Traveling with your pet


For many families, summer means family vacations which means traveling. Whether it’s to the beach, Disneyworld, or even just to a local campground or lake, the chance to break away from the daily grind can be irresistible. For those of us with pets planning for even a long weekend away also involves deciding how to care for our pets, or – if traveling with a pet – how to accommodate his or her needs.

For those considering bringing their pets along for the fun, there are some considerations that should factor into your pet’s travel plans.

Consider the destination

There are many factors that weigh in when determining if a destination is right for your pet. There is the obvious concern as to whether your destination includes pet-friendly accommodations and whether your pet is healthy enough to make the trip, but you must also consider how happy or comfortable your pet will be on the journey.

For example, travel plans involving the great outdoors are often great choices for those with energetic dogs, while a “no pets policy” at a favorite theme park may mean long hours at a strange kennel or destruction to your hotel room while you are away.

When you consider including your pet in your travel plans, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Do I have a plan for dining out – such as finding restaurants that allow dogs on patios or a way to keep Fido happy in a hotel room while I’m away
  • Will my pet get to participate in the activities
  • Do I have the right gear to protect my pet from the sun, heat/cold, and insects
  • Will someone be able to help me with my pet when I need to go into a shop or gas station
  • Is my pet relaxed during times of travel and able to handle long periods in the car or in a carrier while flying
  • Will I have time to attend to my pet’s needs during vacation

It may be that you’re traveling to see family members who also love pets (or have one or more of their own), in which case, planning travel may be a snap. Keep in mind that your pet may take time to become comfortable with other animals and people.  So prepare for introductions in a neutral and low stress environment.

Home, Sweet Home

When traveling to unknown destinations or those that are not pet friendly, the best plan may be to arrange for a stay in a boarding facility or to hire a pet-sitter.  For pets who are prone to stress in new places, finding a trustworthy in-home pet sitter may be the perfect option. In many cases the natural choice is a good friend or relative, however you need to take into consideration the following:

  • Consider your friend or family member’s comfort level with your particular pet
  • Is he/she familiar and comfortable with your pet’s daily care needs – for instance if your pet needs medication on a regular schedule, or has a fear of storms, is the caretaker comfortable with managing these additional responsibilities
  • Will your friend or family member provide the same level of care as you would provide.

If you’re doubtful about any of these  consider hiring a professional pet sitter or finding a boarding facility.

Professional Services

It can seem scary to entrust your pet’s well-being to a complete stranger.  Checking references of a boarding facility or pet sitter, as well as to touring the facility or meeting the caretaker of your beloved pet far in advance of your travel date is a good rule of thumb. During these visits, find out how much one-on-one time your pet will get and what he/she will receive, in terms of daily care, interaction, and exercise.  Again if your pet requires special attention such as medications make sure these individuals are comfortable attending to these needs.  Also discuss the “in case of emergency” policy. Obviously boarding with your veterinarian provides a certain level of comfort in knowing that if an emergency occurs your pet is able to quickly receive the attention he/she needs. However, if your veterinarian does not offer boarding be certain that any individuals who take care of your pet are aware of your wishes in case of emergency.


In case of emergency

Remember whenever you ask someone to watch your pet (or even while travelling) it is important to prepare a concise list of emergency contact information.  None of us want to think about the “what-ifs” that could occur while we are gone but knowing that you are prepared for such occurrences will help keep everyone at ease.  The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has put together a great template which you can find here to make certain you are including all the necessary information for your pet during an emergency.

Don’t forget to ensure your pet’s vaccinations and preventives are current (with records as proof), as they will be required at any reputable boarding facility and, in certain cases, at hotels or airports. In addition to vaccinations, ensuring your pet is micro-chipped and that the associated contact information is up to date will greatly increase the likelihood of re-connecting with a lost pet should the worse happen.

If we can be of any assistance in the travel preparations you need to make for your pet, please contact us.

Fourth of July Fun.

