Pet Guide—Health

Your pet deserves the very best, so let us help you indulge your lil’ buddy. Here’s a smattering of everything you need to spoil your four-legged or feathered friend, from training and entertaining to grooming and gourmet goodies, plus health-care tips and the Top Vets in Orlando.

Ask the Vets

Here’s some expert advice on pet health care, ranging from the importance of teeth cleaning to treating behavioral issues to combating fleas and much more. *Denotes Web Extra advice.

What’s the most effective treatment to control seizures in a dog or cat?
Dr. Mary O. Smith, neurosurgeon at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists:
There are many different underlying causes of seizures, so there is no single most effective treatment. Our goal is always to diagnose and treat the underlying cause, as well as the seizures themselves. The number of medications available to treat seizures has expanded considerably in the last 20 years, so we can tailor the drugs we choose to the type and underlying cause of the seizures. However, newer drugs are not necessarily better, and not all drugs developed for use in humans are either safe or effective for animals, so “older” drugs, such as Phenobarbital, often are the most helpful.

How often should our pets get their teeth professionally cleaned?
Dr. Brett Beckman, oral surgeon at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists:
The only way to provide the correct answer to that question is to perform a complete oral examination on your pet. The examination includes a periodontal probing and full mouth dental X-rays—the most important component of the entire cleaning process. Cleaning once yearly is the established minimum for pets. If a pet has significant periodontal disease, this interval may need to be every three months, depending upon the extent of the X-ray findings. Take a moment to smell your pet’s breath. If it is offensive, then infection is already present. Dental X-rays are critically important in evaluating pets for proper oral care, and they are the only way to establish the proper cleaning interval required for your pet.

* What are the health risks to pets that do not get regular professional dental care?
Dr. Brett Beckman, oral surgeon at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists:
  The majority of the patients with advanced periodontal disease show no outward signs of discomfort.  But if you smell odor on your pet’s breath, there is an oral infection that needs to be treated. Untreated oral infection affects the heart, liver, kidney and lungs, attributing to complications that can lead to profound illness or death. Don't let your pet suffer silently.  Dental care is one of the best steps you can take to ensure your pet’s wellbeing.

Why does my cat choose to go on a meowing binge in the middle of the night?
Dr. M. Alexandra Sumerlin at Cat Hospital of Orlando:
It’s important to make sure that the cat has no health problems or physical needs. Hyperthyroidism is very common in cats and causes changes in vocalization. A physical exam and blood tests may identify problems not obvious to the untrained eye. If the cat is deemed healthy, it is most likely he or she is modifying your behavior. The cure? Modifying the cat’s behavior. Automatic feeders may solve nighttime hunger, hard play in the evening may tire your cat, and a last resort may be to ignore your cat’s behavior until it is extinguished. Unfortunately, this can be as difficult as ignoring a crying baby!

* Should I be concerned if my cat seems to be drinking a lot of water?

Dr. M. Alexandra Sumerlin at Cat Hospital of Orlando:
Subtle changes in water drinking may be due to changes in temperature, diet, (dry food has decreased water content), or grooming habits.  For instance, a cat that is licking excessively loses moisture in its saliva, so it may need to drink more. But excessive water drinking, known as polydypsia, can be quite serious. You may notice frequent trips to the water bowl, an empty bowl, or the cat spending a lot of time beside it. Polydypsia is a common symptom of many diseases, some mild, as in a urinary tract infection, others more serious, as in kidney failure or diabetes mellitus.  Whether your cat is drinking slightly more or excessively, a trip to your veterinarian is in order.

How can an owner detect the onset of glaucoma in a pet?
Dr. Daniel R. Priehs at Animal Eye Associates:
In the acute stages of glaucoma, an owner might notice a red and/or cloudy eye and squinting. The pet may also act painful in the area of the eye and have vision changes. In the later, more chronic stages, the eye can begin to look larger and swollen. These symptoms are not necessarily specific to glaucoma and early detection is critical to preserve vision. Any red, painful eye should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible, and depending on that initial evaluation, the pet may be referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist.

* Can hearing loss be treated?
Dr. Kara C. Knight, neurosurgeon at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists:
Hearing lost due to ear disease (e.g., infection), may return with treatment of the primary problem. Deafness due to age-related degeneration of the nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain is not treatable. Deafness also can be inherited in many breeds of dogs and some cats; this can be tested for in breeding animals and in newborns (6-7 weeks old). Hearing aids developed for animals have been unsuccessful because animals cannot easily tolerate a ‘foreign object’ placed in the ear. Hearing loss likely does not distress animals as it does humans and deaf animals can live happily.

