Geriatric support

I spend a lot of time during housecall visits discussing care for our older animals. I often wonder if things would be different if we had started preventative measures sooner. Supplements like fish oil and glucosamine/chondroitin have some good evidence that they are helpful in maintaining joint health and are anti-inflammatory among other benefits. Many of the herbs that I use in my formulas for geriatric patients have evidence of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, general organ support and stimulation of the circulation—getting the blood where it needs to go to keep joints and brains healthy. Simple things like exercise and massage help keeps things moving as we all age, also making adjustments to the physical environment to decrease slips and falls, safe steps and ramps and carpeting can help as our animals become less stable on their feet. This can be a long conversation, different for every individual, and I’m sure much of what I’ve said is soon forgotten, so I have added a new page to the pet care section devoted to our elderly loved ones. This, as with all of the informational pages, is intended as a reminder and conversation starter for housecall visits and ongoing communication needed in caring for our animals at various stages in their lives. I hope it is helpful.

Senior care

General pet care

Stop and smell the...

Phidy caterpillar
Lessons in Thanksgiving, Gratitude and Wonder from my dog:
Enjoy the simple things; curiosity is an incredible guide.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Yes, the food is always wonderful, but I like it the most for its message and reminder to give thanks for what we have and for those around us. In our busy world, it is so easy to get in a rut moving from one urgency to the next. It is nice to have a weekend that reminds us to slow down, spend time with family and friends and to live in gratitude every day.

As I am welcomed into people’s homes as their veterinarian I am often privileged to hear the stories and struggles that people face in their lives. I am humbled by the difficulties that many of my families have been through in the past year, and also in so many lifetimes. And yet they carry on, continue to live and to love, and to find the beauty that surrounds us. We don’t have to look far to see a bird soaring, hear the music of the wind swaying in the trees, and appreciate the art of those amazing ice crystals that have been falling from the sky lately! There are so many wondrous things that surround us
nature, music, art, lifeIncluding those creatures that we purposefully bring into our lives that bring us endless entertainment, curiosity and love. Our animals seem to have such a way of living life simply and fully every day. There is so much we can learn from them if we take the time to observe and listen to them.

As you make preparations for the day of Thanks, and even when you’re cleaning up afterward, take a moment, or longer, to reflect on what you are grateful for, what amazes you, and how fortunate you really are.

Ebola Prevention

An herbalist buddy of mine contacted me last week to see what my herbal recommendations were for Ebola, knowing my husband is a public health guy. Well, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) came out last month with a very strong statement saying herbs and alternative therapies were absolutely not useful in treating Ebola. This was rather insulting to the "alternative" therapy community, but I believe the statement was made out of the concern that people would forego proper medical supportive treatment trusting only to these alternative therapies. That is the difference between “complementary” and “alternative” therapies—in complementary or integrative medicine all effective therapies can be used to work together. Personally, if I were to come close to an area of ebola outbreak, I would be doing everything I could to boost my immunity, support general health and preventative care, stress management, hygiene, whatever treatments the doctors offer and prayer! Some herbs have direct anti-viral effects, others help the body to combat disease on its own. I imagine people are willing to try anything and everything at that point. As long as it is not harmful or weakening the body's defenses, why not give it a try?

There are a lot of questions in the media about Ebola infections as well as concerns about animal reservoirs. I’m sure there will be more information to follow, but for now, here is a link to the CDC info page:
Ebola and pets The short of it: “At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or animals.

My husband, Radford, has a nice
blog on Ebolaorigins and prevention through food. One of the biggest reasons for the current outbreak are poverty and malnutrition and the eating of infected "bushmeat". Don't eat infected bushmeat.

And hey, we just got the first
Heifer International holiday catalog. No time like the present to send food to Africa. Some of the photos that Radford took in Sierra Leone are of families with their Heifer goats.

Fall Education

Fall is "meeting season" for me. Two of my main meetings that I try to get to every year always seem to happen within a month of each other every fall. I just returned from the AHVMA (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association) meeting in conjunction with the VBMA (Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association). Such an amazing assortment of veterinarians trying to make the world a better place through kinder gentler treatments that support the body's natural healing abilities. Lectures on nutrition, herbs, essential oils, acupuncture (watch out, I've taken some general courses and have needles...), and many other topics. There is a strong movement to have scientific verification and proof that these therapies are genuine. What is being discovered about the effects of acupuncture on the nervous system and blood circulation is fascinating. As with the herbs, I need to see these things work for myself and enjoy the science along with the history and tradition that created these therapies when they were the only options for our ancestors. Yes, modern medicine is fabulous and saves lives, but there is still so much that we don't know about traditional as well as modern therapies.