Did you know that more pets go missing on July 4th than any other day of the year? Unfortunately the safety concerns surrounding the 4th of July, don’t stop with missing pets.  With a few precautions taken before the big day you can ensure your pet stays happy, calm, and safe.


  • WHERES WALDO – If you know your pet is a flight-risk, be sure to keep him or her indoors or in a secured, escape-proof yard.  This suggestion doesn’t simply apply during the evening’s fireworks.  If you are hosting a barbecue make everyone aware of pets who are not to be let out of the house or yard and perhaps seclude your pet in a room distant from the noise and commotion. Dogs and cats don’t always understand that being inside is the safest place, and will run anywhere to get away from a stressful situation.


  • LICENSE AND REGISTRATION – An up-to-date identification tag greatly increases the chance of a lost pet being returned.  An even better way to ensure a lost pet makes his/her way back home is to have your pet microchipped.  That way if a lost pet is taken to a veterinary clinic or even animal control a simple “scan” of your pet will produce an identification number unique to your pet.  If your pet is already microchipped, make sure to check that your contact information on file is up to date.


  • THE BIG BANG –  If the sound and flash that come with most fireworks aren’t alarming to your pet please be aware that exposure to lit fireworks can potentially result in severe burns and/or trauma to the face and paws of a curious pet.  Many types of fireworks contain potentially toxic substances, so even an unused firework can pose a risk if ingested by your pet.


  • FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD – Even the slightest change in your pets’ normal diet can cause severe tummy troubles.   Heavily seasoned, greasy, or fatty meats can be very hard on an animal’s gastrointestinal system.  Make the grill off-limits and ask party guests to avoid feeding your pet table scraps.  While you’re at it, if you plan to enjoy an adult beverage or two make certain your alcoholic beverages are never left unattended where pets can reach them.

If you follow the above suggestions you will be well on your way to ensuring a low-stress enjoyable day for both yourself and your furry friends.  If you feel that your pets may need something to calm their nerves during the sights and sounds that accompany the traditional 4th of July celebration please take a look at the previous post about “storm phobia” for some tips and tricks to help your pet relax during the ensuing commotion.  If you feel your pet may need more severe medical intervention to prevent the stress and anxiety, ask us today so we can advise you on what is appropriate specifically for your pet.

From our staff at SportsVet to you and yours, we wish you a very happy and safe holiday.


Lawn and Garden Safety


Over the past week I have found myself spending more and more time outdoors as the temperatures rise and the days get longer.  Weekends have been filled with yard work to try and beautify our lawn and (lets be honest here) try to keep alive all the beautiful landscaping that came with the first home we purchased last summer.  I may have been born with ten fingers and ten toes, but I think someone forgot to bless me with the green thumb that seems to have skipped a generation in my family.  However I am doing my best to learn the ins and outs of gardening and landscaping which means I have also been keeping an eye on the products I am using and the plants around my home to insure the safety of my furry children as well as the handful of friendly neighborhood cats.

If you are new to the plant biz (like myself) perhaps you aren’t aware some of the dangers that could befall your four legged furry friends who frequent your yard/garden. There are not only numerous dangerous plants and flowers that are toxic for pets, but there are other things you need to be aware of if you want to have a safe and happy spring:


  1. Toxic Plants:  As you’re coming up with plans for your beautiful new garden, steer clear of plants that are known to be toxic to pets. A few popular spring choices to avoid include the Azalea, Tiger Lily (and most Lilies in general, like Calla Lilies), Crocus, Amarylis, Carnations, Cresanthemums, and the Tulip. Other plants to watch out for include most types of Aloe, select palms such as the Sago, Begonias, most types of Laurel, select Ivy and Fern varieties, and even some Pine trees!

    Be advised that certain plants may seem harmless, but actually have harmful parts that can prove fatal if your pet ingests them, such as Pine tree needles and cones, Daffodil bulbs (or any bulb plant), Jade leaves, etc. As a rule of thumb, if a plant is waxy or has waxy parts to it, it is DEFINITELY dangerous for your pet to consume! It is especially dangerous that some plants such as Palm and Pine trees drop harmful seeds, needles, flowers, etc. because these parts fall onto the ground, where it is in the perfect place for your pet to eat it or chew it up.

