skin conditions

    • Lack of energy

    • Decreased Quality/Quantity of life

    Now that I have your attention, let’s see if your cute little butterball is overweight. Your fingers and eyeballs are probably the best test around.  Scales often lie to us, having trouble telling the difference between muscle and fat, but also because there is such a variety in normal sizes of cats.  

    At Southpoint Animal Hospital, we like to use the Body Condition Scale (BCS).  It is a 1-9 sliding scale based on physical characteristics, such as how easily palpated the spine or ribs are. Check out the BCS below:

    cat purina BCS.jpeg

    OK, now raise your hand and repeat after me:

    "I have a fat cat, but it is not my fault."

    I have a different opinion for fat dogs, but that is a whole different story. There, now that we all feel better, let’s get down to losing some kitty belly.

    Weight Loss in Cats

    What makes this such a difficult task is that cats are amazingly efficient creatures. When someone rings your doorbell and the dogs go crazy, what does your cat do? Perhaps roll over on the couch to better see the door, but most of the time they can’t even be bothered with that. However, in the wild, a cat must catch approximately six mice a day just to stay alive, they also only successfully catch their prey 1 out of every 4 hunting episodes. Therefore, they must track, hunt and attempt to catch a mouse 24 times a day. My cat hunts twice: once in the morning to get her morning yum-yums, and once at night to get her evening yum-yums. No tracking, no hunting, no pouncing, no rending of flesh - just a banquet feast for 30 seconds. And that (if you are still reading this far into the article) is how we are going to get your Chubby-Wubby to lose some weight... We gotta get them to move! Notice I did not say put them on a diet. We will get more into food later on, but first, let’s work on exercise.


    Passive Methods:


    Place their food bowl in a more difficult location: on a raised surface, their tree house, anything that will make them move a bit to get to it. The picture on the left is my home-made tree house (that of course the cats don’t play on anymore), but they have to climb up to get their food. Make sure the location is safe and that they are actually able to get to it!

    Cat fence: Yes, you read that right. I am recommending that your cat goes outdoors. I don't mean a free for all, return to the wild to hunt 24 times a day kind of outdoors, but a properly enclosed, safe outdoor exercise area. You can easily and relatively inexpensively convert an existing fence to a cat-proof fence. Many companies offer these conversion kits. Your kitty will get all the benefits of being outside (fresh air, exercise, mental stimulation) without the dangers (dogs, other cats, cars).  Just don’t forget flea and tick preventatives if you do this!

    Get another cat: I think all homes should have 2 cats... most of the time. All cats are individuals, but they usually love to have a companion around to play, groom, and be lazy with.

    Active Methods:

    Laser lights: My favorite mode of activity with my cats because I can be sitting in my La-Z-Boy and my cats are tearing up the living room running after it. Remember that cats are sprinters - they will play for a minute or two and then want to rest. They are the big cat taking down an antelope - fast as lightening but not built for a marathon. It is amazing how much fun a $12 laser pointer from Office Depot can be. Caution - don’t point it into their eyes!

    Automatic laser lights: The lazy (or very busy!) man's laser light. Works while you are gone, and your kitty will never know when it is coming! Many versions are out there, a lot at less than $30.


    Good old fashion feather on a string: It kicks that predatory instinct on high. Just don’t leave the string on the floor in case a kitty might decide to eat it!

    Fake mouse: The little plastic bodied/rabbit fur cheapies at any pet store. I probably have a dozen under my fridge right now. My cats love them.

    Milk Rings: I should market these things, call them Dr. Lapham’s Special Cat Toy. Only $1.99 on sale now! I have a dozen or more also under fridge as we speak (apparently I have a lot of things under my fridge).


    If you want your cat to have no energy and NOT lose weight - put them on a traditional weight loss diet (ie - high fiber, low calorie). In other words, we need to feed them food that their bodies were meant to digest, to give them the energy to be active, and to satisfy them to not bug us at 5AM for breakfast: a canned high protein diet, home cooked diet, or raw diet- we can have the debate in person as to what is best for your cat. The key is NOT high carbohydrate, NOT dry kibble.  

