Blood Sample with Heartworms

Have you ever wondered what heartworms look like? If you look closely, you might catch a few wiggling heartworm microfilariae in this video of a blood sample!

On the 1st of each month,  don’t forget to give your monthly heartworm and flea/tick prevention to protect your furkids from these nasty guys!

Xylitol: Toxic to Dogs and Now Found in Some Peanut Butters

By: Janette Blackwood, DVM

My husband and I have an inside joke where he knows that I become enraged when we purchase a product from the supermarket, only to get it home and find out that it contains an artificial or alternative sweetener. I take a bite out of the item, say “Why is this gross?”, and throw a fit like a toddler when I read the label. I think the last thing he accidentally purchased was Welch’s Light Grape Juice, that only reading the fine print on the label revealed that it contained aspartame. My point is always that I think that that labeling on our food should be more obvious. This could not be even more important when it comes to the recent addition of xylitol to a few brands of peanut butter during the last few months.Xylitol in peanut butter is toxic to dogs

Xylitol is actually not an artificial sweetener, but a naturally derived sugar alcohol. In 2006, I first read about the use of xylitol in sugar free gum in an article of Veterinary Medicine.

The problem occurs when dogs accidentally (or purposely) ingest the product. Due to differences in canine and human metabolism, dogs ingesting products containing xylitol experience profound life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and can develop hepatic necrosis (liver failure). Sometimes, pet owners have no idea when they bring their pet to the veterinarian on emergency for seizures that their home even contained products with xylitol as an ingredient. In fact, it wasn’t until today when I made the effort to look up xylitol containing products that I even realized that I had been carrying around a tin of breath mints in my purse that would be toxic for my dog Radar to find and eat.

This website may be useful for you to learn what products in your home contain xylitol.

The recent addition of xylitol to certain peanut butter brands (Nuts ‘n More, Krush Nutrition, and P-28 Foods) becomes even more tricky for a few reasons. For one thing, limited labeling on the products may make it hard for consumers to realize that they are even purchasing a product containing this ingredient. You have to really make an effort to read the fine print on the nutrition label. Limited labeling on some products has also made it difficult to know the exact amount of xylitol contained in a spoonful of the product for example, making it difficult for veterinarians to know how much of the toxic ingredient a dog has ingested. Lastly, for years, peanut butter has been recommended by veterinarians as an easy vehicle to be used by pet owners to administer pills. I know that Radar loves a little bit of peanut butter (or the sugar-loaded Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter) when my husband gives him his morning dose of gabapentin for his chronic back issues.

Here is a link to an article in DVM360 with more information.
Janette Blackwood, DVM

Tips for Pets and Fireworks


Summer is full of celebrations involving fireworks, none bigger than our Independence Day on the 4th.  Dogs and cats react to fireworks as individuals. Some aren’t upset by the explosions, and others get hurt by panicking and jumping through closed windows or bolting through doors to get away from the terrifying noise and lights.

American pet advocacy groups point out that the number of escapees is so high that Independence Day is the busiest day of the year in shelters — and that many pets get lost, injured, or killed. Charleston is fortunate to have great emergency hospitals that will be open 24 hours in case your pet is injured.  Check our resources page to find their contact info.  Community websites and Facebook pages are also a great tool to help lost pets get reunited with their owners.

Your pets will do better if they’re not left home alone during fireworks events. That’s not always feasible, so think ahead before leaving them alone.

Signs of anxiety can include pacing, trembling, panting, drooling, attention-seeking (vocalizing, pawing, nuzzling, and climbing on people), hiding, and bolting. Escape attempts tend to involve hiding behind furniture, and staying in a basement or bathroom. Because the source of the noise is confusing, inside dogs may want to escape to the outside, and outside dogs may be frantic to get inside.

Nervous pets tend to drink more water, so keep more available than usual. (And remember, these summer events usually mean hotter weather, and the likelihood of power problems, so extra water is already a good idea.) Bring outside pets inside, so they can’t bolt. Keep your cats securely inside, and if your dog needs a potty break during the fireworks, take him outside on a leash, even in a fenced yard. Make sure all your pets are wearing an ID tag or a collar that contains your phone number. Tags and collars can be lost, so a microchip is even more useful in helping you find your lost pet.

Drug-Free Remedies

What can you do to keep your frightened pet safe and calm? For many frightened pets, just staying in a crate (as long as they are used to one) or in a “safe” room with a closed door is all that’s needed.

Synthetic pheromone sprays such as Feliway  for cats and Adaptil (formerly called D.A.P.) for dogs are available at pet stores. These sprays imitate the properties of the natural pheromones of the lactating female that gives kittens or puppies a sense of well-being.

An herbal relaxant called Composure comes in chews or liquid for dogs; the feline version is in chews.
Some pets respond to pressure wraps, such as Thundershirts or Anxiety Wraps. The pressure on the body may have a calming effect.

Ear muffs to muffle sound are also available.

Calming caps cover a dog’s eyes to reduce visual stimulation.

If you can plan ahead for these summer events, veterinary behaviorists often recommend behavior modification, classical counter conditioning, and teaching a desirable coping response.

In behavior modification, controlling the intensity of the fireworks is necessary and often the most challenging part. While it often isn’t possible to expose a fearful dog to only “little fireworks,” controlling other factors can help. Distance from the fireworks can be less intimidating, as would be keeping the dog indoors.  Music may disguise the bursts of noise; consider loud music with a regular beat.