    If you choose to have one of these plants in your garden, or it is already there and difficult/impossible to remove the plant, do NOT leave your pet unattended in your garden! If possible, put some sort of barrier around the offending plants, or even coat the plants in a pet-deterrent such as Bitter Apple or Bitter Lime. Take the utmost caution so that your pet does NOT suffer for your garden’s beauty!

    To be absolutely certain that your garden is pet-safe, click here for the ASPCA’s complete list of toxic plants


  2. Baits/Fertilizers:  Snail and rodent baits may be helpful in keeping unwanted pests out of your yard, but these products are also extremely dangerous for pets. Bait toxicity can be fatal, causing blood clotting disorders, brain swelling, or kidney failure. Herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, weed killers, and other garden substances (even if they are all-natural) could cause pet poisoning – especially if your pet licks its paws very often.

    Depending on the ingredients, ingestion of fertilizers can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from gastrointestinal irritation to seizures and death. Fish fertilizer, blood/bone meal and cocoa mulch are highly toxic to pets, so seek immediate veterinary care of you suspect your pet has ingested a dangerous substance.

    A good rule of thumb is to apply any of these products when your pet is secluded indoors and wait several hours for allowing them back in the yard after application.  Watching to ensure your pet is not chewing on grass/weeds in the yard and wiping off paws with a baby wipe after being outside will reduce the risk of intoxication of any of these products.

  3. Lawn Ornaments: Finally, if your pets love to chew, be careful about what kind of decorations you display in your garden or lawn. Dogs are known to try and eat or chew anything they can get their paws on, and NOTHING is exempt from this rule. Dogs seem to have an affinity for decorative rocks, and mulch and can even use your garden gnome as a chew toy, or ingest small objects from that “fairy garden” your kids created. Assume that your dog could and would eat anything, and then plan your lawn or garden display accordingly.


As long as you are hyper vigilant about all of the possible hazards that your garden and yard could entail (there’s a lot of them, so keeping a list could be handy), you’ll be able to relax and be worry-free about your pet enjoying the yard. Pets should be supervised when they are in your yard anyway, even if you have a fence – you never know what or WHO could sneak up on your dog when they least expect it!

Canine Influenza

Do you remember the Great Canine Influenza Outbreak of 2015?  Most of us outside the Chicagoland area were left unaffected but unfortunately Canine Influenza (CIV) seems to be causing quite a stir so far in 2016 with multiple local media outlets covering reports of cases in neighboring McLean county and even at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  Unfortunately, this is an illness that is likely to continue to make headlines in the weeks to come.  I hope to be able to place some of you at ease with some cold hard facts about precautionary measures you can take, and what to expect if your pet is suspected of being affected.

For starters, there are two different dog flu virus strains that the veterinary community is aware of: H3N8 (first reported in the U.S. in 2004, with a vaccine available since 2010) and H3N2. Vaccines are available for both strains of the virus. However similar to a human flu vaccine, having your pet vaccinated against either (or both) strains will not guarantee immunity to the virus but will likely reduce the clinical symptoms of the virus should your pet become infected.

CIV infection is a mild upper respiratory tract infection traditionally characterized by signs of lethargy, anorexia, low-grade fever, yellow or green nasal discharge, and wet cough. The majority of dogs impacted by this illness will recover with symptomatic care and no long-lasting effects.  Few dogs with more severe disease may develop high fever, an increased respiratory rate, and even pneumonia.

If you believe your pet may be infected with canine influenza quick intervention will improve his/her chances for a good recovery.  For those dogs that do contract canine influenza, the focus of treatment is to provide supportive care while the infection runs its course.  Dogs with mild infection may not require any intervention. As stated previously, few dogs will develop a more serious course and may require hospitalization for administration of intravenous fluids, supplemental feeding, and other supportive measures. Those dogs that develop pneumonia may require antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection.  Consult with the staff at SportsVet and discuss any questions or concerns you have about treatment.  If your dog is suspected or confirmed of being infected with CIV it is important to keep him/her at home for 3-4 weeks so as to reduce risk of infection to other people’s pets.

