the Banfield podcast: NOT JUST FLUFF

Real talk about pet wellness with Banfield Pet Hospital

Host Hannah Shaw and the pros at Banfield debunk myths, share tips (including prevention!), and deep dive into some of the most common questions we hear from pet lovers.

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Latest episode

Episode 6 - Nourishing Nibbles

A helpful guide to feeding your pets

Raw, veggie, senior or puppy, wet or dry... oh my! With seemingly endless food options, it can be hard to navigate how and how much to feed our pets. Hannah and Jennifer, Registered Veterinary Technician, discuss the basics about pet nutrition.

Episode 6: Nourishing nibbles

Run time: 33 minutes, 21 seconds


Raw, veggie senior or puppy, wet or dry... oh my! With seemingly endless food options, it can be hard to navigate how and how much to feed our pets.

In this episode, Hannah sits down with Jennifer Rodeen, Registered Veterinary Technician and Practice Manager at Banfield Pet Hospital in Lacey, Washington. Hannah and Jennifer discuss the role nutrition plays in every stage of your pet’s life, what to pay attention to when choosing the right foods, and how lifestyle and environment can have an impact.

We hope you enjoy Not Just Fluff! If you find these conversations helpful, we want to hear from you! Rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and let us know what you liked about the show.

Learn more about Banfield Pet Hospital’s Optimum Wellness Plans®

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT: Not Just Fluff, Episode 6

Nourishing Nibbles: A helpful guide to feeding your pets


Speaker 1: Banfield Pet Hospital is a proud member of the Mars, Inc. family, which includes Mars Petcare, a leading provider of pet nutrition.

Speaker 2: Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system.

Hannah Shaw: Hannah Shaw...

Speaker 2: Is not available. At the tone. Please record your message.

Stevie: This is Stevie, and my dog's name is Ivy. I took Ivy to the vet this week and they said that she's overweight. I take her for daily walks and regular trips to the dog park, and I already have her on special food to manage her weight. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. Any advice you could share?

Hannah Shaw: You're listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet Wellness from Banfield Pet Hospital, hosted by me, Hannah Shaw, animal advocate, otherwise known as the Kitten Lady. If you're like me, you love your animals a lot, but they can't talk and it can be tough to know what they really need. Not Just Fluff is here to provide you with actionable tips and science backed advice from reputable professionals who really understand pet care. They say you are what you eat. And if that's the case for our animal friends, then of course we want them to eat only the best. But with so many options on the shelves, how can we know which food is the right food for our cats and dogs, or how much we should be feeding them? This week, we're talking all about nutrition, weight, and understanding how to feed our animals to meet their needs and keep them healthy. To help us explore this topic. I'm joined today by Jennifer Rowden, a registered veterinary technician and practice manager at Banfield Pet Hospital in Lacey, Washington. Jennifer currently has three dogs, three cats and a horse. She has a bachelor's degree in animal sciences from Washington State University, as well as an associate degree in veterinary technology from Pierce College. She has an active veterinary technician license in Washington State, and her passion at work is client education, specifically with regards to nutrition. Outside of work, she enjoys going camping, boating, and hiking with her two boys. Jennifer, welcome to the show!

Jennifer Rodeen: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Hannah Shaw: I hear that you have three dogs and three cats. Your house sounds like it is so full of love and joy. Could you start by just kind of telling us a little bit about your animals in your house?

Jennifer Rodeen: Yes. I have three dogs. I have a German Shepherd that is, 15. I have an Australian shepherd that is ten and a corgi that is two. I also have three cats. Two brothers. And I just acquired a new kitten this last June, so she's decided to take over the house. Her name is Poppy.

Hannah Shaw: Oh, that sounds amazing. I love that a kitten is like the ringleader of all of these animals. That sounds just about right to me.

Jennifer Rodeen: Yeah. She quickly asserted her authority.

Hannah Shaw: Well, Jennifer, I know you have a love of sharing your knowledge about animal nutrition, and I'm super grateful that you're here today to talk about that with us. Before we dive in, I'm wondering if you have a story about a patient or even one of your personal animals that you've cared for, where their life has been improved through proper nutrition?

Jennifer Rodeen: I do, and when I was asked to do this, I'm going to share a story. I've been in the veterinary industry over 30 years, so of course I have lots of stories. But one just kept coming to the forefront of my mind. It's very personal to me because it is about my own pet, and the reason that it kept coming to the forefront of my mind is because it encompasses, the environmental factors that can be related to pets and, and obesity and things that my dog was she didn't have control over. It was changes I was making in my life that affected her life. And the years ago when I acquired her, and I'm speaking to my Australian Shepherd. That's ten now. We lived on a farm. We had 40 acres. She ran all day long with me while I was working the farm. Whether she was walking next to me or she was running alongside the tractor, she had lots and lots of activity in her life. At a point in my life, I found myself having to make a change and move closer to family, which in turn put her in a neighborhood where they fenced back yard so her activity level severely decreased. We also were moving in with my parents at the time, because I was making the transition and looking to buy my own home, so as I was starting a new career in a new city, she was left home along with grandpa, who decided she wasn't getting enough food to eat, and that she needed more food along with treats. You know, every time she would go outside, she'd get a treat. Pretty soon she ended up gaining weight because she wasn't getting the exercise that she was used to and that she wasn't. She was getting more food than she was used to. And then what I could control, after I was able to purchase my own home and meals out, I was able to control her diet a little bit more. And I've been working on her weight loss journey for about a year, and we've been able to pull about 15 pounds off since her, so she's back down to a normal weight. Wow.

Hannah Shaw: That's significant. I mean, it's very interesting to hear the way that lifestyle played such a role in her story. Thank you so much for sharing that. We have a lot to get through. I have so many questions for you. I want to start with a very basic question, which is just why is nutrition important for our animal friends and what are some of the consequences of poor nutrition?

Jennifer Rodeen: Definitely nutrition, plays a big part, big role in preventative care. In our industry right now, we know one out of two dogs and cats are considered to be overweight or obese. And unfortunately, this has become normal for our pets.

Hannah Shaw: That is really interesting. I mean, what are some of the consequences of obesity in our animals? You say it's so common now. What are we seeing happening in relation to their weight?

Jennifer Rodeen: So obesity, can certainly be a gateway to associated disease conditions. That is, overweight may be at risk for diseases such as degenerative joint disease, endocrine disorders, and respiratory problems.

Hannah Shaw: So we've got a lot to get through. I have tons of questions for you. I would love to just start with a basic question, which is why is nutrition important for our animals?

Jennifer Rodeen: Nutrition is one of the most important parts of, preventive care that we can provide our pets. Whether it be feeding a puppy, an adult dog or a senior dog. The foods that we feed our dogs can determine their long term health, and feeding a proper life stage. Food is extremely important.

Hannah Shaw: I know that when people go to shop at a pet supply store, you know, you see just aisles and aisles and aisles of like colorful bags with cats or dogs on them. And it can be very overwhelming if you're not used to shopping for these products. I know a lot of people kind of just go with based on price or maybe based on what branding appeals to them, but what should people actually be looking for when they are food shopping?

Jennifer Rodeen: Well, we want to guide owners to look for a food that does provide a life stage, food that also provides a fixed formula, for that pet that gives them the proper nutrition for where that cuts at in its life. And so it's important that we, we direct owners and guide owners to look for a food that is appropriate for their pet, again, for its appropriate life stage, and to breed and size of the pet, whether it's a large breed of or small breed of a young kitten or an older cat. There's also foods that help promote healthy colts who might help with urinary issues. There's a whole plethora of different options out there for owners.

Hannah Shaw: So when somebody is at the store and they're looking at all these bags and trying to figure out, like, what am I getting for my cat or my dog as a human, I might look at the nutrition facts on the back of something. Is there some kind of information on a bag or a case of animal food that is like nutrition facts? And how can people learn how to read that?

Jennifer Rodeen: So there are definitely nutrition facts on the bag of foods. It doesn't tell you the whole story though. It will give you the ingredients listed by volume. First off, the the ingredients that weigh the most is first. And it also gives you percentages of ingredients. So minimum protein and minimum fat. However, we can't necessarily compare those. And because they are minimums they don't tell us exactly what's in the bag. So going to the manufacturer to get to the actual percentages on a dry matter basis is really the way to go. And we in the veterinary industry have those resources available to us so we can actually compare apples to apples with the foods. It's really hard to compare and the information on a bag of food because it's not it's not 100%.

Hannah Shaw: I've also heard that there's differences in how things are labeled. Like there's a difference between saying it's chicken flavored versus it's chicken. Is there any information that people should be aware of with any of the kind of labeling of what is inside of the food?

Jennifer Rodeen: There is. And now you're going to test me. Sorry. The article the American Association of Feed Control Officials, or regulates is the terminology used on the bag. And the different types of terminology will let you know what percent of ingredients is actually in that food. And so the terminology is really important to understand. And consumers don't always understand the differences in the terminology on the back. This would.

Hannah Shaw: Yeah. This is why I'm glad we're having this conversation, because I know when I look at a bunch of different options, you know, unless you are educated on this subject, you might really not have an easy time of discerning those differences. Is there anything that people should be avoiding when they're shopping for food? Like, you see that? And it's a no-no.

Jennifer Rodeen: I always look for a food that, once again, is a life stage food. So, there are foods that are formulated for what we consider all life stages. And the most demanding life stage of a pet is going to be their kitten or a puppy. And so, if you see a bag of food that says it's formulated for all stages, that is essentially feeding to a puppy auction, and that's definitely not gonna be appropriate for, you know, adults or a senior dog. And, and that scene is required to be on all bags of food. One thing I like to do is, is teach owners how to look for those things when we're trying to, to pick a food that's appropriate for their pet.

Hannah Shaw: You talk about life stages, and that's what I would love to dive into. You know, I am a bottle baby foster parent, so I take care of kittens and puppies, and when I'm weaning them on to solids, I'm definitely choosing a kitten or a puppy diet. I think some people don't realize that there are these different life stage diets. Can you talk about what might be different from, say, a puppy food versus a senior dog food?

Jennifer Rodeen: Sure. Definitely a puppy food. The puppies are growing. They have a much higher demands on their bones and muscles than a senior dog and a senior dog. We would want to see a figure that was probably really reduced and protein to help support its kidneys. They don't need as much protein in their life. They don't need as much calcium phosphate, phosphorus because they are not growing. And we want to support their organs. And a puppy food would not be appropriate for that.

Hannah Shaw: Sure. Yeah. I mean, when you think about even outside of nutrition, just what animals need as a baby versus as a senior is quite different. So, it makes sense that there's these different diets that meet their needs. At what age would you switch a kitten or a puppy on to their adult diet?

Jennifer Rodeen: So that is not, necessarily straightforward question only because we have different size, especially spot size dogs with cats. And you would want to see that adjustment maybe around a year of age with dogs, small breed dog versus a large breed dog. There's lots of variability. Smaller breed dogs we're going to recommend around a year of age again to transition to an adult soon.

Hannah Shaw: That is fascinating. I had no idea that the life stages would change depending on the dog's sex. That's really interesting. And now what about switching to senior? I know for me, when my animals have become seniors, I'm very. I just feel defiant about it. I'm like, no, they're not a senior. They're still just a baby. But, you know, if we want to extend their health and help them live healthy lives in their golden years, we do have to kind of admit that it's time to put them on a senior diet. So, when would you recommend doing that?

Jennifer Rodeen: So with cats, we recommend around seven years of age to transition on to a senior food formulated food small and medium dogs. We would recommend around seven as well. And then the giant breed dogs around five years of age, which doesn't sound like it's very old. But again, their lifespan isn't as long as our smaller dogs, so they are considered to be seniors at a younger age.

Hannah Shaw: I'd love to talk a bit about some of the therapeutic and prescription diets that are available out there. Unfortunately, I have a lot of experience with this because I tend to take on the animals that need a little bit of extra help from the veterinarian. Can you talk about the cases in which it might be appropriate to talk to your vet about a prescription diet?

Jennifer Rodeen: Well, you definitely would want your veterinarian’s opinions, and input on these. And it would be, you know, determined by your veterinarian or whether or not a prescription diet would be warranted for your pet. Prescription diets can be used to help with skin conditions, you know, kidney disease, diabetics, obesity. We even have prescription diets that help with dental visits.

Hannah Shaw: I have a cat who is on a renal diet. So, to support his kidneys. And it has made such a difference as part of his overall care plan. I've seen it make a world of difference. So, definitely important for people to be aware that those diets exist.

Jennifer Rodeen: Yes. And with kidney disease in particular, food is the number one thing that we use, to help support that disease.

Hannah Shaw: I think one of the first questions that people have when they, you know, take home their first cat or dog is whether they should be buying wet food or dry food. Can you kind of talk about the difference between those two types of food and what's your perspective? What's the benefit of each?

Jennifer Rodeen: I guess it also depends on if you're talking about a dog or a cat. So, because the recommendations are different for each. Certainly, with cats, they're looking at more of a recommendation of adding canned food into their diets. It allows them to add more moisture into their diet without drinking more water, which is something that cats aren't always good at. Dry food is certainly the easier for us to feed than wet food, and sometimes for owners it boils down to cost. You know, what is the most cost effective for them? Canned food is going to be more costly than dry food, but there's certainly a combination of both would be just fine depending upon if you're feeding a dog or a cat to a puppy or a kitten. Sometimes palatability is an issue. If that doesn't like dry food, what would be something that would be warranted?

Hannah Shaw: Yeah. I wanted to ask you about where preference comes in. You know, I am such a foodie myself. Eating is my favorite time of the day, and I, you know, want the animals that I love to enjoy eating to. So how much does preference play a role in food selection for animals?

Jennifer Rodeen: Certainly with cats it it plays a higher role with dogs. You know, cats like to be able to spell their food. And if they don't like the smell of it, they're not going to eat it. So, cats are a lot more particular. Dogs certainly can be two. But I think as owners we probably overthink that and allow them to be pickier than what they really are. You know, as in your if your dog doesn't eat food, one day you'll go out and buy another bag of food and try that. And in turn, we end up making them pickier than they really are by switching out the foods.

Hannah Shaw: How would you recommend navigating introducing a new food to your animal if they are picky about it? Like if you show your dog food and they just totally turn their nose up at it, what's your recommendation?

Jennifer Rodeen: So we would run the first, make sure that we're feeding an appropriate food and look for another appropriate food and do a slow transition, because we don't want to cause any digestive upset when we are transitioning. We also want to make sure that we don't have any underlying medical conditions that are making them not want to eat their food, but trying different foods is is okay if they're not eating. We just don't want to continuously try them. If they have an off day because we will just perpetuate the cycle.

Hannah Shaw: You know, raw food diets have become very popular over the last few years, but there are some risks associated with feeding raw diets. Can you share a bit about what people should know if that's something they're considering?

Jennifer Rodeen: Raw foods in the veterinary industry, for the most part, are not recommended because of the, you know, the bacteria and the salmonella and everything that that the pets and us can get from the raw signals.

Hannah Shaw: Yeah. As an aside, I also don't feed I don't feed raw diets to any of my animals. But years and years ago, I had one kitten with some issues that I ended up being recommended to try it with him. And guess what he ended up with? Salmonella. So, that that was a real eye opener for me. I think.

Jennifer Rodeen: There were certainly cases where maybe that's your only option. And I would recommend partnering with a veterinary nutritionist to do it the correct way. If that's what they were wanting to do.

Hannah Shaw: So how can people know how often they should be feeding their cat or dog, and also the volume they should be feeding?

Jennifer Rodeen: So volume we can certainly calculate based on their body condition, at the time and whether or not they are an ideal weight or if they're overweight and need to lose weight. We can determine how many calories they need to have in a day, and then we can go to the manufacturer and find out how many calories are in that food, whether it be a wet food or a dry food. And we can figure out what the portion is that they need in that day. And then we take that portion, and we divide it into how many feedings we would be, whether it would be 2 or 3 younger pets. Typically, we want to feed more often during the day or, you know, more times throughout the day then. And our older pets I feed mine were twice a day, which works for me because I'm gone most of the day. I'm sure they would eat more often if I if I let them.

Hannah Shaw: Yeah. So, when you say go to the manufacturer and like divide the amount of times they're eating like it could probably sound a little overwhelming to people who have never had to do that research or do that math. I think a takeaway I'm getting is that we should be having these conversations with our veterinarians who, you know, know how to look at this stuff and tell you exactly what to do. Do you think that that's an important conversation to have, you know, as part of your your wellness appointments?

Jennifer Rodeen: Yes, I 100%. I think that's an important conversation. And going back to the story and my dog, that's what I did for her, I figured out how much how much she should be eating in a day, how much, how many calories were in a cup of food. And then I took that into my video that we also want to make sure that we are incorporating our treats into our calculation, because the treats can add in just as many calories, if not more than enough food that we are feeding. Ideally, treats should factor in no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake.

Hannah Shaw: So I'd love to start talking a bit about weight. You told an amazing story of your dog, and we actually had a caller, Steve, who called in about his dog Ivy. He says that she is a bit overweight, despite all of his efforts to give her regular exercise and proper diet. What would you recommend for a dog like Ivy?

Jennifer Rodeen: I would want to first off, find some more information about her. What time dog is she? How old is she? Does she have any underlying health issues? Have we checked her for a factory disease? What food is she currently feeding? A couple of one type of food is not necessarily equal to a cat. Another type mostly, as far as the calories in each type. So, I would sit down, and see where she's at, what body condition she is at right now, what she's feeding, how much she's getting, and go from there and formulate a plan to either change her diet or keep her on her diet. But know what an appropriate amount of food she should be eating? Yes.

Hannah Shaw: I know that obesity is becoming a very common condition in both cats and dogs, and it can lead to other health concerns. Right? Can you talk a bit about the impact that weight has on an animal's health?

Jennifer Rodeen: Yes. Obesity does set pets up to be at higher risk for degenerative joint disease, endocrine disorders, and respiratory problems. We see lots of heavy overweight dogs that end up with arthritis. They are more prone to cruciate ruptures. And then it also puts them at risk for surgery if we have to do surgery on them.

Hannah Shaw: Are there differences between the way that obesity affects dogs and cats?

Jennifer Rodeen: The types of diseases that manifest would be different. Cats are more likely to become diabetic if they're overweight, whereas dogs are probably going to be more prone to have the degenerative joint diseases.

Hannah Shaw: But in either case, it's very important that we're, you know, maintaining a good weight for them. How can people know if their animal is within an ideal weight range?

Jennifer Rodeen: So consulting with your veterinarian would be the first step because obesity is so common in our pets. Some of our owners don't even realize that their pets are overweight. We rate scale pets on a scale of 1 to 9, with nine being extremely obese. Most owners are always pets are going to fall between 5 and 9. So consulting with your doctor to see where your pet is at on that scale would be the first step.

Hannah Shaw: And how can your veterinary team help your animal reach or maintain an ideal weight? What does that partnership look like?

Jennifer Rodeen: So we can first of all, determine where the pet is at on the the body condition or scale. We can help them prioritize healthy activities for their pets. They make active feeders for dogs and cats that encourages them to move while they're eating. We can also encourage owners to do radio or walks, and even things such as they curious owner has to work all day and can't do walks taking them to a daycare. We can also help them track their weight. So, it's important that we get a baseline on where the pet is at. Decide where we need it to be and track their progress. Are we making progress? And are we making the progress we want to make? And if we are not making that progress, what judgments do we need to make to get there? We can also help owners change their habits. A lot of the extra calories that we feed our pets is because of fed. And and my dogs are no different. You know, one thing we can do is if our if our pets are used to getting a treat every time when they go into their crate or every time they go outside, cut that tree in half and you're still giving a treat. But they're getting less calories by doing it. So just subtle changes that can make big differences. We also want to find an appropriate food for them so that they can lose weight and still have the proper nutrition that they need in the process. Whether that be a therapeutic diet or an that repeated diet. And again, measuring out the portions, calculating out what how many calories they need in a 24 hour period, and then determining how many calories are in the food and the treats. So we can come up with a plan for that.

