Holiday Sanity

My kids are calling this “The Year the Remodel Stole Christmas!”
We are having a bit of work done at our house, and as always seems to happen, it has snowballed.
Our poor cats and dog have been confined to the girls’ bedrooms for many days now, and I am trying to keep them as “stress free” as possible! The holidays are stressful enough for pets and this has definitely added to the chaos. I’m using “happy kitty spray” (Feliway) and “happy doggy spray” (Adaptil) in their respective rooms to try to help them cope along with their favorite bedding toys and treats. So far, everyone seems to be coping well.

Here are some links to more helpful tips on avoiding holiday hazards for pets:

Winter Holiday Hazards for Pets - from the ASPCA Poison Control Center
Holiday Travel Planning - Dogs: coming, going or staying
New puppy for Christmas or Hanukah? - some things to consider when getting a new pet at the holidays or anytime

Ethnobotany and Zoopharmacognosy

This August, I attended the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) meeting. This is an annual meeting that I try to get to as often as possible, especially with my herbal studies. The Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association (VBMA) meets in conjunction with this group, and they had some great talks including the topic of ethnobotany, the study of how different cultures traditionally and currently use plants as medicine, food, fibers, building materials, currency and more. Of course the VBMA’s interest is the medicinal use of plants, specifically for animals. It is fascinating to look at traditional uses of plants that are found locally for various cultures, and now with modern scientific capabilities see how these plants’ components and chemicals have specific effects on the body — liver, heart, and immune support, for example. Many of our modern medicines come from these plant chemicals, and pharmaceutical companies are constantly studying the plant world to find the next miracle cure — things our ancestors were discovering by trial and error, and a bit of intuition, long ago!

The amazing thing is that animals too sometimes seem to pick out specific herbs for certain ailments, this is called “zoopharmacognosy”. There are many examples of field biologists observing animals from monkeys and apes to rabbits, birds, elephants and more as they search out specific plants for their parasite infections, fevers or other discomforts. While Wikipedia is not my first go-to source of scientific information, this article is simple and links to a few fun and interesting studies:

This is not always the case: farm animals as well as dogs and cats will eat poisonous plants. I think it has something to do with the loss of some natural instincts with domestication — use it or lose it! Also, most of our domestic animals are confined, either outside by fences or indoors, and do not have access to the “right” plants and may sometimes make poor choices with what they have available. Wild animals will also eat plants they shouldn’t at times. It may have to do with habitat changes and destruction, or is this hit or miss? Is zoopharmacognosy a repeatable phenomenon? And what about the age-old question - Why does my dog eat grass and then vomit? Is it because he feels like he needs to vomit, or is it the grass that makes him vomit? I have to say there are times when our dog just seems desperate to eat grass and then vomits and seems to feel much better. This is obviously a topic that we will be hard-pressed to ever find all of the true answers to.

Whatever the reasons, it is fascinating to know that every healthy ecosystem that traditional cultures have lived in has the variety of plants with just the right phytochemicals to treat ailments and injuries common to that area. One herb that I use quite often for my animal patients is Ashwagandha, used in India for as long as history remembers. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is what herbalists call an “adaptogen”, which basically means that it has constituents that support general cell function, helping the body to “adapt” to stresses. Especially in my geriatric patients, I get reports that the animals often just seem to feel better, brighter, more active, better appetite. There is still so much to learn about plants and their actions and research is at an all time high. I stick to the most safe, gentle, supportive herbs for my patients, and I am seeing some really nice results for pancreatitis, liver disease, diabetes, as well as cancer and other conditions. Herbs are not cure-alls, and I am extremely grateful for many of the advances of modern medicine, but their supportive benefits through the ages cannot be denied.

Animals are good for our health!

Of course it is important for us to care for our animals’ health, but it is good to know that they are caring for us as well!

This May, the American Heart Association published an article in the journal
Circulation referencing multiple studies showing that pet ownership often decreases blood pressure, cholesterol, stress and anxiety, and even body weight in people. Dog ownership got high marks due to the exercise inherent with daily walking regimes, though other pets have been studied as well, especially cats, but also less conventional animals including goats, chimpanzees, snakes, fish and “virtual pets.”