Testing for Canine Influenza can be done by a veterinarian and this discussion can occur when your pet is first seen at the clinic.  Testing requires either a blood sample to be drawn (with an additional sample 10-14 days later) or nasal swabs dependent on the duration of disease. It might take about 2 weeks for the results to return. In the meantime, your veterinarian can start appropriate treatment to make your dog more comfortable.

The big question many of you may be wondering is whether all this hysteria means you have to avoid all possible social locations like kennels, groomers, sporting events, and dog parks at all times? That doesn’t seem feasible, nor according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), is it required, unless there is an established outbreak like that encountered in the Chicagoland area last year. Here are some tips for managing these interactions in a way that will minimize the chances of your dog becoming infected.

  • No greetings. There is a 2-4 day incubation period for canine influenza, and that perfectly healthy looking dog may be shedding the virus even though he isn’t coughing or sneezing. No greetings means no nose-to-nose, no saliva exchange, and no butt sniffing.  Since the virus is exchanged through respiratory secretions, stay out of sneezing/coughing range or other pets when possible.
  • Good hygiene is your friend. Wash your hands, wipe your shoes, and clean your surfaces, especially if you have contact with other dogs.  CIV can be spread by direct contact with infected dogs, or via contact with contaminated objects.  The virus can live on a surface for up to 48 hours.  The good news is that a simple dilute bleach solution (The AVMA recommends 1 part bleach to 30 parts water) to effectively clean contaminated surfaces.
  • To vaccinate or not? Canine flu shots are what we consider “lifestyle” vaccines.  Perhaps you are familiar with another lifestyle vaccination: “kennel cough” (otherwise known as a Bordatella vaccine).  Although not listed in the “core” vaccination requirements for pets, “lifestyle” vaccinations highly recommended for dogs who go to daycare, boarding, dog parks, or play groups. A single dog who rarely leaves the yard will be at considerably less risk for infection.  Remember that the vaccination for H3N2 has only been available since November 2015, so if your dog was vaccinated prior to that, he will only have protection against H3N8.

The bottom line is to use the same train of thought that we as humans use during flu season.  If you can limit exposure to areas where you are at increased risk of becoming ill please do so.  However, we can’t live our lives in a bubble and we can’t expect our pets to do so either and therefore keeping the aforementioned precautions in mind will help to keep your pet as safe as possible.

For more information about canine influenza, contact your veterinarian. To read more about canine influenza, its history and how it’s treated, here are some online resources:

Canine Influenza FAQs from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)

Key Facts about Canine Influenza (Dog Flu) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Merck Animal Health Canine Influenza Information


Whats the big deal about Heartworms?


When it comes to the well being of our furry family members, their heath and happiness is always our priority. One of the best ways to keep your pet(s) healthy is to practice preventative medicine.  Prevention of heartworm disease is a very important piece of the preventative medicine puzzle. The first step in prevention of any illness is having a better understanding of the disease. According to The American Heartworm Society (AHS), more than one million pets in the U.S. have heartworm disease. In addition, (although quite more common in certain territories of the country), heartworm disease has reached all 50 states making this a widespread condition. Transmission of this disease is through mosquitoes, allowing for easy and fast transmission – especially in humid climates, like the southeast. Even states with a more temperate climate like California and Arizona where the disease was once considered rare are no longer safe from the spread.

Affecting both dogs and cats, heartworm disease can be more than just harmful, it can be fatal. Heartworm disease attacks vital functions in our pets including, the heart, lungs and pulmonary blood vessels.  There is an old saying that goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  When dealing with the stress of heartworm disease (physical, mental, and financial) this saying definitely rings true to home. There are a few FAQs I have encountered during my time spent in veterinary medicine and therefore I felt it would be helpful to skew this post in that direction.  Remember if you ever have additional concerns or questions about a topic presented here feel free to leave a comment or even speak to your veterinarian directly for information.

