Guest Post: thinking about the food you feed your pet

Dr Riggs is sure to stir up some controversy with his post on pet food. All I say is educate yourself as best you can and make the decision you deem best for your pets.


It seems every day we hear about yet another recalled pet food. Why is this happening you ask? I really feel there are a number of reasons but here are the few that I think contribute the most.

The first one is actually a good reason. The pet food manufacturing plants are under scrutiny. They are being inspected more thoroughly, not only for our pets, but for better public health. Many of the recalls have been due to salmonella contamination from poor hygienic practices. Other recalls have been due to unbalanced diets that result in toxicities.

So what is the biggest reason I think we are seeing more problems? Money. Clear and simple.

The pet food industry is a multi-billion dollar business, with everyone getting their niche in the market. They use whatever is needed, even false science and words with undefined meanings to promote their often over-priced products. “Organic”, “holistic” and “natural” have no definition in pet foods, therefore these terms can be used to describe anything.

The current “big fad”, a term I am sure will offend some people, is the "high protein low grain" diets. There is no scientific basis to support these diets, just unsubstantiated claims. One theory as to how these diets came to be is due to the increase of gluten intolerance diagnosed in humans. Dogs or cats rarely have allergies to grains; the vast majority of allergies are due to proteins!

The disappointment is that these diets are marketed to people who are concerned about what they are feeding their pets, and they are being misinformed unintentionally or intentionally. The sales force representatives who are selling these products in your local pet store are giving recommendations they often feel are best, they are good people , but they too are misinformed and repeating the company line. I have always been a critical thinker and I look into claims before I buy.

Here are some questions you should ask about a pet food company before you buy.

  • Is there a veterinary nutritionist on staff?
  • Does the company archive its ingredients? This is done so they have a way to test ingredients if a problem arises.
  • Does the company do AAFCO feeding trials on any of their foods? This is not a federal requirement but one that good companies do feeding trials to insure quality control.
  • Where are the diets made? Many of these pet food companies don’t have their own plants and farm the manufacturing out to other companies who make many of the foods on the shelves.

Iams, Science Diet, Purina and Royal Canin all make their own dry diets and can answer yes to all the above questions. We as Veterinarians do not get any kickbacks from the companies as the pet stores would have you believe. We only sell prescription foods, so we have no conflict of interest.

Ultimately, what I am saying is make sure you get the facts. The internet has no editor so… people can and will say anything so find credible sources. Look to internet sites that are university based. You do not need to spend in excess of $50 or more on your pet’s maintenance food.

Be that critical thinker and ask questions and demand documentation of their claims. I want the same thing for your pet that you do… a happy, long and healthy life.

Related Posts:
April is Wellness Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: thinking about the food you feed your pet

Other posts by Dr Riggs


Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

Call to action: Dr Riggs is participating in Pelotonia, raising money for cancer research. In fact, in its first four rides, Pelotonia has attracted over 11,100 riders and raised over $42 million for cancer research. Check out Dr Riggs' profile page where you can learn about and support his efforts. Thank you!



Guest Post: Animal Olympics

Have you been watching the Olympics with your pets? Dr Riggs is a big fan of the Olympic Games and that led him to ponder - what if animals were allowed in the Olympics?


I love the Olympics!   Maybe I am a naive optimist, but it seems the only time the world gets together and is as one.  Seeing all the athletes of the world in one place congratulating each other, laughing with other athletes of countries with opposing political and religious ideals… makes me wonder. Hmm…  Yes, well, back to the blog. 

It is amazing to see the athleticism of all the athletes.  The amazing speed and grace of American’s Micheal Phelps, Missy Franklin and China’s Sun Yang.The phenomenal courage and skill of the gymnasts. How do they get the guts to do the things they do???  I am in awe every time I see the smoothness and apparent ease of Usain Bolt breaking another world record.  What about the tiny weightlifters who clean and jerk three times their body weight over their head? The endurance of the cyclists blows me away. It is a testament to their dedication, hard work and skill. Their accomplishments are to be commended.

But… what if?

What if… our animal friends could compete right along our Olympic athletes? Well… the the size of the medal podiums would need to change to accommodate, not just 2, but at least four feet!