My next meeting is in October, the
IAAHPC (International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care). Again, another incredible group of people, passionate about what they do to help animals and their people. I have been on the Board of Directors for this group for the last year and helped create the animal hospice guidelines the year before. There is still a lot to be done including more education and working towards a certification course for veterinarians, also for veterinary technicians and others involved in caring for animals at the end of life. I feel very fortunate (and busy!) to be involved with these projects and to watch this field grow.


This summer, while visiting family for my nephew’s wedding, we were invited to an educational facility in California dedicated to wolves. Now, wolves are awesome creatures and, as a family, we are dedicated to wildlife and environmental conservation and often work with our local wildlife rehabilitator (Iowa Wildlife Center!), so when we were invited to “play with the wolves,” well, my veterinary brain immediately said, “Wow, really? Is this safe?” and then, “But these are wild animals, wild animals are always wild” and then, “How is this fair to the wolves? They aren’t going to be released after this are they?” among other questions...

So I did a bit of checking, looked at their website with photos and realized—these are wolf-dog-hybrids. This made me feel a bit better about being the professional veterinary representative for my sister’s entire extended family of in-laws, but not by much. Also, “playing” was limited to standing quietly and letting them sniff you, handing them treats in a controlled environment and absolutely no running. I have seen wolf-hybrids as patients and generally they have been a bit more cautious than your average labrador, but otherwise manageable and these animals were certainly more socialized than most of my patients. I was curious, as was the rest of the group, so we left all small children at home (after my sister’s instructions— “no running around screaming like a wounded rabbit!”) and ventured off to see what we would see.

We started with an educational program which included a 4 minute video
How Wolves Change Rivers. This is an over-simplified view of the complex ecological interactions in the wild, but is pretty cool anyway. It talks about how re-introducing the larger predators in Yellowstone decreased the elk population and changed their habits allowing the plant life around the water sources to recover providing shelter for other birds and mammals with an interesting trickle-down effect (pardon my pun). This effect has been discussed in other documentaries that I have seen.

Before the actual wolf interaction we were given instructions not to hug the wolves around the neck or approach them from overhead, which can be intimidating or seen as a show of aggression—also good tips for approaching a strange dog! The owners seemed to have a good understanding of animal behavior, motivation and training. These were definitely food-motivated animals and worked for their food. Some of them had been used in movies (this was California after all). Overall, I felt that the owners knew their animals, and worked hard to minimize risk (a couple of the wolves were more shy and not allowed in with us). Mostly these “wolves” behaved like dogs, looking for treats and wanting to be petted. This organization seemed to be a way for this couple, with their pack of wolf-hybrids, to follow their passion and educate about the wolves at the same time. Their message seemed to focus on busting the myths of the evil wolf wanting to eat us. It did concern me that somewhere in the translation we were losing respect for their wildness. The truth is somewhere in-between, along with these hybrids, in that muddy middle-ground. I just hoped these people had really good liability insurance! Because, still, a wild animal is always wild. I would not have been in there with a “tame” grizzly or mountain lion, even in California.

I thought a lot about wildness that day. What makes an animal wild, what allows them to be domesticated and where is that line drawn. It is fascinating to imagine our distant ancestors and their first interactions with the wolves that would eventually become our domestic dogs, from Pugs to Great Danes. I realized that I often approach my patients as if they were wild and unpredictable, especially cats. I respect their inner beast, inner wildness and learn as much as I can about their body language and subtle communications, basic dislikes—like being approached directly from the front or over the top. The owner of this wolf center talked about a recent wildfire that devastated the area around them and with that too he spoke of knowing fire and wind patterns, how with understanding we can decrease if not completely eliminate fear. Fear certainly has its place and if controlled can give us caution, common sense. Most of us have to go out our front door and face some fear everyday, even if it is not a wolf-pack!

Crate Training Cruel?

I have had a few interesting conversations recently about crate training dogs. One concerned of a lovely little emotional support dog that travels almost everywhere with her person. This dog is totally calm and quiet in all kinds of social situations, can handle loud traffic and long bus rides. However, since this dog has been a near constant companion, she was not trained to be left at home alone as a puppy. Unfortunately she has trouble with separation anxiety now on those rare occasions when she must be left behind. I suggested getting her accustomed to a crate initially when people are home, then for short periods alone, gradually increasing that time. My suggestions were initially met with, while not exactly horror at the suggestion, let’s just say distaste and pessimism.

This reminded me that there are people who feel that crate training is cruel and think of it more as a punishment tool. That is not the idea of using a crate at all, though yes it can be cruel when used for punishment and isolation. Most of us cannot take our pets everywhere with us and must help them to adjust to time at home alone. When properly introduced the crate can become a comfortable den, a safe-haven to return to and to sleep in, and a great way to keep puppies out of trouble when they are not being supervised—much better than a rolled up newspaper!

