Cats Need to See the Vet, Too!

By: Janette Blackwood, DVM

Do cats need to go to the vet...this one says yes
Do cats need to go to the vet…this one says yes

I was chatting with a friend yesterday when she shared a secret. Her beloved kitty was way overdue for a veterinary visit. When I asked her why, she confessed that she felt that a vet visit wasn’t needed. Her cat does not go outside or have exposure to other cats so vaccines (and a veterinary visit) are not a priority.

Almost every issue of current veterinary journals and magazines are asking this question: why don’t clients feel that their cat needs to visit the veterinarian annually? Honestly, as a veterinarian, I feel that our profession is largely to blame for this incorrect information. In the recent past, members of the veterinary profession used annual vaccines as the sole means for getting clients to walk through the veterinary doors. Therefore, clients started to associate that the need for a seemingly healthy cat to visit the veterinarian was linked only to that cat’s need to be vaccinated. Yet, vaccines aren’t the only important factor in cat check-ups at the vet; so many other valuable health benefits stem from regular veterinary visits!

Besides just vaccinations for your cat, below are some alternative thoughts I would like for you to consider about the importance of regular veterinary visits.

The most important part of the veterinary visit is the physical exam. A lot is happening in the 5 to 10 minutes when your veterinarian examines your pet. During this time, we are:

· looking for eye, ear, and dental infections

· listening to your cat’s heart for any murmurs or arrhythmias

· evaluating his weight and feeling the mobility of his joints for signs of arthritis

· checking to see if any palpable masses can be detected

· assessing the bowel to make sure there is no constipation

· ensuring that the bladder is relaxed and emptying properly

· talking to you, the owner, about any changes in behavior, eating, drinking, or litterbox habits

We complete a thorough investigation because cats are experts at hiding illnesses, even painful ones. For example, if a tooth is fractured and a sharp pain is felt when eating, a cat will learn to chew on the other side of her mouth or gradually just stop eating as much. When you share your home with multiple cats, it can be very difficult to know that one cat is eating 25% less and experiencing daily oral pain. Another opportunistic cat may be taking the opportunity to eat the extra food, and the food bowl looks the same at the end of the day.

Many diseases are much easier and cheaper to manage/treat when caught early or are able to be prevented. A great example of disease prevention is cat’s oral hygiene. Ask me any day and I will tell you that I would much rather complete a Grade 1 dental cleaning and polishing (no oral surgery or tooth extractions) on your cat’s mouth than a Grade 4 (multiple surgical extractions of double rooted teeth). By the time dental disease has reached the end-stage level of infection of Grade 4 periodontal disease, we usually find significant oral pain during the physical exam and a loss of viability of multiple teeth. The amount of time and skill required to treat Grade 4 periodontal disease is why your cost for the procedure is significantly higher (sometimes even hundreds of dollars higher) than if we had just treated the dental disease at its earliest state.

Parasites are a very real concern even for indoor cats. And, people can catch some of them, too! Every winter, I meet a cat strictly living indoors that has a flea infestation so severe that the cat looks like a pepper shaker sprinkling flea dirt (flea feces) across the exam table as it walks. Fleas are experts at finding warm places to hunker down for the winter (such as an indoor cat) after catching a ride inside from another member of the family. And, I have seen indoor cats secretly carrying intestinal parasites too, without any clinical signs in the litter box that would alert an owner that a problem exists. We find the parasitic eggs during a fecal screen (underneath the microscope) and treat them before the cat becomes clinically ill, protecting both your cat and your family. Your veterinarian will also be able to prescribe for your cat a monthly safe and effective parasite prevention to keep your cat free of fleas, intestinal parasites, and heartworms. You have to be careful though because many over the counter feline flea preventives found at common “big box” stores or online are a waste of money, completely ineffective, and may even have severely harmful side effects to healthy cats. Your veterinarian will cover safe parasite control with you during the office visit.

Having all pets vaccinated against the rabies virus is the law. South Carolina law is very clear about pets and their need for rabies vaccinations. Because the rabies virus kills people when exposed, all pets living or traveling through South Carolina must be up to date on their rabies vaccines. This law includes indoor kitties, as cats have been known to escape on occasion and rabid wildlife are known for being particularly aggressive, making accidental exposure to your pet possible. Cat owners who find their unvaccinated pet picked up by animal control while roaming in the neighborhood or involved in a cat bite to a neighbor could find themselves at the wrong end of fines or legal action, even if their cat is completely healthy.

If you have any feline family members who are overdue a veterinary visit, we would love to meet them. You are always welcome to come by and check out our staff and facility, and talk to us about how we can help make your visit easier and lower in stress.