So let’s see how animals would measure up to our Olympians:

  • Michael Phelps in his fastest event, the 100m freestyle, reaches a top speed of 4.7 mph.  An Orca (killer whale) reaches speeds of 30mph and a Sail fin swims up to 65mph!
  • Usain Bolts runs a blistering top speed of 23 mph, paling in comparison to the Greyhound’s 30mph and the Cheetahs top speed of 70 mph
  • The high jump world record is 8 ft 3 inches.  A cat can jump 10 feet from a standing start, so if you compare the length of a typical cat at 1ft 6 inches to a 6 foot man that would equate to 39 feet
  • Mike Powell holds the world record long jump at 29 feet 3 inches.  He would be spitting into the wind, if he had to compete against our arch enemy the flea.  A flea can jump 38 times its length, which means Powell would need to jump 228 feet just to be in the medal hunt!

So as impressive as the athletes are… animals would put us to shame.

Just to finish off, here are a few events I suggest if our cats and dogs begin to compete.

Synchronized Tail Wagging

Synchro tail wagging
Cat Olympics

Cat olympics
Tennis Ball Holding

Tennis ball holding
Related Posts:
August is Olympics Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Michael Phelps strikes gold with his dogs
Guest Post: Animal Olympics
Breed Profile: Welsh Corgi
Guest Post: Olympians and their breeds

Other posts by Dr Riggs


Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.



When you aren't sure if you need to go to the veterinary emergency room or not

Have you ever had that late night sudden discovery of some concerning pet medical issue and you wished you could ask a vet to let you know if you needed to make that late night visit to the emerg room? I had one of those a couple of weeks ago and had a great experience with VetLive, our partner for round-the-clock veterinary advice. 

Here's what happened.

Our outdoor cat, Lily, showed up at the house with a smear on her neck. I didn't think much of it as she'd recently come home covered in mud for some unknown reason (I know, she's a strange cat). The next day though, I did take a closer look and saw she'd actually cut her neck somehow. I gave the wound a wipe with a wet paper towel  to see how it looked and there was no hissing, no upset cat, only a little blood and it didn't look like an animal bite. All good so I thought.

The next evening though, John brought her over to me at 8:00pm and thought the wound looked pretty bad so I finally took a good look at it and agreed it was much more serious than I had thought. It was quite deep but it didn't seem infected and Lily wasn't bothered by it; however, it really did seem like something a vet should look at sooner than later.

What to do? Spend the money to go to an emergency vet in case or wait until the morning? 

That's when I thought I'd enlist the help of VetLive, a service we offer to our Embraced pet parents at Embrace's expense, to ask them what they thought. The service is all done through a chat feature and is a very nifty tool that gave me great peace of mind.

Here's the transcript of my conversation with Dr Laci Schaible with the pictures I sent along.

Me: My cat Lily has a puncture wound on her neck that I'm quite concerned about. I saw it this morning and washed it with water and put on some anti-bacterial cream (for humans) and she seemed fine with that - it didn't seem to hurt her when I did any of that. However, I looked at it more closely tonight and see it's deeper than I thought and not going to heal on its own. I know I need to take her to the vet but should I go tonight or is it OK to go tomorrow morning. She is not pawing at it or anything that I have seen. She is hungry and seems her normal self. What do you think?

IMG_2279VetLive: Hi Laura, Can you send me a picture? If you need to send more than one it is easier to email them to customercare@vetlive.com. Was it neosporin or something equivalent that you applied? Thanks, Dr Laci Schaible

Me: here's a photo. I put on Bactroban cream (mupirocin calcium cream 2%)

VetLive: Thanks for the pics. Based on these pics, this should be okay to wait until tomorrow morning. It does look fairly nasty. If you can, try and trim the surrounded hairs but if she gets feisty or if you don't have "full" control over her, then don't bother. The most important thing is to wash it really well--soap and water will do if you don't have a disinfectant at home (peroxide or chlorhexidine would work great also).