    Once we have switched them to a canned high-protein diet, then we can start to reduce their total amount of energy (food) a small amount at a time, generally starting with a 10% reduction.  This should be done under a supervision of a veterinarian as we also want to make sure they are getting adequate nutrition.


    It took time to put the weight on, so it will take time to get the weight off. We don’t care so much how long it takes, just as long as your cat’s weight is going the right way.


    For more information on weight-loss, nutrition, and other feline-related issues, we recommend the following sites and resources:

    Indoor Pet Initiative - Ohio State Univ, College of Veterinary Medicine - tons on info to keep our cats sane!

    Catalyst Council - Feline related information

    Catinfo.Org – Great info on many feline-related topics, in particular nutrition.

    So let's get to it! We've given you a lot of great suggestions to help your furry feline friend shed some weight this New Year, the rest is up to you!

    2018 New Year's Resolutions


    It is almost a bad word in itself: resolution. And yet I find it kind of freeing to figure out what I am going to accomplish in the coming year.  Every January my family and I make our resolutions, or goals, and we have fun doing it. Who would not want to fly around the world in a hot-air balloon? Yes, we shoot for the stars with some of our goals!

    But why limit these resolutions to ourselves, when we should also include out pets! Maybe it is time to commit to helping Buddy lose a little weight, or perhaps pledging to start brushing Fluffy’s teeth (yes, daily!). It could be as simple as taking Rover on a longer walk in the mornings to build up his muscles to help with his early arthritis. Sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest impacts. Lets start the new year on the right foot, er, paw, and make some positive changes for our furry friends. We will be publishing more specific articles in our upcoming blog posts detailing more specifics on these topics and more!


    With resolutions and wellness in mind, we are once again revving up to provide pet educational workshops here at Southpoint Animal Hospital! We have covered many successful topics in the past, but we would love to see what would excite you to learn in 2018.  We hope to be offering a workshop every three months. 

    To collect your feedback, we are going to have a poll, and will pick the topics that get the most interest. Simply complete the form below, choosing the topic you would most like to learn about; voting will close January 16th, and we will send an update with more information once the votes are tallied.

    Name *

    Topicals and Collars and Tablets - Oh My! Making Sense of Flea and Tick Prevention Options



    Fleas and ticks are reaching almost epidemic levels here in the southeast, with more than half of all veterinary dermatological appointments having an underlying flea component.  Once established, flea infestations in the home can take months to effectively clear, often involving treatment of all pets, the home environment, and lawn.  Fleas can also cause health problems for your pet including anemia, skin infections, and the spread of tapeworms.  

    Although ticks do not usually cause infestations, and are not as commonly found on cats as they are in dogs, they can transmit serious diseases such as Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs.  But with so many flea and tick control options out on the market right now, how do you know which is right for your pet? In this article we will explore the different options, safety information, and efficacy of most of the available options.  

    Topical Preventatives

    Traditionally, topical flea and tick products have been the most commonly used. These products are applied once a month between your pet’s shoulder blades.  Because the topical product uses the oils on your pet’s skin to distribute, bathing is not recommended three days prior to, or after, application.  However, not all of these products are created equally.  Products like Frontline Plus, and most over the counter generic topical preventatives (Hartz, Adams, Sentry), that have the main ingredient Fipronil, are declining in their efficacy against fleas due to increasing levels of resistance.  Preventatives that have been more effective include K9 Advantix II and Frontline Gold due to an additive called Pyrethrin, which acts as a repellent for fleas and ticks.  It is very important to note that these products are for dogs only, as Pyrethrin is extremely TOXIC TO CATS.  Cats should not have any contact with a treated dog for at least 48 hours.  There are also combination topical preventatives for cats including Revolution and Advantage Multi, which protect against heartworm, intestinal worms, fleas, and ear mites.

    Collar Preventatives

    There are a multitude of collars available, but many of them have proven to be ineffective, with the exception of the Seresto Collar.  This is a collar that is made for both cats and dogs that has been highly effective against fleas and ticks for up to eight months.  This collar is left in place all the time, without removing for bathing or swimming.  