What are Heartworms and how do our dogs get them?  Can other animals or people get them?

A Heartworm is a tiny worm that spends most of it life cycle in a dog’s blood vessels and heart.  These parasites are different than intestinal worms and are spread by contact with mosquitoes.  Dogs can not directly infect you or pass these to other animals.  However, a mosquito that fed on an infected dog can spread the disease to another unprotected dog or cat. Being consistent with your Heartworm preventative will protect your pet and will actually protect many surrounding dogs by minimizing the parasite’s ability to spread. Dogs are the intended hosts for Heartworms but other animals have been known to contract Heartworms. So your kitty is not safe without protection either.  In dogs, the worms can cause asthma like reactions, heart disease, embolus (clot) of the lungs and even congestive heart failure.  Left untreated over time, heartworms are fatal to most infested dogs. Unfortunately not everyone protects their pet against this diseases and the unprotected population keeps the disease a constant threat to all dogs and cats that may miss a dose or two of their medicine.


There are very few reported cases in the United States of a human becoming infected with heartworms.  Therefore, though not impossible to occur, it is certainly not something that I would lose sleep over.

How do you test for this disease?

The easiest method for determining whether your pet has contracted Heartworm disease is to perform a blood test.  This test can be performed in the our clinic here at SportsVet in a matter of moments after acquiring only a few drops of blood from your dog.  This is an important and necessary screening procedure to assure that the medication is continuing to keep your pet safe from the diseases that are prevalent in our area.  In short, it is an essential part of your pet’s preventative care regimen.  We require that your dog be routinely tested at his or her yearly physical exam or if there has been a lapse in treatment as proceeding with preventative in an infected dog without appropriate care can be life threatening .

If your pet is showing signs consistent with the possibility that he or she may have contracted Heartworm disease, we may recommend a more specific test sent to an outside laboratory to confirm the presence of the parasite and the extent of the damage it is causing (we may also recommend a full blood panel as well as chest x-rays).

Isn’t there a treatment for this disease?

If caught early enough there are treatment options to address Heartworm disease.  However, the recommended treatment course for infection may vary from vet to vet, but regardless of which option you choose the risk for reactions (sometimes fatal) to treatment are high and the cost is nothing to laugh at either.  Additionally, once damage has already occurred to the heart and lungs it cannot be reversed.  The gold-standard for early treatment of heartworm disease includes injections with a medication that is frequently in short supply (translation – expensive).  The delicate location of these parasites additionally requires post-treatment precautions, including several MONTHS of strict cage rest.  If these precautions are not followed, life threatening clots move to the lungs, further complicating an already damaged essential organ.  This is why we strongly recommend prevention with a safe and easy monthly treatment. By regularly using preventative you will never know how many times it has protected your furry friend. Think of it this way, most of us have never been hit by a car, but that doesn’t mean we don’t look both ways before crossing the street.

So what can I do about this problem?

The best news about all of this is that prevention of Heartworm disease is very easy.  Your pet does not need advanced treatments or even messy baths or dips.  He or she does not need to take a daily pill, or fancy shots to keep worms at bay.  All that is needed is medicine given once-a-month done in the stress free environment of your own home via an oral pill or a topical medication.

Currently, there are several products available which are both safe and effective in preventing the Heartworms from infesting your furry friend.  SportsVet currently carries multiple products for heartworm prevention in the clinic including Heartguard, Trifexis, and Sentinel for your canine companions (additional options for cats and dogs are available via our online pharmacy).  Due to the vast differences in products available be sure to discuss any questions or concerns about the best product for your pet with your veterinarian or veterinary technician

I’m not sure I can afford preventative.