If you have a rectal thermometer at home, this would be ideal. Her temperature should be around 102 F. Ear ones aren't very reliable but are better than nothing. If her temperature is 104 or higher, this warrants a middle of the night trip. I highly doubt she has would have a fever this high to be acting normally, eating, active, etc. Don't forget to lube it with KY, vaseline, or mineral oil. This is usually a two person job, FYI.

If you have a vet that you feel confident will have you seen early in the am, I would pull her food at midnight and separate her tonight from the other cat (I believe you mentioned you had two when we visited). Just leave a small amount of water in the dish so she can moisten her mouth. I can't tell if this is a bite wound or a puncture wound, but most cat wounds do have to be explored. This must be done under heavy sedation at the least. Many will have an unexpected tract, and end up requiring a sterile tube to be placed to allow the injury to drain. Hopefully this is not the case but it is quite possible.

The antibiotic cream won't help --or hurt much, as she will definitely need oral antibiotics to help heal this wound. Keeping it clean is more important. If she will let you, you can clean it every four hours. It is okay to apply the cream as well, just make sure you are able to wipe it off thoroughly when you clean. If she won't tolerate this, then I would forgo the cream altogether as you don't want to create a sort of film that keeps oxygen from permeating the wound in case it is a cat bite wound and there are anaerobic bacteria from other kitty's teeth.

Best of luck to Lily. Regards, Laci

Me: I will keep an eye on her and make sure we get Lily into our vet first thing. The other cats sleep in the basement so Lily can have the royal treatment tonight :) Don't have an anal thermometer or an ear one. Would an oral one do (to be replaced tomorrow!) or would it give a false reading?

VetLive: Oral would would just as well, just make sure to still use it rectally of course. I will bump you a link on how to take a cat's temperature rectally.

By the way, even if you went to an emergency hospital right now, she wouldn't get surgery any sooner as they would have to wait for her to have an empty stomach. Plus, you get to have your regular vet this which is always nice. Best wishes again.

Me: Thanks so much! I just cleaned her wound with peroxide and she was fine with that so I'm thinking this is much better. We'll get her in to our vet tomorrow am and she'll be in good hands. Night night!

IMG_2291 After that, I felt much better about Lily overnight and my vet saw her first thing in the morning. In the end, Lily just had a shave and clean up around the puncture wound and an antibiotic injection, totalling $81.50. Certainly much better than an unnecessary visit to the emergency room.  

Here's Lily yesterday (to the left), rolling around outside, her usual happy and agile self (even with a paralized tail).

And here she is entertaining the kittens with a mouse (warning, cute except she eats mouse at the end - if that sort of thing grosses you out.) 

Related Posts:
April is Wellness Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: annual vet visits are more than vaccinations
The Best Wellness Product in Pet Insurance
When you aren't sure if you need to go to the veterinary emergency room or not



Guest Post: Why are my dog’s eyes turning gray?

Today we have a guest post from Dr Jennifer Coate, an associate of Dr Rex Riggs who has regularly guest posted on the Embrace blog.

Dr Coate talks about what causes a dog's eyes to turn gray and if it is something to be concerned about or not.


Many times our clients notice their older pet’s eyes are starting to have a bluish-gray haze and they assume that their old dog is going blind. But what is really happening in the eye?

The pupil of the eye is normally black. What you are seeing in the pupil is the lens, which lies just behind the pupil. Just like in a camera or eye glasses, the lens is a clear structure used to focus images as they pass into the eye to your pet’s retina.

Today, I am only discussing diseases that cause the lens to look gray, hazy, or even white. If the surface or any of the front chamber of the eye looks cloudy, or if the eye is red, having discharge, or bothering the dog you should have it checked by a veterinarian immediately.

There are 2 main things that will cause your pet’s lens to look cloudy - cataracts and lenticular nuclear sclerosis.

Daisy_lenticular_sclerosis Despite its long name, lenticular nuclear sclerosis (often referred to as lenticular sclerosis or nuclear sclerosis) is simply a normal aging change of the lens. The lens is made up of fibers that get denser as the animal ages. Nuclear sclerosis occurs when the fibers in the center of the lens become so dense that it appears cloudy. This happens in every aging pet - - as early as 6 years of age in the dogs and 9 years of age in the cat. This change rarely affects the vision of the pet beyond a mild decrease in their ability to focus on close up items, especially in dim lighting. The vision change is almost never noticed by the pet owner and there is no need to treat lenticular sclerosis.