Janette Blackwood, DVM


By: Dr. Christa Kahuda

An overwhelming amount of heartworm prevention options are available for your dogs and cats. It is hard enough to remember the prevention – and twice as difficult to pick the best product for your pet and your lifestyle. Here are a few points to help you narrow down the various heartworm prevention options.

  1. The Medication: Each heartworm prevention product on the market will prevent heartworm disease in your dog, but many also provide additional control of various parasites. Be sure that you are aware of the added benefits of each medication. Many products will also prevent other important diseases to which your dog or cat may be exposed. In general, you will find that the lower the price, the fewer added benefits.
  1. The Method: Each preventative also comes in a unique form such as flavored chews, tablets, or topical application. Pick the one that makes it easy to administer so that you (and your pet) don’t mind doing it every month!
  1. The Price: As you would expect, the products that perform best may cost more. Decide on your monthly budget for preventatives and talk to your veterinarian about the best choice for your pet family.
  1. The Provider: Find out which product the veterinarian you trust recommends and why. You will find that some products are available online for very low prices, but beware! These products usually are not guaranteed by the manufacturer unless purchased directly from a veterinarian. Sometimes expired or mishandled products fall into the hands of mass distributors or are falsely packaged and sold for a low price.

For the dog in your life, CHV recommends a combination of two products that are treat-like and very easy to administer. These two products also provide the best comprehensive prevention for heartworm disease, fleas, ticks, whipworms, roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. Using Sentinel Spectrum and Nexgard together will supply the best combination for monthly prevention.

CHV agrees that remembering to give the prevention is a huge challenge for many pet families. We recommend giving all of your medications on the first of every month and will send out alerts with emails and on social media to help remind you!

If you still have concerns or questions about heartworm prevention and treatment, please contact Drs. Blackwood and Kahuda at CHV. In addition, many answers you need can be found on the American Heartworm Society website

See the chart below to summarize the benefits of some of the major products on the market.

Dog Heartworm and Parasite Chart



4 Tips for Daily Pet Dental Care

By: Katherine Collins, Team Care Coordinator

Leo! Your breath smells!” Haven’t all pet parents mumbled this phrase a time or two to their furry family members while accepting their kisses? Just like humans, every meal pets eat builds plaque and tartar over time causing unpleasant breath odor. Your pet’s teeth are similar to your own, requiring similar dental hygiene. In addition to regular dental exams and cleanings at the vet, your pet counts on you to make sure you supply their daily dental care—just as you provide your own oral hygiene every day.

To assist with the maintenance of pet dental hygiene at home, writer Alison Landis Stone offers important advice in a Healthy Pet Magazine article to help ensure pet plaque and tartar build up don’t cause costly dental repairs. Since dental disease is the most common disease in adult dogs and cats, these quick tips are essential for every pet’s dental care between regular exams and cleanings.

  • Choose the Right Size Toothbrush

Pet toothbrushes come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on the size of your pet, you may need to adjust accordingly. If you can’t make it to the veterinarian to get a pet-specific toothbrush, use an American Dental Association (ADA) approved children’s soft bristle toothbrush.

  • Pick the Correct Toothpastepet dental health tips

When selecting your pet’s toothpaste, purchase pet-specific toothpaste that contains chlorhexidine gluconate, a clinically proven antiseptic and antimicrobial, or enzymes such as glucose oxidase or lactoperoxidase, which possess antibacterial properties to decrease plaque. Never use toothpaste formulated for humans, as it can cause your pet to become sick.

  • Select a Healthy Dental Diet

Considering your pet’s food brand, “look for one that carries the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance,” asserts Stone. The VOHC Seal of Acceptance guarantees the product has been tested and is clinically proven to help control tartar and plaque.

  • Purchase Dental Chews

Dental chews are specially formulated with abrasive textures to help control plaque and tartar. Some chews even include sodium hexametaphosphate to specifically reduce tartar formation. Dental chews should last a while so be sure to watch your pet when you introduce a new dental chew to make sure your pet doesn’t swallow the chew whole or after one bite, claims Stone. Opt for dental chews instead of real bones, which can cause pet digestion problems and/or teeth damage.

In addition to these helpful dental care recommendations, other products such as oral rinses and sprays, water additives, and dental sealants may benefit your pet’s daily oral hygiene. Adding products to your pet’s regular routine can help control tartar and plaque and protect your pet’s dental health between veterinary visits.

To see what specific products Drs. Kahuda and Blackwood recommend, call or stop in and visit us. Our office is open from 7:30am to 5:30pm Monday through Friday. We are always here to share tips and tricks to help keep your furry family healthy!

Can there be too much transparency?