Once house training is established (and this can take 1-2 years due to puppy chewing behaviors, so be patient!), dogs can transition to a pet bed in a quiet corner or bedroom, or alternatively, the crate can be left out for sleeping and calming for anxious dogs when visitors arrive. Crates can help with separation anxiety and destructive behaviors, often used in combination with safe chew toys or treat dispensers, which work well as a distraction and to re-direct behaviors. And for those pups that can’t stand to say goodbye, keep farewells and greetings calm and not too dramatic. Don't make a big deal of it, set the example for calm behavior.

I’ve even used the large dog crates for kittens until they could be left alone in a single room, gradually enlarging their territory when I felt confident that the litterbox and scratching post training was in place! Leaving a carrier crate out for cats and small dogs with a cozy bed inside is a great way for them to develop a comforting reaction to the crate rather than the panic it can create when it only comes out for travel, trips to the veterinarian, groomer or oh, say, tornado! Using treats and familiar bedding can help to acclimate animals that have not previously been trained to use a crate. Make it a positive experience, don’t close the door on them at first, let them explore until it feels comfortable, this may take days—or months. Only leave them for short periods initially, gradually increasing their time as needed. Crates can be a great place for calming, relaxing and sleeping, but remember that animals are living, breathing, thinking creatures that need mental, physical and social activity and should not be left alone for extended periods of time.

For more on training
check here

Rat Poison Can Kill Pets, Wildlife Too

This came up recently in a question from a client with D-con in the garage. Luckily no pets got sick, but here is a timely piece that I heard in the car yesterday on NPR. A charismatic red-tailed hawk, in Cambridge, MA, was found dead of rat poisoning drawing attention to how these baits can kill more than their intended victims. I saw a few too many cases of rat poison exposure in my days as an emergency vet to be comfortable with it!

Here is a link to the show:
Here and Now

Heartworm Prevention for Cats and Dogs

After a long cccold winter here in Iowa, we are ready for some warm weather and sunshine! Our insect brethren are also enjoying the warm-up, and the beneficial, as well as the ones of questionable benefit, are starting to show themselves. The big question at our house is always: What good are mosquitoes? What purpose do they serve, but to annoy and infect? Well, they do provide lots of good meals for the bats! That’s been our best answer.

For our pets, especially dogs, heartworm disease is a big concern. Spread by mosquito bites, the larvae take about 6 months to grow into adult worms in the heart, causing significant problems for heart and lung function as you can imagine! Cats are more resistant to heartworm infection (and people are very resistant, in case you were wondering!), but also show different signs than dogs, because the worms are more likely to travel to their lungs, and well, cats just like to be different. In dogs, though the worms can affect many body systems, the general signs are similar to heart failure--decreased energy, exercise intolerance, coughing, among other signs. For cats, the cough is a prominent sign, mimicking feline asthma, which is a more commonly seen condition. Unfortunately, for cats the most common sign of heartworm disease is sudden death of unknown cause. For both species, there are often no signs until the infection is causing serious disease. This is why prevention is such a big deal (also because treatment is difficult and very expensive…)

People often feel that their indoor cats are safe from mosquito bites, but some do spend some time on decks and porches, often at dawn or dusk - prime mosquito time! So repair those screens, and consider monthly heartworm prevention for your indoor cats as well. Here is more information from the AAFP (Association of Feline Practitioners):
Feline Heartworm Disease and HARD

And more from the great website :
Canine Heartworm Disease

If you need refills or want to get started on Heartworm prevention for your dog or cat, please
contact me.

Dog Food Allergies and Cat Litter

It can be challenging for me to address issues that affect dogs and cats in one short blog, but this one presented itself recently and I thought I would share. Perhaps I share a bit too much personal information, but in the name of education, here goes...

Our dog, Phidippides, Phidy, Dippy,... is a chocolate labrador (mix? Genetic history unknown). As with many labs, he sometimes show signs of food allergies, which in dogs is often displayed as skin problems—itchy skin, especially licking and chewing of the feet as well as inflamed itchy ears prone to recurrent infections. He had been doing very well, and we thought we had a good diet for him, eliminating grains (wheat and corn are often allergic instigators) and finding a food with a single source of meat, no beef, which is a common allergen for dogs as well. But in the past few months he has begun chewing his feet again. Yes, allergies can pop up at any time to any ingredient and the search for the right food can be a challenge, so like any good pet owner, I ignored it hoping it would go away.