A cataract on the other hand is any opacity of the lens that prevents light from passing through the lens to the retina. Cataracts can involve a small portion of the lens causing the pet to have a blind spot, or be more severe involving the entire lens causing the eye to be blind. There are many causes linked to cataracts. The most common cause of cataracts in dogs is a genetic predisposition - they were born with a tendency to develop cataracts at some point in life. Hereditary cataracts occur in many dog breeds including miniature poodles, cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzers, golden retrievers, Boston terriers, and Siberian huskies. Hereditary cataracts have also been reported in Persian, Himalayan, and Birman cats, although in cats they are usually born with the cataract.

Eye_cataract Other causes of cataracts include age related formation, congenital (born with it), inflammation of the eye, diets, toxins, trauma, and diabetes. Most diabetic dogs, although not diabetic cats, will develop cataracts. In fact, I have diagnosed diabetes in several patients after the astute owners noticed that their dog’s eyes suddenly looked hazy.

Besides causing blindness, cataracts can cause other problems with the eye. A lens with cataracts can fall out of place causing pain, inflammation, and even glaucoma, an increase in the pressure of the eye that can be very painful and can permanently damage the eye. A cataract can also become so severe the lens will leak which can then cause severe inflammation within the eye (uveitis) and glaucoma.

If you notice any changes in your pet’s eyes or vision, you should have them evaluated by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian can look to see if it is truly the lens verses other portions of the eye that are affected. They can usually differentiate between lenticular sclerosis and cataracts during a physical exam using an ophthalmoscope. In some cases, they may need to dilate the pupil to better visualize the lens or do other tests. This may include checking eye pressure to check for uveitis or glaucoma or doing blood work to look for disease such as diabetes.

If your pet is found to have cataracts, your veterinarian can discuss with you the best treatment options. If an underlying cause is found, such as diabetes, initially treatment will be geared towards correcting that. Many dogs can live happily with the decreased vision form cataracts, even blindness and will need no treatment. If the cataract is causing problems, or if you wish to preserve vision, your pet can be referred to an ophthalmologist to have surgery to replace the lens with a prosthetic lens.

Related Posts:
July is Eye Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: Why are my dog’s eyes turning gray?
Claim Example: cataract surgery in a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Other posts by Dr Riggs & his associates


Dr_Coate Dr. Jennifer Coate grew up in Celina, Ohio and received her DVM from Ohio State University. She has performed research at the James Cancer Research Institute, Duke University Medical Center, and the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine in areas ranging from cancer gene expression to creating a molecular model for the FIV virus. Dr. Coate has been the surgeon for the non-profit animal shelter, Citizens for Humane Action, spaying and neutering rescued animals for adoption. She joined the Best Friends staff in the summer of 2008.

Dr. Coate lives with her husband, Matt, in Hilliard. They have a very energetic Jack Russel-Beagle Mix named Mitchell and two cats, Dusty & George. Dr. Coate spends most of her free time renovating her house. She also enjoys long walks with Mitchell.



Veterinary Inflation Observations

Have you been wondering recently why your veterinary care feels like it costs so much more than it used to? You are not alone.

I was digging into the inflation numbers over at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and I was fascinated by the difference between veterinary inflation (yes, they do track such a thing!) and the consumer price inflation.

For example (see graph below), if I look at January 2007 to March 2011 (just about as long as we've been selling pet insurance policies), while my wages went up 10% over that time (yay!), my vet bills went up 25% in the same period (ouch!). Vet bills are definitely taking up more of a bite out of my free cash than they used to. 

Veterinary inflation vs CPI 
You can clearly see the impact of the Great Recession in the second half of 2008 in the CPI, with the year's inflation being practically zero (-0.1%); however, veterinary inflation chugged along at 7% that year and didn't slow down until 2009.