Intersection of Crosstown, Rutledge and Line

If you have followed our Facebook page for any length of time, you will know that Charleston Harbor Veterinarians was designed under two big philosophies that we feel makes us a unique veterinary practice in the South Carolina Lowcountry.  One is a home-like atmosphere, with the goal of decreasing pet stress during the veterinary visit.  The other is transparency in all our medical and surgical procedures, with the goal being to give the owner the opportunity to be side-by-side with their pet through many medical procedures.

We received our first complaint today.  I have been dreading this day.  I think that most veterinary professionals aim to please their clients and their community, making hearing that someone has been dissatisfied by your services devastating.  What surprised our team the most today was that the complaint came from someone who was not a client; we had never seen her pets and we don’t even know if she even owns a pet.  And, it involved our philosophy on transparency.

Our facility has excellent visibility on the crosstown, and our surgical suite is positioned at the front and center of the building.  This was no accident.  The location for the surgical suite in the interior of the building is away from the main flow of foot traffic within the clinic, greatly decreasing chances for bacterial contamination from clients and pets coming to visit.  It is also located close to the treatment room, to be easily accessible during emergencies.  As an added bonus, the room has two large windows facing the crosstown traffic, adding not only natural light into the clinic but also visibility from the outside into what has traditionally been in the past, the most off-limit room to pet owners in a veterinary practice.

This is where the complaint occurred.  This morning, Dr. Kahuda performed a relatively minor surgical procedure on a dog in our surgical room, during the hours of normal morning rush hour traffic.  Keeping with practices for best surgical standards, the surgical suite was scrubbed ahead of time and free of clutter, Dr. Kahuda wore complete sterile attire (gown, caps, mask, booties, gloves), and a licensed surgical technician and an experienced assistant wore appropriate caps, masks, and booties.  All three of the staff members spent 100% of their effort monitoring and caring from this pet throughout the anesthetic procedure, both with monitoring equipment and direct observation.  While the patient was recovering beautifully post-operatively in the treatment area, Dr. Kahuda received the phone call: a human operating room nurse driving through the crosstown could see the surgical procedure while sitting in her car at the light and was displeased.

This phone call has occupied the minds of our team all morning and into the afternoon.  I walked outside into the rain multiple times to stare into our windows, just trying to understand how much detail one could view in the car across the street that would upset someone enough to make a call.  Our staff sat in confusion.  We called a pediatric nurse who I am close friends with to get her opinion.  This is what we as a team basically settled on:

  1. Our transparency is no secret.  We want to offer every client who walks through our doors a tour of our facilities. When you visit with your pet, you will quickly see that there is no “back” to take your pet away from you for treatments.  Our entire treatment room is enclosed in glass, easily visible from Exam Room 3.  Many of our medical treatments are performed in the exam room, with the client by our side.
  2. We are proud of our transparency.  If you can see inside our facilities from the street, you can bet that we are going to be following proper veterinary surgical protocol!  You will never see a staff member perform a procedure without properly maintained equipment or attire.  You will never see us treat a pet with anything but compassion and respect.  You will never see a technician texting on her cell phone instead of monitoring your pet during anesthesia.
  3. We do care about the privacy of our pets and owners.  This patient’s face was away from the window and the surgical site was covered in sterile draping throughout the procedure.  The draping would cover the majority of the surgical site from visualization on the street.  When clients fill out a new form to meet us, they let us know the level of their pet’s care they want to personally see and if they are willing to give permission for the posting of any pictures to our Facebook site.  We do not talk about you behind your back or gossip about your pet’s private medical concerns to other people.  We don’t have HIPPA laws in veterinary medicine, so our staff instead strives to operate by “The Golden Rule”.
  4. We ask our clients about the “open windows” policy when we meet them.  The pet’s owner in question today is a close friend of the veterinary assistant mentioned above.  The owner said that she desires our transparent policy, which she says assures her that when she leaves her pet here for the morning, she knows that she can trust the level of treatment that will be performed.  It shows we have nothing to hide.

I wish we had thought enough in advance to offer the person who called if she would like a tour and a chance to meet us.  In retrospect, I would have invited her to our Open House on March 29th from 12pm-4pm.  Instead, I am inviting all of you to visit us during the Open House, where we will have a Teddy Bear Surgery demonstration that will have active opportunities for participation for our younger visitors.  You will be able to see (on our Teddy Bear patient) the level of care that we can offer to our pet patients.

I know that we will never be able to please everyone.  My hope and joy would be to be able to provide outstanding service to those members of the community whose philosophy of pet care matches our our own and get the pleasure out of getting to know them and their pets on a personal level.

So, what do you think? Leave your comments below.

Janette Blackwood, DVM