    Oral Preventatives

    The amount and diversity of oral products has been increasing tremendously over the past few years in response to an increase in demand.  For dogs, the most common products are prescription Nexgard, Simparica, and Bravecto.  These three products have proven to be highly effective for the prevention of fleas and ticks in dogs, and have a high safety margin, with little reported side effects. Nexgard and Simparica are monthly chewable tablets, while Bravecto is effective for 3 months per dose.  There are also combination oral preventatives for dogs, including Sentinel and Trifexis, which protect against fleas, some intestinal worms, and heartworm disease.  Since these products do not protect against ticks, we do not recommend them for dogs that spend a significant amount of time outside or in woodsy locations due to the high risks of ticks in the area. There is only one oral option for cats called Comfortis, which is effective against fleas only for one month.  


    At Southpoint Animal Hospital, we are always happy to help you find the right product for you and your pet.  Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns about flea and tick prevention or plan to discuss options with us at your next wellness exam.

    Prepare for the Unexpected with Pet Insurance


    In the past three decades, personal pets have taken an elevated position in the average American household.   Fortunately, advances in veterinary medicine have resulted in a significantly improved quality and quantity of life for our pets over this same time.  Having pet health insurance can help bridge the gap between the expenses you expect to incur (wellness exams, vaccines, heartworm prevention) and what unexpected circumstances may arise, particularly as a pet ages.  

    As pet owners, we don’t want to think about the possibility of our beloved, four-legged family member falling ill; however, we are all living beings, prone to injury and illness under certain conditions.   Let’s face the fact that life is a terminal illness for all of us, our pets included.  As humans, some of us experience health issues earlier in life and others later: genetics play a role, as does diet, environment, proactive health care, and just plain luck.  Our pets are no different.

    Imagine that your cherished pet falls ill and you decide that a visit to your veterinarian is in order.  Spot’s clinical signs are vague and don’t fit with any obvious ailment.  Your veterinarian recommends that diagnostic testing is needed to gather more information to help obtain a diagnosis and guide a treatment plan.  After completing those tests and procedures, your veterinarian is able to give you a diagnosis for Spot’s condition.   Treating the condition entails a couple of injections that will help relieve your pet’s suffering.  Additionally, Spot will need medications that you will administer at home.   You are grateful and relieved that Spot will be on the mend soon, but while waiting for the treatments to be completed, it crosses your mind that it would have been nice to have the costs of the visit covered by pet insurance.

    Some other common scenarios include:

    *Rover escapes from the yard and has a run in with an automobile resulting in serious injuries that require immediate stabilization and surgery.  

    *Fluffy gets in yet another tangle at the dog park resulting in a laceration that requires sutures.

    *Sam, your older kitty, has been drinking more water and after visiting your veterinarian, you now face the seemingly daunting task of learning about Diabetes, insulin injections, and how to help Sam age gracefully in the face of a common, chronic disease.

    All of these ailments are routine in veterinary medicine, can happen to any pet, at any time, and share the common denominator of an unexpected expense.  Pet insurance can help to eliminate the unfortunate position of not being able to afford to diagnose or treat an illness, or only being able to elect some of the treatment recommendations due to finances, which can potentially compromise your pet’s full recovery and future health.  

    There are numerous pet health insurance companies, and as in human medicine, not all plans are created equal.  All plans require a deductible, will pay a portion of the total bill, and have an annual reimbursement cap (which is rarely met).  The similarities stop there and the policies can be difficult to compare.  For a basic understanding of pet health insurance, customer reviews and outlines of some basic plans, visit  There are many other online resources to help guide you through the maze of options.   Here at Southpoint Animal Hospital, we have received high marks from clients who have used the following companies:  Embrace, Trupanion, VPI, and Healthy Paw Pet Insurance.  By no means is this an all-inclusive list or a recommendation specifically from us.  If you currently have pet health insurance and have had great experiences with the provider, please let us know about it by emailing

    Listed below are a few questions to consider when evaluating pet health insurance companies:

    1. Are the policies and information provided easy to understand?

    2. Were you able to quickly contact the company?  Were their customer service representatives friendly and helpful? Are their customer service hours reasonable?