Another point to note, the Consumer Price Index is defined as the change in the prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services and Veterinary Services are just a subset of those goods and services. The representative basket of goods is based on typical family spending in 2007/2008 so changes in the types of veterinary services (such as more TPLO surgeries or MRIs) are not reflected.

So chances are, as veterinary medicine has grown in the last 3 years, and more complex and more costly procedures are more common, your veterinary spending increases are even more than those shown above.

It's amazing we can afford our cats and dogs at all, don't you think?

If you are wondering what impact veterinary inflation has on pet insurance premiums, check out my blog post on how inflation and other factors affect pet insurance premiums using Trupanion as a case study.

Just for fun, here's another graph for 2001 - 2011. It really shows the bite into your household income over the last 10 years.

Veterinary inflation vs CPI 2001.2011 
For the data hounds out there, you can find the data on the BLS website:

  • CPI - All Items US City Average Seasonally Adjusted
  • Veterinary Inflation - Veterinary Services US City Average Seasonally Adjusted????


Guest Post: Allergies in Pets

Today, we have a guest post from Dr. Rex Riggs on the topic of allergies. Ironically, Dr. Riggs is allergic to cats! But he does talk about how allergies happen and what can be done about them. Dr. Rex Riggs is the owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is a veterinarian, and an Advisory Board member of Embrace Pet Insurance.


Allergies. I hate allergies. I have tree pollen allergies in the spring. I have grass allergies in the summer and house dust mite allergies all winter long. To cap it all off, I have cat allergies all year long! Oh well, it is what it is.

And What Exactly Are Allergies?

Allergies are bad for everyone including our pets. 

First we need to define just what an allergy is. There are some misunderstandings about what the immune system is actually doing. Our immune system is there to protect against evil enemies. Sometimes it goes too far. Allergies are abnormal immune system reactions, to things that are usually harmless.

Most people think that allergies happen when are immune system is suppressed. Quite the opposite.

Allergies are an exaggerated immune response or hypersensitivity, to specific things, called allergens. The allergens can be to pollen, dander, molds, dust mites etc. It often takes years for people and pets to “develop” allergies. Each time we are exposed to an allergen our bodies develop T-helper cells, a type of white blood cell. These T-helper cells will recognize a particular allergen and next time it sees that same allergen it attacks.

After multiple exposures to the same allergen, it can trigger an exaggerated response and we have signs of allergies. So, it is not the pollen that is “causing” the problem, it is our own immune system that is overachieving.

How Do Allergies in Pets Compare to Allergies in People?

In people, the cells coming into fight the allergen causes mainly a release of histamines. The histamines will cause swelling and congestion in our respiratory system or causes us to itch. So what do we do? We take Benadryl, Allegra or Claritin which are all anti-histamines which will counter act the histamines.

This is one of the major differences between human and pets.

Dogs and cats only release a fraction of the histamines we do. Probably only 10 to 20% of the amount. Hence that is why antihistamines only work in about 20% of our pets. Not to say antihistamine are not useful in veterinary medicine, but we need to combine them with other medications, such as fatty acids and steroids.

The other major difference is that allergies in people are most often manifested by respiratory signs with itching and gastrointestinal signs less prevalent. In our pets, their primary signs deal with their skin, with the gastrointestinal tract being affected less often.

Treating Allergies

Often when the word steroids come up, people get concerned. Steroids are not bad, if use in moderation and not given long term.

The steroids we use in animals is not the same ones the body builders and athletes abuse. Those are called anabolic steroids. They build up things such as muscle. The corticosteroids we use are catabolic steroids which will decrease reactions and with long term use actually tear down tissues. That is why using them 1 to 2 times a year is ok but if needed more often, we look for other treatments.

Which Pets Get Allergies?

Certain breeds of dogs are affected more often with allergies. Purebred dogs are much more likely to be affected, due to recessive genes being expressed by closer breedings. The more popular a breed, the more likely we are to see allergies. The top four allergic breeds in our practice are Golden Reteivers, Bichons, Labrador Retrievers and West Highland Terriers.

Can Allergies Be Cured?