Hannah Shaw: I loved something that you mentioned, which was about feeders that help them eat in a more active fashion. I'm a big fan of puzzle feeders for my cats. And I feel like it is not just physically stimulating for them, but also like it is mentally stimulating for them. It's like they have to do a bit of a hunt. Can you talk a little bit about that for people who maybe have never heard of like enrichment feeders before?

Jennifer Rodeen: So they have these activity feeders that you put the food in and the pet has to either. Some of them are as simple as just rolling and around so that we take them out. Others have to literally make it a puzzle. And I think to be able to get the food out and not only does it make them move to do it, but it slows down their eating so they get fuller faster, even though, they might not be eating as much.

Hannah Shaw: So awesome. Well, thank you so much for all of this information. If there's one takeaway that our listeners could take from this conversation when it comes to nutrition, what would you want it to be?

Jennifer Rodeen: My one takeaway would be knowing how many calories your path should be eating in a day, and calculating that out so that you, are feeding them appropriately to, to prevent obesity, to prevent some of these disorders that they can get because of obesity.

Hannah Shaw: I can really tell how passionate you are about this subject. How did you learn so much about nutrition and what made you so passionate about it?

Jennifer Rodeen: So one of the programs that speared my interest in this subject is our Pet Nutrition Advisor program that we have available to our licensed technicians. And this program is designed to help educate technicians about the importance of nutrition for pets, and then help technicians partner with their veterinarian and the owners to find the proper diet for each pet.

MIDROLL AD: Banfield is here to provide you and your pet with smart, affordable, high quality pet care so you can worry less about the vet and wellness stuff and instead enjoy life with your BFF. That's why we created Optimum Wellness Plans®. Our plans aren't insurance. They're year-long bundles of preventive care custom built for the pet you love. Plans include unlimited in-office visits, 24/7 Pet Chat for general pet health advice, virtual vet visits, vaccines, dental cleanings, discounts and more. Optimum Wellness Plans®. Essential pet care made easy. Learn more by clicking the link in the show notes or visit us at

Hannah Shaw: So, now we are going to give each other some fast facts about animal nutrition. My first fast fact is going to be about baby animal nutrition, since that's the population I work with. And, that is that you cannot just feed the cow milk out of your fridge, to baby orphaned animals. So, you know, if you have a kitten or a puppy who has become orphaned and they're not able to nurse on a lactating mom, you know, people see, bottle feeding is what you do, but you really want to have a formula that actually meets their nutritional needs. So, cow milk is really designed to feed herbivorous baby cows. And it happens that, you know, kittens are obligate carnivores and puppies are omnivores. And so they have very different dietary needs from a baby cow. That is just a really important thing to know, that there are lots of, commercial formulas available that meet the needs of neonatal kittens and puppies. But please do not reach for the milk in your fridge.

Jennifer Rodeen: Not only is cow milk not good to feed, but formulating our own foods at home and feeding human foods to our animals is also not recommended for a variety of reasons. They don't process things the same way we do, and the nutritional requirements are different than what we have at home. If owners want to feed us, I mean diet, and I would recommend consulting a veterinary nutritionist to make sure that you have the proper amount of macro and micro ingredients in that diet so that your pet is getting everything it needs.

Hannah Shaw: Yeah, thank you for that, because I think that it can be tempting for people to do a home cooked meal for their cat or dog. But unless you are a nutritionist who specializes in cats and dogs, you probably are not going to be able to give them the exact diet they need. My second fast fact is that cats are obligate carnivores, and that means that they rely on a diet that consists primarily of meat. This is an important one for me because I am personally a vegan and a lot of people will ask me, oh, well then what do you feed your cats? And I just say, well, what do you think I feed my cats? They're obligate carnivores. So I just want to say all if any vegans are listening to this, you know, don't get any ideas there. These cats are obligate carnivores and they are depending on us to feed them a diet that's healthy for them. So they have a need for essential amino acids. They can only get from meat nutrients that they can only get from animal sources. So yes, if you are caring for a cat, you need to feed them the appropriate diet.

Jennifer Rodeen: And along those same lines, dogs are not obligate carnivores. They do not require high levels of protein in their diet. And I think we see a lot of advertising, high levels of protein. You know, that's not always appropriate for certain life stages of pets. We certainly don't want to be feeding a high level protein food to a senior dog. And the dogs do not need high levels of protein like cats do, to survive.

Hannah Shaw: So interesting. See, this is why I think it's very important that we talk with experts on this show. And when we go to our veterinarian's office that we are having these conversations. These are things that I think a lot of people might not realize. So, thank you so much for all of the great information, and thanks for everything that you do for animals.

Jennifer Rodeen: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

Hannah Shaw: I've really enjoyed this conversation, and I think the big takeaway for me is that if you're caring for an animal companion, being informed about their nutritional needs is just as important as knowing how to feed yourself and talking with your vet about the health of your specific cat or dog can really help you make smarter choices when it comes to how you feed them. I hope that this conversation was interesting. Food for thought for you and thanks so much for listening. Thank you for listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet wellness from the pros at Banfield Pet Hospital. Make sure to get your paws on the like and subscribe button so you don't miss an episode.

Coming next episode: Getting the most from your relationship with your vet.


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Latest episode

Episode 5 - Golden Ears

Navigating your pet's senior years

This episode, Hannah and Dr. Andrea Sanchez discuss the changes you can expect as your dog or cat enters their senior years, and preventive care practices you can adopt to help keep them comfortable, happy, and healthy. That’s right – preventive care isn’t just for our young pets!

Episode5: Golden Ears

Run time: 32 minutes, 42 seconds


Our senior pets are extremely special creatures, and caring for a senior can be very fulfilling. Every stage of your pet’s life comes with changes, their golden years are no different. So as your BFF trades in the zoomies for naps in the sun, what can you do to give them appropriate care?

In this episode, Hannah speaks to Dr. Andrea Sanchez, Area Chief of Staff for Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland, and passionate advocate for senior pets. Together, they discuss the changes you can expect as your dog or cat enters their senior years, and preventive care practices you can adopt to help keep them comfortable, happy, and healthy. That’s right – preventive care isn’t just for our young pets!

We hope you enjoy Not Just Fluff! If you find these conversations helpful, we want to hear from you! Rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and let us know what you liked about the show.

Learn more about Banfield Pet Hospital’s Optimum Wellness Plans®

VOICE 1: Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system.

HANNAH SHAW: Hannah Shaw...

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CALLER: Hi there. This is Shauna. My dog, Tango, is a senior. I know that senior dogs need different care, but I'm not exactly sure where to start. We have him on senior food, but what are some other best practices that we should know about? Thanks so much.

HANNAH SHAW: You’re listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet Wellness from Banfield Pet Hospital, hosted by me, Hannah Shaw, animal advocate otherwise known as the Kitten Lady. If you're like me, you love your animals a lot, but they can't talk. And it can be tough to know what they really need. Not Just Fluff is here to provide you with actionable tips and science backed advice from reputable professionals who really understand pet care. Animals. They have lived long and incredible lives, and some of them have been with us since they were just puppies and kittens. This topic is so near and dear to my heart because my closest companion is my senior cat, Coco, who I've loved for 15 years. Giving her the care she needs is one of my biggest priorities in life. Caring for a senior animal is such a special experience, but there's also a learning curve and a lot of information to know. To discuss this topic in depth, I've brought on Dr. Andrea Sanchez, who can offer a vet's perspective on caring for our beloved seniors. Dr. Sanchez earned her veterinary degree from Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine after graduating from Vassar College. Today, she serves as Area Chief of Staff for Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland. Andrea, thanks so much for being on the show.

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Thanks for having me, Hannah.

HANNAH SHAW: It's good to be here. I wonder, do you have any animals of your own and what are their ages? Have you ever had a senior animal at home?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: I have a 13-year-old pit bull mix right now. His name is Frankie. He is the best. Sadly, in the past couple of years, uh, my husband and I have seen each of our three cats through aging and becoming older and then finally leaving us. So, we've had a lot of geriatric animals. Even in vet school, I adopted two different dogs from the shelter who needed homes that were both over the age of eleven when they needed a home. And that's kind of an area where, I don't know, there's a special part of my heart that goes out to geriatric pets.

HANNAH SHAW: I can see you glowing while you're talking about this, and I relate because I am in the same boat with my animals now. And is there a senior animal that you've treated recently who really touched your heart?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Oh, my gosh. I think it always just amazes me how much you still can do for them to improve their quality of life. I think that's what always keeps me feeling inspired and passionate about caring for geriatric pets, because you'll never know. I mean, owners will come in to you with a cat that doesn't even hardly move around at all anymore, and now you can give them, like, an injection of an anti-inflammatory that's got no side effects, that relieves their pain, that makes them start moving. There are so many pets that have really touched my heart and just inspired me as a veterinarian, just realizing what there is that can still be done to keep them happy and keep them comfortable.

HANNAH SHAW: I love your passion for this topic so much. Um, today, as we're talking about senior animals, what age qualifies as a senior, and is it different for cats and dogs?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Any patient over eight years of age is considered geriatric to your veterinarian. That was what your veterinarian was probably taught to consider a geriatric or older pet. Now, I know that that's hard for some of us to wrap our minds around sometimes, is that dogs or cats are considered geriatric generally at eight years of age. Part of the reason that's hard to wrap your mind around it is because it really depends on the individual, right? It's different for every individual patient, and in particular, when it comes to the breed of dog, the smaller breed dogs tend to live a lot longer. So, eight years old for a miniature poodle is not eight years old for a Great Dane, right, eight years old for a Great Dane is much older. Eight years for a poodle, maybe halfway through their life. So, it can really vary by breed and by lifestyle, uh, taking care of their teeth, whether or not they have a heart condition, um, how bad their arthritis is. All these things make a huge difference.

HANNAH SHAW: I like what you say about how that can be hard for people to wrap their head around, because I definitely can relate to that. I remember when my animals were turning ten, and veterinarians were saying to me, “oh, well, because you have a senior...” And I'm like, “what? No, I don't. I don't have a senior. No. Ten years old. They're just finishing elementary school at that age?!” Right? But obviously, cats and dogs age at a different rate than we do.

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: It's so easy for us to anthropomorphize, right? Which means, like, thinking animals are people, right. And thinking people and animals are the same, and we just have totally different lifespans and therefore different metabolisms and different rates of aging. I love your comparison to elementary school. A ten-year-old, totally different story, right? You should really just be starting middle school with that.

HANNAH SHAW: That's my perspective! Um, so this is a developmental stage that I think sometimes it's new for those of us who are going through it for the first time. Can you talk about what changes happen to cats and dogs as they're entering their senior years? What's happening in their body as they age?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Absolutely. I think there's probably three main areas that you'll see major changes. One is teeth and oral health. You will start to see periodontal disease and just the accumulation of plaque and tartar, and the effects of long-term plaque and tartar buildup start to really show themselves after the ages of eight and nine, especially if your pet has never had their teeth brushed and never had a professional dental cleaning. You will start to see receding gum lines, loose teeth, oral pain. Also, kidneys and kidney health and kidney sufficiency. The kidneys start to have more trouble filtering our blood. Right. The job of the kidney is to filter our blood and to make urine because urine is all the filtrates or the waste products from our blood that we urinate out. That is an organ that starts to get a little tired, maybe in a lot of older patients. So, we always want to keep a really close eye on kidney health through routine blood work after the ages of eight and nine, especially. And then I would say probably the other big area where we very commonly see changes is bone and joint health. Right? So, we start seeing the effects of long-term joint inflammation, arthritis, osteoarthritis, or just little aches and pains that didn't used to be there before. And I'm speaking for both dogs and cats here when I talk about oral health. Kidneys and arthritis. Cats get arthritis, too, and so few of us recognize that. When our cat starts to get arthritis, uh, they can hide it so well. All we notice is that they move around a little bit less. They're just a little less active than they used to be when they were young. They're just not that crazy wild kitten that's climbing the curtains anymore. So, we think they're just getting old when a lot of times they're actually suffering some more stiffness and joint aches and pains.

HANNAH SHAW: Can you talk a bit about the difference between, uh, normal signs of aging and signs of health? Issues that actually could be addressed through treatment.

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: So, the thing I want everybody to remember is age is not a disease. Age is not a disease. Right. I mean, I'm saying that because I've got snapping, I know I've got gray hair, and I've got arthritis, but, like, age is not a disease. Age is associated with an increased likelihood of certain diseases, right? Yes. It is associated with increased likelihood of certain conditions and certain diseases. Those are in and of themselves treatable and manageable in their own way. I think it's important for us to recognize it as there's no such thing as just old age. There is kidney insufficiency. There is congestive heart failure. There is arthritis that can sometimes result in decreased mobility. There's periodontal disease that can result in difficulty eating. There are, oh, my gosh, endocrine diseases, I mean, thyroid problems, diabetes, and making age sound awful.

HANNAH SHAW: No, but I love this conversation because knowledge is really power, and I find it very empowering, personally, to know there is something to be done for a lot of this. It's not just sit back and go, oh, well, my cat or dog is old. There's nothing to do about it. I love your passion for helping people understand.

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: No, there is something to be done a lot of the time. There is something we can do. I mean, absolutely. And I think when I talk to most of my clients, the vast majority of them, really what they want for their pet, uh, is a better life, not necessarily a longer one, right. And most of them, when it comes right down to, are we going to go to extremes to keep my pet alive, or are we going to ensure that every day for my pet is the best possible day it can be, most people will choose the latter. Most people will say, can I just keep him as happy and comfortable, or her as happy and comfortable as possible? That's usually the focus. And there is so much more than most of my clients realize can be done to keep your pet as happy and comfortable as possible in their older years.

HANNAH SHAW: What are the nutrients that are beneficial for seniors, or what changes when an animal is moving on to a senior diet, and when should they change onto that diet?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Such a good question. Because there are differences at different stages of life, and particularly when pets become geriatric, one of the biggest changes is actually just calorie content. So we tend to overfeed and feed more calories than our pets really need when they're a little older because their metabolism does slow down a little bit. That's a big one. And then, uh, every other nutritional concern is going to be very particular to the patient. So, a lot of dogs in older age, for example, end up with kidney insufficiency, like I was talking about before. For that, if your dog is starting to show, or your cat even is starting to show signs of, uh, kidneys not working as well as they used to, your vet will probably prescribe a different diet that has lowered protein content, different types of protein, to make the work that the kidneys do a little bit less. There's also going to be changes in phosphorus, magnesium, ammonium concentrations, because the types of minerals that we consume that our pets consume is going to greatly affect kidney health. There are other diets that are really great for joint health, really great for skin health. They'll have higher levels of omega-three fatty acids. They'll source their fatty acids from, uh, very key types of sources that are more bioavailable to the pet. There's not some general blanket diet that's great for every older pet. It's very much going to depend on your pet's needs as determined by your vet.

HANNAH SHAW: You talked a bit about metabolism. Is there a weight change that happens for senior animals? And when should people be concerned about that? Should people be monitoring their animals' weight? And when is it normal weight change and when is it concerning weight change?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Weight loss is a really common thing among older pets. Over a two-to-three-month period, all of a sudden, it's like the owner is kind of going, he looks skinnier. Why does he look skinnier? Right. All of a sudden, even a pet that's been kind of overweight their whole life, and you're just going, why are you all of a sudden losing weight? So sudden onset weight loss is a big concern in older pets. Um, anytime that we have sudden weight loss, we look for all kinds of things, um, and we need to usually look for that with blood work and radiographs. Um, we're looking for diabetes, we're looking for other endocrine disorders. Again, like I said, we're looking for cancer, kidney dysfunction, sometimes even, um, heart failure.

HANNAH SHAW: Exercise and mobility are very important for senior humans. Is it also important for senior dogs and cats? And can you talk a bit about mobility changes or things that we can do to support cats and dogs, uh, as they age?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: The number one thing is don't let them stop moving. Mobility is still important. I think it's our natural inclination to want to not cause them pain. So, we're not going to make them go up the stairs or not going to keep taking them on a walk around the block. Whereas what's probably important is to still walk them. Maybe not walk them quite as far, or maybe not run them quite as hard as we used to, but we still need to keep them moving. It's counterintuitive. It sometimes is uncomfortable for us to see them uncomfortable. We need to keep them moving for a couple of reasons. One is we keep the weight off that way and weight is one of the number one contributors to osteoarthritis, pain, um, and inflammation. And two, we need to keep the joints lubricated and keep the joints moving. Keeping the joints. Keeping the fluid in the joints circulating reduces the inflammation in the joints. Right. We do need to keep them moving. Now, some of the ways that we should consider how to help them keep moving comfortably and make them want to move more, especially with cats, because cats aren't going to do anything they don't want to do. Um, love them for that, right, is control of inflammation. And there are some really great new products, even non pharmaceutical products out on the market now that most of them have to be administered by a vet. Um, some of them are oral supplements, though, that can really reduce inflammation, really reduce the pain of inflammation, and can keep your cat and your dog feeling comfortable, mobile, despite their ongoing arthritis. Cats, you can absolutely encourage them to play. You can still pull out the toys and try to get them to chase them even when they're 13, 14, 15. Um, you can still get them to walk around the house with you, but it's going to be encouraged even more if you can be treating them with some good pain control, probably on a monthly basis. There are new injectable products out there now. Your vet probably has them.

HANNAH SHAW: So, interesting. Yeah. I wanted to ask you about joint pain because I understand that that is pretty common for senior animals. And what is a sign that an animal might be in pain? How do people know if this is something they should be concerned about?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Yeah, exactly. It's just about slowing down and watching carefully. Watch your cat when they walk up and down the stairs, if you have stairs, if you don't watch them when they're jumping onto and off of their usual perches, you will see a slower and a more stilted sort of stiff kind of movement. Right. Uh, it's just going to be a little more awkward than when you look back at your old videos on your phone from, like, five years ago. What we sometimes think of imprecisely as getting old is often stiffness. Stiffness in their gait. And you can see that if you just watch for about two to three minutes, your cat walking up and down the stairs, you can usually see that stiffness. For your dog, they're having a harder time getting up from a lying down or seated position. It's just a little harder to pull themselves up, right, or to get started. The other big thing that you'll notice with dogs is traction on slippery surfaces. Starts to go down. Once their joints aren't as strong, the muscles around their joints start to get weaker as well. And if they're standing on carpet or a rug, they'll seem pretty secure. If they're standing on a tile floor, they will start to slip a little bit more and they'll have a harder time getting up. So grip is a big part of it. You will notice all of those things as being probably a sign that your pet is in pain. It's not always like just limping on one paw. Right. And it's definitely not whining or just like, they don't just come up to you and go, oh, my shoulder hurts. They're not so obvious about it. They're not. Yeah. Sometimes we have to really understand what we're looking for. So, I appreciate that.

HANNAH SHAW: I wonder, do you recommend making adjustments in the house? Things like ramps and steps for the bed or mobility support devices, even like putting maybe a, uh, carpet runner down the hallway? Is that something that you do recommend for people with, like, a large dog who might be slipping or having a hard time getting onto furniture?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Yes, very strongly recommend getting more rugs and more carpet. Um, there are even some socks and booties that you can buy for dogs now that help give them more grip when they're walking, giving them a step up to the bed or to the couch where they used to not be able to get onto and off of as easily. All of those things are great ramps for the car. Some of them won't really be comfortable or want to learn how to use these devices. Right. So even the ones who have actual spinal injuries, you can purchase slings that you can help them walk with their back legs in particular. And I'm a big fan of those doggy wheelchairs. Rather than inhibiting them, it actually gives them a lot more quality of life and a lot more playfulness, a lot more spunk.