Classical counter conditioning can create a positive association with fireworks if the anxiety isn’t extreme. Give high-value food rewards (canned food or peanut butter), offer your pet his favorite toys or food puzzle toys, or have your pet practice his tricks with you. The goal is for him to learn that fireworks result in highly pleasant rewards.
You can teach a desirable coping response. The appropriate response for a dog facing something frightening is to retreat to a safe place until the frightening thing ends. Providing a safe retreat, such as a crate or a closet, will give security and confidence, although selecting the location is up to the pet. Blankets to muffle the sound and a pheromone diffuser will provide natural motivation for the dog to seek this location. Being able to cope when the world becomes overwhelming is a life skill essential for both people and dogs!  Hiding is not a sign of a problem, if the pet quickly returns to a normal behavior when the fireworks are over.


It’s easier to prevent a fearful reaction than it is to reverse one. If your pet is nervous around loud, unexpected noises, a short-term sedative before the fireworks start may be just the ticket. Talk to your veterinarian ahead of time, so you can have something on hand to give your pet before the fireworks start. Some medications often used for fireworks or thunderstorm phobias in dogs are Xanax and Valium.
Some severely anxious pets may benefit from drugs like clomipramine or fluoxetine that increase the level of serotonin. However, these drugs can take several weeks, if not more, to build up to an effective level, so this is not spur-of-the-moment fix.

You have many choices of how to help your pet cope with fireworks stress.  Talk to us about what is best for your pet. Hopefully, everyone in the family will then be able enjoy the holiday!


Becky Lundgren, DVM

What you should know about the confirmed case of canine influenza in Mount Pleasant

June 26, 2015

A case of the new canine influenza H3N2 has been diagnosed and confirmed by laboratory testing at a veterinary clinic in Mount Pleasant this week.  This is the first confirmed case in South Carolina.  This is the same strain that made headlines earlier this year with an outbreak in the Midwest.  The dog is a visitor to our state from Georgia, a state that has had several reported cases of H3N2 over the past month.   From speaking with the attending veterinarian directly, it is my understanding that this dog had recently stayed in a boarding facility in Georgia that later had confirmed cases of H3N2.

What you should know about canine influenza:

  1. There have been 2 strains of canine influenza in North America.  The first one was H3N8, which was documented in 1999.  The second strain is the new one H3N2, the one of which there is current concern.
  2. Although there is a vaccine that has been available for several years for H3N8, at this time it is completely unknown if there is any cross-protective immunity for H3N2 from this vaccination.  From the start of this year, two pharmaceutical companies have told us that they have been testing this older vaccine on the newer H3N2 strain, and at this time we have not received any reports on results that proves that protection exists.  Even so, after the spread of H3N2 in the midwest, the vaccine has been in very high demand, and has quickly reached a backorder status.
  3. At this time, there has been no reported cases of people getting sick with H3N2 from their dog.
  4. Canine influenza is spread through aerosolization of the flu virus into the air.  It can live for 2 days on contact surfaces, but is easily killed through disinfecting.
  5. About 75%-80% of dogs that are exposed to influenza will develop clinical signs.  These clinical signs include coughing, sneezing, lethargy, fever, and possible decreased appetite.  For most dogs, the symptoms appear to be mild and they recover in 2-3 weeks.
  6. A small portion of the above listed dogs that develop clinical signs will have moderate to severe signs that will require treatment by a veterinarian, such as fluid therapy and antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections.
  7. Currently, it has been recorded that 1-5% of dogs contracting canine influenza will become severely ill and die from this disease, often by developing pneumonia.  Like influenza in people, dogs that are the most likely to become this severely ill are ones that are immunocompromised, such as geriatrics, pediatrics, and patients receiving chemotherapy.


What you should do if your dog is sick/developing respiratory signs:

  1. Call your veterinarian.  At the time you make your appointment, let your veterinarian know that you are seeing respiratory signs (coughing/sneezing) as your veterinarian will wish to schedule your appointment in a manner that decreases the risk of other patients in the hospital being exposed.  Your veterinarian will complete a physical exam to confirm if the signs you are seeing are consistent with canine influenza or possibly another disease that can cause a cough (for example: heartworm disease).
  2. Your veterinarian can offer you a diagnostic test to be completed by sending a sample to an outside laboratory to help try to confirm if influenza is present.
  3. If influenza (or another type of contagious respiratory infection is suspected), your veterinarian will strongly recommend that you protect other pets by keeping your dog separated from other dogs for about the next 2 weeks.  This will include not going to boarding facilities, grooming facilities, dog parks, etc.


How you can protect your healthy dog:

  1. Restrict your activity with any dog that is coughing, sneezing, or showing other signs of contagious illness.  Unfortunately, as canine influenza can be spread in the 2-4 days from when a dog has been exposed to before it develops clinical signs (incubation period), just because a dog is clinically healthy it does not guarantee that they are not spreading the virus.
  2. If your dog has a chronic medical illness, is very old, very young, or otherwise immunocompromised, I would recommend limiting exposure to other dogs in high volume areas such as boarding facilities, dog shows, and dog parks.
  3. If your pet is going to board, especially in areas like the Midwest or Georgia where several cases have been reported, you may consider getting the influenza vaccine for H3N8.  However, as mentioned above, supply for this vaccine is not completely reliable due to the recent backorder.  The vaccine requires 2 doses administered 3 weeks apart and has not been proven to be effective against H3N2.

For more information see:

Canine Influenza Facts from The University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine:

AVMA- Influenza frequently asked questions

Intersection of Crosstown, Rutledge and Line

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