Everyone wants a cure for allergies, but it is not possible. You will always have the T-helper cells primed to attack. So we just try to decrease the response, and we are very successful in most cases with treatment tailored to each individual animal.

So don’t be discouraged. The vet might need to try a number of different treatments before they find what works for your pet, but they will find the “cure” for your pet.

Related Posts:
May is Allergy Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: Allergies in Pets
Can dogs be allergic to bee and yellow jacket stings?
Claim Example: allergies in a dog
Other posts by Dr Riggs


Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie, and two cats Franklin and Speeder. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and enjoys travel and photography.



Do you just love Embrace? Be an Embrace Pet Insurance Ambassador!

Nametag This is not the time to be modest so here goes.

We often find our Embraced pet parents telling us how they rave about Embrace with their friends and family.

It warms the cockles of my heart, it surely does.

Some even expound our virtues to their veterinarians and bug them about not having any Embrace brochures in their clinics.

*gasp* It does happen!

So, we thought we would help. Wouldn't it be fun if you had something to take along to your veterinarian just in the case you become a little tongue tied in his or her presence? Voila! The Embrace Ambassador program.

All you have to do is go to the Be An Embrace Ambassador page on our website, download and print the handy sheet (sample below), and take it to your friendly vet staff. That's it! If you wish to expound further, feel free!

Embrace Ambassador SheetIsn't that a lot of fun? 

Oh please do tell us what they thought of your ambassadorship. I can't wait to hear!



Guest Post: the importance of considering hereditary conditions when choosing a dog

Today, Dr. Rex Riggs talks about hereditary conditions in dogs. Dr. Rex Riggs is the owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is a veterinarian, and an Advisory Board member of Embrace Pet Insurance.


>Dolly and rose-terrianderson-dalmatians2 When we talk about pure bred dogs and cats we need to realize that along with the individually beautiful traits, specific to a breed, hidden harmful genetic traits can often be lurking.

Mixed breed animals often get the best traits of each breed they are mixed with, called hybrid vigor. They are often healthier then their pedigreed counterparts. Mixed breeds are not immune to genetic defects though, but the conditions occur much less frequently.

Purebred dogs are dogs whose parents have been bred to another of the same breed. When you breed within a specific breed group, you decrease the gene pool, thus allowing genes that are normally recessive to be expressed.

Some of these hidden genes can be good; some can be bad. Hair color, disposition and size are some of the desirable traits that breeders try to emphasize. The more popular a breed becomes, the more of the unfortunate genes become expressed. Multiple hereditary diseases are seen in specific breeds. Some of these diseases which have a genetic component include hip dysplasia (many large breeds), cataracts (huskies), kidney disease (Shih-Tzu), liver disease (poodles and yorkies) and breed specific cancers, just to name a few.

Donner-AndreaWestrum One such disease with a breed predilection is malignant histocytic diseases in Bernese Mountain dogs. This is a rare but nasty disease in most breeds but unfortunately is becoming more commonly seen in Bernese Mountain dogs.

Malignant histiocytosis is a cancer syndrome which can present in many different ways. It can present as a solitary nodule in the lungs or the dog can present with neurologic signs such as paralysis or seizures. It can also attack the bone marrow causing all sorts of problems with white and red blood cells. In addition, abdominal organs such as the spleen and liver are often affected and the pet presents with vague and nonspecific signs.

Diagnosis involves biopsies of the affected organs and blood, and can be difficult to make. There have been cases in which the dogs responded to chemotherapy but the vast number of dogs affected will not respond to treatment. It is such a heartbreaking disease. I know many of the Bernese Mountain dog breeders are well aware of this problem and are working hard to eliminate this disease from the breed.

So why am I depressing you with this story?

I want you to please do your research on the breed you want to get. You need to know what they are predisposed to. You need to know what questions to ask the breeder. Even though this is a common problem seen in Bernese Mountain dogs, I am sure many owners have never heard of it. I know this is true of other breed owners and the conditions their pets are genetically prone to. So don’t be afraid to ask questions of your breeder. Good ones will be happy to answer you.