HANNAH SHAW: On this show, we talk a lot about the importance of preventive care. I think a lot of people associate preventive care with those first kitten and puppy appointments. But is preventive care still important for senior animals?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: It's probably one of the most frustrating things for a vet, and it's still kind of baffling to us that people often feel like, uh, if their dog or cat saw the vet when it was young, that it had all its shots, quote unquote. Right. That's a really common misconception that if you've seen your vet once or twice when your pet was young, that it's good for life. One of the most glaring examples of ongoing preventive care that's needed, for example, as an adult and not as a puppy, is heartworm prevention, right? Heartworm disease is this highly contagious, spreading, growing disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes, which can get into any one of our houses any time of year. And we have heartworm disease in all 50 states. And it's this preventable parasite. It's a disease that, like a mosquito bites the dog and worms are in their bloodstream, and then the worms grow to these huge, gross, long, obstructive things that get into the heart and then they cause heart failure, right? And it's happening slowly over years and years and years. And that is preventive care. That's only necessary after six months of age. And every year thereafter, they need to be on heartworm prevention, either with a year-round shot or a pill every month for the rest of their life. Or for dogs, there's a treatment for it which costs more than ten years of prevention would have cost. And the treatment itself can be deadly. It's highly dangerous, it's very painful. And dentistry is the other one that I will just start preaching about and feel no shame about being preachy. I'm just like, “no, you need more dental care the older you get, right?” That's how dogs and cats are. The older they get, probably the more visits they need to the vet. Just like people, their doctor.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah. So, I want to ask about that. How does preventive care change as an animal ages? Are there different screenings and diagnostics? Is there different blood work that you're looking at? Does the frequency of the appointments change? Can you kind of talk about what does a senior prevention plan look like for a cat and for a dog?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Most of them, your vet is going to tell you, try to bring them in twice a year and do blood work once a year when they're between like ten months at age and seven or eight once they get to seven or eight, they're probably going to tell you, do blood work twice a year. They're also going to recommend an annual urinalysis. And part of that blood work is usually going to include not only kidney screening, but for cats, especially thyroid screening. And what they're looking for is liver health. Kidney health. Um, they're looking for heart health. A lot of vets are going to recommend that your pet, over eight years of age, get routine chest x rays and electrocardiograms to check for heart health. And no matter what, they're going to be recommending dentistry every year from the time that they're like a year and a half. So, yeah, it does change, and I would say it's the frequency of how often they need their blood work. That's probably the biggest change. And then after that, it's very much the individual patient. I will find that I hear myself telling most of my patients over eight or nine, I find myself calling their owner more often and saying, “hey, there's a minor abnormality on blood work. I need to recheck this in three months,” or, “I need to do an ultrasound”, “or let's do some x rays” instead of, “everything was great today. We'll see you in six months.” Right. So it's a little more likely that when you do come in, we're going to find something that we can keep an eye on. Which is, yes, it's part of aging. Age is not a disease, but age is more likely to be associated with certain illnesses, most of which are manageable.

HANNAH SHAW: Sure. Yeah. And I do think you're right that every animal is going to be different. Do you have advice for people who maybe have had their animal diagnosed with a chronic condition? How can people become comfortable learning these new skills or learning about these new conditions and the care that they require?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Yeah, it's hard. I think the first thing to recognize is that it's emotional. I mean, you're going to be emotional because this was your baby for so many years. I know we don't all call our pets our babies, but in your eyes, they're still young and healthy and going along just fine. And who says they need this extra care? A lot of times we think of them more as a companion or friend than as this dependent in need of us to treat them. And not all of us were trained as nurses or caregivers. Right. And so that can be really challenging, I think have someone with you that you trust and feel close to the first time that you have to go through something, especially if it's the first visit to the oncologist or if it's the first time, you have to give subcutaneous fluids at home. Right. Also, um, there are a lot of great videos out there that are put out by a lot of vet schools about how to give your cat injections at home. For example, I usually recommend go with a video that's either done by a vet tech or a vet, or put out by one of the vet schools because there's a lot of information out there and not all of it is trustworthy. Sure. But definitely educate yourself and watch how it's done. Be okay with not being okay. It will be stressful. It will be very stressful to adjust, even just the change in your lifestyle that's going to go into caregiving because you're going to have more vet visits. You're even going to have to rearrange your travel schedule or rearrange your work schedule once you have a pet that's in need of a lot more vet visits or chemo or things like that.

HANNAH SHAW: I think asking questions and feeling comfortable expressing those areas of discomfort can really alleviate a lot of that fear of the unknown or fear that it can make you feel less alone. To know this stuff is a learning curve for everyone, but you can do it. I think that can feel really empowering.

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Absolutely. I love that piece of advice. Ask a lot of questions back to your earlier example of how you keep logs and you keep track of their weights at home, keep track of your questions to write them all down. Right? Like keep them in your notepad on your phone. At Banfield, we have something for our Wellness Plan clients where they can actually just send an email. They can chat twenty-four seven with a veterinary professional. And if it's midnight and you're up and you're panicking, you can just send a message to someone who may not have the answer to your question because they may not be an actual veterinarian, but they can give you some peace of mind and some ease and some answers in that moment, so sometimes you can just do a chat, or other times just write down your question, have it ready the next time you're going to go in.

HANNAH SHAW: I know that it's a hard topic, but I would love to ask you about end-of-life planning. I think it's something a lot of people want to avoid talking about, but I really believe it's important to have a plan, otherwise the loss of an animal can really sneak up on you and, uh, that urgency can be very hard on the animal and of course on the person caring for them. Can you talk a bit about how you help people make those decisions and how you help people feel comfortable that they're making the right choice?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Uh, this is always hard. I mean, after 16 years of being a vet, this is still complicated. It's still hard between me and the clients. We don't always know. You never know 100% if you're making the right decision at the right moment. There are some really great resources out there available now that school at the Ohio State University has this really helpful tool where you can start assessing quality of life. When your pet turns ten, when your pet turns eleven, when your pet turns twelve, you can fill out a little assessment sheet of what does quality of life look like for my pet? How often do they play? What are their favorite toys? How much do they like to jump up on the couch? What's their favorite thing to do? Is it to bark at the FedEx person? Is it to dig holes under my fence and escape? It's a way to assess month over month or year over year, the comparison, as time progresses of what is quality of life for my pet. For some people, no, quality of life is simply not wanting to dig in the backyard anymore. For others, they still have quality of life even if they can't walk and they're in diapers because they still like to eat and they still bark at the FedEx person, right. So, it really depends on the individual pet and on their family and on that year over year or month over month assessment. And then be aware that there are so many options for you out there. There are so many options. You can absolutely be there with your pet in the room, at the vet's office when it's time to say goodbye. There are in-home mobile euthanasia services which will come to your house and help, and they'll even start with sedation or something, so it's a very peaceful process, not stressful or painful. And they'll take care of all of the aftercare of the pet's remains for you. So will your vet clinic. You can have your pet cremated. In certain areas, you can actually bury your own pet on your property. Um, that's not always legal in most places, so double check your local county requirements. But there are a lot of things that they can do to help you memorialize your pet. You can ask your vet to save a piece of hair for you, piece of fur for you, to make a paw print in clay and bake it for you, or everybody grieves in a different way. So you don't have to have any of those things if those aren't going to work for you and your family, right? Definitely start assessing quality of life now while they're still seeming pretty happy and healthy and comfortable. And then you'll know later on a little bit more when you're getting closer to time.

HANNAH SHAW: I'm wondering if you can speak to the things that we can do now if we have a younger animal at home to prevent common issues in senior animals. Are there ways that we can set up animals for success in the future?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Yeah, honestly, the number one thing you can do, and this is hard for all of us to hear, manage their calorie intake. I mean, keep them as trim and as healthy a body condition now as possible. That is one thing in animals that has been proven to extend their lifespan and their quality of life. Be feeding either the recommended amount on the bag for your dog's weight or less. If your doctor says your pet needs to lose weight so your vet can actually give you, your vet or vet tech should be able to give you a calculated target calorie count per day. And every type of food is different. One of the most common questions I get is how much food should I feed my dog? Right? And my answer always suddenly has to be, I don't know because I don't know how many calories are in your dog's food. So, what I can tell you is how many calories you should feed your dog, um, and how much your dog should weigh ideally, right? So that you can take your food and say, “how many calories does the bag say is in this food per cup?” And then how many cups do I feed per day to make sure I'm not going above that? Um, and lots of exercise and long walks and healthy alternative treats. So instead of letting them lick the gravy, what we can instead give them apples, popcorn without butter on it, and green beans.

HANNAH SHAW: The last thing that I'd love to touch on is senior adoption. What do you recommend to people who have adopted a senior dog or cat? They're new to this person. What should they be doing in terms of their first vet visit with that animal?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: If you do adopt a senior pet, you're probably going to reap the benefits that a lot of people who get a puppy or kitten are not going to get. You probably have a house-trained animal who is very calm and is not going to tear apart your furniture. So yes, that's the first thing. And I think that for a lot of them, um, the first vet visit is more about, like you said, the relationship with the vet than anything else. I mean, yes, if you can try to get some assessment on where are we at with vaccine status, where are we at with heartworm testing and prevention, where are we at with other parasite prevention? So, do we have any fleas? Do we have any skin problems? Do we have any ear infections? So maybe a general checkup. But the most important thing is the pet's behavior and the pet's fear, anxiety and stress. So, being a senior pet means you've probably been through something traumatic, right? A lot of those senior pets are in the shelter because their owner passed away or their family suffered some kind of traumatic situation where they had to move suddenly for financial reasons and could not keep the pet. So those pets are often traumatized and, um, sometimes scared and unfamiliar. And this vet clinic is yet another unfamiliar environment that they're being taken to by this somewhat unfamiliar person that just adopted them. And they may not be bonded to you as the owner yet. So, the most important thing is managing their fear, their anxiety and stress. So, if the vet is willing to maybe just make that first office visit, just a chance for the vet to feed them some treats and to pet them, uh, if they let you take a blood sample, do it, run a heartworm test. But it's really more about the pet's comfort level. And it may be what we often call in the vet industry, a “happy visit,” right, where the pet just be acclimated to the vet clinic and to the vet and to the vet tech.

HANNAH SHAW: And do you, as a person who has adopted seniors, do you advise people to do that? What's your kind of elevator pitch for why people should consider adopting a senior cat or dog?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: My elevator pitch for it is largely because the pet is you don't have to train them. But it's also for the people who are willing to make an investment in time and energy and kind of want to give. It's very rewarding. That's, um, probably my most heartfelt pitch for it is it's very rewarding.

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HANNAH SHAW: So now we're going to switch gears and give each other some fast facts about senior animals. So, my first fast fact is that the average lifespan of, uh, a cat has risen quite a bit over the last couple of decades. So, in the average lifespan of a cat was considered to be about seven years, and now it is considered about, uh, there's a lot of different estimates. I see ten to 17, I see twelve to 18 years, but it's quite a bit higher than it was a couple of decades ago. And I think that that really goes to show how far we've come in the understanding of their needs and the care that we provide to them. And by the way, the oldest cat in recorded history actually lived to be 38 years old, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. So that was a very surprising fact to me.

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Um, my jaw is on the floor. I love that. That is amazing. I wouldn't believe it if it wasn't a world record.

HANNAH SHAW: I know we need to interview that person.

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: So, speaking of cat lifespans and what helps cats live longer, there is no treatment for heartworm disease in cats. Okay, that's a fact. So, the only way to prevent heartworm disease in cats is to prevent it. So, they should be on heartworm prevention every month, all year round. Uh, that's my fun fact. It's a sad fast fact, but it's like, I don't know, there's a way to prevent it.

HANNAH SHAW: So, my second fast fact is going to be about adoption. So, I run a nonprofit called Orphan Kitten Club. We get a lot of applicants from, um, people who have a senior cat at home, who want to bring home a kitten. And what we've found over the years is that sometimes one kitten plus a senior cat, they can kind of drive a senior cat a little bit wild. Um, so, actually, what we end up recommending is a pair of kittens, because what's really nice about a senior cat and then a pair of kittens is the senior can kind of choose. When do they want to engage and when do they want to say, I'll be watching you from the cat tree, but I'm not participating? Um, so we actually have a lot of success with that strategy of having, um, paired kittens in a home with a senior cat. What about senior dogs and puppies? What do you recommend about that?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: It very much depends on the individual. It's so dog-dependent. Senior cats tend to mostly all behave similarly, but with dogs, it's very dependent on the dog's temperament and the dog's personality. So you should definitely have had some test runs, like at, um, doggy daycare or at the dog park or even with a group of friends to see how does your older dog react with puppies and which kinds of puppies, what kind of behavior lights your dog up versus makes your dog irritated right before you go and bring a puppy into the household, some shelters and humane societies will allow you to do temperament tests with your dog and see how they get along with the dog you're thinking about adopting.

HANNAH SHAW: Any other fast facts about seniors that you want to share before we wrap up so fast?

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Fact about dogs, especially when they're adults or geriatrics, is that they can have stones in their bladder without you knowing. Oh, the only way that you will know is if we catch it on a routine urine check or we take x rays. Sometimes the stones can block their ability to pee or can be, uh, stuck in there and they're trying to pee. So, another reason to have geriatric pets go into the vet very regularly.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah, I think all of that reinforces everything we've been talking about during this discussion, which is the needs of our animals don't end at, uh, them becoming a senior animal. In fact, they need that preventive care. They need that inquiry with your veterinarian to monitor and keep track of their health. And I can't tell you how much I've appreciated this conversation. Um, Andrea, thank you so much for joining.

DR. ANDREA SANCHEZ: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Keep up the good work.

HANNAH SHAW: I know for me, after a lifetime of loving my animals, there's nothing I wouldn't do to give them the best golden years possible. A big takeaway from this conversation for me is that preventive care does not stop as a senior. In fact, it becomes even more important. So, keeping on top of their veterinary care is key. I hope that you've picked up some new ideas for your animal companions of all ages so that they can have the best and healthiest lives possible. Thank you for listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet wellness from the pros at Banfield Pet Hospital. Make sure to get your paws on the like and subscribe button so you don't miss an episode.

VOICE 2: This episode of Not Just Fluff is dedicated to Coco, Hannah's beloved BFF who recently crossed the rainbow bridge.

Not Just Fluff podcast cover art

Episode 4 - Preventive Petcare

What it means and why it matters

Pet owners sometimes ask why it’s important to take their pets to the vet if they seem healthy. In this episode, Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly and Mony Iyer join Hannah to discuss preventive care, and how regular vet visits can support the health of our furry friends.

Episode 4: Preventive Petcare

Run time: 32 minutes, 52 seconds


Despite the amount we talk to our pets (c’mon, you know you do it!), they just can’t talk back. So, it’s up to us as pet caretakers to advocate for their health and well-being. Pet owners sometimes ask why it’s important to take their pets to the vet if they seem healthy. We’re here to answer that question, unpack what wellness means when it comes to your BFF, and explain the differences between proactive and reactive care. 

In this episode, Hannah speaks to Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly, veterinarian and Vice President at Banfield Pet Hospital, and Mony Iyer, President of Banfield Pet Hospital. They’ll discuss preventive care and how regular vet visits can support the health of our furry friends. You’ll learn the importance of developing a relationship with your veterinary professional, and why prevention is important! 

This episode also reveals the origin of Not Just Fluff (and why you should probably keep your sock drawer closed if you have a puppy at home!). 

We hope you enjoy Not Just Fluff! If you find these conversations helpful, we want to hear from you! Rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and let us know what you liked about the show.

Learn more about Banfield Pet Hospital’s Optimum Wellness Plans®

Voice #1: Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system. 

Hannah Shaw: Hannah Shaw.

Voice #1: not available. At the tone, please record your message. 

Voice #2: Hey, this is Eric and I'm calling about my dog, Mango. So, Mango's, four years old, very happy and healthy. And my wife and I take excellent care of her. If she seems healthy, is it really worth the cost of that visit? 

Hannah Shaw: You're listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet Wellness from Banfield Pet Hospital, hosted by me, Hannah Shaw, animal advocate otherwise known as "the Kitten Lady." If you're like me, you love your animals a lot, but they can't talk. And it can be tough to know what they really need. Not Just Fluff is here to provide you with actionable tips and science-backed advice from reputable professionals who really understand pet care. Do healthy cats and dogs really need to see the vet? Is it worth the hassle and the cost? Why not just take them when they're sick? These are questions I hear all the time as an animal educator, and I'm really looking forward to unpacking this subject today. Today we are joined by Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly, DVM at Banfield Pet Hospital. Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly started her veterinary career working with horses, eventually transitioning to small animal medicine. She's currently based at Banfield Pet Hospital’s headquarters in Vancouver, Washington, where she serves as vice president of veterinary affairs, leading the practice's more than 1000 hospitals across the U.S. Dr. Gilhooly enjoys long-distance running and spending time outdoors with her family on their hobby farm, home to ponies, chickens, dogs and cats. Meaghan, welcome to the show. 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Thanks, Hannah, I'm so happy to be here. 

Hannah Shaw: I've got to hear about your animals. You have ponies, chickens, dogs and cats. Is that right? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Oh, correct statement. Fun fact about Meaghan is that we have a hobby farm and we house, gosh, three ponies (two of which do not have a job, one does), two goats, countless chickens, three dogs and two cats. 

Hannah Shaw: Wow. So, animals are not just a job for you. This is a big passion. 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, it's, it's our life, right? Like they're fully embedded into our family. 

Hannah Shaw: That's amazing. Well, today's episode is all about preventive care. It's something I'm sure you see the effects of on a daily basis as both a veterinarian and somebody who has animals of your own. When we look at recent online search trends, searches for urgent and emergency vet care are far outpacing searches for preventive care. And, you know, I think that that is something that we want to emphasize for everyone. We actually had a caller, Eric, who wanted to know, does his dog really need to see a vet even if she's healthy? So, I wanted to give that over to you and and ask you. Why do healthy animals still need to see a vet? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, I get that question a lot, Hannah. You know, I think it's really simple, actually. I'll boil it down to very simple terms, which is proactive versus reactive. Proactive care is always easier. And for the pet, that means that they get to go home happy and healthy for the client. That means that they get a peace of mind and also their budget, right? They're able to budget for that care. But at the end of the day, and for the veterinarians who like let's not forget the veterinarian, for the veterinarian, that means that we can catch things early and therefore we can we have better ability to treat things, which is what, at the end of the day we all went to school for. Right. Is to be able to advocate for those that that don't have a voice. 

Hannah Shaw: Sure. And, you know, the reality is so much of the time, we don't know if our animals are healthy. You know, it was interesting hearing that caller, because he says my dog is healthy, but, you know, do we need to go to the vet? And my question back is, how do you know your dog is healthy if you don't go to the vet? I mean, no small changes can be really hard to notice in animals. And of course, they still need to see a veterinarian, but maybe you can expand a bit on what happens at a preventive care appointment. And what might a veterinarian be able to catch that our listeners at home might not be able to catch themselves?