I’ve heard that birds try to hide the fact that they are sick, so how can I tell if something’s wrong?
Dr. Robert Hess at Winter Park Veterinary Hospital:
Birds do tend to hide symptoms of illness. Specific things that may indicate a bird is sick are changes to their routine or normal behavior, decreased appetite, vocalization changes, or being fluffed up at unusual times. You should also be aware of the number of times and consistency of your bird’s bowel movements. Birds are generally very routine-oriented, and any change in their normal routine should alert owners that there may be a developing health issue. Why do birds hide their illnesses? Most behaviorists feel it is a survival mechanism to help reduce the chances predators will be able to notice them. Also, many bird species will separate from a sick animal to reduce disease among the flock.

* What are the worst snacks for birds?
Dr. Robert Hess at Winter Park Veterinary Hospital:
Basically, if it is not good for you, it is not good for your bird. Foods that birds should not have include chocolate, cheese, peanuts, potato chips and French fries. Basically, anything with too much sugar or fat can lead to problems in birds. For instance, too many fatty food elements or too many carbs can lead to fatty liver problems. Generally speaking, fruits are good snacks. However, it’s very important to talk to your veterinarian about how to get the optimal nutritional program for your breed of bird. There are specifically designed pelleted foods for various breeds of birds as well as for birds with certain problems. These diets have been carefully formulated to include the critical nutrients different birds need.

What treatments are available for arthritis?
Dr. Jeffrey N. Peck, orthopedic surgeon at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists:
First, it is important to recognize that arthritis typically has an underlying cause (ligament injury, autoimmune disease or infection) that should be addressed, if possible. This could require surgery or medical management, or both. Long-term management of arthritis typically includes the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. It is very important to use a veterinary approved drug, because some human drugs, such as ibuprofen, can have serious or even fatal consequences in pets. Other common treatments include: Physical therapy, glucosamine, chondroitin and fatty acids (specifically EPA), and other pain medications. There may also be a place for acupuncture and other alternative therapies.

* When should a hip replacement be performed?
Dr. Jeffrey N. Peck, orthopedic surgeon at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists:
I advise total hip replacement if the symptoms associated with hip dysplasia are affecting the pet’s quality of life and the symptoms are not readily resolved with standard medical management.  The age of the pet is not really a significant factor in the decision.  Quality of life is thought to be affected if the pet is unwilling or unable to perform the activities that the owner feels are important to the quality of life of the pet.  For a working dog (police dogs, service dogs, agility athletes, etc.), it means that the dog is unable to perform the tasks associated with its duties.

How can a veterinary behaviorist help a pet?
Dr. Soraya Juarbe-Diaz, board certified veterinary behaviorist at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists:
Most patients I see show behaviors that are excessive and distressful for the pet given the context of the situation that provokes them. Medical problems have been excluded, and a trainer did not help the issue or made it worse, especially when methods relying on fear or pain were used: The behavior stopped momentarily, but the underlying motivation wasn’t addressed. A veterinary behaviorist looks at all components of the pet’s life—its past, home environment, family and medical history—before devising a humane plan of environmental and behavior modification. When medication is prescribed, it’s not to mask signs but to enable learning. Common problems seen include separation anxiety, storm phobia, house soiling with cats and problems where aggression is a common sign.

What should a pet owner do if a cat or dog is infested with fleas?
Dr. Rick Marrinson at Longwood Veterinary Clinic:
Treatment for fleas must include the removal of adult fleas and prevention of the fleas’ reproduction. Without this dual approach, fleas will be a continuous problem. While there are many medications that can kill adult fleas, only one medication safely and completely prevents the fleas’ ability to reproduce. Lufenuron is the active ingredient in Sentinel for dogs and Program for cats. Routine use of Sentinel/Program will prevent flea infestations and allow for “as needed” use of medications to kill the adult fleas, if and when you see them.

Are there any signs of the onset of cancer in a dog or cat?
Dr. Susan C. Randell, internist at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists:
Unfortunately, because cancer can affect almost every tissue in the body, there is no single sign or constellation of signs that an owner might notice that can confirm that a pet has cancer. It is very important that owners note any changes in their pet’s appearance (e.g., new lumps and bumps, unexplained weight loss/gain, lameness, unexplained hair loss, discharges and odors) and behavior (lethargy, aggression, withdrawal from the family, withdrawal from normal activities such as playing or going for a walk, increase or decrease in appetite) and report them to their veterinarian so that appropriate tests and treatments can be recommended. Just as in humans, early detection is key to treatment success.

* Can a dog or cat have a heart attack?

