Posted by: My Personal Vet | February 4, 2016

Raccoon Distemper and Cats and Dogs


Recently a map of all the reported raccoon distemper cases was posted in Santa Cruz, California.  Full map with dots from 2015, Red dots are last 2 months.  This has caused confusion and fear mostly due to the variety of disease names, virus names, and vaccine names. Let me help clear this up so that you know which vaccines your cat and dog should be up-to-date on.

Let’s start with dogs.  Raccoon can contract canine distemper.  This is a paramyxovirus which causes the disease called distemper in both raccoons and dogs.  This is the “D” in the DHPP vaccine. The vaccine is a very effective one and is given every 3 years after adulthood and, if your animal isn’t immunocompromised,  could last longer.  Either titer or test every 3 years.  Cats and humans are not susceptible.

Now on to cats. Raccoons can also contract the disease called feline distemper.  This is a parvovirus type.  The disease in cats is usually called panleukopenia, but can also be called feline distemper, cat plague, cat fever, feline agranulocytosis, and feline infectious enteritis.  This is the “P” in FVRCP vaccine.  This vaccine is also very effective and is given every 3 years after adulthood.  Humans are not susceptible.

This is where it gets a little confusing. The class of viruses called parvovirus causes both feline distemper and canine parvo diseases.  They are so closely related that the cat type can affect the dog and vice versa.  Dogs get vaccinated against parvo (the “P” in DHPP) and cats get vaccinated against distemper (the “P” for panleukopenia in FVRCP).  This keeps them both protected against the parvovirus types.

Bottom line:  To protect against the types that the raccoon may be infected with, dogs need to be vaccinated against parvo and distemper (DHPP).  Cats need to be vaccinated against distemper (FVRCP).

Posted by: My Personal Vet | March 25, 2015

FlyGirl the “Sweetie Fly”

The world has lost a truly gentle creature.

FlyGirl’s life with us ended yesterday.  She spent last Sunday comforting UCSC students during finals week, Wednesday having children learn to read by reading to her at the library, and, as always, teaching Trill how to greet the world with curiosity and a smile.  But this Sunday, she went into the hospital because she had no energy and was feeling poorly.  By Monday, her liver had failed and by Tuesday was no longer making clotting factors or glucose.  She left us peacefully with me right by her side.

Ears up, on a leash watching us

FlyGirl and I met when a friend, who knows I rescue Border Collies, saw her in a shelter.  She had been taken from a puppy mill where she had spent the first 2 years of her life in a 3’x5′ cage with her mother and never let out.  A foster home took her over from there and she spent 6 months with them – never being trained or worked with.  After 6 months, they gave her to the shelter and she was listed as “not housebroken, and not good with cats, dogs, or children”.  As my friend said “Who would want a dog like that?”  Me?  hah!  Anyone who can’t housebreak a Border Collie in 6 months just hasn’t been trying!

When I saw her first, she was sitting in a corner of our waiting room shivering, scared, and wide-eyed.  She took one look at me and ran to my side and sat on my foot.  I’ll never forget our immediate bonding.  So we started our adventure.


My other dog, Acepromazine, took to her right away.  He’d helped with many fosters but didn’t really care for the job.  “Young whippersnappers” was his opinion of those we took in, trained, and adopted out to wonderful new homes.  This little redhead stole his heart.  I spayed her, trained her, and found a new home for her.  They were to pick her up on Tuesday.  That weekend was one of the most heartbreaking I’d spent.  Ace allowed her to cuddle, sleep with her head on his haunches, and they went everywhere together – a formally unseen phenomenon!

Fly sleeping with Ace

Resting on Ace's haunches

After much soul-searching and discussion with friends, I decided that I would keep her.  The receptionists reassured me that they would be fine with another dog under their feet and the office cat enjoyed sleeping with her.  (“Not good with cats or dogs”  HAH!)  I called her new home, apologized profusely, and said she was no longer up for adoption.  It was my first foster I’d ever kept.

We trained and played and ran and laughed.  She made me laugh daily with her fun loving spirit.  She loved my cats, trusted Ace for everything, never had an accident in the house, and loved Frisbee!  Over the years, she worked on learning to herd sheep, how to have fun on a leash, and learning commands so she could get a Frisbee thrown or a tasty treat.  She was a gentle, fun-loving soul who got enjoyment out of the simplest things – like toilet paper!


Border Collies can have real issues with their eyes so when I found out her lenses had fallen back into her eyes, it was surgery time.  That was a rough time for her but she was cared for so well by Dr. Smith and Dr. Gratzek.  She had to learn where the steps were and how to navigate in this now fuzzy world.  She could only see 4″ in front of her.  After she was completely healed, Dr. Gratzek suggested that we fit her for contacts.  And it worked!!  I would back her into my lap, put them both in, and off she’d run with good vision again!  Magic.  What a good dog!  She wore them whenever we went for a hike so she wouldn’t walk off a cliff or into a hole.  And she just went with it.  No fuss, no complaining, just adapting to the situation she’d been given.