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, that's a great question. You know, we always start with the physical exam, right, which is a nose to tail exam of your of your pet. But we also do things like perform diagnostics like blood. And that is a great example of being able to catch things early because just because the patient looks really great on the outside, maybe they're acting normal at home. There can be a lot of things going on the inside that we may not see, and it's important to catch those things early. Kidney disease is a great example of something that our patients like to hide, and they might be okay, but those kidney values might be creeping up. And if we catch it early, we have a better ability to treat it. And then the last thing would be there's things that we do in the clinic that it's kind of hard for. Science to do at home. For example, looking in the mouth, right? Like not everybody wants to open their cat's mouth and look in their cats mouth. But we have ways to do that so we can take a good look in their mouth. And then the last thing certainly is we have other diagnostics like radiographs and things like that that let us take a deeper dive into the overall health of the patient. 

Hannah Shaw: It's so funny you say not everybody wants to do these things. And the reality is, even if you are, someone has I am someone who's constantly poking and prodding at my animals and looking in their mouths and looking at their stool and going, okay, what's going on? Even still, they still need to see the veterinarian because like you say, lab work, because veterinarians are trained to make these observations that we might not be able to notice at home. And you said something that I wanted to go back to, which was early intervention. That's really, really made a difference. And in my life, my cat, Coco, went in for a regular appointment a few years ago and we were able to catch that she had GI lymphoma and it was very early and we were able to intervene quickly. It's been over two years now that she's been on the treatment for that and it's gone very well. And I always tell people how grateful I am that I do take my animals in so that we can have that early intervention model. Could you expand a bit on the effect that early intervention can have when you catch something before it really gets more advanced? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, I mean, I just think it gives us a better ability to treat the patient. Early intervention is what we should all strive for in our own health as well as our animals health. You know, there's great data in human health care that really shows the improved outcomes. I'll give you some recent data in Banfield Land, which I'm really proud of, but we had a focus this year on heartworm prevention in our patient population. And because of that focus, we were able to reduce prevalence by over 10% in our patients, which is fantastic, right?  I always advocate for my clients and my pet owners to think about, you know, it's good to have It's good to know, right? Like knowledge is power and knowing about your pet is really important. And then we can make decisions together. 

Hannah Shaw: So let's talk about scheduling these. How often are you recommending that people bring their animal in for preventive care appointments? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: What we recommend as Banfield is we want to see your pet twice a year, you know that that is what we want. That's the gold standard, if you will, if we see your pet every six months. You know, a lot can change in six months. We know that pets age quicker, right, than humans and so twice a year would be what I would recommend. 

Hannah Shaw: And does that change depending on the population? For instance, you know, I have a cat with kidney disease and, you know, sometimes we're taking him in as often as every three months because we want to keep track of his kidney values. Can you talk about maybe who might need to go in a little bit more often? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, I think pets with chronic conditions need to come in more often. Right. And that's really just contractual between you and your veterinarian around. You know, how often do we want to recheck lab work? How often do we want to do a weight check, for example, those types of things. And then, you know, you can kind of budget it out or calendar it out as needed. But yeah, chronic disease always needs more touchpoints with your veterinarian. And then if you've got a, you know, young healthy cat or dog, you know, twice a year is great.

Hannah Shaw: Sure. And then, you know, I foster a lot of kittens and puppies. And I think sometimes people are surprised when they adopt. And I say, okay, you know, they're in very good health. They've had all of the things that they need so far up to this age, and yet you're going to still have to take them in for an appointment within the next month. Can you talk a bit about those first kitten and puppy appointments and why it's important to continue bringing them back for, you know, for instance, their boosters? Why is that so important for those that first stage after you adopt? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, I mean, I think it's important. One to establish a relationship with a veterinarian and the whole team. Right. Because. Care, Yes. Is provided through a veterinarian. But there's a whole team of humans around that veterinarian to help deliver that care. The second thing I think is that the more we can make the veterinary hospital a fun place to be, the easier it is to provide care in the hospital and the less stressful it is on the patient and on the pet owner. And then the third thing is, again, like proactive care is always easier than reactive care. And, you know, just because, you know, that initial appointment was happy, healthy, all the things, it's still important to come and established care with a veterinarian and make sure that nothing has changed in between adoption and that next exam. 

Hannah Shaw: One of the big reasons I think people don't take their animals in for these preventive care appointments is the cost. You know, lab work can add up, but the cost of not doing these things can be even higher. Can you talk a bit about the financial piece of caring for our animals’ health and wellbeing? And is it cheaper to do preventive care or is it cheaper to wait until things are going wrong? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, I mean, I'm always going to say that it's cheaper to do preventive care just because, you know, preventive care usually can be budgeted for, meaning that you go into your veterinarian and you discuss what's going on that day. Perhaps they recommend routine blood work, etc., etc. Maybe something comes up and then you can then schedule. It's more of an elective procedure versus an urgent or emergent procedure, urgent and emergent procedures. That means the whole clinic has to come to a halt and address your pet. And that takes money and time and all the things. And so I think preventive care. Is proactive care. Preventive care is care that can be budgeted for. And you can address things over, you know, a longer period of time versus this is a very urgent thing that needs to be addressed today and things like that. Let me tell you guys a great story about my pet and why preventive care is so important. I adopted a three-year-old bulldog from Louisiana and she came to us with heartworm disease. And as everybody knows, I hope everybody knows heartworm disease is a very preventable disease. Unfortunately, she was not given heartworm prevention. Therefore, she got the disease. We treated her. That treatment is costly. The second thing is it's painful to this day. Sage does not like going into the veterinary hospital. She really does not like getting poked with a needle. Had she been on heartworm prevention, we wouldn't have gotten to this place. That's why preventive care is so important. It's important to the pet owner. It's important to the pet, and it's important to the veterinary team.

Hannah Shaw: I'm so glad that you were able to help your dog get the care that she needed. That sounds very stressful. And as you're talking, I'm thinking, you know, this is sort of like taking your car in for a tune up. You know, it's pretty affordable to get an oil change and get a tire rotation, but it's massively expensive to total your car. So, you know, best to be on top of things in a preventive way. So, lab work is often a part of these appointments. Can you talk a bit about why lab work is so important? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: The reason why lab work is important is because it kind of gives us a sneak peek into the internal organs of the pet. You know, just because a pet looks great on the outside doesn't mean there's something hidden going on on the inside. Cats are a great example of this. Cats love to hide disease. They seem happy and healthy on the outside. But when you run the lab, work oftentimes will find little tiny indicators of, you know, emerging kidney disease or maybe emerging diabetes. They love to do that, too. So, it's really important for us to be able to take that sneak peek because then we can advise the pet owner on, you know, what, what could we do differently to maybe get ahead of this so that it doesn't turn into fulminant kidney disease or we're not going down the diabetes pathway? You know, we can kind of get ahead of it and maybe have a better or a better outcome for that for the pet. 

Hannah Shaw: I love that. It's like being a detective. You know, you're going in and searching around and seeing what's really going on in here that I might not know. You know, I think that some people feel when they take their cat or dog to the vet and it turns out that their labs look great and they were healthy. They might feel like, oh, was it a waste to do this? But I love when I go for my preventive care appointments and everything looks great. It's such a relief to me. And I'm a big believer in keeping a baseline for my animals. So, I know what is a healthy weight for you. What does healthy lab work look like for you? And we have a date that we can put on it. Can you talk a bit about that kind of the importance of monitoring a healthy cat's baseline? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, happy to. I think you said some really important things there. The first thing is baseline. It's always nice as a veterinarian or a health care provider to go back and look at what was that patient like six months ago? Is it trending up? Is it trending down? What direction is it going in? Those things are really important. And then the second piece of that, a negative result is just as important as a positive result. And oftentimes when I'm counseling clients on diagnostics, I will talk about it's okay if we find it to be negative, Right? That's just as important information as it would be if it's positive. You know, I think that it's not a waste, if you will. It's just the way you look at it. And I think trends over time are super important. And anything that clients can do at home with their pets to track things like weight appetite, activity, you know, changes in behavior, those are all important things that we as veterinarians love to hear when clients come into the hospital. 

Hannah Shaw: Sure. So what I'm hearing is kind of the importance of record keeping and checking in with our animals, both for the veterinarian who's going to have that in terms of a really thorough examination and lab work, and then we have the responsibility of the person at home who, you know, I will be honest with you. I have a notepad on my phone just full to the brim with my own observations about my animals. I'm weighing them often, especially my senior cats. I mean, I weigh them at least once a month so that if there's a trend downwards, I'm able to do something about it. So, I think that there are things that we can do at home. And then there's also that benefit of having the vet records so that we can look at what was the bloodwork like a year ago, what was it like six months ago and what's it like now? Can you talk about the potential consequences of not doing any of this? Let's say somebody says, you know, I hear you, but I'm just I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to wait. What are some of the consequences of not having a preventive care approach? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, I think the biggest consequence is the outcome of the patient. It gives us the opportunity to provide treatment. It gives us the opportunity to plan. I think the other thing that's at risk is cost, both from a client perspective but also from a human resource perspective. Preventive care approach. It allows us to plan. It allows us to make sure we have the right amount of people around to be able to treat the pet. Urgent and emergent care is very different because, you know, you never know what's going to walk through the door. That's why we that's why I went to school, is that I can be an advocate for those that don't have a voice. So, it's a lot easier to do in a preventive care approach. You know, and I think that that's such a hard thing, right? Particularly in this economy. You know, things are more expensive. You know, we're really having to kind of choose between what we do and do not spend money on. And preventive care is something that I would counsel people to spend money on, because at the end of the day, it'll probably save me money. 

Hannah Shaw: I really appreciate that you talked not just about the financial cost, but also the cost. Just as a person going through this, I that hit me in a deep way because, you know, I, I did experience the loss of one of my animals earlier this year. And while I, you know, it's inevitably something that we all go through having enough time to be able to process what was going on. And to be able to take steps to try to help is such an amazing gift. To not have surprises. I think when we wait until something is an emergency, sometimes it can be a very big surprise to us, not just in terms of financial cost, but in terms of the emotional cost, too. You know, and so I really appreciate that you brought that up because I think that it is a real gift to be able to go along this journey of health with your animal and to not have huge surprises popping up. I heard an interesting statistic that 23 million additional animals were adopted during the pandemic. I wondered if you could just kind of close out this conversation by speaking to those people and giving them a bit of advice. You know, what advice would you give the people who have adopted these new animals? Maybe they've never taken an animal to a vet. How would you recommend that they approach finding a veterinarian and starting that good relationship? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: So, I would say the veterinarian is very important, right? And I would argue that the team is equally as important. So, when I am counseling people and clients about, you know, looking for new veterinarians, I look for a practice that really speaks to what you believe, what you want for your pet. Look for a practice that treats your pet like family. And then look for a practice where you can connect with the veterinarian as a trusted partner in your pet health care, somebody that you trust, somebody that you can speak openly and honestly with and do the same thing with the team, right? The person at the front desk, the veterinary assistant that comes out to take your pet back to the veterinary team. All of those people come together to provide care in a hospital. And so, yes, the veterinarian is super important, but so is the hospital and so is the team. And sometimes, you know, you're going to be interacting more with the team than you necessarily will with the veterinarian, just like in human health care, it's a team-based approach. I'll wrap it up really quickly. For the veterinarian, it's somebody that you feel like you can trust. For the hospital, it's a team that you can trust. And then for the practice, it's a practice that has the same mission and purpose that you do, which is: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS. 

Hannah Shaw: Can you talk a bit about the client's role versus the role of the veterinarian? 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, I would love to. I think the client's role is really you know, I talk a lot about being an advocate, right? They know their pet better than anyone. And so, the client's role really is to advocate for their pet and be transparent with the veterinarian. And that could include transparency around. “Hey, hey, Doctor, I really have some budgetary concerns today.” Or “hey, doctor, I noticed my pet isn't moving around as much.” Or, “hey, doctor, I'm really uncertain about why you're recommending what you are recommending.” Those are the things that I wish every client could do when they come into our hospitals, because then the veterinarian can help answer those questions or the veterinary team member can help answer those questions. And if we don't know, we can't address the client's concern. 

Hannah Shaw: I think that you're absolutely right that not being afraid to ask questions is a really important takeaway for anybody who loves their animal. Sometimes people don't know why something is being recommended or they don't understand even what is being done in a procedure. And I am a huge question asker, and that's how I've learned, you know, I feel like it is very important to have a veterinarian who's responsive to questions. And when you have that good relationship with your veterinarian, they can explain these procedures to you. They can explain your animal's health to you in a way that ultimately is going to help you make better decisions for them. 

Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly: Yeah, absolutely. And I think we have veterinary professionals who sometimes assume that everybody knows. We know, you know, and not everybody does. So, yeah, please, clients, feel free to ask questions, get curious. And, you know, no detail is too much detail for us. 

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Hannah Shaw: We're talking about preventive care and the positive impact it can have on cats and dogs that we love most. And I'm very excited to be welcoming a special guest, Mony Iyer. He's the president of Banfield Pet Hospital. Prior to his role as president, Mony served as Banfield COO for nearly two years, during which he led the creation and rollout of new modes of care and drove a hospital-first culture to ensure the practice met and exceeded the needs of hospital associates and clients. Mony, thank you so much for being here. 

Mony Iyer: Hannah, thank you so much for having me. It's really exciting for me to be able to join you today. 

Hannah Shaw: Hey, thank you so much for creating a podcast where we can come together and learn about how to care for our animals. I just am so excited to be a part of it. I have to tell you, I'm a huge podcast listener myself, so when I learned about Not Just Fluff, I was really excited. I would love to hear, like, what was the inspiration behind Banfield Pet Hospital doing a podcast? What are you hoping to achieve? 

Mony Iyer: Well, I'm excited to have to have been part of creating this in part because, you know, we deliver preventive care. We think it's really important. And we do it through our thousand plus hospitals across the U.S. You know, our hospital teams, our doctors and their teams deliver high quality, compassionate preventive care. But the most important thing for us to be able to deliver that care is for everybody to know how important it is, how important high-quality care is and how important preventive care is. And we want to be able to reach people through the ways that they want to be reached, which is through technology. And like you said, you're a huge podcast listener. We wanted to reach all the people that love listening to podcasts and give them the opportunity to understand what great preventive care can do for their pets and for the relationship they have with their pets. 

Hannah Shaw: I absolutely agree that, you know, meeting people where they are is important. And a lot of us are in our car or doing the dishes with headphones on. And listening to a podcast is like, it's amazing that now people can learn a lot of this important information in a format that reaches them. And I do a lot of animal welfare education and I am constantly trying to diversify the ways that I can reach people. You know, some people like to read, some people like to watch a video and a lot of us like to listen to podcasts. So, we all learn really differently. 

Mony Iyer: It's convenient and it's digital and it gets people when and where they want to hear these messages, you know? 

Hannah Shaw: Absolutely. Why is preventive care the focus for you? I know it's a hugely important topic for Banfield Pet Hospital. Can you talk about that focus on preventive care? 

Mony Iyer: So preventive care is Banfield’s DNA. It's in our DNA, right? We began trailblazing decades ago in preventive care with our Optimum Wellness Plans ™, which gives pet owners access to the great preventive services that they need. And also, we know that great preventive care also identifies problems early. And preventive care is how we can invest in their health and well-being. And this is why preventive care is so important to me. And. Banfield It's been part of our DNA. When I got my new puppy last year, Elvis, you know, we took him into Banfield for his first comprehensive exam because we knew that getting that first early read on his health was going to be critically important for us to make sure we stayed on top of any health issues we had and gave him as happy life as he could have. 

Hannah Shaw: Oh, that's so awesome. Congratulations on your puppy. 

Mony Iyer: Thank you. He is exciting and can be a pain in the neck when he's being a puppy. But then when he jumps on your lap and licks your face, there is nothing like it, you know? 

Hannah Shaw: You know what, puppies are going to puppy, and I foster kittens and puppies. And I can tell you, you know, I'm always emphasizing for my adopters, like even if I am adopting a healthy puppy or kitten to you, that doesn't mean you don't need to go to the veterinarian. In fact, it's so important, especially for our young puppies and kittens. They need to go in and get those baseline appointments. 

Mony Iyer: And even advice, Hannah, you know, one thing that Elvis does, which is, you know, this is every puppy’s got his own thing, right? Elvis steals socks. 

Hannah Shaw: Oh, no. 

Mony Iyer: Like, wherever they are in the house, he will find socks and steal them, and he will chew on them and he's occasionally swallowed them and thrown them back up.

Hannah Shaw: Oh, yeah. 

Mony Iyer: If it does get stuck inside, that's a pretty important thing to treat very quickly. And so, it's not just preventive care. It's not just veterinary care, but the advice I get from my veterinarian, what do I do? Elvis keeps grabbing these socks. Well, of course, the first thing they do is tell me to put my socks away, which is, you know, a life lesson for me. But more importantly, if he does get his teeth into those socks, making sure that I have that relationship with my veterinarian and our hospital team is really important to make sure that I get Elvis the care he needs as soon as he needs it. 

Hannah Shaw: You know, you just said a word that I say a lot to my adopters, which is relationship with a veterinarian. That is so key because, you know, even if you take home this new animal and they're new to you, but they seem healthy, that relationship is how you're going to build, you know, it's how you're going to make sure that they have the right head start, but also so you know who to call when your dog does swallow a sock, as puppies are known to do. Absolutely. Well, you know, if listeners to Not Just Fluff could come away with just one lesson from this show, what would you hope that it would be? 

Mony Iyer: The learning that I would ask everybody to come away with is that, you know, pet owners are speaking on behalf of their pets. Right? And pets can't talk. And they are excellent at hiding their pain sometimes, especially cats. Right. But also, dogs. It's at the heart of what we want to create -- which is: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS – is being proactive in making sure that pets are taken care of so that when there is something wrong, when they are in pain, that their owners are taking steps to make sure that they're getting looked at, they're getting checked out, that any problems they may have are being identified early. One of the things that we've done our surveys with our doctors and clients and one Banfield survey found that over 90% of veterinary professionals and 80% of owners agree that a strong, positive relationship between veterinarians and owners is important to them. And so, this is something we always want to foster. It's something that we want to make sure that we communicate to clients and potential clients that we're here for their pets. And we want to foster this relationship so that their pets can receive great preventive care.

Hannah Shaw: I love that. I really believe that, you know, people who love their animals teaming up with a good veterinarian like that is an important and important team to have on your animal's behalf. And like you say, you know, sometimes we think our animals are healthy and something might actually be going on with them. So, it's not about waiting until there's obvious signs of illness. Like you say, cats especially. I mean, they just are masters of hiding, hiding their pain. So, bringing them in, having that good relationship, I hope that that is a message that everybody is able to take away. And I just I can't tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to share this message with the world and all of the great work that you do. 

Mony Iyer: And I love what you're doing and everything you're doing for cats and pets. And I'm so excited that we have this opportunity to partner with you to spread the message of preventive wellness across all pet owners. Thank you so much. 

Hannah Shaw: Thank you for being here. I think the big takeaway here is that it's better to prevent a problem than to wait until it starts. I can tell you in my experience as someone who has my own animals and who also fosters animals, preventive care is not optional. It really is a requirement for making sure that everyone has the right Head Start, is having their health routinely monitored and so that we can intervene quickly when something is wrong. My other big takeaway here is about the importance of relationships, not just with your animals, but with your vet and their team. Animals can't talk and they're very good at hiding when they're in pain. So, I love the concept of achieving a better world for animals by fostering a strong partnership between veterinarians, animals, and those of us who love them most. Thank you for listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet Wellness from the pros at Banfield Pet Hospital. Make sure to get your paws on the Like and Subscribe button so you don't miss an episode.