It takes diligence and ethical breeding policies to eliminate hereditary and genetic problems. The United States have a much higher incidence of genetic conditions when compared to the rest of the world. We have much more lax laws concerning breeding of dogs and cats which allows puppy mills and unethical breeders to flourish in some states (unfortunately, my home state of Ohio, is one of the worse) making a lot of money at the expense of the animals and their heartbroken owners.

Finally…… don’t buy pets online or from pet stores. They invariably come from puppy mills, which do not concern themselves with the health issues of a particular breed or dog.

Related Posts:
March is Genetic Condition Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: the importance of consider hereditary conditions when choosing a dog
Claim Example: portosystemic shunt surgery

Cardiomyopathy in Cats 

Other posts by Dr Riggs


Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie, and two cats Franklin and Speeder. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and enjoys travel and photography.



Guest Post: top five ways to know if your dog needs a dental

Today, we have a guest post from Dr. Rex Riggs, talking about how to tell if your dog needs a dental cleaning or more. Dr. Rex Riggs is the owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is a veterinarian, and an Advisory Board member of Embrace Pet Insurance.


>It has been estimated that 85% of all animals seen at a vet’s office have dental disease.  I would go further and say 40% of dogs have bad dental disease.  It always surprises me at the shock in people’s faces when I pull up their pet’s lip and…voila….a mass of dental mayhem.   So I have decided to list the top five ways to know if your dog needs a dental.

5) Your Pet might need a dental if……. it’s breath smell like a sewer

Root abscess on 2 teeth It is amazing to me the smell that can come from a cat’s or dog’s mouth.  I am also shocked at the amount of stench people can become accustomed to.  The bacteria and plaque that form on the teeth cause gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and the breakdown of the bacteria and debris causes the intense smell.  Just let your dog give you a smooch and you will know what I mean.

4) Your Pet Might Need a Dental if……You notice blood on their chew toys.

Dogs and cats can deal with dental pain. Problems that would send us screaming to our dentist, pet take in stride.  Now don’t think for a minute that they are not in pain.  They have the same nerves and pain receptors that we have.  They just react to pain in different ways.  This is probably the second most common reasons owners seek dental treatment.  This can be from gingivitis and infection of the mouth, called stomatitis, or from abscessed teeth. 

3) Your Pet Might Need a Dental If……..They don’t want to eat dry food, but will eat soft food.  

Total destruction of tooth root and osteomyelitis Anyone who has had a root canal knows how bad a root access can hurt.  The thought of biting down one something hard makes your skin crawl.  Same goes for your pet.  So if your dog or cat is eating gingerly on one side of the mouth or other, time to get it checked out. 

2)  Your Pet Might Need a Dental If………….. You look under the lip and see tarter and gingivitis.  

I always recommend my clients to get in the habit of routinely looking at their pet’s teeth and gums.  Better yet, when they are brushing their pet’s teeth, they can gauge how effective their brushing technique is. 

1)  And finally…..Your Pet Might Need a Dental If……… your vet tells you so!  

Each time you take your pet to the vet (which I am sure you do at least yearly) your vet should exam the teeth and mouth.  Dogs and cats are such good hiders of diseases, so it is very important to have them looked at by your vet, not only for dental disease, but all the other preventable or treatable conditions.

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Other posts by Dr Riggs


Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie, and two cats Franklin and Speeder. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and enjoys travel and photography.



Guest Post: Your Pet Has Diabetes - Now What?

Andrea Mykrantz and Olive Today, we have a guest post from Andrea Mykrantz CVT, Practice Manager for Dr Rex Riggs, owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. Andrea writes about a topic dear to her heart, caring for a dog or cat with diabetes.


Your pet has diabetes, now what?

Dr. L and Loki The diagnosis of diabetes in a pet can be a very overwhelming and even scary time for any pet owner.  Diabetes in animals can be fairly easy to control but even with simple, un-complicated regulation, the disease still requires a good chunk of your personal time and a financial commitment. 

On the other hand, gaining good diabetic control can sometimes be problematic and require several visits to your veterinarian for additional tests.  The goal of this article is to help you understand what is happening to your pet with the diagnosis and the regulation process.  

What is diabetes?

