Keeping Pets Safe during the Hustle and Bustle of the Holidays

In today’s veterinary blog, we are sharing a few pet safety reminders for the holiday season in an effort to help families avoid a trip to the veterinary emergency hospital.

Squeezing an emergency veterinary visit in between school performances, office parties, and family celebrations—certainly not on anyone’s holiday wish list. We've summarized a few holiday-related safety tips to keep the whole family (furry people included) home for the holidays.

Holiday plants and décor. Live Christmas trees require water—but with a decorative bowl in eyesight and lapping range of your pet, he/she may see a new watering hole. Not a good idea, as the tree water becomes stagnant, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Pet Safety for the holidays - tips to avoid a veterinary emergency.If your pet drinks it, he/she may end up with diarrhea and/or nausea (possibly the least fun way to celebrate the holidays with a house full of company!).

In addition, other seasonal plants can be harmful if ingested. Holly may lead to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in a pet. Mistletoe can cause these same gastrointestinal issues, as well as cardiovascular problems. Several varieties of lilies can cause numerous internal issues for cats. Some families forgo live décor and use silk to ensure that pets don’t take a nibble when their people are not looking.

The feast. The best mantra: people food is for the humans only. The WestVet Emergency team has treated pets that have helped themselves to an unattended plate, nosed through the trash, and/or opened a food-related present under the tree (with their keen sense of smell, dogs can sniff out the wrapped goodies pretty easily).

Common food pet exposures during the holidays include:

  • chocolate
  • bread dough
  • fruitcake
  • alcohol.

Also, always remind your house guests to keep their medications safely packed away during their visit.

Careful with cocktails. If your pet sips an unattended alcoholic drink he or she could become weak, ill, and may even go into a coma—possibly resulting in death from respiratory failure.

A house full of house guests. While many of your friends and guests will offer extra attention and affection to your pet, some people or children are wary of pets. It may be best to keep the furry household members away from the noisy festivities. Pets unaccustomed to children may be easily startled or frightened when approached, resulting in a nip, or a bite, a scratch, or a hiss—and tears and contention all around. Keep everyone happy by kenneling your four-legged friends in their own space, complete with fresh water and a place to cuddle. Another issue may arise when guests bring along their personal pets. Pet Safety Tips from WestVet 24 Hour Animal Emergency and Specialty Center Animals innately become territorial if feeling threatened from a pet visitor and you could be setting yourself up for a fight and an animal injury.

Tinsel, lights, and candles. Curious cats love glittery things. Ingested tinsel is extremely dangerous, often resulting in an obstructed digestive tract, severe vomiting, dehydration, and possible surgery. Candles with open flames could burn your pet and/or be tipped over and cause damage to your home. Also, watch the strings of lights. No nibbling or playing with electrical cords!

Giving good gifts. Choose safe pet toys. If your dog likes to tear toys apart, be aware that squeakers and plastic eyes/noses could become lodged in the esophagus, stomach, or intestines. This advice includes cats that shred their toys. When foreign objects are ingested and become stuck internally, it can be fatal for pets. Emergency surgery may be required.

Snow globes. Keep these knickknacks in a safe place. Some snow globes contain ethylene glycol—a highly toxic substance to pets. If broken, the sweet smell may attract your pet to lap it up, leading to a potentially fatal intoxication.

These tips were adapted from the ASCPA’s holiday safety tips. They report that during the holiday season, they receive numerous calls from concerned pet owners. If your pet ingests something, you may contact the Animal Poison Control Center at their toll-free number 1-888-426-4435 with questions.

In addition, WestVet remains open 24/7 to provide emergency and critical care to pets during the holidays if you should need us. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of our Treasure Valley friends, we hope it is a joyous and happy time for you and your family!

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When a Pet Has Cancer

In conjunction with National Pet Cancer Awareness Month, our veterinary blog outlines the treatments options for pet owners that are offered at WestVet’s Animal Cancer Treatment Center.

Unfortunately, pets get cancer at nearly the same rate as humans. Today there are advanced veterinary treatment options that can extend the life and health of your beloved friend. November has been designated as National Pet Cancer Awareness Month with the goal being to educate pet families about the disease, its prevalence, early detection, and treatment options in veterinary medicine. WestVet is pleased to offer the services of Dr. Carrie Hume, Idaho’s first and only Veterinary Oncologist. In today’s blog, she outlines some basic information regarding cancer for pets.  

Diagnosing cancer in a pet. Finding cancer in a pet is not uncommon, fortunately, many cancers are treatable. PetCo & Blue Buffalo Infograph on Pet Cancer, symptoms, and treatments The first line of defense is consistent, routine veterinary care with your family doctor.