People with pets had significantly
lower resting baseline heart rates and blood pressure,
significantly smaller increases in heart rate and blood pressure
in response to stress, and faster recovery...

I know I personally enjoy coming home to a dog that’s happy to see me and take me outside to check on the garden, and there is nothing more comforting than a warm purring cat to cuddle up with in the evening. I need to remember to thank them more often for their gifts.

Love and Cats

Driving along listening to NPR today, I heard an interview with author Peter Trachtenberg discussing his book “Another Insane Devotion - On the Love of Cats and Persons”
(Talk of Iowa link). He discusses the love of his cat and his distress when she is lost while he is out of town (and apparently makes many correlations with his ex-wife and pending divorce at the timeprobably not recommended for children…) I have not read the book, but the interview was intriguing, especially the part where he asked the petsitter to go outside calling the cat’s name in a falsetto voice “Biscuit, Biscuit, Biscuit.” I have a more generic cat call in a similar voice that my kids call a yodel, “kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty,” that I developed over many years in my desert childhood, especially when the coyotes were acting up!

Love for animals is difficult to explain at times, but undeniable.

link to NY Times review:

On the Love of Cats and Persons
By Peter Trachtenberg

Nature observations

Spring and Summer are great times to connect with nature—whether that nature is in your personal animal companions or the wild world around you outside. I strive to fit a little nature time in every day. Ideally this include sitting outside in my "sit spot”—a quiet space in my yard for a few minutes to an hour, just depending on my day. The longer and more regularly I sit, the more the animals and birds become accustomed to my presence and get on with their daily work of gathering food, nest materials, mates, whatever is needed in the season, and announcing and defending their territories.

There are so many simple, yet very complex lessons that can be learned from the natural world. The thing that continues to amaze me is that no matter what is going on in my life or the greater human world, here in this little corner life continues on, day to day just as it always has. It has to, or the creatures would not survive, and of course they have their own daily life struggles to contend with. The plants have such incredible survival instincts as well. This is obvious when you see the dandelions and other "weeds" pushing up between sidewalks, striving to continue on no matter what.

I invite you to take some time during these fabulous seasons that pull us outdoors more and more, to stop and just sit quietly, even if only for a few minutes, and marvel at the life that surrounds you and know that it will persevere, adapting and changing form, it continues on.


I want to offer my sincere gratitude for all who responded to my client survey a few months ago. The results are in, and the most important reason that people choose housecalls for their pets is to reduce the stress their animals experience during a visit to the veterinarian. Not surprising is the second most common response that housecalls reduce the stress on pet owners as well :) Convenience and personal, un-rushed attention were also mentioned as valuable parts of my services. I very much appreciate the kind comments and suggestions that I received. I have to say, doing housecalls is less stressful on the veterinarian as well! I so enjoy seeing my patients and their families in their home without the distractions of others waiting that allows me to focus on one patient at a time.

There are times, however, when my patients need to take a trip into a standing veterinary clinic for care and I would like to offer some suggestions to make the best of those trips and to decrease stress for all involved.

  • Always, Always, Always control your animal - leashes for dogs, enclosed carriers for cats. I have seen too many animals become frightened at the veterinary clinic and escape from their owners. It’s just not worth the risk, and creates a more frightening experience for the animal. Cats feel more secure and are safer inside a carrier - no matter how much they complain!
  • Give yourself plenty of time so you don’t feel rushed. Animals feel our anxieties and this can add to their own uncertainties about new situations.
  • Use plenty of treats and praise for those who like that sort of thing.
  • Practice ahead of time. Teach your dog to be comfortable on a leash and to ride in the car (use some sort of car restraint to keep dogs safe in the car as well!) Cats that are used to having a carrier out, with a cozy towel in it, are more likely to identify it as a great, safe hiding place and not something that only comes out when it’s time to go to the vet.
  • Feliway spray can reduce anxiety in cats (it can also be great for anxiety in the home, housesoiling, and certain veterinary visits… I spray it on my towels that I use for exams)

For more tips on traveling with cats see

I have some patients that would not see a veterinarian if I did not come to their home. Unfortunately this is true for many animals, especially cats. I often see animals nearing the end of life that have not had veterinary care due to this stress associated with veterinary visits. It is a bit of a “soapbox” for me that these animals should receive care, especially in their geriatric years. Often simple supportive treatments can make a huge difference in their lives. The veterinary world has begun to embrace a kindler gentler approach to these patients - the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) has instituted a “Cat Friendly Practice” certification for clinics. It is my hope that people will seek out veterinarians that take these animal needs into account so their pets can continue to have great veterinary care with a little less stress!