Not Just Fluff podcast cover art

Episode 3 - Whisker Wonderland

Safe holiday pet guides

Holiday celebrations are tons of fun for humans but can sometimes be stressful for our furry companions. In this episode, Hannah sits down with Dr. Saskia Bogman to uncover how to help keep our furry BFFs safe, calm, and healthy over the holidays.

Episode 3: Whisker Wonderland

Run time: 36 minutes, 56 seconds


Holiday celebrations are tons of fun for humans but can sometimes be stressful for our furry companions. Our dogs and cats are creatures of habit, and between decorations, new food, guests, and travel, they might feel out of sorts this time of year.

In this episode, host Hannah Shaw sits down with Dr. Saskia Bogman, a veterinarian at Banfield Pet Hospital in Castle Rock, Colorado. Hannah and Saskia discuss the environmental changes that can impact your pets over the holidays, how to plan to make sure they are safe, and how to minimize pet stress. Whether you’re traveling or home for the holidays, join Hannah to uncover how to help keep your furry BFFs safe, calm, and healthy when changes occur.

We hope you enjoy Not Just Fluff! If you find these conversations helpful, we want to hear from you! Rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, and let us know what you liked about the show.

Learn more about Banfield Pet Hospital’s Optimum Wellness Plans®

Speaker 1: Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system. 

Hannah Shaw: Hannah Shaw.

Speaker 1: not available. At the tone. Please record your message.  

Speaker 2: "Hi, I'm Nicola and my dog's name is Nellie. I'm hosting a large group of people this year for the holidays, and I want to make sure Nellie isn't too stressed out with all the new people around. I'm thinking about boarding her while I have guests, but I don't love the idea of her not being around. What's the best thing I can do for Nellie?"

Hannah Shaw: You're listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet Wellness from Banfield Pet Hospital hosted by me, Hannah Shaw, animal advocate otherwise known as the Kitten Lady. If you're like me, you love your animals a lot. But they can't talk, and it can be tough to know what they really need. Not Just Fluff is here to provide you with actionable tips and science-backed advice from reputable professionals who really understand pet care. It's the most wonderful time of the year... Well, sort of. The holiday season is here, and it brings a whole lot of joy, but also many stressors for the animals in our homes. Cats and dogs are creatures of habit, and it's common for them to feel out of sorts when their home environment changes. Unusual loud noises, strange foods, seasonal decorations and more people in the home than usual mean there are a lot of variables shifting and that can present trouble for our animal friends. But don't worry. In this episode, we're going to give you the information you need to ensure that your cat or dog stays safe this holiday season. To dive into this topic, I'm here with Dr. Saskia Borgman, who can help us unwrap some tips and tricks to ensure our pals stay happy as we celebrate holidays year-round. Dr. Saskia Borgman is a veterinarian at Banfield in Castle Rock, Colorado. She graduated from Western University of Health Sciences in Southern California in 2022. Dr. Bogman is Fear Free certified and works primarily with companion animals. A fun fact about her: She's a dual citizen for both the U.S. and Belgium, which is where her name, Saskia, is from. I am really excited about this topic. We're going to be talking about holiday traditions and I would love to know, do you have any animals at home and what are your traditions with them? 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: So, this year is going to be a little interesting because, yes, I've had my cat and a dog for the past couple of years. The cat's name is Bean and the dog's name is Bonzo. Short for Garbanzo Beans. And then we just adopted a new kitten. His name is Frank or Franklin. And we go hiking with Bean and Bonzo very frequently. And our only tradition really has been to go out on like, a Christmas Eve hike. We take some fun little Christmas photos with maybe, like a little sweater or like antlers or something. But Frank has not been on our hike yet, so I'm not sure how we're going to do it this year. We'll have to just see how it goes. But the goal is to get another Christmas photo with now a new addition.  

Hannah Shaw: How exciting. Congratulations on your new friend. I absolutely love when people take their cat adventuring, of course, like with the safety of having a harness and all of that. I think it's so important for cat people to realize that is something that many cats do enjoy. And now I wonder if you can share with us as a veterinarian, is there a story of an animal that you've worked with who was affected by stress during the holidays or changes in the environment, during the holidays? And what was that story and how were you able to help them?  

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah, so the holidays are always a really tough time for pet owners and the pets alike. There's a lot of changes going on and some animals don't do very well with change. In particular cats tend to get really stressed out in the holidays. And I do remember last year there was one cat, kind of a younger-ish cat who's always been a little bit shy, and she was having a really difficult time with family that was coming over. Things were getting rearranged in the house and cats are very sensitive to that too. So, we were discussing on how we can kind of make it a better environment for her. And it turned out she didn't really have like a quiet place to go retreat to to get away from the family members. She didn't have a space that was like not changing at all with the holidays. And so I really talked with the owner that, you know, cats need a space to themselves to be able to calm down from whatever's been going in the house and just to stay separate from all that. And a space that hasn't been changed with like Christmas decorations and different furniture rearranging. So we worked on that. And then also an additional litter box in the home because they only had one. And sometimes it's in there, not an ideal spot. They also will urinate outside the litter box. And then we talked about some over-the-counter supplements we can use, which are great additives to help with the changes during the holidays. And I met with her a few weeks afterwards and she said her cat was doing so much better and was really happy with what we had done. And, you know, she felt more comfortable in the home. And the owner was really excited about it, too.  

Hannah Shaw: Wow. That's a great story. You know, I think the holidays, so many of those changes that happened to our environment and to the people we have around, are very magical for the humans. But for the animals who don't have that context, it's just very disorienting. So, it can cause so much stress. It sounds like that person was able to identify the stress, but for people who don't know what stress looks like in a cat or dog, how can they identify if their cat or dog is feeling stressed? 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Right. Yeah. It's really unfortunate that they can't talk to us because we'd love to let them have them let us know that they're feeling stress. And for cats, they tend to hide. That's one of the most common signs is they just don't want to come out. They may not want to eat. They may start urinating outside the litter box, like I mentioned earlier. You can also observe their facial cues. So, if their ears are flat and back, if they have dilated pupils, those are signs of fear in a cat or anxiety in a cat. That's what you look for, for feline friends. Our canine friends, they very similarly, they may also hide. They may run behind a couch. They may not want to come out of a certain room. Sometimes they're pacing back and forth. If they're panting and it's not even hot in the house, that's a sign of stress and any type of abnormal like aggression towards children or, you know, other people in the home. That could be also a sign of stress in our dog friends.

Hannah Shaw: Hmm. What impact can that have on the health of an animal when they're feeling stressed? Obviously, stress itself is impacting them, but are there health implications of having stress?

Dr. Saskia Bogman: So, cats definitely, especially the male cats, if they're too stressed, they can develop a life-threatening emergency, really become blocked and they can't urinate. So, it's very important to try and mitigate that stress as much as possible. The female felines, they can also develop like UTIs from the stress as far as our canine patients, you know. They don't develop as many urinary signs as the key as the feline ones, but it definitely takes a toll on their health behaviorally. They can become just a stressful dog in general if they're having to deal with so much stress frequently. So, it's not a great behavioral state for them to be in. That's probably the biggest complications with the holidays. 

Hannah Shaw: Mm hmm. You talked about this person he worked with with her cat and how you were able to prescribe medication that was helpful for her. Can you talk a bit about ways that people can plan in advance like that? Are there prescriptions that can help and how far in advance do people need to do that? Like, you know, in the moment on Christmas Day, if you're feeling like you want that, is that something that people can just go pick up or do they need to plan in advance?

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Oh, yes. It is very difficult to pick up same day prescriptions. So please, please plan ahead if you know your cat or dog can get stressed with new changes, please call your vet and talk to them about some things that we can do over the counter supplements you can look into. If your dog tends to get stress colitis like they get diarrhea from the stress, then look into maybe starting them on a probiotic for two weeks before the holidays come. If your cat gets stressed with the changes, they do make some great diffusers. They make some calming care supplements that you can try. So those are definitely over-the-counter options to try and mitigate any of the stress. I would always, you know, trial these before you actually test them on the day of the stressor and just to make sure that they work. And then if you do feel like you need something a little stronger from your vet, please try and make an appointment a few weeks before the holidays. And there's definitely medications we can prescribe for cats and dogs to help mitigate that stress.

Hannah Shaw: Thank you for sharing all that. Yeah, you're right. There's a whole spectrum of different options available for cats and dogs, and I know that those pheromone plug ins can be a good starting place for cats. That's something that we've used actually while moving because that's another big change in an animal's life. And I found that to be quite helpful. Something that happens a lot during the holidays is travel, and there are a lot of animal lovers planning travel during the holidays. Can you give some advice on what people can do to prepare if they are planning on traveling with their animal with them? 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: As far as right now, in a current situation with the travel, I'm sure you've heard of like the upper respiratory stuff that's been going around with the dogs. If you really do need to board, then definitely make sure your pets are up to date on Bordetella and influenza vaccines for our doggie friends. Cats, that respiratory thing hasn't affected them right now, so they're still good with that. And then if you're traveling with your pets, like out of state or even out of the country, please call us and see if you need a health certificate for where you're going. Or you can access the USDA website and they can definitely let you know if you need a health certificate because that sometimes can take a few weeks to get settled. So, it's something you need to think about early in advance. And if you're flying with your pet, definitely check with the airlines. Make sure you don't need anything extra.

Hannah Shaw: Yeah. Gosh, so much to consider here. And I think people are probably trying to make that decision. Do I board my animal? Do I stay home with them? Do I drive with them? Do I fly with them? I appreciate you mentioning the dog respiratory virus that's going around because that's such a current event that maybe some people don't realize is happening. And it's certainly something to consider when we're thinking about having our dog friends in close quarters with other unknown dogs. When you're looking at driving with an animal, can you talk a bit about that? Are there pieces of advice you have? Do animals need to be secured when they're in the car?

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yes. I would highly recommend securing your pets. I know some pets don't do well in a carrier or a crate, but it is really important to have them secured somehow just because if you ever were to get into an accident, even if it's not your fault, they can get severely injured, especially since they don't wear seatbelts. So, I highly recommend cats going into a carrier, and if they don't like the carrier again, maybe try some type of calming supplement or a sedative to help with that. If they become nauseous in the car, then also chat with your vet and see if you know some pets can take Dramamine and do very well with that. But please call your vet for dosing on that. Otherwise, we have other pharmaceutical options to help with the nausea in the car. And then our dogs, you know, can also get stressed in the car. So also chat with your vet about some options to try and keep them calm while you're driving and then secure it while you're driving.

Hannah Shaw: Yeah, thank you for that. I find it very stressful to see people having their cat running around loose in the car. There are so many things that can go wrong in that scenario. So personally, when I am traveling with my cat, I have them not only in a carrier, but I also secure the carrier with a seat belt. And there are lots of different options for ways to secure an animal actually with a seatbelt in your car. For people who are traveling and planning to keep their animal at home with a sitter or in a facility, is there something that you recommend people prepare for that sitter, maybe, you know, some kind of document to provide them or planning their medication in advance? Like how can people properly prepare to leave their animal with someone?

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah, of course. So definitely if you're going to have a sitter, have them meet your pets beforehand so that your pets feel comfortable with that person. And then it's really important if you are going to leave them with someone, make sure you have a copy of their vaccinations so that they have that. And then also the phone number of a friend or anyone if they need to call for advice or if they can't reach you. And then your preferred vet or emergency vet, if something happens that they know where to take your animal to, if they, for some reason, cannot get in contact with you. And yeah, so if you plan to have medications on hand for your dog sitter, the most common ones would be some kind of probiotic to help with stress colitis or some kind of sedatives if they are very anxious and definitely talk to your sitter. If they're comfortable even medicating your pets, make sure they know that ahead of time. Make sure the medications are easily accessible for the sitter, not for the cats and dogs, though. And then just make sure you have open communication with your sitter as much as possible. And like I said, as long as your pets have met the sitter and you're comfortable, hopefully things should go smoothly since they're in their own home anyways.

Hannah Shaw: Yeah, I appreciate that. You mentioned that it should be more comfortable in your home. That's what I do when I leave town is I have somebody come and stay. So at least the environment is not changing. You would think that I had written like an epic novel for my sitter when I leave behind my instructions. I have, you know, video supplements to accompany all of these things. And here's the way that you give the pills at this one. And here's you know, because I have multiple medical animals. And one thing that I have found really helpful is getting pill cases that have the date on them, you know, all the days of the month on them. And then that makes it super easy for them to keep track of making sure that they've done the AM and PM for each day. 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: That's perfect. I'm sure you have one for each cat.

Hannah Shaw: I have a lot. I have a whole system. Obviously during the holidays there can be new and interesting items around the house that we do not want our dogs and cats playing with. And sometimes people might even bring over a gift that is well-meaning but can be dangerous for the animals. So, I want to talk about some of the things that show up in our houses during the holidays, starting with toxic plants. Can you talk a bit about plants? Poinsettia, I know lilies during the spring can be an issue. What is the danger of bringing plants into your home that are unfamiliar? 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Definitely. Your cats seem to enjoy the plants more than our dogs usually. But poinsettias are toxic to both cats and dogs in the sense that they will develop GI upset if they start nibbling on it or ingesting it. So, if you are going to get poinsettias, I would try and keep them away from access from either cats or dogs or any other like new plants in the house can cause GI upset. But the point settings tend to be the most common culprit in the holidays. If you do get flowers from, you know, family friends like you mentioned, it's more common in the spring. But definitely lilies are very toxic to cats. Even just the pollen, if they get it on their fur and start to like it can be quite toxic. So it is very important to try and keep lilies out of the house if you even have a cat around as far as like other types of plants or, you know, things that you might keep in the house like garland or different decorations. Cats love stringy things, but they're definitely not good for them when we see a lot of, you know, cats who develop obstructions from eating, whether it's garland or some other kind of string that's in the home, I would try and avoid that. If your cats tend to play with it or dogs, sometimes they want to chew on the wrapping paper or they may try and knock some ornaments off the tree and also try and and just those dogs are quite incredible that they will ingest just about anything, even if it seems not possible. So don't underestimate them. They will definitely figure out a way to eat whatever it is. So just be very careful. Yes.

Hannah Shaw: So, it sounds like obstructions are a common issue during the holidays, is that correct? 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah, I would say so. They just tend to get into whatever decoration that's sitting around the house and for some reason think it's food and want to eat that.  
Hannah Shaw: So yeah. And you know, I think old cartoons would have us believe that ribbon and yarn are perfect toys for a cat, and that is definitely not the case. So, I think it's important to talk about some of these dangers. Also, toys with small parts could be an issue, right? 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Oh, yeah, definitely.

Hannah Shaw: Can you talk a bit about toys for animals? Maybe somebody is going to come over and bring your dog a toy. Are there toys that can cause harm to our dogs that maybe people don't realize? Or are there toys that are safer for cats and dogs that you recommend? 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah, so that's always such a tricky topic, unfortunately, because there's so many things on the shelves that may not always be good for your pet. As far as Cat goes, like you mentioned, you know, they love string and yarn, but really they just also love to ingest it. So, I wouldn't recommend any of those for our cats. You can look into maybe the little rolling balls or one of those toys, like the wand that you can kind of wave around with them. But if it's something that they can ingest, I would never leave it unsupervised with them. And as far as our canine patients, it's it's really common for people to want to feed them antlers or bones in the holidays. But I highly advise against them because we see tons of dogs who have fractured their upper chewing teeth because of the antlers in the bones. The general rule of thumb is if you hit it against your knee and it's too hard, then it's too hard for your pet to chew on. Or similarly, if you can't indent it with your fingernail, it's too hard for your pet to chew on. Tennis balls, you know, they're fun and dogs love them, but unfortunately, when they get dirty, it acts kind of like sandpaper and grinds down their teeth. The strong chewable toys are also really good to use those, you know, like stuffers to keep your dogs busy during the holidays and they can chew on them and it's not too hard for them to chew on. And again, careful with any rope toys. They love to pull it apart and then ingest the rope.

Hannah Shaw: Wow, what a cautionary tale. I mean, I don't know that people realize maybe when you go to the store and you buy something that says it's for a dog, it actually still could result in dental damage or choking or, yeah, swallowing. And, you know, like you say, I mean dogs. I foster puppies. I have some foster puppies right now.

Dr. Saskia Bogman: I saw that.

Hannah Shaw: And as the puppies get bigger, man, they will turn anything into a toy. You're right. I mean, they'll even turn your shoes into a delicious treat, which is actually not so good for them right now. So, talk a little bit about food, things that are edible for us. You know, when we're sitting at the table enjoying our meal with friends or family dogs can be notorious for begging. And when we have guests over, sometimes they might be tempted to give in to that little whimpering pup at the table. So, can you talk about why guests should not be feeding table scraps to dogs and some of the risks of that?

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah, I know. You know, food is love and I know people love to share their food with their pets, especially over the holidays when they're giving you the puppy dog eyes. The holidays are when we see the most amount of pancreatitis cases, obstruction, like we mentioned. But yeah, the foods that we give our pets, if you do feel like you need to share something with them, carrots and celery, you know, just normal, you don't have to season them. Nothing added to them. Those are very healthy, low-calorie snacks that you can try and feed your pets if you really feel that you need to. Otherwise, most pets are very happy with just their normal kibble. Maybe a treat over the counter here and there, but I would really try and avoid any actual table scraps from your dinner plates just because a lot of them are high in fat or seasonings and there are things that are toxic to dogs. So definitely they should never have onions, grapes, any of those things over the holidays. Chocolate. I know that's a common thing as a Christmas present. So please try and avoid having your dog or cat have any access to those things. You know, when you have people over, they really want to give them something so you can let them give them a little, you know, some carrots or celery. But again, just very plain, nothing added to it. And they're usually just happy with that. 

Hannah Shaw: You know, and the list of foods that are toxic for dogs or cats would surprise a lot of people, I think. And not just that, but these are a lot of foods that are around during the holidays. You know, like you say, chocolate is a huge issue. Alcohol can be really dangerous for them. Can you talk about what happens for our dog friends if they do get a hold of alcohol or chocolate or something like that?  

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah. So, they all have different mechanisms in how they cause toxicities, the chocolate that can cause like arrhythmia, so heart issues. Obviously, it'll cause some GI upset, so some vomiting and diarrhea. Like the onions are really bad because they can affect the red blood cells. Grapes and raisins will affect the kidneys. Alcohol, you know, they can get just alcohol poisoning like humans do. And so, it's really dangerous to have that around them as well. You know, I know some people like to also do other extracurricular activities during the holidays and maybe there's some marijuana in the house. So definitely need to be very careful with that as well because again, dogs want just anything. And they can also develop toxicity from those, especially as it's made in the chocolate or something. That's like a double whammy. So definitely try and keep all those away from your pets. 

Hannah Shaw: I think a lot of people do not realize how dangerous it can be to feed even one singular grape to a dog. The other thing that I think about a lot with guests coming over is they can really shake up the routine in the house and do things like open doors that they're not supposed to. Can you talk a bit about maybe what is the rundown that we want to give our guests when they come into the house on, you know, making sure that they are keeping our animals safe?  

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah. So, it's always really important to share with your guests where your pets are and aren't allowed to go, things they need to keep an eye on, like making sure doors are closing behind them if pets aren't allowed in certain rooms. Cats notoriously love to jump on counters, so making sure that we're keeping the counters clean and just keep an open line of communication with your guests, let them know like, “Hey, these are the rules that we have for pets. Like, please respect those.” Most, you know, friends and family, they have good intentions, and they don't want to harm your pet. But sometimes, you know, it's a new environment forever for them. So, they just have to try and break down the ground rules for them. And hopefully they'll be able to follow those. And just, you know, open communication is the biggest thing. 