Dr. Hume says that an annual physical exam plays a crucial role in your pet’s good health. “Your veterinarian carefully listens to the heart and lungs, looks for lumps or bumps, feels and evaluates the lymph nodes, touches the pet's belly for signs of pain or tumors, and evaluates muscle or bone pain. Any abnormalities can be further investigated to look for evidence of cancer.”

If your family veterinarian suspects cancer, you may be referred for oncology care to WestVet Animal Cancer Treatment Center. At this point, Dr. Hume routinely performs additional diagnostic tests that can quickly confirm the diagnosis and severity.  

A needle is utilized for internal tumors or those outside of the body, where cells can be withdrawn for analysis. Internal cancers can be seen with the use of x-rays, ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans. Blood and urine analysis are used to calculate organ function, providing evaluation of cancerous cells that may be circulating in the blood. WestVet’s team of veterinary specialists, including our laboratory pathologists, will collaborate with Dr. Hume to pinpoint the disease.

“Test results can determine the extent, or stage, of  cancer,” Dr. Hume said. “The stage then dictates treatment options as well as specific information regarding how quickly the cancer is expected to progress.”

Common signs and symptoms of cancer in pets. Similar to human medicine, the earlier cancer is detected—the better the chance of effective treatment. A few indications of cancer in an animal include, but are not limited to:

  • Lumps that grow quickly
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sudden weakness
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent lameness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

While any animal may develop cancer, among dogs there are some specific breeds and types of cancers that are more prevalent. These include:

  • Lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, and mast cell tumors; common in Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers.WestVet Animal Cancer Treatment Center offers comprehensive veterinary oncology care with Dr. Carrie Hume
  • Histiocytic Sarcoma; common in Bernese Mountain Dogs and Flat Coated Retrievers.
  • Bone tumors; common in Greyhounds, Great Danes, and Rottweilers. 

Another important consideration for pet owners, one of the best ways to prevent mammary cancer in female dogs and cats is to have them spayed before their first heat. Dr. Hume says this procedure significantly decreases the risk.

After your pet’s cancer diagnosis. Upon diagnosis, numerous factors determine the course of treatment. Choosing whether or not to treat a pet’s cancer is a personal, and often, very difficult decision; a consultation with a veterinary oncologist can help determine the best course of action for your family.

Treatment options at WestVet include medication, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Frequently, a combination of treatments offers the best outcome. However, sometimes, the recommendation is to not pursue treatment, as some types of animal cancers cannot be cured, or even put in remission for a significant amount of time. 

Overall, the primary goal is to help your pet feel better for as long as possible. “Regardless of the recommended treatment, my job as a veterinary oncologist is to keep my patients happy. Therefore, aggressive cancer treatment protocols that have a high risk of significant side effects are avoided,” said Dr. Hume. “In addition to helping owners choose the right treatment path, my role is to help them recognize a pet’s suffering and when bad days outnumber good days. Regardless of the decisions made, early diagnosis and a trusting, open relationship with a veterinarian can make this difficult time easier.”

Pet Cancer Awareness Month. In 2005, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) partnered with the Animal Cancer Foundation to launch November as Pet Cancer Awareness Month. Cancer-related conditions in pet continue to be one of the most common types of medical clams processed at VPI.  


If you have questions about WestVet’s Animal Cancer Treatment Center, ask your family veterinarian about a referral or contact us at 208.375.1600. 

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ER Vet Dr. Sheryl Kepping - Creating a Pet First Aid Kit

While impossible to prepare for all emergencies, there are some precautions pet owners may want to consider; in today’s veterinary blog, ER Veterinarian Dr. Sheryl Kepping offers some insight on must-haves for a pet first aid kit.

A sudden illness or injury for your pet is something you hope to avoid. Unfortunately, unexpected pet ailments will likely occur at some point. Being prepared for an emergency can offer you some peace of mind, help stabilize your pet, keep your pet safe, and reduce further injury until you can pursue veterinary care.

A pet first-aid kit can be a helpful resource in an emergency. Commercial kits can readily be purchased online, in stores, or at many local veterinary hospitals. A home-made kit can be just as effective and is fairly simple to compile.

Items to include:

  • Sterile dressings, absorbent materials, and bandaging supplies. Common bandage materials include rolled gauze or cast padding, Vetwrap, porous medical white tape or Elasticon, though this can sometimes be difficult to remove from fur. Sheryl Kepping ER Vet - What to put in your pet first aid kit.
  • Water for your pet to drink and to clean a wound. It is not recommended to use alcohol or peroxide on an open wound as they can damage healthy tissue.
  • A triple antibiotic ointment may be placed over a wound prior to bandaging though it should not be used for punctures or deep wounds. Bandages should only be applied to help protect a wound until it can be assessed by a veterinarian where additional care can be recommended such as deep cleaning or suturing of the wound. 
  • An extra leash.
  • A small blanket to help carry your pet if he/she is injured or cover larger wounds
  • Tweezers, for splinter or tick removal.
  • An extra Elizabethan collar to prevent your pet from licking at any wounds or chewing/licking at any bandage placed.