Ok, so this is not a question, but something that comes up in these difficult times.  I would argue that you cannot afford NOT to use preventatives.  At SportsVet, we try to make Heartworm prevention as affordable as possible. When used correctly it is guaranteed to prevent infestation.  However, if not used and you pet contracts Heartworm disease, the cost of treatment, the emotional toll and the risk to your dog would pay for several lifetimes of prevention.  When you add in the fact that the major Heartworm preventatives also eliminate intestinal parasites that can spread to people, you are getting a great deal of value in a small package.  Certainly, your pooch or kitty will appreciate the safety to run outside free of risk over buying him/her a new collar, toy or bed.  For that much cost you can truly show your pet how much you love him or her.

Ok, now go enjoy the good weather.  If you’d like to review more information please visit

the American Heartworm society’s website




Ditch the Itch

April showers bring May flowers! Unfortunately along with the flowers comes the re-emergence of allergy season.  Nationwide pet insurance, recently sorted its database of more than 550,000 insured pets to determine the top 10 dog medical conditions in 2015. Number one on that list was Skin Allergies.  I have witnessed first hand how very frustrating this situation is for pet owners. The thing is most allergies are multi-factorial. It’s not uncommon to allergy test a pet and see that Max is allergic to more than just the chicken in his dog food, he’s also allergic to molds, fleas, and three different types of grass.  Over the next few paragraphs I hope to at the very least “scratch the surface” on pet allergies and what to do about them.

An allergy is a lifelong, condition where the body reacts to an allergen in a negative way. When left untreated, allergies are frequently known to cause secondary issues, such as skin and ear infections.  (For all of you out there who are less than enthused to have a quick and dirty science lesson on WHY an allergy occurs feel free to skip ahead to the next paragraph, for the rest of you i have done my best to give a CliffsNotes version of allergies in the next few sentences). The first time your pet is exposed to an allergen, his immune system will produce antibodies to it. Each exposure thereafter will cause a reaction to occur. This reaction will release a chemical called histamine, which causes many of the symptoms we see in our pets, collectively termed an allergic reaction. As the body tries to rid itself of the allergens, multiple clinical signs can appear. Essentially, the immune system is registering the allergen as being a dangerous substance that it must get rid of. Unfortunately, because pieces of the immune system are affected by genetics it has been shown that some breeds are more likely than others to struggle with allergies.

There are several common allergens your pet may encounter throughout it’s life including:

  • Pollens
  • Molds
  • Dander
  • Dust
  • Fleas
  • Cigarette Smoke
  • Food
  • Perfume (including air fresheners)

So how will you know if your pet has an allergy? There are many clinical symptoms that are due to a primary allergic condition.  If you witness your pet dealing with any of the following conditions (especially on a chronic basis) perhaps its time to discuss a change in your pet’s current lifestyle. Clinical signs of an allergy may include some or even ALL of the following:

  • ScratchingDog-allergies
  • Runny eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Licking (especially of the paws)
  • Swollen or reddened skin
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Hair loss


What to do

The first step in treating allergies is to isolate and determine the allergen(s) which is causing the reactions. We can break down the most common allergens into four categories: pests (fleas), environment, contact, and food. Sometimes we will use allergy testing to attempt to discern specific allergens.  The question is when we isolate the problem what do we do about it?


One of the most common allergies we see in our patients is caused by fleas.  These allergies are triggered when fleas bite.  Even a single bite as infrequently as every 3-5 days can lead to itching for days. This is just another reason why it is so important to use a flea preventative recommended by your veterinarian.  Every flea preventative is not made equal. In a sea of active ingredients, and topicals vs orals it is important to use a product that is proven effective in not only killing fleas if they bite but preventing them from seeking residence on your pet altogether.

Environmental Allergies

Environmental allergens are those that are inhaled, such as pollen and molds found outside (especially in spring, summer, and in the midwest – during Harvest). Your pet will likely be seen itching his/her feet, ears, groin, and underarms. Environmental allergies can even lead to hair loss in spots around the body from persistent scratching and chewing.


