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Answers to some of your most common questions:

Pets' teeth build up tartar and plaque just as ours do. As the tartar builds up it causes gum recession and inflammation, a breakdown of the tooth's ligament attachments, and eventually tooth loss. The bacteria associated with tartar is also a risk for infection, not only in the mouth but elsewhere in the body. Regular cleaning is an important part of keeping your pet healthy.

Although cleaning without anesthesia is appealing, it does not properly get the job done and is actually poor tooth care. Not all of the surfaces can be reached during this procedure and the teeth are not polished after the cleaning, leaving microscopic scratches that actually attract tartar quicker and it leaves a false sense of security that our pet's teeth are being properly cared for. Any dental work other than brushing (at home or at the groomer) that is done without a supervising veterinarian present is illegal.

Yes. While heartworm cases were rare in San Diego County, in the last several years the number of reported cases in the county has increased greatly. A yearly heartworm test is recommended along with a monthly heartworm preventative.

A microchip is a good idea. It is a very small metal chip implanted under the skin with a needle. The number on the chip is on file with a national registry so if a pet becomes lost there is an easy method to find its owner. ID tags and collars can come off. We have had many animals found and reunited with their families because they have a microchip.

We are lucky to live in a climate without a lot of internal parasites. Most commonly we see worms and parasites in puppies and kittens, and tapeworms in adult dogs and cats. Tapeworms are common because they are transmitted by fleas. You can generally see them in your pet's stool, or on their rear area, and are usually described as "grains of rice." They are easily treated with one injection.

Since parasites are common in puppies and kittens, deworming is a standard procedure.

A fecal exam should be performed on all new puppies and kittens, all newly acquired pets (unless adopted from the humane society where this has generally already been done), and then once yearly as part of a preventive-health-care program.

A year in a pet's life is much different than a year in human life. Many more changes take place within that time. Your pet should be examined annually to see if it is at the right weight, to see if a teeth cleaning is necessary, to evaluate the diet, to go over flea control, and administer any vaccines that might be due. Also, skin changes or growths may be discovered that were not noticed by the owner.

Any animal that is on prescription medication must be examined annually to allow the medication to be refilled by law.

The only reason not to spay or neuter is if you plan to breed your pet.

Otherwise, all pets should be neutered. In females, neutering prevents unwanted heat cycles every 6 months and eliminates the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. It also helps prevent mammary cancer, and a potentially life-threatening condition of the uterus called pyometra.

In males, it prevents unwanted behaviors such as aggression, urinating inappropriately to mark territory and mounting. It also helps prevent prostate disease, testicular cancer and several types of hernias. There are no negative sides to neutering. Weight gain can occur because of hormone changes, but this is easily controlled with the proper diet.

All dogs should be vaccinated for Rabies and DHLPP (Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, Parvo). Puppies receive a series of 3 DHLPP vaccines starting at approximately 8 weeks old and these are given at 3-4 week intervals.

The Rabies shot is given any time after 4 months of age. They will receive a booster of DHLPP and rabies at one year of age and every 3 years thereafter. Rabies vaccination and licensing are required by law. Dogs who go to kennels, dog parks, or groomers should also be vaccinated for a kennel cough with the Bordetella vaccine (kennels usually require it, as do some groomers). This vaccine is given annually.

All cats should be vaccinated for FVRCP (Feline viral rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, Panleukopenia).

Kittens receive 3 vaccines starting at approximately 8 weeks and these are given 3-4 weeks apart. Since 2 of these are airborne diseases, and the third can be tracked in, even exclusive house cats should get these vaccines. They are boosted at 1 year and then every 3 years. Cats who spend a lot of time outdoors should also be vaccinated for FLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) and rabies. Kittens receive 2 FLV vaccines 3-4 weeks apart and the rabies shot is given any time after 4 months old. These vaccines are boosted at 1 year and then every 3 years thereafter. Some boarding kennels may require your cat to have a rabies vaccine before it boards, even if it does not go outside.

There are so many varieties of dog and cat food for different ages, weights, activity levels, breeds, and health problems that this is a question that does not have a general answer. Puppies should receive a puppy diet until age 1. Older dogs should consider a senior diet after age 7. This also applies to cats. Because of the different nutritional content, dogs and cats should not eat each other's food.

There are many good brand-name diets on the market and we do not specifically prefer one over the other. Diet should always be discussed at your pet's annual exam and the doctor may make recommendations based on your pet's specific needs. Diet choices are especially important for pets that have allergies, Diabetes or gastrointestinal problems.

In general table, food should be kept to a minimum, and only healthy items like lean cooked meats and vegetables should be allowed. Never feed your pet raw meat or animal bones. If your pet is having an upset stomach the doctor may recommend a bland diet for a few days. Please always contact our offices if your pet is ill to determine if a visit is necessary, or if it is an emergency, go to a veterinary emergency center.

Bland Diet:
Any low-fat protein such as all white meat chicken breast, no fat or skin, boiled or baked. Very lean (cooked) ground turkey, canned tuna packed in water, and low-fat or nonfat cottage cheese are alternative protein choices. The protein should be paired with a simple carbohydrate, usually cooked white rice. You may also purchase a bland diet pre-packaged from a pet store, however making your own at home is usually cheaper and simpler.

Though all dogs and cats have anal glands, some pets can naturally express their glands on their own, while others need to be manually expressed. The glands are thought to be a territorial scent marker and may have acted as a lubricant for hard stool. If glands are not expressed and continue to fill with material, it can lead to an irritation, infection or rupture and may require medication. In rare situations, surgery is required.

You can tell if your pet needs to be expressed if he/she begins "scooting" behavior, dragging his/her rear on the ground, or if you smell the very distinctive smell, often described as rotting fish or eggs. It is a very simple, inexpensive and usually painless visit to have the glands expressed, usually around 15 minutes at our clinic. The frequency of this visit depends on the pet and can vary from never to once a month to once every six months.

Some owners feel comfortable expressing the glands on their own at home. We offer demonstrations at our clinic. Though some cats do need their glands manually expressed, it is a much more common occurrence in dogs. The need for anal gland expression is more common in overweight pets.

Cats groom themselves and baths are not usually necessary, especially if the cat is indoor only. Some cats will allow you to bathe them, and others may be very difficult. In general, most cats do not like getting wet. If your cat has fleas, administer monthly flea preventative. Baths are ineffective at eliminating fleas. Be sure not to bathe your pet right after applying a topical flea preventative.