A note of caution regarding medications. Some pet owners may have been told to use Benadryl for allergic reactions or aspirin for pain for pets. While these medications may be used in veterinary medicine, it is recommended that you contact a veterinarian prior to giving any over-the-counter medications to ensure the dose is appropriate for your pet, that the medications will not interact with current medications, or exasperate any underlying conditions your pet may have. Other over-the-counter medications, such as Advil (ibuprofen), Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Aleve (naproxen), are not recommended and are very toxic—potentially life threatening—to pets.

Once assembled, keep the pet first-aid kit in a small portable bag so it’s quick to find at home and easy to transport for traveling, camping, and hiking trips.Dr. Sheryl Kepping offers some tips on what to include in your pet's first aid kit. A first-aid kit can be helpful to have in order to stabilize your pet, but it cannot nor should not replace a professional evaluation and treatment from a veterinarian.

If you are concerned that your pet is behaving abnormally or has an injury, it is always appropriate to consult your veterinarian right away. If your veterinarian is unavailable, WestVet is open and able to address your concerns 24 hours a day. 

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Accidental Xylitol Poisoning: Some Sugar Free Foods and Snacks are Toxic for Dogs

Pets are curious, often hungry, and unlikely to turn down a treat. Add those characteristics to sweets and snacks that contain xylitol, and you could be facing a veterinary emergency.

Xylitol can be found in a many of oral hygiene products, pharmaceuticals, and foods. This additive may be found in sugar-free gum, candies, and breath mints, and baked goods, cough syrup, children’s chewable vitamins, mouthwash and toothpaste, among others. As more products now contain xylitol, incidents of accidental dog poisoning are also on the rise. The Pet Poison Helpline reports that so far this year, they have fielded 2,800 calls regarding known or suspected xylitol ingestion; that number is up from 300 in 2009. Dr. Victoria Ochoa, WestVet small animal internist, on what to do if your dog ingests a toxin.

We asked Dr. Victoria Ochoa, Small Animal Internist, about xylitol and what veterinary treatments could be considered for dogs who ingest it:

 “Xylitol makes it possible for humans to have sweet treats and not get cavities, but it make dogs get low blood sugar--hypoglycemia! Signs of hypoglycemia are weakness, sometimes stumbling and acting "spacey", or even seizures or collapse. All those signs require immediate veterinary aid.

Most dogs can make it through the hypoglycemic stage, with hospitalization and IV dextrose, but they do have to be carefully monitored later for liver disease, which can also be caused by xylitol. Even if your dog initially recovers from a bout of xylitol poisoning, your veterinarian may send your dog home on a liver supplement, SAMe or Denamarin, to try to prevent adverse liver reactions, which are common after a dog eats xylitol.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association warns the effects of xylitol on a dog are immediate and can be very severe: signs of toxicity may appear in less than 30 minutes. In addition, it doesn’t take a large amount of the substance to cause harm to your dog. Xylitol is estimated to be 100 times as toxic as milk chocolate to dogs; even a small amount can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure, or even death. The most common culprit—sugar-free gum. Pet owners are advised to be aware of the products used that may contain xylitol, and ensure that all items are in a secure place.


If you are concerned that your pet is behaving acutely abnormally, whether or not you suspect a reaction to an ingested toxin, it is always appropriate to consult your veterinarian right away. If your veterinarian is unavailable, WestVet is open and able to address your concerns 24 hours a day. 

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Treasure Valley Police Dogs Utilize Outpatient Surgery at WestVet to Help Prevent “Bloat” or GDV

The partnership provides police dogs who serve in the Treasure Valley with optimal veterinary care; the goal is to help area canine officers fulfill their duty and beyond as they enjoy retirement.

Garden City, Idaho – Canine Officers have been part of the Boise Police Department (BPD) since 1996 working in drug detection, explosives detection, patrols, apprehension, and searches.

These four-legged officers represent a big investment. Rocky, Boise Police Dog, is a successful surgery case. The GDV procedure will help prevent BloatFinancially, the average expense for one dog is up to $9,000. In addition, the dog undergoes lengthy training. Typically, a canine officer begins working around age two and half and will work for about 7 years.

Keeping these dogs healthy during their service is the goal that inspired a partnership with the BPD, Animal Medical Center, and WestVet.