Hannah Shaw: For listeners who live in cold environments, can you talk a little bit about the hazards of things like deicer, anti-freeze and salt? 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah, so I live in Colorado, so definitely I'm familiar with that. So, the antifreeze, most people don't think about this or know about it, but it is quite toxic to both cats and dogs. It causes significant kidney damage if they were to ever get a hold of it. I like to think cats are a little smarter than wanting to drink it, but you never know. Dogs again will ingest anything, so definitely keep antifreeze out of their way so that they can't ingest any of it. If you have any suspicion that they may have ingested it, please take your pet to the E.R. right away. And then as far as salt goes, it's really common for people to salt their driveways, salt their sidewalks, stays on the sidewalks even after it snows or the snow melts away. And particularly for dogs, we take them on walks, and they can walk on the salt, and it can irritate their paws significantly. And then if they're looking at their ingesting excess salt, which can be dangerous for them. So, if you are walking around the holidays, you know, maybe consider some booties for your dogs and try and, you know, limit as much salt, laying down salt on the ground or avoiding your dog ingesting any of that salt, protecting their paws as much as possible, too. 

Hannah Shaw: That's really good information. And something that I learned this year is that sometimes the older snow globes that people will use to decorate their homes, the older ones actually have antifreeze inside of them. So, if they break that can, you know, get in your home. So that was a little fact that I did not know until this year, which made me go, oh, my gosh, I would be not having those on a counter with my cat able to swipe it on the floor. How scary. 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah, I have a snow globe, so that is a really good thing to think about. 

Hannah Shaw: With New Years, a lot of people enjoy fireworks, but they can be quite alarming to our animals who don't know what is going on. I know that a lot of shelters report having an influx of lost dogs during this time. Can you talk a bit about fireworks and any advice that you have for keeping animals safe during the new year? 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah. So New Year comes, you know, secondary to the 4th of July fireworks as far as fear with the fireworks. So definitely, if you know your dog has a fear of them, again, contact your vet a good amount in advance to get some, you know, sedative medications or advice on keeping them quiet and safe during this time. Calming shirts are a really great thing for fireworks, so you can definitely utilize those. Make sure they have a quiet room in the house that they can lay in, you know, turn on the TV, turn on some classical music, something to distract them from the fireworks. And definitely, if you're not going to be home, if you're not going to be with them, make sure your pets are microchipped. If they do get out, at least they'll have a chip that, you know, they can scan. And not only making sure they're microchipped, but making sure your information is up to date on the microchip, because that happens a lot, too, where “yay, we got a microchip, but darn, there's no information there”. So, make sure that's up to date. And definitely, if your pet does get out, call your local shelters. They tend to stay fairly local. The dogs, you know, that kind of know their way around. But definitely, you know, call around if they do and just try and avoid that as much as possible. Make sure gates are locked, doors are closed, all those things to try and avoid them getting out in the first place. 

Hannah Shaw: Thank you so much for mentioning keeping your microchips up to date with their registration because that is a big passion for me. You know, I run an organization that adopts out kittens and puppies and we microchip them. And I try to explain to adopters that a microchip is either a very powerful tool or it is as useless as a grain of rice. And it all depends on whether you keep that information up to date. So certainly, if you're moving or if your phone number is changing or if your email is changing, make sure that you are keeping that registry up to date so that, you know, if your animal does end up in a shelter, it's very easy to scan them and find them. And you know, like you mention, we want to do everything we can to keep our animals safe during those fireworks. Just keeping them inside with doors and windows secured is, you know, a really important starting place. But I appreciate so much all of that advice that you gave. We had a caller who called in about her dog, Nellie, and she's trying to decide if she should board her while she's hosting guests or if it's possible to include her dog in the holiday while keeping her safe and reducing her stress. I wonder if you have any kind of final words after everything we've discussed for people who are trying to make that decision, you know how to keep their animals safe and happy during the holiday season while also getting to celebrate themselves. 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah. So, for Nellie, I mean, every pet owner knows their pet best. So, I think if you can, it would be best to try and keep your pets at home with you. Again, just be very upfront with your guests on the rules in the house and how best to keep Nellie safe. And if you do need to board again, make sure she's up to date on her influenza and Bordatella vaccines with this respiratory virus going around. And just make sure, you know, she can get stressed out over the boarding facility, too. So, if she is one that gets stress colitis definitely start her on probiotics early if you can. I would really try and keep her at home with you guys and just make it a safer environment as possible, utilizing all the tips that we've mentioned previously. 

Midroll Ad: Banfield’s here to provide you and your pet with smart, affordable, high quality pet care so you can worry less about the vet and wellness stuff and instead enjoy life with your BFF. That's why we created Optimum Wellness Plans®. Our plans aren't insurance. They're year-long bundles of preventive care custom built for the pet you love. Plans include unlimited in-office visits, 24/7 chat for general pet health advice, virtual visits, vaccines, dental cleanings, discounts and more. Optimum Wellness Plans®. Essential Pet Care Made Easy. Learn more by clicking the link in the show notes or visit us at 

Hannah Shaw: So, now we are going to move on to some Fast Facts for the holidays. I would love if we can each share just some kind of interesting fast fact with one another and I can start. My first fast fact is that if you are someone who is planning to put a real tree in your home this winter, you should know that the Christmas tree stands can actually contain bacteria that is harmful to animals if they are consuming the water. So that is like free standing water that might be sitting in your home for quite some time. So, you want to block access to any kind of tree water for your animals. 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Get to know it now. Yes. So, my first fact would be I kind of mentioned it earlier, but holidays is the most common time of year where we're seeing pancreatitis in our pets. And that is where—if they're fed a really high fat diet, if they get into the trash, if they get some table scraps that are really high in like oils—they can develop this pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas. So, some signs to look out for if you're worried that your pet might be getting it would be they can become very lethargic. They may not want to eat. Vomiting and diarrhea are very common and then kind of a painful belly. If you're picking them up and they seem really painful, then that could be a sign that maybe they have some pancreatitis going on. And I would definitely schedule an appointment with your vet or if they're really, really sick, definitely take them to the E.R. at that point. Another reason to try and avoid giving your pets table scraps and just sticking to their kibble or maybe a little bit of carrots and celery. 

Hannah Shaw: My next fast fact is about potpourri and essential oil diffusers. I know, you know, we're in the holidays trying to have those lovely seasonal fragrances in our homes, but actually, excessive use of those items can be dangerous, especially for our cat friends who sometimes are not able to metabolize some of the compounds found in those essential oils. Liquid potpourri in particular, can actually cause burns in the mouth and throat if ingested. So just be very sparing or cautious about using those items. 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: So yeah, if you're cleaning your house for the holidays and getting ready for guests to come over, be very careful about the fragrances that you're going to be using, the cleaning supplies that you're going to be using. If you are planning to clean the house, make sure you clean well in advance and keep your pets in a separate room or outside if it's a dog so that they're not breathing in those fumes. Make sure you open some windows. Just be, you know, very careful that your pet’s not accidentally ingesting any of those either. Cats in particular can also be very sensitive to new fragrances, and they can develop allergies or asthma to it. So please just be very careful with what kind of cleaners and scents you're introducing to your pets during the holidays. 

Hannah Shaw: Well, thank you so much for sharing all of this. I feel like I hope that we have not scared anybody here, but I think that knowledge is really empowering. AndI appreciate that a lot of this information can help people to fully prepare. So, thank you so much for being on the show and happy holidays. 

Dr. Saskia Bogman: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I hope some of this information really helps out owners keep their pets safe during the holidays. And happy holidays to you, too. 

Hannah Shaw: This has been a really fascinating conversation. My big takeaway is that preparation and maintaining a solid routine for our animals is an important way to keep them safe and reduce their stress during the holidays. It's important to really carefully consider any new and novel factors we're adding to the equation and to take steps to make sure that anything we're introducing to our home environment is going to be safe for the dogs and cats who we love most. From myself, Banfield, and the entire team at Not Just Fluff, we want to wish you and your furry friends a happy holiday season. Thank you for listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet Wellness from the Pros at Banfield Pet Hospital. Make sure to get your paws on the Like and Subscribe button so you don't miss an episode.

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Episode 2 - Creepy Crawlies

How to protect your pet against parasites

Parasites like heartworm, ticks and fleas can be scary, and infections can have lasting effects on your pet’s health. All the more reason to talk about them! Dr. Michael Piccione joins Hannah to discuss all sorts of creepy crawlies that can harm your pet, common symptoms to look out for, and preventive measures you can take to protect your furry BFF.

Episode 2: Creepy crawlies

Run time: 34 minutes, 59 seconds


Is something creepy bugging your pet?

Parasites like heartworm, ticks and fleas can be scary, and infections can have lasting effects on your pet’s health. All the more reason to talk about them! Silence and lack of awareness around parasites can lead to dangerous myths and misconceptions. Let’s change that together.

In this episode, host Hannah Shaw sits down with Dr. Michael Piccione, Area Chief of Staff for Banfield Pet Hospital Houston North. Hannah and Michael discuss all sorts of creepy crawlies that can harm your pet, common symptoms to look out for, and preventive measures you can take to protect your furry BFF.

We hope you enjoy Not Just Fluff! If you find these conversations helpful, we want to hear from you! Rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, and let us know what you liked about the show.

Learn more about Banfield Pet Hospital’s Optimum Wellness Plans®

SPEAKER 1: Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system.

HANNAH SHAW: Hannah Shaw

SPEAKER 1: is not available. At the tone, please record your message.

SPEAKER 2: Hey, this is David and my three-year-old dog's name is Molly. My neighbor's dog was recently diagnosed with heartworms, and I think she's being treated. But should I be worried about Molly now? Are heartworms contagious? I'm not sure what to do next, but hoping you can help me out.

HANNAH SHAW: You're listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet Wellness from Banfield Pet Hospital, hosted by me, Hannah Shaw, animal advocate, otherwise known as the Kitten Lady. If you're like me, you love your animals a lot, but they can't talk and it can be tough to know what they really need. Not Just Fluff is here to provide you with actionable tips and science backed advice from reputable professionals who really understand pet care. When you work with animals, you deal with a lot of unwanted intruders, and by that, I mean parasites. I foster a lot of kittens and puppies, and I'm no stranger to the creepy crawlies. Whether we're talking about fleas, ear mites or worms, parasites are prevalent and they can be a threat to the animals that we love. So, while it's not such a pleasant topic to discuss, it is very important for people to understand parasites and how we can help. To learn more, today I'm joined by Dr. Michael Piccione, area chief of staff for Banfield Pet Hospital, Houston, North. Dr. Piccione graduated vet school in 2012 from the University of Florida and he has been with Banfield for approximately ten years. So, tell me a little bit about yourself. Do you have any animals of your own at home?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: I do. I am actually a cat person. I have three cats at home. Their names are Anakin, Ra's al Ghul, and Mia.

HANNAH SHAW: Oh my gosh, another cat person. I love it. I love to hear know as a veterinarian, I'm curious if you can share some of the types of cases that you like to take on most. Is there like a specific passion that you have within vet med?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Yeah, it sounds crazy, but my favorite cases are ocular cases or eyeball cases. I absolutely love working with patients that have ocular disease or eyeball disease and trying to help them out as much as I can, obviously, but that's kind of my niche, so to speak.

HANNAH SHAW: OOH. I wish that we could talk all about that because I am also very passionate about kittens and puppies with eye issues. But today we are talking about another thing that I think both of us care a lot about, which is parasites in cats and dogs. It is something that anyone who works with animals deals with regularly. On Not Just Fluff, we love to hear tales from the vet, and I wonder if you can share a story about an animal that you've treated over the years who was positively impacted by parasite treatment or prevention?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Yeah, that's a great question. I'll share a personal story of mine that actually one of my own dogs, before even being a veterinarian, came down and was documented positive for heartworm disease. And so at the time, me being in, I think it was primary school, I didn't even know what heartworms were, even though it was my own pet, that case still resonates with me to this day because it was my very own family that was affected. And to kind of put in perspective, I live in Texas and so heart and disease is unfortunately more prominent than other places in the United States or even the world. And so on a regular basis, I do deal with cases with owners. They bring in their pet and their pet is asymptomatic. They just come in for a wellness visit and we'll unfortunately have to have conversations if their pet does to get diagnosed with heart disease. It's nothing that I enjoy talking about, but prevention is just so incredibly important because heart and disease in particular is a silent killer.

HANNAH SHAW: I think it's amazing that you have been through this yourself. So when you're talking to people, you can give them a little bit of comfort from your own experience and really empathize with know today we had a caller reach out about his dog Molly, and he was kind of asking questions about whether or not he should be worried because his neighbor's dog was just diagnosed with heartworms. So, can you talk a little bit about what are heartworms and how do they spread?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Yeah, so heartworms, like the name says, there are worms that live in the heart. Commonly I'll get clients that ask me, well, are heartworms another gastrointestinal parasite? Unfortunately they're not. But heartworms literally live inside the heart and they're transmitted by mosquitoes. And so if you have mosquitoes where you live, there are heartworms out and about. And so once your dog or cat get bit by an infected mosquito, they can potentially transmit that heartworm via that bite. And so again, wherever there's mosquitoes, heartworms are not too far behind.

HANNAH SHAW: Can you talk a bit about what goes into heartworm prevention?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Yeah, in terms of prevention, I think the first thing to talk about is there's a lot of different types of prevention. So there can be many owners are familiar with a once a month tablet or chewable and there's a lot of products out there that you have available, so to speak. But thankfully, as time goes on, we have a lot more products available to us. Some of these medications now are actually injectables that offer prevention for multiple months at a time. So owners have their options, whether it be an oral medication, an injectable, or in some cases, even topicals. So it's really nice to have options that fit that owner's lifestyle as well as the pet. Because as all of us know, some of our pets aren't great about taking medication, so we really have to cater to what they will accept.

HANNAH SHAW: Sure. Are there symptoms that people should be looking out for? Like if somebody is worried about the possibility that their dog could have heartworm, what are some of the early warning signs?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: One of the early warning signs, unfortunately, is nothing. And so I will get clients that come in, like I mentioned earlier, with their pet, and they're just coming in for general wellness exam, physical examination and other preventative care, like a once a year heartworm test, and the dog, or in some cases a cat may come up fine, no concerns at home. But when we run that test and they show that they're positive, everybody is on full alert. But to answer your question, specifically as that disease progresses, many patients can have cough or exercise intolerance. But unfortunately, again, some very nonspecific signs that owners may not be in tune to at home to realize, hey, that is obvious heartworm disease.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah. You mentioned how much these symptoms can kind of go unnoticed, and I think cats and dogs are really masterful at hiding their symptoms. And I wonder how often you do recommend that people test for heartworms? Or is it something that you wait until you're symptomatic or is it something that it's like every single animal should receive these tests on an ongoing basis?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: I am very big into preventative care and preventative medicine. And so for me, I recommend testing once yearly, whether it be for our dogs or our cats, if we do have an owner that comes in that may have missed prevention. Right. So say they come in and they say, well, we've been off prevention for the last four months, I will recommend rechecking that patient sooner, depending on a number of factors. But nonetheless, once yearly is really that gold standard. There's always going to be exceptions. But once yearly seems to be the sweet spot to really make sure that we're staying on top of any and all cases. Because again, prevention in general is worth so much value to the quality of medicine and that patient's health overall.

HANNAH SHAW: What is the impact on kind of the long term quality of life for an animal who doesn't get treated for heartworms? Maybe they're not doing prevention, they're not coming in for testing, and this is going untreated. What impact can that have long term?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: You have to know a little bit more about how heartworms work. And so, as the name says, one of the frustrating thing about heartworms is they literally live in the heart. And so in this scenario, if we do have an owner that comes in that can't treat this patient for whatever reason that may be, those heartworms have a very long life cycle. And so those worms will literally live in the heart. And as you can imagine, they can also multiply and reproduce. So as time goes on, left untreated, not only do the worms themselves grow, but the actual numbers of the worms grow eventually can lead to things as extreme as congestive heart failure and ultimately death.

HANNAH SHAW: So, so horrifying. Oh my gosh, this is like giving me the heebie jeebies. I really think it is amazing that you promote the preventive care part of this because nobody would want their animal to go through that. I want to move on and talk a bit about external parasites. So, things like fleas and ticks and ear mites, can you talk a bit about their prevalence? Is that something that you see on a lot of cats and dogs who come into your clinic?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: I do, and like I said, it's going to vary per region, right? So it's going to depend on where you live to determine, well, what's most prevalent. But me being in Texas, very tropical climate, this is really a great (and I use the term loosely) a great breeding ground for a lot of those parasites. And so we see a lot of hookworms, roundworms, we see a lot of fleas, we see a lot of ticks. They are extremely prevalent, really anywhere you go in this area. But that's going to vary. You travel to different parts of the United States or beyond, and you may have certain parasites that aren't as common as, say, another region.

HANNAH SHAW: I mean, obviously just the presence of these little creepy crawlies alone is enough to make people want to not have their animal experience this—they're itchy, they're icky, they're uncomfortable. But I think sometimes people don't realize some of the unexpected effects that can happen by letting these things go untreated. Can you talk a bit about what can happen if you are delaying treatment for, say, a cat or dog who has fleas or ticks?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: For fleas and ticks in particular, one of the things that I really just try to emphasize the clients is the way these parasites feed are on blood. And so left unchecked, a lot of these parasites can induce anemia in their pets and anemia being a low red cell count because these parasites are literally drinking blood from their pets. And some owners get a little squeamish about that, but that's the truth. And that's why it's very important not only to prevent, but actively treat these patients to ensure that they are getting the utmost care they need.

HANNAH SHAW: For people who are kind of concerned, like, “do I really need to be preventing this or should I just wait until it comes up, isn't it expensive or annoying to have to do ongoing prevention?” Can you talk a bit about the difference between preventing external parasites and treating them? Is it actually more cost effective to prevent?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: It definitely is, 100%. And I say that because we think about not only the direct effects of the parasite, so say a tick or a flea, yes, they can take blood away from an owner's pet and obviously that's not good, but you also have to think about some potential, not unrelated side effects, but things you don't think of. So other diseases, because fleas can carry diseases, ticks can carry diseases, and those diseases can be transmitted to that pet. And so for me, when I have these patients that come in, that's why I stress so much the prevention aspect of it, because some of these diseases, once they're transmitted to that pet, you can't always treat it effectively. Prevention is just so important. So, in the long run, to answer the question, yeah, prevention is well worth it in the long run.

HANNAH SHAW: Can you talk about how you prevent external parasites? What do you recommend to people who are worried about the presence of fleas and ticks and ear mites in terms of prevention?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: So there's similar to heartworm prevention, there's a lot of different products on the market. Some of those may be oral tablets or chewables, some of those may be topicals. And just like heartworm prevention, whatever option best suits their pet as recommended by their veterinarian is the option that I'm always going to encourage that they go with. Some of those products are once a month, some of those products are once every few months. So again, it really depends on the owner's lifestyle, the pet itself, the veterinarian's recommendations. And that's the great thing about not to get passionate about it, but that's the great thing about preventative medicine, is especially in this day and age, we have a lot of options available to really soothe whatever pet or client walks through that door.