These are the reactions that occur when your pets skin gets in physical contact with a specific substance such as household cleaners, fertilizers, and insecticides. When introducing something new to your pet’s environment it is important to make sure it is not only non-toxic, but that your pet hasn’t picked up new behaviors (itching, licking, chewing) since the use of said product.  If you notice Fluffy developed red paws after you cleaned your hardwood floors, you may want to search for a new product (and keep Fluffy away from the clean floors until a new cleaning method can be used)!


Food related allergies typically develop over time. In stark contrast to the information you have been made to believe by the marketing department of numerous pet foods, a food allergy is more likely to be caused by an animal protein, rather than a carbohydrate.  Now that’s not to say that some pets cannot have allergies to corn, wheat, etc but its also important to consider any preservatives or dyes found in your pet’s diet. Pets with food allergies will likely need a specialized diet. The best way to determine if your pet has a food allergy is to attempt a food trial. This involves feeding your pet a prescription diet based on novel proteins and carbohydrates that he or she has likely never encountered.  A minimum of 10-12 weeks on these diets (without the introduction of any outside food) is necessary to determine whether the source of allergy for your pet is food related. After the allotted period of time you may continue on these specialty diets, or begin to reintroduce foods one at a time to attempt to find the offending culprit for your pet’s clinical signs.


Treating allergies can vary drastically from pet to pet, so it is ESSENTIAL that you speak to your veterinarian as soon as you begin to see signs of allergies in your pets. Nonprescription treatments can be used to treat some allergies. This includes antihistamines, and Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids (these take ~4-6 weeks before taking effect). In fact antihistamines and fatty acids work synergistically, meaning they work even better when used together compared to being used alone! Frequent medicated baths using prescription shampoos may help relieve itchiness as well. Make sure you talk to your vet before giving your pet any over the counter medications for proper dosing instructions.

Patients with severe allergies may be in need of prescription medications. Both injectible and oral steroids can be used to relieve signs of allergies, and are typically the first line of defense for allergies as many patients will respond within a few days of beginning treatment. However, they can have some long-term side-effects so it is important to discuss these with your veterinarian. Multiple other medications may be recommended by your doctor depending on the severity and even frequency of the problem. Allergy injections are other options that can be given to your pet, but it can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months before any results are observed, and unfortunately in some pets, the injections do not give a desired therapeutic response.

Keep in mind that some pets (just like people) only have to battle allergies during certain months of the year.  The unlucky few that are plagued with year round allergies may never be completely free of symptoms but with some hard work and diligent effort we can hope to make both you and your pet comfortable and stress-free.

scratchy dog

The Thunder Rolls


As we jump feet first into Spring, it is easy to get excited about the great things to come.  Grilling outdoors, flowers in bloom, sunshine for days, etc.  Unfortunately while some of us may revel in the winds and showers that April brings, some of our furry counterparts are less than thrilled for the exciting weather developments that accompany the start of Spring.  If you are the owner of a pet with a “storm phobia” you are not alone. It’s a condition we deal with frequently as veterinarians, and sometimes as pet owners ourselves.  Just like a systemic illness each pet with a storm phobia is different. The manifestations and coping mechanisms for each pet’s phobia will vary.  Some cases may be minor, resulting in some restlessness or panting, while other pets end up costing owners large sums of money in home repair as their dog attempts to tunnel through dry-wall or destroy furniture.  Although we may not be able to eradicate the signs of unease in their entirety, it is important to address these behaviors and lessen their severity (as much for your sanity as your pet’s).

Causes and Triggers

Dogs react to a variety of things associated with storms, and it helps to be aware of what these are for your pet. You may never know them all, but at least a general understanding will help you understand the extent of this fear and proactively address the problem.

Loud noises are scary to some dogs, be it the vacuum, an alerting smoke detector, fireworks, etc.  Remember that your dog can hear noises at a much greater distance than humans can, as well as hearing the noise on a different frequency.  Therefore, a dog has early audio warning of an approaching storm, and most storm-phobic dogs eventually start reacting long before the sounds are loud.