The most common form of diabetes in pets is diabetes mellitus; also know as Type II diabetes.  It is generally diagnosed in dogs five years of age or older.  Some breeds are more likely to develop diabetes, such as the Miniature Schnauzer, Miniature Poodle, Dachshund, Miniature Pinscher, and the Beagle.  Just like in people, obesity plays a big role in the onset of diabetes. 

Diabetes mellitus is a disease of the pancreas, a small organ located near the stomach.  The pancreas produces two types of cells.  The first type of cells creates enzymes for the digestion of food and the second type are called beta-cells, necessary for the production of the hormone insulin. 

Diabetes occurs when the beta-cells fail to produce enough insulin to regulate the blood sugar.  In the absence of insulin the body cannot get the glucose from the blood stream into its cells and the cells starve.  Think of insulin as the key that unlocks the door separating our cells from the food (glucose) that they need to survive.  Symptoms associated with diabetes include

  • increased thirst,
  • increased urinations,
  • weight loss and eventually
  • lethargy,
  • vomiting,
  • stopping eating altogether and
  • if left untreated, death

How is diabetes diagnosed?

When your vet sees your pet and suspects diabetes as a possibility, he or she will often recommend a full blood workup, urinalysis, and sometimes a urine culture. Frequently, we see that your pet has experienced some amount of weight loss and the actual diagnosis of diabetes mellitus is made when the blood test indicates a high level of glucose in the blood stream as well as glucose in the urine. 

On occasion, when the disease has progressed a bit farther, we will also note the presence of ketones in the urine.  Because the body has not been able to use glucose as its energy source, instead it will begin to use its fat.  When the body burns fat for energy, a by-product known as ketones are created and unfortunately they are toxic.  Once ketones are present the animal will continue to decline rapidly unless treatment begins. 

Beginning Treatment

Getting blood from diabetic dog The level of treatment that your pet will require is based on how advanced the diabetes has become.  If your pet is still feeling good and eating, generally you will be taught to give insulin injections to your pet and start them on a special diet.  Some cats can even be maintained on a special diet alone. 

However, if your pet has stopped eating, has been vomiting, and is generally not doing well; chances are we will admit your pet into the hospital to begin treatment.  We often place the pet on IV fluids to help re-hydrate him and we will begin insulin injections every few hours.  Often multiple blood glucose samples are taken throughout the day to determine when to switch your pet from the faster acting insulin to the type you will be using at home.  This process is different in each animal but generally requires a hospital stay of two to three days. Your pet will likely be going home with a special diet in addition to insulin and you will receive instructions on how to feed this new diet.

Regulating your pet

Normally, after the first week of home administration of insulin injections you will be asked to bring your pet back to the hospital for one day to have a blood glucose curve performed.  .  During the day, blood glucose samples are drawn throughout the day in order to get a glucose curve.  Each animal is different, but a first time curve is usually complete after two to four samples are drawn. 

Once we have the results of the blood glucose curve, the doctor will recommend what steps should be taken next.  Sometimes all that is needed is an increase in insulin with a plan for another blood glucose curve.  Other times the doctor may recommend additional testing to rule out other metabolic diseases that make diabetes more difficult to control

Diabetic Home Monitoring

Another option for regulating your pet is to purchase a blood glucose monitoring kit and perform your blood glucose curves at home.  Typically, we prefer to do the initial blood glucose curve and if things appear to be going smoothly with your pet’s regulation we can discuss home monitoring.  

There are several advantages to doing your blood glucose monitoring at home, the most popular being saving some money in the long run.  Many pet owners who are dealing with diabetes for the first time worry constantly about their pet’s glucose level getting too low.  However, with the ability to check your pet’s blood sugar at home you will be able to confidently determine if your pet needs immediate emergency intervention.  Of course we still recommend seeking veterinary help if your pet isn’t acting right and his blood sugar is within normal limits. Ask you vet if this would be an option for you.

In Summary

Diabetes is dogs and cats is a treatable disease.  Your pet should likely go on living a happy, healthy life.  While it is true that treating a pet for diabetes can potentially be an expensive endeavor, it is well worth it for many pet owners. 




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