HANNAH SHAW: I like that you mentioned the veterinarian’s recommendation because there are a lot of over-the-counter medications that are available that people can go and purchase at the store, but there can be some risks associated with that. I know you're a cat guy. I wonder if you could talk a bit about some of the dangers that can happen when people go out and maybe purchase a flea and tick medication over the counter, not realizing some of the compounds may be neurotoxic for cats?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Hannah, you answered it for me already. Yeah. So not all flea preventions are created equal. And because of that, not all flea preventions are appropriate in our species. So, what's good for a dog may not be good for a cat, and vice versa. And so, to your point, there are some drugs out there that if you apply it to a cat and it's labeled for dogs only, can create profound side effects, seizures, and like I've mentioned before, even death. And so very serious implications. And I've seen those cases firsthand and they're very alarming and the owners, of course, are very alarmed. And that's why it's so important as you called out what's recommended by your veterinarian as well. Because if you're not careful and I don't blame anybody, but if you're not careful and you don't read that fine print or your goal is just, “I have fleas, I got to get something,” sometimes I can come back and bite you, unfortunately.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah. This is why a relationship with a veterinarian is just absolute gold. It's really important. There's so many things as just a guardian of your animal, you wouldn't know. And I've seen some really sad cases emerge out of that. So thank you for sharing that. I want to move on to GI parasites. I'm smiling because this is just like such a lived reality for me as somebody who fosters kittens and puppies. GI parasites just feel like a package deal with these little guys. There are GI parasites that can be seen by the human eye, right? So things like round worms or tapeworms, sometimes we have visual evidence where you can say, okay, this cat or dog has worms, but there are a lot of cases where you can't see anything. Can you talk about some signs that people should be looking out for that their cat or dog might have a GI parasite?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Yeah, the most common one that comes to mind is diarrhea. And again, when you think about gastrointestinal parasites, they're going to wreak some havoc and so that is not uncommon at all. But you'll hear a similar thing as we talk about a lot of these topics. Unfortunately, you can't just look at your dog or cat and say, wow, they don't have any parasites. And it's not necessarily meant as a scare tactic, but as you know, you get puppies and kittens, they look ridiculously cute and they're playing around and they're doing great, and then you bring them in for a wellness visit and you have a fecal done because that's what your veterinarian recommends. And lo and behold, hey, we've got hookworms and roundworms in Fluffy, and you had no idea. Your pet eats great, your pet defecates great, there's no problems whatsoever. But had you not done that fecal test, you would not have known that your pet was carrying parasites.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah, you mentioned diarrhea and I would say that mystery diarrhea is one of the primary things that other foster parents ask me about. And unfortunately, I think some people think it's more normal than it is, especially in neonatal populations. People go, oh, they're babies, they get diarrhea. But I'm like, no, that can be a sign. And there's obviously so many potential causes. So, can you talk a bit about diagnosis and why it's important for people to get a fecal exam and when and how are we testing for these parasites?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: It's a loaded question, right? There's a lot that goes into parasite detection. And so one of the most common tests that we do, as you mentioned, is a fecal. And essentially all we do is we get a fecal sample from that patient. And what we're actually looking for in many cases are the eggs that are produced from the adult inside of that dog or cat. And so we'll have owners that come in to your point a second ago that they may say, “hey, we're seeing parasites in our dog or cat stool,” but when we run the fecal test, we might not see anything. And the reason why I emphasize that to clients is because we have to assume when we run that test that there are adults that are actively reproducing eggs in that fecal sample. And if there's not, doesn't necessarily mean that your dog or cat has no parasites. It just means that they're not actively shedding. And we see that commonly with pets who have tapeworms and potentially even hookworms around worms. And that's why, to answer the other part of your question, it's very important that we repeat these tests. A lot of your parasites, their life cycle is about three weeks. And when I say life cycle being three weeks, how often it takes for them to produce the eggs and then for those eggs to hatch and then grow up inside of the patient, say I see a puppy or kitten that comes in. If I did not detect a parasite on that first exam, say, at eight weeks of age, I'm going to recommend they come back in a few weeks for vaccines, which I know is not the scope of this topic. But at that time, I'm also going to recommend repeating a fecal because I'm not comfortable with just assuming that one fecal on a pet is going on a puppy and a kitten especially is going to be appropriate. And that also goes true for our adult patients. So just like puppies and kittens, dogs and cats or adult dogs and cats can get parasites as well. And so in those patients, assuming they are on year round prevention so again, a common theme, I'm normally recommending rechecking a fecal on them twice a year because typically I'm seeing them twice a year for wellness.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah. Thank you for bringing up the life cycles, because I think that's something that most people don't think about, something that I hear a lot, is people saying, “well, I adopted my cat or dog from the shelter, and they said that they were fully dewormed, so I don't need to worry about parasites at all, and I never need to do anything again.” And I think that you hit the nail on the head that sometimes there needs to be repeat treatment of these animals and also repeat testing of these animals because of things like life cycles or reinfection or the other thing is that there's not one medication that treats every single parasite, right? So can you talk a bit about that, like some of these sort of parasites that maybe are not getting hit with the standard deworming protocol?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Not all dewormers are created equal. And so, if you adopted a pet from a shelter and they got dewormed, that's amazing. I love the fact that they're trying to be preventative in regards to preventing the spread of parasites, but unfortunately, not all parasites are susceptible to various dewormers. And sometimes I will even administer a deworming for a patient and then the owner will call back, say, a few days later and say, “wow, I'm seeing little grains of rice in their stool. What is going on here?” And that's because, again, not all parasites respond to correct dewormers. And again, even fecals aren't foolproof themselves. And so, you really have to treat the patient based on the diagnosis themselves. And unfortunately, there isn't a magic pill that we can give that says, “hey, take this and all your cares will be laid to rest.” There's a lot of responsibility with taking care of our dogs and cats or any pet for that matter, and there's a lot that goes behind the scenes, but it's very important, that communication piece. And so I love something that you mentioned, I love when clients call me and say, “hey, listen, I know you gave a deworming, but I'm also seeing this now. Can you help me out and tell me what's going on?” I would rather clients ask me than not ask. There are no stupid questions.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah, you made me laugh with the grains of rice because I always feel like if you're seeing something that looks like rice or noodles in the litter box…

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Yeah, it's not rice or noodles.

HANNAH SHAW: It's not rice and it's not noodles. So, let's talk about prevention a bit here. Routine deworming is something that we do in shelters and rescues, but is that something that you recommend even for cats and dogs over the course of their lives in their homes?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: I definitely do. And I say that because just like puppies and kittens, your adult dogs and cats can get parasites as well. And so, again, it's going to be based on your veterinarian's recommendations. A common question that comes up is, well, what about drug resistance, et cetera? And so, I'm always going to encourage anybody listening to consult with their veterinarian on a case by case basis, of course, but routine deworming, I feel, is still very important because of the prevalence rates of many of these parasites, no matter where you go.

HANNAH SHAW: What are some of the dangers of not treating GI parasites?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: So, yeah, for me, gastrointestinal parasites not only have an effect on the patient, they can also have an effect on their owners, and by that I mean zoonotic potential. And so, there are parasites out there, so we talk about hookworms, we talk about roundworms, they are not just inclusive to that pet. So just because Fluffy has hookworms does not mean that no one else is susceptible. And so, unfortunately, people can get hookworms, people can get roundworms. It's very scary. But there is an element of public health to veterinary medicine, and I think that's another reason why I get so passionate about prevention, because it's not just our own pets that are at risk here in their health, it's potentially the family, the rest of the family that's associated with that. So it can be very scary.

HANNAH SHAW: I can just picture people listening to this right now and just grabbing their cat and dog carriers and bringing them to the vet, because that is horrifying to think about. But you're absolutely right. One thing for me is when I'm bringing in foster animals and they have untreated parasites that maybe have gone untreated for quite some time, we see so many cascading effects from that, especially in kittens and puppies. They can be so malnourished, emaciated, dehydrated, and sometimes it takes a lot of supportive care to get them back on track. So I think that parasites can absolutely wreak havoc on our animals if we don't address them quickly.

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Hannah, I'll add to that too, is I do have some clients that come in and say, “oh, it's just a flea,” or “oh, it's just a hookworm.” And unfortunately, I don't love hearing that because like I said, it only takes one mosquito to transmit heartworm disease. It just takes one flea to transmit this disease or this one tick and left unchecked. When we talk about specifically gastrointestinal parasites, they will multiply. And so, it's never just one, it's multiple. And that burden on that pet can have profound effects. And something just as simple as fleas could, unfortunately, in extreme cases, lead to things like death. The same thing with gastrointestinal parasites, the same thing with heartworms. Unfortunately, they can have very profound effects on the debt.

HANNAH SHAW: So obviously our animals who go outside are going to be exposed to the risk of parasites. But what about indoor only animals? Is it also important to prevent parasites in them?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Absolutely. And I say that because no matter where you go, parasites are not just going to be limited to indoors. People can actually transmit these parasites, the eggs, via their shoes or whatever it may be. So we can be inadvertent carriers of these parasites and transmit them indoors. Not only that, but fleas are not limited to outdoors. They can jump on us, then they can jump on their pets making their way insides. And finally, the last thing I'll say, and it resonates with me a lot, is we talk about heartworms and being transmitted by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes, there’s no invisible barrier on our front doors or our windows that say, “oh, I've gone too far, I can't go in this door.” They're going to come and go as they please. So, again, to answer the question definitively, absolutely. If you have a dog or cat that is indoor-only, I feel prevention is arguably just as important because they will find a way. Many of these parasites will find a way. That is why they've been successful for years, thousands of years of doing what they do, they evolve. And that's again, why they've been successful.

HANNAH SHAW: So we've talked about a lot of different creepy crawlies and probably a lot of our listeners have the heebie jeebies like me now. So, I'm wondering if you can just summarize for us once and for all, like how often should we be bringing cats and dogs in for preventive care appointments and what specifically should we be requesting to help them stay parasite free?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: I always recommend to my clients to come in twice a year and I say that number one because I want to do a number of examinations on this patient. Our pets age much quicker than we do and so you hear a lot of terms out there say, well, hey, one year, human years is equivalent to this and dog years. And so I want to make sure just like your human care physician will recommend seeing you. I prefer seeing my patients in twice a year to do thorough physical exams and then obviously recommend any diagnostics for preventative care at that time. And I won't necessarily go into details, but more common ones are going to be fecal testing, annual blood work, annual heartworm testing that we talked about. And then in terms of prevention specifically, like I've said before, it's really going to depend on what prevention that veterinarian recommends. And so if you're on a product for heartworm prevention that lasts six months, well, maybe you're only renewing that heartworm prevention twice a year, but if you're on something once a month, well then that's going to be twelve times a year. So it really just depends on what products that veterinarian is recommending. And at the end of the day, I'll always recommend consulting with your veterinarian because every patient has their own specific needs. Unfortunately, there's not a one size fits all. But education is key and communication is key and what better way to do that than to make that appointment and establish that relationship with your veterinarian to get all that ironed out

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HANNAH SHAW: So. Michael, now we are going to switch gears and we're going to give each other some fast facts about the topic of the day, parasites. Working with neonates I, unfortunately have a lot of experience with this myself. So, my first Fast Fact is going to be a fun trick for identifying fleas in our kittens and puppies. And that is I take a little flea comb, and I comb through the fur, and if you see what looks like tiny specks of black dirt, that is likely to be flea dirt. And flea dirt is flea poop. There is another little step that you can take if you're not sure. Maybe you rescued this kitten or puppy from a dirty outdoor area, and you're like, is this flea dirt or is this dirt dirt? Flea dirt will contain digested blood. So, you can actually take that flea dirt and put it onto, like, a moistened cloth, and sometimes it will run a little bit red. So, kind of a disgusting little magic trick for figuring out if your kittens or puppies have fleas. How about you? You want to give me a Fast Fact?

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: So, for me, we talked a little bit about this before, but tapeworms so Fast Facts, when owners come to me and say, hey, we're seeing small rice like segments in their stool, not only is that indicative of, in many cases, tapeworms, but that little segment is actually part of a much larger parasite. So that segment specifically is called a proglottid. And so where there's one, there are much, much more. And each one of those proglottids contain multiple, multiple eggs inside of them. So, where you see one, there's a lot more coming.

HANNAH SHAW: This is the most delightfully, disgusting conversation ever. I love it.

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: I love it, though.

HANNAH SHAW: We love it because knowledge is power, and the more we know, the more we can do something about it. Okay, my second Fast Fact is going to be that many parasites can actually live outside of the host's body. And that is why it is super important that we are washing our hands and that we are sanitizing regularly to prevent the spread of parasites. I think a lot of people don't realize that there can be parasites that actually live not just in the stool in the litter box, but even just in the environment or on your hands or on objects in the room. Which is why when I'm fostering, I always tell people, we quarantine, we sanitize, we wash bedding, we wash our hands, we spray doorknobs with sanitizer, all of that good stuff to try to prevent the spread of parasites and other disease.

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: Well, and my other Fast Fact kind of piggybacks along with this, but I mentioned it briefly earlier in the episode, but some of our gastrointestinal parasites are zoonotic, meaning not only can they be transmitted from pets to other pets, but also to people. Some of people can get these parasites. Specifically, we talk about things like hookworms and roundworms. Well, in people, they are not limited necessarily to the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, they can manifest in other parts of their bodies. So hookworms can actually manifest in the form of cutaneous larval migraines, so where the parasites literally burrow through the skin, and then roundworms can actually manifest, and this one we talked about, one of my passions being eyeballs, roundworms can actually manifest the eye in people.

HANNAH SHAW: No!...don't say that!

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: And so I don't know if that's a fun fact, but that is a fact, a scary fact, and I'll leave it at that.

HANNAH SHAW: That is a horrifying fact. And if people could see my faces that I'm making right now, I'm like just pulling at my face like, oh, gosh, that makes me want to go and sanitize everything and take all my animals to the veterinarian. But the truth is that's what I hope that this conversation does for listeners is help them understand that there's a lot of things out there that maybe we can't see with the naked eye, but that can be harmful to our animals and even to ourselves. So, I really appreciate so much that we've been able to have this conversation. Michael, thank you so much for imparting all of your wisdom, and thanks for being on the show.

DR. MICHAEL PICCIONE: I appreciate you having me on the show, and I appreciate everybody who's listening today.

HANNAH SHAW: I think an important takeaway today is that you can't always see if your cat or dog has parasites, but that doesn't mean that they might not be there. Sneakily, hiding away and potentially causing devastating effects. Preventive measures and routine visits with the vet can help us all feel more reassured that we're protecting our animal friends from unwanted creepy crawlies. I hope that this conversation has inspired you to think about ways that you can prevent parasites in your cats and dogs. Do you have a question for the show? Reach out at [email protected] and we just might answer it on a future episode. Thank you for listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet Wellness from the pros at Banfield Pet Hospital. Make sure to get your paws on the like and subscribe button so you don't miss an episode.

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Episode 1 - More Than Stinky Breath

The importance of oral hygiene for our furry friends

It’s a common misconception that stinky breath is a part of pet ownership. In this episode, Hannah and Dr. Kate Hilsenteger discuss why preventive oral care is so important, and how you can incorporate it into your furry friend’s routine. You’ll also learn about some common signs that may point to oral pain, and how to approach oral hygiene with your pet.

Episode 1: The importance of oral hygiene for our furry friends

Run time: 32 minutes, 23 seconds


**Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system. Hannah Shaw is not available. At the tone, please record your message.** Hi, my name is Sarah and I'm calling about my cat, Pluto. I know dental care is really important, but when I try and brush her teeth, she gets really reactive. I know that there are dental treats that can clean her teeth. So I guess my question is, if I'm giving Pluto dental treats, is brushing her teeth really that important? 

HANNAH SHAW: You're listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet wellness from Banfield Pet Hospital, hosted by me, Hannah Shaw, animal advocate, otherwise known as the Kitten Lady. If you're like me, you love your animals a lot, but they can't talk and it can be tough to know what they really need. Not Just Fluff is here to provide you with actionable tips and science backed advice from reputable professionals who really understand pet care. I work with a lot of cats and kittens and dental health is always something that's top of mind. But let's be honest, cats are not exactly known for being very cooperative when it comes to brushing their teeth. So, I really empathize with your question, Sarah. To speak about this more in depth, today we are going to talk with Dr. Kate Hilsenteger at Banfield Pet Hospital, who is passionate about animal dental care. Kate is an Area Chief of Staff for Banfield. She has a BA in History from Rice University and received her DVM from Texas A&M. After graduating from Vet School, she moved to the Portland area to complete an equine surgery internship, then briefly worked as an equine ambulatory vet before moving over to small animals. Welcome to the show, Kate!

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: Thanks for having me.

HANNAH SHAW: So, before we get started, I would love to just hear if you have any animals at home?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: It's kind of a funny story. We have one German Shepherd, but he's my husband's police canine partner, so he's a working dog.

HANNAH SHAW: Oh, interesting. How long have you worked with animals and what inspired you to pursue a career as a veterinarian?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I started working with animals when I was in fifth grade. I started horseback riding lessons, which meant that by the time I was like 12 and 14, I was teaching riding. Well, no, I guess by 14, I was working for the barn where I took lessons. And then over time that took over in taking care of the herd and feeding them and spending pretty much every day there. Eventually I realized I'd always been working with animals and I don't sit at a desk very well. So, I was like, that's cool, that's a good choice.

HANNAH SHAW: I love that you've been involved in animal welfare for as long as you have. I totally relate to that. And I don't sit well at a desk either, to be honest. So, it's an awesome career that you have. On Not Just Fluff, we love hearing tales from the vet. So, with this episode being all about dental health, I wonder if you can share a story about maybe an animal that you've treated and how proper dental care made a difference for them?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I saw a five year old little bitty Chihuahua, and he was coming in for an oral surgery recheck (and I didn't perform his surgery). Instead, he'd seen one of my colleagues at the hospital two weeks prior, and he'd come in and he was this darling little cute thing, and he'd had all of his little incisors in the front on his bottom jaw removed because they had gotten pretty infected and wiggly, and it healed up beautifully. And when I went in to talk with his owner, the conversation was, “well, he's gained weight and he's super energetic and he's so happy.” And it was just one of those stories where I was like, I can't tell you for sure that it was the oral pain of those loose teeth making him not want to eat very well, but all the signs are pointing that way, and he's been kind of quietly suffering with it. And so, she was really happy with his attitude; I was really happy with how well he healed; And then we spent a good, like, five minutes talking about how to start brushing his teeth. It was a fun adventure.

HANNAH SHAW: That is so awesome. To think that the decision to take care of something like an animal's dental health can have these cascading effects down to even their ability to get proper nutrition. I am really happy for that Chihuahua. I would love to dive more into this subject with you. I want to start by asking about a very common sign of dental disease, which is stinky breath. So, I think a lot of animal lovers just sort of accept that stinky breath is like a normal part of taking care of an animal. But is that true, or should we be concerned if a cat or dog has foul smelling breath?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I think it's good to be concerned since especially if that smell has that odor of infection that is definitely not healthy. And so, I have fun conversations when I start talking about oral health. Starting to brush your puppy and kitten's teeth regularly, and then the idea of a preventive dentistry starting at one to two years of age. I get a lot of crazy looks. Like I'll mention it 20 times a day that we should be brushing teeth, and I get laughed at probably 17 out of 20.

HANNAH SHAW: If a cat or dog has that kind of, like, foul smelling, like you said, maybe sign of infection breath, what are some of the things that people should be thinking? Like, if I'm snuggling with my cat in bed and her breath stinks, what are some of the things that that could be telling me?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: Sorry, you said cat. So that kind of changes my answer a little bit. With a dog, I'd first be like, is there a stick stuck in there? Because that happens. Kitty cats don't do that as often, so it's not as common first thought. But I do think also, is there an area in the mouth that has an abscess where we have infection under the gum line and we're not seeing it, but it's starting to get pretty bad (and likely painful)? Or in some cases, would that be a sign of another systemic disease? There are some things that can make your breast smell bad, but overall, I go straight to, is there periodontal disease in there? And do we need to get in there under anesthesia and assess it?