    3. What kind of care is excluded or limited?  Dentistry? Cancer? Hereditary and congenital diseases?

    4. Are pre-existing conditions covered?  How is a pre-existing condition defined?  If my pet is diagnosed with a chronic illness in one year, is it considered pre-existing the next year and no longer covered?

    5. Are there limits per incident? Per year? Per lifetime? Per body system?  What are those limits, specifically?

    6. Are there policies that encompass annual exams and wellness services?  Are there policies available that only cover illness and injury, excluding annual wellness services?

    7. Can you choose a deductible?  Is the deductible per incident or annual? Can you elect to change your deductible in the following year?

    8. Is there co-insurance in addition to the deductible? Is there a maximum out of pocket per year?

    9. What is the waiting period before coverage begins?

    10. What is the maximum age of enrollment?

    11. Can you see any veterinarian you want?

    12. What happens to coverage and premiums as your pet gets older?  Can the company provide any data on their policyholders, as a group, on premium increases over time? What other data can the company provide regarding rates, claims, owner out of pocket costs, etc.

    13. How quickly are claims processed and paid?

    14. Are there reasons why a policy might be declined for renewal?

    In summary, having pet insurance provides you with financial peace of mind when it comes to making decisions about your pet’s healthcare.   Regular wellness visits, a healthy lifestyle, a lean body weight, a clean mouth, and proactive lab work are your pet’s most important defenses against illness and injury.; however, expect the unexpected and rest assured that a pet insurance policy can help you through the tough times of illness and injury.

    The Dental Health of Our Pets

    There is no topic that is discussed more on a day-to-day basis than periodontal disease.  I’m the first person to admit to getting up close and personal with my four legged family members, and I know from first-hand experience how unpleasant a loving kiss can be when it comes from a foul smelling mouth!  So I thought I would take the time to expand on common questions and concerns that my clients have about periodontal disease and what we as responsible pet owners can be doing to prevent or slow down its progression.

    First off, why should we care about periodontal disease?  Other than the obvious bad breath, does periodontal disease affect my pet?  The answer is a resounding YES!  Periodontal disease is recognized as the second most common disease process that veterinarians diagnose, with the first most common disease process being superficial dermatitis (skin disease), no big surprise there… 

    As I have stated, the most common adverse effect that we as pet owners notice is the horrendous breath that welcomes us with the affectionate kisses that our cats and dogs provide.  This halitosis (bad breath) is due to bacterial overgrowth on teeth.  It turns out that bacterial overgrowth on teeth stinks to high heaven, and when that bacterial growth is left unchecked it is not subtle.  Our mouths are full of bacteria. It can colonize teeth within 4-6 hours.  This is why I can brush my teeth before bedtime, and yet I wake up with my wife commenting on my bad breath first thing in the morning.  The same process occurs in our pets, but our pets rarely brush their own teeth 2-3 times daily.

    If we were only worried about bad breath then we would not make such a big deal about focusing on improving our pet’s dental health, but there are several other negative factors that concern us.  My biggest concern with periodontal disease is the chronic inflammation and the associated pain and discomfort that accompany it.  I’m always amazed at how tolerant our four legged loved ones are of pain and how little they are capable of expressing it.  I can’t tell you how many “normal” patients I have treated that have terrible oral pain, but show no detectable outward clinical signs.  Full disclosure, I am just as guilty as anyone of my clients when it comes to recognizing my own dog’s periodontal disease.  Both of my dogs fractured one of their premolars (the largest tooth in their mouths), and I didn’t have a clue until I took them in for their regular dental prophylaxis.  They both showed signs of severe endodontic disease  (disease below the gumline) during their dental cleanings and had to have a tooth extraction.  I was shocked, as a veterinarian and pet owner, to have found such diseased teeth in my own dogs because I never picked up on any abnormal clinical signs.  I was equally shocked to watch as my dogs’ overall demeanor and energy levels improved following their dental work.  For me it was only after I removed the problem that I recognized how much my dogs’ periodontal disease was affecting their day-to-day comfort.