As back story, we have been doing some winter remodeling and Phidy has spent a lot more times with the cats, James and Sirius, needing to be locked in the same room while workers do this and that around the house. Luckily they all get along just fine and the cats can get up high in their cat tree if he gets annoying—cat food also goes up out of reach (though there are occasional moment of unintended sharing when a morsel drops to the floor). He did make a seemingly new discovery with so much leisure time with his small furry buddies. The litterbox. I didn't think much of it—yes, he's a dog and it is a disgusting joy of dog-hood—until his feces looked like it did the time he decided to eat a whole bag of my daughter's rat food (yes, we keep the whole food chain going in our house.) The puzzle pieces began to fit together and finally I could no longer ignore the obvious. The cat litter, "World's Best Cat Litter" (a pretentious name, but I do prefer it to clay), is made from corn. Oh. Hmmm. That could be the problem. Our previous lab, Midnight, could not nip popcorn from the floor without having a severe skin reaction. It turns out that Phidy was occasionally ingesting larger amounts from the litter box than previously suspected (though even tiny amounts of a food that causes allergies can lead dogs to ravenously try to chew their feet off).

To give this story a happy ending, measures have been put in place to better block the cat box from reach and interestingly enough, his itchy feet are doing much better!

Questions about dogs and allergies?
Questions about choosing cat litter?
Contact me :)

End-of-life Care and Cancer

This past fall and winter have seen more losses than most years for me. A few of my long-time patients died, and though of course every animal that I see is special and loved, these were ones that I had connected with in friendship with their families for a long time. Human lives were lost with the passing of my father-in-law this past year as well as a dear friend and client. Losses occur every year and sometimes we are more closely involved with them than others. Winter seems like the fitting time of year to take a moment to honor and remember these loved ones while balancing that by looking forward to the budding new life of spring. The circle of life continues on, as it should.

As many of you know, my housecall services include end-of-life care for animals including euthanasia, but also consultations in animal hospice and palliative care which supports human families in addition to quality of life during the animal’s last days. These preparations for the inevitable include discussions of animal and human losses past and future. Every loss we experience brings up memories, worries and concerns that are a constant reminder to cherish our loved ones, and in my world this very much includes our animal loved ones.

Two very special new friends that I met last fall were Randy and his border collie, May. May was diagnosed with cancer at ISU and given little time to live. I had the good fortune of meeting with her for five and a half months before her time came to journey on. My husband, Radford Davis- public health veterinarian/ documentary photographer- was able to take some photos for Randy while May was still feeling pretty good. I really feel like these photos and his words explain what I do with animal hospice and palliative care.

Here is a link to his photo session at

Click here for more information on animal hospice and palliative care.


Many of these losses over the past year were due to cancer. So many factors are involved, from genetic to environmental influences that it can be overwhelming to think about trying to prevent it, and very often despite our best efforts, we cannot. Some are sudden, aggressive cancers with very little time to adjust to the idea, while others we are able to control or palliate for longer. Aside from specific surgery or chemotherapy referrals when that is a good choice, the best I am able to offer is palliation for pain, nausea or other discomforts, and herbal support with antioxidants and immune support to help the body fight the cancer or at least keep it at bay. When it is caught early, or is a slower-moving cancer, these supportive therapies do seem to help. These recent cases have me making sure my family and patients are getting plenty of fresh antioxidants in their food as well as slipping antioxidant and immune supportive herbs to them whenever I can. Of course you want to be careful and not overdo the herbs or vitamins, over-supplementation can be as bad as under-supplementation. If you are interested in a more detailed discussion on preventative care, please
contact me. Here is a link on general preventative supplements to consider, especially as your animal ages.

Photography Exhibit - Life of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone photo

My husband, Radford Davis, has a photo exhibition at the ISU Memorial Union from January 2014 through June 2014.

His photos from his time in Africa are really stunning and he hopes to bring attention to the public health needs as well as the beauty of Sierra Leone.

Please join us at his reception Saturday February 15, 5-6pm, or stop by any time before the end of June to see the exhibit!

To see more of his photos go to

New Exhibit at the Iowa State Memorial Union

Radford Davis: Life of Sierra Leone
In the Multicultural Center through June 2014
AMES, Iowa – Photographer Radford Davis is exhibiting imagery from Sierra Leone, capturing the lives, conditions and challenges of people in one of the poorest countries on Earth.  Davis is an Associate Professor of Public Health in Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University.  His passion is documenting our world and its people.  The photographs in this exhibit come from his time spent in Sierra Leone in 2010 and 2012.

Davis’ photographs often focus on global health, humanitarian efforts, global life and societal conditions. To tell the full story, he strives to capture the beauty of the land and the people, the hope and energy, the art, the intimate stories and lives affected. Above all else, he wants his photos to serve a purpose and promote progress in some manner.
Davis will host a reception on Saturday, February 15 from 5 – 6pm in the Multicultural Center.  Meet the artist and experience the compelling story of Life in Sierra Leone.

The Iowa State Memorial Union is located at 2229 Lincoln Way in Ames on the ISU campus. The Multicultural Center is located on the second floor and is open Monday through Thursday from 8am to 11pm, Friday from 8am – 5pm and Sunday from 5 – 11pm through the spring semester.  Summer hours beginning May 19 will be Monday through Friday from 10am – 5pm.  For more information call 515.294.0971.