HANNAH SHAW: And is there a stick in their mouth? Can you talk more about that? That was not what I was expecting.

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I mean, dogs and cats will get into crazy things. And so, I've had several times where a dog has gotten a stick, like, stuck in the roof of their mouth, and they're just running around like crazy, and it starts to stink because it stays in there for a while, and they're really quiet about it often. But when we open the mouth and look in, they're like, oh, there's a stick or something else stuck in there. And we can sedate the pet and remove it and feel like a hero, which is always fun.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah. I often think about how much I wish I could just ask my animals what is going on, and it's frustrating that they can't tell us, like, “hey, I have a stick stuck in my mouth,” or “something hurts.” Cats and dogs can be pretty masterful at hiding signs of pain. Can you talk a bit about dental pain? Something that if you've been through dental pain, you know, you would never want your cat or dog to experience? How do cats and dogs show that they're in dental pain or what might be a sign of that?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: They are notoriously difficult to pinpoint that it is dental pain. I've had pets come in for acute, like, day one of not eating. And on my exam table once, I had a dog spit a molar out on the table, and he had only stopped eating that day. There was a lot of other stuff going on in that mouth, a lot of oral surgery needs, but that one tooth was really bothering that day, and it was loose enough that he spat it out. And so, I would say it's subtle often that they are having oral pain. Like, they might notice that there's a change in how they're chewing, or they might be dropping food. Most of the time, they just tolerate it, which is sad. And so, when I do find things for a patient who's here for a routine dental and I find something abnormal, I do like to preface like, it's not an emergency. Your pet's been hiding this for some time now. Let's make a plan. So, trying to give people – just because there's that, as pet owners, we want to do what's best for them, and it's a lot of stress, especially when suddenly you're like, “hey, incidental finding today, we have an abscessed tooth.”

HANNAH SHAW: Sure. And I think what you're saying really illustrates how much sometimes we might not, visually or even by smell, be able to tell what's going on until it has progressed quite a bit, which is why I'm always telling people, you do need to take your cat or dog in for these preventive appointments so that you are actually getting eyes from a veterinarian on your animal. They can see things that maybe you are not able to notice yourself. So, can we talk a bit about preventive care? I want to know, are there things that people can do at home to prevent dental disease? 

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I love preventive care. I feel like preventive care is amazing. And every time I can prevent something, hallelujah. So, brushing every day would be the ultimate prevention. At the same time, it won't remove the need for oral annual dental cleanings. And so, I like to tell people, we brush twice a day, we flush, we use mouthwash, we chew gum, and we still go to the dentist twice a year, ideally to get our teeth cleaned by a professional hygienist, whereas our pets, by and large, never brush their teeth. And I might get the opportunity to do a first dental cleaning at four years of age for some pets, and that's after they've had those permanent teeth for three and a half years without brushing. So, the more we can do at home, the better. So, brushing, dental chews, dental rinses.

HANNAH SHAW: I have so many questions for you about this, because obviously, humans, we brush our teeth every day. It's very simple, it's very normal part of human wellness. But probably when you say this to people about their cats or dogs, they probably look at you sideways like, wait a minute, do I really have to brush my cat or dog's teeth every single day? How do you talk to people about the importance of this when they're like, every single day? Is it different for cat people and dog people when you have this conversation? Because I would guess as a person who has cats that it might be. Talk to me about how you frame this for people.

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: It is a challenging ask because you're asking them to build this into their daily lives and to train their pet to accept it, because it's not like you're going to get them to sit there with their mouth open and just let you scrub away for two minutes every day. And so, it's like when they're kittens and puppies getting in there and brush, like one tooth, call it a win, give them some treats, then brush two teeth the next day, call it a win, give them some treats, and generally acclimating them just slowly to the process and then ideally building it into your day. And I will just say flat out, I have a nine-year-old daughter, and I still find that getting my human child to brush her teeth twice a day is a challenge. So, I accept that this is a big ask.

HANNAH SHAW: Sure. So, it sounds like it's all about kind of getting them into a bit of a routine with it. Can you kind of walk me through step by step? Because I want to envision how this works for you step by step with your cat or dog, and maybe it's different for each. What position are you getting them into? Like, how long are you brushing their teeth? Give me the play by play.

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I think it's funny that you're on team cat, and I probably am thinking about dogs, so I should ground myself on this. 

HANNAH SHAW: I'm on team cat and dog. I foster both, so I just have cats. So, I definitely think of it as picking a time of day that you can commit to trying this. And I tend to have people start with like a little finger brush that's going to be just not as intrusive and less risk of bonking them in the back of the mouth or anything. And I have people focus on what I call the lip side of the teeth. So, the part of the teeth that touches the lips and the cheeks, most of the pathology I find is on the lip side. And so, I have people start by trying to brush the lip side of the teeth. It's pretty rare that I go in to do a dental cleaning and check the tongue side of the teeth and find something, but it's possible. And so, my big ask is brush the lip side once a day and really starting slow. So, you're starting with that finger brush and just trying to get in there and get the pet to accept brushing just a little bit of the teeth and positive encouragement, positive rewards. And then you're slowly, maybe it takes a month to get to a place where you can comfortably have that pet sit there and let the brush for one to two minutes and get all of that food residue off so we don't have tartar formation. I have a friend, a coworker. She had Sonicare toothbrush heads for each of her Chihuahuas, and I was like, you have now exceeded all of my expectations ever.

HANNAH SHAW: Wow. I love that commitment. You know what? Our animals are very important members of our household, so why not? Talk to me a little bit about the products that you're using when you're brushing cats’ and dogs’ teeth. I assume you're not talking about grabbing our own toothbrushes and toothpaste because human toothpaste can be harmful for them?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: We actually, at most of my hospitals, we give people a packet that's from the Veterinary Oral Health Commission, VOHC. I want to make sure I'm giving you the right acronym, but that is veterinarian-approved products that are safe for use in cats and dogs mouths. And so, we do want to make sure we steer people to the right products that are going to be safe. So, I don't say, please don't go home and use your toothbrush on your dog. That could be bad, but maybe somebody doesn't want to buy the whole oral health kit from their vet right away. So, I'll be like, can you get, like, an old toothbrush from your dentist or a toothbrush from your dentist you've never used? Label it with your pet's name, and start there. I'll even have people start by putting peanut butter on it. Once they've gotten past the initial, like, two weeks of training this dog to accept it or their cat to accept it, they go and buy cat or dog friendly toothpaste.

HANNAH SHAW: And what flavors are we talking here?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I think the flavors have gotten really good lately, like bacon, chicken, peanut butter, cheese.

HANNAH SHAW: So the lesson here is keep your toothpaste and your cat or dog's toothpaste in a different place. Otherwise, you might end up reaching for bacon flavored toothpaste, which would be not fun when you're brushing your own teeth.

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I have never thought of that, great call out.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah, I'm a spearmint girl myself with my toothpaste, and I think if I reach for toothpaste and got tuna instead, it would not be the best day of my life.

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: That would be awful.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah. So, the important takeaway there is different products for different species and different strokes for different folks. I'm not going to knock bacon toothpaste for a dog if that's what's going to get their teeth clean. I want to talk about dental treats and toys. There's a lot of dental treats and toys on the market. My cats actually have these dental sticks that have like, silver vine in them and they love them. They tumble around and chew on them and kick them. But I wonder sometimes, is this actually helping their teeth or is it just like a fun toy? So, how effective are dental treats and toys?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I have a hard time keeping up with all the new wonderful products out there. I think this thing that has been stuck in my head for a while is that, well, every little bit you can do helps is what I also like to stress, but I like to tell people, like, they will help and every little bit helps. Brushing is still best and an annual dental cleaning is still recommended.

HANNAH SHAW: Okay, so everything you can do helps, but a treat or a toy does not take the place of brushing or professional cleanings. Let's talk about professional cleanings. Is this something that every animal needs, or is this something that only certain animals need? Can you talk about who needs these cleanings and why?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: This is something that I spend way too much of my time on. It's such a big part of my career, and if I could ever figure out a way to do a professional cleaning for a cat or a dog without needing anesthesia, it would be miraculous. But current state, it's not possible. Dogs, for instance, have 42 teeth in their mouth, and it's very hard to get in, clean and assess 42 teeth unless the doggies asleep. And so, what I have found really interesting in my career is that it started when I was a vet assistant eons ago, we only cleaned teeth when a problem happened. And over the last 15-20 years, we really are trying to move to preventive dentistry, where we get away from the idea that we have to wait until there's an issue before we clean those teeth. And so, getting in at one year of age for a little dog can make a huge difference to assess like, are there problems brewing here? Are we already starting to get tartar? Can we put a sealant on these teeth to try to keep them healthier, longer, whereas I have clients who'll come in at four or five, six years of age. There's tartar across all their teeth, the gum line is irritated, and I have a hard time convincing them a dental is needed. I'm like, well, if we go another year or two, you're going to lose some teeth.

HANNAH SHAW: It's so fascinating what you said about the changes in approach, because I think that so much applies within animal health, within veterinary medicine. There's so much that we can do to prevent disease rather than wait until it. Until it appears. One consideration that I think a lot of people have, one concern that I think a lot of people have with regards to dental cleanings is the cost. Just because they can feel cost prohibitive for some people, but with so much of preventive care, my perspective is it's actually more cost effective to prevent than to wait until everything kind of goes wrong. Can you talk a little bit about the cost of preventing dental disease versus maybe what the cost of having dental disease could be?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: Certainly, I like to think of preventive dentistry as those routine cleanings that we do under anesthesia. Ideally, we now couple it with full mouth X rays to see what's going on underneath the gum line. And then we're polishing and charting the mouth and making sure everything's moving in the right direction. Like if we have young teeth, they're all present and accounted for. There are none missing under the gum line. That could cause problems down the road. And then we're keeping that pet on a healthy dental schedule going forward. That, I mean, we could spend a couple of years doing that. Or I use the Wellness Plans because they make it more affordable, whereas I'll have other times when I do a first dental on a client, on a patient, and I call their owner and I'm like, okay, so we have multiple teeth that are loose. We have areas in the mouth that are painful. I suggest we do a couple of things today, and then you can consider seeing a veterinary dentist, a specialist who can tackle this all in one go, where you're going to be doing multiple rounds of oral surgery with me, which can cost you like, $800, 1,500 each round, which in theory, all of that was fairly preventable.

HANNAH SHAW: Sure. Yeah. So having animals in our lives is an expense, but there's kind of the way of approaching it with a preventive mindset, and then there's the way of approaching it, waiting for everything to go haywire. And in my experience, that can be quite a bit more costly. Now, I know that part of the cost has to do with anesthesia, which is another concern that a lot of people share. I want my cat or dog to have good dental health, but do I really need to put them through anesthesia for these cleanings? So, can you talk a little bit about what people can expect with anesthesia at a dental cleaning and maybe some words of comfort for people who are concerned?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: We have a lot of anesthesia safety standards because we don't take anesthesia lightly. And it is something that requires extensive training for the veterinarian, for the technicians, for the vet assistants. And so, every pet that comes in for a routine cleaning with me or any doctor at Banfield or any veterinarian anywhere will have protocols for what's acceptable to find on a physical exam. What are red flags that would make me stop and reconsider? We do blood work. We have what we call stops and critical stops on all of their lab results that day. We evaluate trends and their medical history and we decide, is this pet safe for anesthesia? And then once we have them under anesthesia, we have rigorous standards for pre op checklists, for safety, inter op monitoring, and post op recovery. And so, I would say the idea of safety standards around it is incredibly important for the veterinary industry. And I think that's where I feel like Banfield's done a lot to really raise the bar on what is safe and what are the best practices. And so, yeah, anesthesia, I don't do it lightly, but current state, I cannot find another way to get this done.

HANNAH SHAW: Sure. And I think it can be a comfort for people to hear a bit about this because as just somebody who is bringing their animal to the vet, if you're not in the veterinary profession, you might not realize how rigorous those safety procedures are. I always encourage people to just ask a lot of questions and be really curious. Don't be afraid to have conversations with your veterinarian about your concerns, because you might find that you can take a lot of comfort in what you learn from your veterinarian. Can we talk a little bit about what happens if you ignore all of your advice? We ignore everything. We don't do anything for our cat or dog's teeth. From what I understand, dental disease can affect animals in so many ways, some of which people might not expect. So what can happen if a cat or dog's teeth are not cared for at all? If a cat or dog doesn't have any dental care?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I do expect some evidence of oral pain in their future because they are going to experience tooth decay, periodontal disease. Kitties can have this really crazy thing called a resorptive lesion, where their body just attacks their teeth, kind of like a cavity on steroids, they can degrade the entire tooth so that the crown just falls off. So, tooth loss, either from a broken tooth or infected teeth. But then the pieces that are harder to track would be infection in the mouth which can then lead to bacteria in the bloodstream, which can cause issues with the kidneys or the liver or the heart. Those pieces, there's a lot of evidence around it, but it is hard to say that if a pet came in with terrible periodontal disease, I wouldn't say, well, that's the cause of their heart failure, but I would say it's a problem. And I have, for instance, diabetic pets that need to live on insulin, and we have a really hard time regulating their blood sugar if they have periodontal disease, it will interfere with our ability to keep that pet stable. And so, teeth are very important for keeping our overall health on track.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah. Wow. I mean, this has really been a very enlightening conversation, and I want to go back to the original question that kicked off the episode. Do you have any words of comfort for people who have an animal that is resistant to this care? They're resistant to brushing. Is there anything that you would say to them to really encourage them to start taking dental preventive care seriously?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: I think for anybody who is concerned and feeling challenged, just trying to look at it from that multimodal avenue, like, how can we use, what are the pieces that your pet will tolerate? Is it, for instance, your pet is never going to let you brush, but we could use water additives? We can do dental treats. We could do a dental diet. We can plan for those annual dental cleanings. And so, feeling like, yes, brushing is best, and it's not accessible for everyone. So, what is the plan and strategy that's going to work for your pets, and how do we get that going?

HANNAH SHAW: As a foster parent, I think it's really our responsibility to prepare our pets for a good life ahead, including having good experience at the veterinarian. So, I always tell foster parents, handle your kittens’ and puppies’ paws so that when it's time for their claws to be trimmed, they're comfortable with that. I think now I'm kind of realizing you should also probably get them used to having their mouths touched and their teeth handled. Is that right?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: It's a great call out. And so, I do love to put that on the list now of things to do exactly like you're saying for foster parents, all of that for new puppy and kitten owners and adoptions of older animals, like gradually getting them used to it and not expecting it to all happen in one day because it's going to be a gradual process.

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HANNAH SHAW: So. What I'd like to do now is share some fast facts with one another. And these are going to be just, I don't know, interesting tidbits that we both know about teeth. Obviously, I work with neonatal animals, so my fast facts are all going to be about kitten and puppy teeth. My first thing that I want to share is one that it actually surprises a lot of my adopters. So, kittens and puppies, much like baby humans, have deciduous teeth, which are their baby teeth. So, I think a lot of adopters are surprised to learn that, yes, even though you adopted that ten-week-old puppy or kitten, and they had a bunch of teeth in their mouth, those are not their permanent teeth. You're going to find that as their adult teeth start to erupt, those teeth are maybe going to, you might find a tooth on your pillow, like the tooth fairy is going to come visit. So that's my first fact. Anything that you want to add to that for listeners?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: My fun fact would be that not all puppies and kittens will lose their teeth naturally. And so, if they have what we call retained deciduous teeth, that can become a problem later in life, and we'll recommend extracting them after a certain age. And so, it might be cute when they have little shark teeth and look like they have rows, but if it stays that way long term, we're going to have a lot of crowded teeth and problems.

HANNAH SHAW: Yeah, I see. Sometimes it's interesting because they'll have two canine teeth sometimes. So like the little fang tooth, they'll have two of them maybe on each side. And like you say, it's interesting, but at what point would you recommend that people go, okay, this might be an issue?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: Between six to twelve months, if they're still there, that's typically a sign that they're not going to fall out on their own. So, I'll often offer to remove them when they're having their spay or neuter procedure, or around a year of age at their first dental for small and medium dogs.

HANNAH SHAW: Great. So, my second fast fact is also, you guessed it, about baby teeth. I'm very, very passionate about talking about baby teeth. And so, my fact is about baby tooth development and how actually it can be a very good way to tell what age a kitten is. So, sometimes people try to tell what age a newborn kitten is based on their weight or what they visually or based on their visual appearance. But I actually tell people, open up their mouth because that is going to be a more accurate indicator of their age. Kittens can be a greater weight or a lesser weight, depending on their wellness or the type of kitten they are. But teeth are a pretty accurate predictor of their age. So those first deciduous incisors come in around three weeks of age. Around four weeks, we start to see their canine teeth, and then around five weeks is when they get the premolars, the pointy teeth on the side of the mouth. Do you have another fast fact you'd like to share?

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: The one I like to bring to people's attention is that missing teeth can be a problem. And so, if we look in the mouth and we're missing premolars or incisors, the question is, where is that tooth? Because it could be that that pet was born without the tooth, maybe never formed, or it could be stuck under the gum line, in which case it could cause complications. Like it can even cause what's called a dentigerous cyst, where it starts creating a cyst and invading the surrounding bone, which can cause problems. Or in our kitty cat patients, it means at one point maybe they fractured off the crown because they have resorptive lesions. And so missing teeth are a great reason for me to advocate for oral full mouth X-rays to see what's going on.

HANNAH SHAW: That is really interesting. So, it sounds like opening your cat or dog's mouth and taking a peek at what's going on in there is an important thing for all of us to be doing. Dr. Kate Hilsenteger, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us, and thank you for being on the show!

DR. KATE HILSENTEGER: Thanks for having me.

HANNAH SHAW: So, do we really need to brush our pets’ teeth? Short answer, yes. I think an important takeaway here is that dental health is essential to the overall wellbeing of our animal companions and that it's never too late to start on their oral health journey. I know this conversation has made me think a lot more about steps I can take with my cats at home, as well as things I can do to help my foster puppies and foster kittens acclimate to having their teeth touched so that they can have a great shot at dental wellness in the future. So, Sarah, to answer your question, dental treats are great, but they're only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to more reactive animals like Pluto. We want to go slow, so get her used to gradually touching her teeth and don't be afraid to reach for a toothbrush and some of that yummy bacon-flavored toothpaste. Overall, while preventive care at home is awesome, it does not replace the need for professional oral care, so an annual professional dental cleaning is still recommended for your furry friends. Thank you for listening to Not Just Fluff: Pet wellness from the pros at Banfield Pet Hospital. Make sure to get your paws on the Like and Subscribe buttons so you don't miss an episode! 

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Teaser Trailer: Not Just Fluff

It may go without saying, but we'll say it anyway: we love our pets. That's why Banfield Pet Hospital created Not Just Fluff, a podcast about animals, made for the humans who love them.

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I’m Hannah Shaw, and I love animals. If you’re listening to this, chances are, you do too. That’s why Banfield Pet Hospital created Not Just Fluff, a podcast all about animals, made for the humans who love them.

I’m so excited to share these conversations with you. As an animal lover and humane educator, I deeply appreciate the value of proper care for the animals that we love.

In each episode, I’ll be speaking with a different veterinary professional to bring you helpful, practical advice for happy, healthy pets. We want to empower you with the knowledge you need to give your furry friends the best care and show them unconditional love.

And trust me when I say, it’s not just fluff.

I’m your host, Hannah Shaw, and this is Not Just Fluff - Pet wellness from the professionals at Banfield Pet Hospital. Subscribe now so you don't miss an episode.