Dr. Nell Dalton, a veterinarian at Animal Medical Center, and Dr. Andrea Oncken, emergency and critical care veterinarian at WestVet, evaluated why canine officers were either retired early or died. They determined the most common reasons were either chronic arthritis or “bloat.” Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) syndrome, is an ailment that is almost 100% preventable.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with gas and twists in on itself obstructing blood flow to abdominal organs. This is a serious condition that may be fatal if not promptly treated with surgery. 

While bloat could happen to any dog, it is most common in deep-chested, large breeds, such as the Akita, Great Dane, German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, and St. Bernard. WestVet Surgeon, Dr. John Chandler, performing and LAG procedure on a Boise Police DogWestVet Board Certified Surgeon Dr. John Chandler has taken one measure to help keep four-legged officers on the job by offering Laparoscopic Assisted Gastropexy (LAG) Treatment, a preventative surgery. LAG is performed through two small incisions. The stomach is permanently attached to the abdominal wall, prohibiting twisting.

He says several factors determine are considered before an LAG procedure. “We look at the breed, the depth-to-width ratio of the dog’s chest cavity, the level of activity, and the dog’s temperament. Increased anxiety and nervousness is an added risk factor,” Dr. Chandler said. “Police and military working dogs have a high adrenaline, high anxiety job adds to their risk.”

LAG is a less invasive procedure and is performed as an outpatient surgery. Dogs are only out of service for about ten days, as opposed to four weeks for major abdominal surgery. 

“Using the scope means that downtime is minimal, and it’s much less invasive, so post-surgical risks are decreased,” Dr. Dalton said. “Doing the procedure made a lot of sense for the long term prognosis and well-being of these canine officers.”

A few weeks ago, Officer Randy Arthur, Boise Police Department, dropped by WestVet with Rocky, a successful LAG patient.Rocky is a Boise Police K9 Officer who successfully underwent the LAG procedure to prevent BLOAT He says that in a recent study for police dogs around the country, one in ten suffered from GDV, and, “In the Treasure Valley, we are overdue for a case.”

Officer Arthur says BPD considers the dog’s long-term prognosis, cost of the LAG preventative procedure versus the cost of care should the dog bloat, the downtime following the surgery, as well as the fact that, often, if working dogs do recover from bloat they may not be serviceable following treatment. “Overall, the preventative cost is very minimal. We can have all seven canine officers undergo LAG for the same cost as treatment for one dog who bloated. We look at LAG as another tool to keep our officers safe, as we are out there keeping citizens safe.”

Good preventative care and routine veterinary exams and treatment are the goals for the BPD, WestVet, and Animal Medical Center. Dr. Chandler discounted the surgical fees to ensure the dogs are treated for a fraction of the cost of an emergency bloat surgery.

Dr. Dalton says it is a privilege and an honor to provide annual care to the canine officers and it’s a real treat for all the staff at Animal Medical Center when the dogs visit. Dr. Nell Dalton, AMC, provides routine care for all area K9 Officers in the Treasure Valley.Serving as their general practice veterinarian, Dr. Dalton oversees well-check exams, vaccination protocol, parasite prevention program, urgent care needs, and keeps the dogs’ teeth in good shape with preventative dentistry and upon occasion, root canals and restorative dentistry.

“If I can help our officers with this one tool, I feel like I’m helping keep all of us safe. We can focus on maintaining good health for the canine officers and not have to worry about bloat.”

Several pet product companies have also been supportive in serving area canine officers. Hills Pet Food Company, Iams, and Royal Canin provide excellent, scientifically based nutrition at cost to the officers. Pharmaceutical companies MWI Veterinary Supply, Zoetis, Merial, Verbac , Boehringer Ingelheim, Merk and Ceva/Sogeval provide necessary medications, vaccines and parasite prevention. In addition, a local groomer donated her services to keep the BPD canine mascot “Scout” looking his best. 

Currently, seven four-legged officers serve with the BPD. As of October 2015, all seven canine officers have undergone a successful LAG procedure at WestVet. Up next, Scout, the recently adopted rescue dog and mascot, will be evaluated for the procedure. WestVet also recently performed the LAG procedure on one Twin Falls Police Department canine officer, with a second to be scheduled in the near future. In addition, Drs. Chandler and Dalton are communicating with other law enforcement departments in Idaho about the procedure.

The inspiration for this partnership stemmed from one local amazing canine officer. In honor of Bullet, Garden City Police Dog, who passed away in October 2015Bullet, a Belgian Malinois and Garden City Canine Officer, recently passed away. His legacy and service brought area police departments, veterinarians, and specialists together to provide the best care available for these four-legged officers. 

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