    And lastly, periodontal disease can cause a chronic inflammatory state that impacts the rest of our pet’s health.  Studies have shown that dogs and cats with chronic periodontal disease have a greater incidence of microscopic disease in several major organ systems, including the heart, kidneys, lungs and liver.  As with any chronic disease process, when addressed early and managed appropriately, we can prevent long term disease and help improve the overall health and quality of life of our pets. 

    BEFORE  Severe calculus and gingivitis, persistent puppy canine tooth. 

    BEFORE Severe calculus and gingivitis, persistent puppy canine tooth. 

    AFTER  Post dental cleaning and extraction of puppy tooth.

    AFTER Post dental cleaning and extraction of puppy tooth.

    Enough about why we should care about our pet’s oral health, here are some recommendations to stay ahead of this common problem:

    1. Have your pet’s teeth evaluated by a veterinarian at least once a year. I can’t stress enough how important this is.  If we can recognize dental disease early and address it, we can prevent long-term negative implications.
    2. Brush, Brush and Brush!!! That’s right folks, brushing your pet’s teeth is still the number one preventative treatment.  There simply is no substitute for daily teeth brushing.  I know everyone reading this is groaning to themselves and I am fully aware of how much time and commitment daily teeth brushing requires, but with most pets it is doable.  I am the first to admit I failed many times when trying to train my dogs to accept teeth brushing.   But in my case I was the problem and not my pets.  The key to successful teeth brushing is setting a routine, positive reinforcement and most importantly BEING PATIENT!  I have countless stories of clients who have really committed to preventing periodontal disease.  A lot of my clients do not brush their pet’s teeth because they are nervous about it or just simply do not know how to get started.  Next time you are in the office, ask one of us to sit down with you and demonstrate proper brushing technique and appropriate training. 
    3. I am not deluded to thinking that each and everyone of us will be successful with daily brushing, thankfully there are some alternatives (these are by no means replacements for brushing).  Incorporating some combination of the following preventative measures can help slow down the rate of periodontal disease:
      • Dental Chews-  There are a variety of dental chews on the market.  I recommend a daily chew called Oravet made by Merial.  Next time you are in ask about the different chews that are available and we can find the one that fits with your individual pet.
      • Oral gels and rinses- These are a little more labor intensive than giving our pet a chew, but they can have great benefits and are easier to apply than brushing.
      • Water additives- These can be very helpful, however always speak with a veterinarian before using.  Some animals will dislike the flavor of the water additive and will avoid drinking water which can have negative adverse effects.
      • Dental Diets-  I am not a huge fan of dental diets.  I think implementing some combination of the options listed above is more effective.  I strive to get each and every one of my patients on a high quality diet for the benefit of their overall health and the dental diets really limit what we can choose from.
    4. Lastly, we have to remember that periodontal disease is progressive even with the best preventative plan.  When our pet’s dental disease progresses beyond basic preventative measures then it is time to have their teeth cleaned professionally.  Having a professional dental cleaning will be a decision we will make together during one of our visits.
    BEFORE  Severe calculus and gingivitis.

    BEFORE Severe calculus and gingivitis.

    AFTER  Post dental cleaning procedure.

    AFTER Post dental cleaning procedure.

    There is a lot of information out there that touches upon dental disease in dogs and cats.  If you are interested in reading more about it then I recommend visiting the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s website. This website was created by board certified veterinary dentists and is a wealth of knowledge and recommendations when it comes to preventing and addressing periodontal disease.

    Remember that this is a joint effort and there is no one single plan that works best for each dog or cat. Don’t be shy next time you are in the exam room with one of us, we encourage questions and or concerns about our pets’ dental health. 

    BEFORE  Severe calculus and gingivitis.

    BEFORE Severe calculus and gingivitis.

    AFTER  Post dental cleaning procedure.

    AFTER Post dental cleaning procedure.