Dr. Susan C. Randell, internist at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists:
Because atheroschlerosis (the narrowing and occlusion of an artery due to accumulation of fatty plaques in the wall) occurs extremely rarely in dogs and cats, heart attacks also occur extremely rarely in these species. Sometimes people use the term ‘heart attack’ when referring to a dog or cat that develops sudden clinical signs of other types of heart disease that occur more commonly in cats and dogs (such as fluid in the lungs, irregular heart beats or labored breathing) or to explain what happens when an animal collapses or dies suddenly of heart disease, but this is almost always an incorrect use of the term.

* As a dog ages, what's the recommended level of protein he should be fed?

Dr. Susan C. Randell, internist at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists:
As a rule, most senior dogs (7 years old+) need less protein in their diets than young adults. But the actual amount that an individual senior dog needs varies depending on size, activity level, underlying medical conditions, etc., and should always be determined with the guidance of a veterinarian or board certified veterinary nutritionist. Due to advances in nutrition and veterinary care, senior dogs are living longer, and there is interesting emerging evidence that some very geriatric dogs may actually need higher protein levels in their diets. Currently dog foods are formulated for puppies, adults and seniors, but it is possible that geriatric formulations may also become available.

Do hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs and bunnies need routine vet care, like vaccinations?
Dr. Rick Marrinson at Longwood Veterinary Clinic:
Most small ‘pocket’ pets do not require routine vaccinations, but they do have many issues that your veterinarian can help you with. These mainly include husbandry issues such as how the pet is housed, fed and cared for.


Pet projects

Cat Show
Sept. 17-18—The Cat Fanciers’ Association and the Cat Club of the Palm Beaches will host a cat show at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The deadline to register a cat to compete is Sept. 12.  Admission is $5, and children under 10 are free. For more information, visit

Baldwin Bark Charity Dog Wash
Oct. 8—Pamper your pooch with a shampoo and conditioner, followed by a blow dry and a blueberry facial while benefiting Kids Beating Cancer. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on New Broad Street in Baldwin Park, and includes pet contests, vendor booths, live music and local food. For more information, visit

Pet Costume Contest
Oct. 30—Dress up your dog in a Halloween costume and enter it in this 12th annual event hosted by The Doggie Door on Park Avenue in Winter Park. Judging for big dogs begins at 11 a.m., small dogs at 1 p.m., with a pet trick-or-treat running from noon to 3 p.m. Registration is $10.  The event benefits the Sebastian Haul Fund, a charity for greyhounds. For details, visit

Dog Show
Dec. 17-18—Nearly 4,000 dogs will vie for best in show at the 2011 American Kennel Club Eukanuba National Championship at the Orange County Convention Center. Visit for more details.

Doggie Art Festival
April 1—A street festival held at the intersection of Park and Canton avenues in Winter Park, the event features art of pets and includes pet-supply vendors and pet-adoption organizations. Hosted by The Doggie Door on Park Avenue, the festival benefits the Sebastian Haul Fund, a charity for greyhounds. More details, visit

SPCA FurBall
May 5—The charity gala at SeaWorld is an annual fundraiser for the SPCA of Central Florida. A highlight of the evening will be an auction of individual months to showcase pet photos in the organization’s 2013 calendar. (The 2012 calendar goes on sale in December.) Tickets to the FurBall are $125 per person or $200 per couple and go on sale in March. Go to to order tickets or to buy next year’s calendar.


Adopt a Pet

If you’re thinking of getting a dog or cat, consider adoption. Even purebred dogs can be found at shelters and rescue groups. Check out:—The SPCA of Central Florida has shelters in Orlando and Sanford, with dogs and cats available for adoption.—Pet Rescue by Judy (Sarullo) has been finding homes for pets for 20 years. Check the events link of the Sanford-based nonprofit’s website for adoption events.—Go to the Orange County government’s website and click on Adopt a Pet. —Go to Seminole County government’s website and click on Seminole County Animal Services.—The American Kennel Club’s website lists purebred rescue groups from all over the country.


Home Services

These pet-care providers will come to your home to groom, walk, feed or stay with your dog or cat.

Aussie Pet Mobile
Pet grooming on wheels.
East Orlando,  407-595-8798;
West Orlando, 407-797-0900;

Dog Walking Diva
Dog walking, chauffeur service to and from grooming and vet appointments, and pet-care personal shopping;
Serves Orlando area. 321-331-4456

Fetch Pet Care
Boarding and pet sitting in caretakers’ homes, dog walking, grooming and massage.
Serves Orlando area. 407-545-8196

Pooch n’ Purr 
Dog walking, playtime, teeth-brushing.
Serves downtown, southeast and southwest Orlando. 407-602-8353 

Categories: Features, Pets & Animals, Vets