Spring is Here! Along with some unwanted guests...

Winter had a late start for us here in Iowa and it has held on a bit longer than some of us would prefer, but Spring is winning out. The birds are singing us awake with a strong Dawn Chorus and buds and sprouts are appearing everywhere we look.

Along with the joys of Spring come the little challenges - mosquitoes, fleas and ticks are on their way as well. This is your reminder to be sure you are using your monthly preventatives. As much as I try to minimize pharmaceuticals and chemicals, these monthly preventatives are a small drop when compared to the diseases they prevent. Heartworm, spread by mosquitoes, can be deadly and Lyme disease, carried by some of the ticks in our area, is not much fun to live with either. Fleas, ear mites, and the parasites that these medications help control for dogs and cats can also diminish your animal’s (and you family’s!) quality of life.

Over the counter flea and tick control products are responsible for the largest percentage of pet emergency room visits due to toxicity. This is most often due to misinterpretation of labeling or the purchase of the wrong product or dosage. For this reason, because I have researched my products carefully, and know how they have been stored since arriving directly from the manufacturer, I have much more confidence in the flea, tick and heartworm preventatives that I carry. If you need to re-stock your supplies for the season,
contact me and I will arrange a delivery for current patients.

Resolution to Move!

Happy New Year to all!

It is that time of year when we reassess our lives and goals for the future. I find goals or intentions to be better words than “resolutions”. Resolution is such a heavy word and they are so often dropped early in the year. This should be something within reach, that can be accomplished with a bit of perseverance.

I am feeling almost back to my normal self after 8+months of fatigue and arthritis (viral cause apparently). Thank you for your kind comments - it was really mild compared to what many people go through on a daily basis, but definitely a wake-up call for me! I have always felt better when keeping up with regular exercise and this experience just re-enforced that need to MOVE my body, joints, everything. So that is my intention for the year - to keep moving! Our animals, arthritic or not, can also benefit from this wisdom.

Here are some ideas for animal health goals for the new year:

  • Exercise: Yes, this is the one most of us struggle with and, not surprisingly, our animals struggle right alongside of us. The solution? Get out for a walk with your dog - it will be good for both of you! Cats, well, while there are a few that I have known that love to walk with their people, many are indoors (a double-edged sword for their health - no cars, predators or feline leukemia, hopefully, indoors, but a challenge to keep moving!) Click here for some ideas to keep your pets active indoors or out.

  • Diet and weight loss: This should go hand-in-hand with the previous entry as the top New Year’s Resolution. Reducing intake and treats can be critical to all of our well-being. Consider the amount fed as treats in training, and otherwise, as part of the daily food intake and take into consideration the relative size of the creature doing the eating. Small dogs need small treats! (though they may try to tell you otherwise.) For information of feeding click here.

  • Dental Health: Dedicate yourself to dental health by brushing your pet’s teeth regularly (daily is ideal, but anything is a beginning!). I have to give a huge plug for my husband and his dedication to our dog, Phidy. He has been brushing his teeth regularly and is quite dedicated to avoiding future dental disease and its costs (financially and health-wise)! Click here for dental care tips.

  • Grooming: Regular brushing and nail trimming are important maintenance requirements for many animals. To keep painful mats from forming in longer coats, develop a daily brushing routine that is pleasant-use treats, go slow and make it a positive bonding experience and it will be easier to keep up with. Nail trimming can often be done in a stress-free way using treats and positive reinforcement. Gradually training your animal to allow you to trim even just one nail a day can make a big difference in the long run. For trimming and brushing help click here.

  • Training: So many pets lose their lives due to training and behavior issues that you could say it definitely affects their health! Early and often are the best times for training - consistency in your expectations and regular positive reinforcement can make a huge difference. Look for more resources in the Training section.

Now is the time to re-dedicate to those goals of improving your pets’ health. What does your pet need to work on this year?

Email your pet healthcare goals to me and I can help to keep you on track with reminders and check-ins.