Electricity in the air as well as barometric pressure may be major players in inducing storm phobia. For those dogs that have been trained on an electronic collar, this can be confusing and equally more terrifying. Pressure in the air changes as various “fronts” pass through (think about how much your knees and back ache when the temperature drops) and our pets seem to be much more sensitive to those pressure changes; yet another reason our pets display erratic behavior hours before the storm is overhead.

Our pets are typically very aware of “routine” and any change in normal routine may trigger anxiety in your pet.  Be aware that as you take precautionary measures around your home to prepare for an approaching storm your pet may see this as a sign of fearful things to come. If members of the family are fearful, or become irritable with the change in your pets behavior and respond in an unpleasant manner this can feed your pet’s fear resulting in ever-worsening behavior as time goes on.

Anything that has become associated in the dog’s experience with thunderstorms can become a trigger for the fear. So, anytime one of these triggers happens is an opportunity for you to help your dog overcome the fear.

Addressing the problem

Recognizing a problem exists is the first step in correcting the issue. Some animals show overt signs of anxiety including having accidents in the house, panting, drooling, being very clingy or perhaps isolating themselves in a closet or small room. Other signs may be more subtle such as decreased appetite or being less interactive and playful as usual.

There are several options for managing phobias. In mild cases, environmental modification is often enough to keep your pet comfortable. Options like “Thundershirts” or compression vests make some pets feel more comfortable and can be used for any stressful situation – including trips to the vet! Products like Adaptil (an over the counter pheromone based calming product) diffusers or sprays can create a calming environment (Feliway is the kitty version). Creating a “cave” or secluded area can also create a secure feeling for your pet. Sometimes moving your pet’s bed into a small closet, or other enclosed space to reduce noise and visual stimuli will allow him/her to feel protected. Distracting your pet during these stressful times can also be beneficial. For instance, giving a special treat such as a Kong frozen with peanut butter and a few kibbles can keep your pet’s attention focused on happier things. If your pet does not want to be left alone, try engaging him/her in a fun game of fetch or working on tricks for rewards.

Unfortunately many of us like to try and snuggle or soothe our pet in order to help him calm down during these times.  Unfortunately these actions result in your pet feeling “rewarded” for fearful behavior. Rewarding a behavior increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring more often. Instead we recommend giving rewards when the dog is behaving confidently, calmly, or happily. Work with your dog to develop ways to elicit these behaviors frequently so that you can encourage and reward these behaviors during a storm. This is powerful training that will help you and your dog in all aspects of life.

Be aware that fear can be “contagious” from one dog to another. This makes it all the more important to handle both a fearful dog and a companion carefully, in order to insure everyone is as stress-free as possible.

For The Severe Cases

For some dogs, none of the above recommendations seem to help. In these cases, anti-anxiety medications may be the only thing that can relieve their stress and fear. Many people are reluctant to “drug” their dogs, and this is a great reservation to have.  As a veterinarian my goal is to make your pet comfortable, while still allowing him/her to interact with owners and other pets.  Therefore, I attempt to find a medication (or combination of medications) that allows your pet to relax without becoming overly sedate. By using an anti-anxiety medication we may be able to control your pet’s nervous energy by “taking the edge off” while still allowing normal function.  On occasion we will combine both a medication for increasing anxiety as well as a light sedative to find the relief both your pet (and yourself) deserve. These medications coupled with some of the behavior modifiers listed above can help your pet relax through stressful times.

In general, don’t take thunderstorm phobia lightly. Even if the problem seems minor in your pet, when handled badly by humans, the problem will get worse. A dog whose anxiety used to manifest as panting or vomiting during a storm may find itself fleeing the safety of the yard as these problems progress or even jumping through windows if incredibly stressed. This is a major problem that calls for intelligent handling at the first sign. Treat storms as a routine part of life, nothing to fear, and even perhaps occasion for some special times. Do these things before your dog ever shows signs of phobia, and you will set yourself up for an easy road ahead.