Looking cool in her Doggles

Looking cool in her Doggles before she got contacts.

Since she couldn’t play frisbee or fetch well anymore, I decided her lovely personality would fit well with a therapy dog.  Of course, despite my nervousness, she passed her test first time and we started visiting people. Here’s some of her work.

Comforting a healing friend gently

Comforting a healing friend gently

Helping nervous people at the hospital

Helping nervous people at the hospital

Fly at "Tales to Tails"

Helping children learn to read at “Tales to Tails”

UCSC "Pause for Paws"

Bringing smiles at UCSC “Pause for Paws”

Listening to children at SCC Animal Shelter Camp

Listening to children at SCC Animal Shelter Camp

Comforting a child at camp

Comforting a child at Camp Kesem

She had a wonderful talent for making me laugh.  But what I consider her real skill, her true gift to the world, was her ability to cuddle up to people and convince them they really mattered to her.  She would snuggle in and gaze at them lovingly as if they were the only thing in her mind.  I must admit, it made me a little jealous every time it happened.  And it happened every time she met a friend or stranger!

Teaching Trill how to enjoy new friends

Teaching Trill how to enjoy new friends

FlyGirl remains in my heart as an example of overcoming your past, facing the world with a smile, and trying your best to comfort others.

Looking off onto the beach and sniffing the wind

Sniffing the wind

Running free on the beach

Running free

Posted by: My Personal Vet | August 11, 2011

Titer tests instead of vaccines?

Titer tests instead of vaccines?
Something to get excited about!

I’m really excited about a new titer test we are offering members of My Personal Vet.  The Canine VacciCheck tests dogs to see if they have immunity to Parvovirus, Distemper, and Infectious Hepatitis.  It’s not quite as simple as giving a vaccine since a small amount of blood must be drawn – but it is much safer than over-vaccinating!

VacciCheck Vaccine Titer test

This is the kit that Dr. Sharp uses.

So what exactly is a titer test?  Titer tests are lab tests that look at the amount of antibodies to a certain disease in an animal’s blood.  A high antibody level is associated with immunity to a disease.

For example, a titer test for Parvo looks for Parvo antibodies in your dog’s blood.  If the titer numbers are good, your dog is considered to have immunity to Parvo.  He won’t need to be vaccinated now.

A titer test can tell us:

  • if a recent vaccine gave a puppy full protection,
  • if a dog who is new to you (say a new rescue or foster dog) has been vaccinated or has developed immunity to a certain disease,
  • or if an adult dog had an immune response to a previous vaccine and so does not need a booster vaccine.

One important note:  While a high titer does tell us if a dog is protected, a LOW titer level does not necessarily mean that the dog is not protected. There are other factors that influence immunity. If your dog has a low titer, you will want to talk with your veterinarian about what that means for your dog, your dog’s risks for infection, and if vaccinating is a good choice.

Vaccine titer test on FlyGirl and Gemstone

An example of FlyGirl and Gemstone:

Here is an example of how the finished test might look.  These are 2 tests – a red heart and a blue heart.  One of them is GemStone and one is FlyGirl (my own dogs).  To give you a little background, they are both rescued border collies.  Gem was very very sick when she was dumped at my hospital at 3 months old.  Fly was taken from an abusive puppy mill situation by an animal control officer at 2 years old.  In my hands, they received the same vaccinations with the same space between them. Neither has been sick except for various eye issues.  They both have their blood and fecal testing done yearly and show no abnormalities there.  They both live with me and we are rarely apart.

In this test:  The “Red Heart dog” has no titers high enough to be measured by this test.  The “Blue Heart dog” has high titers and presumed good immunity to all three viruses.

Question:  Can you tell which dog is Gem and which is Fly?

Titer tests are not new.   So you may wonder why I’m excited about this new test. The older titer tests work well, but they cost more than the new test. The cost for the Canine VacciCheck is similar to the cost of a regular vaccination for these diseases. Plus, with this new test, we don’t have to wait while we send it off to the lab. We can run the test in-house and have the results within 45 minutes!

Now what?  What I’ve decided to do now is vaccinate the “Red Heart dog” and recheck in 2 months to be sure she actually mounts a response to the vaccines.  But that is a discussion you would need to have with your own trusted vet.

Posted by: My Personal Vet | June 17, 2011

A splinter in my dog’s eye?

I teach and preach about early detection for diseases and problems in dogs and cats – and today I was tested, yet again.  FlyGirl is my 9 year old red and white Border Collie.  She’s crazy by nature and makes me laugh all the time.  If you know FlyGirl, you know nothing stops her.  She’ll run until she drops.  A few days ago, I saw her left eye tearing a bit.

Early detection

Fly’s eyes get goopy in the morning sometimes but this was pretty runny.  Clear fluid, no squinting, no pawing.  So I ran through the usual things everyone guesses —  probably allergies, or a hair, or dirt from the llama field.  Nothing that I could see.   She was her usual active, crazy self.   That was Tuesday – 3 days ago.

It continued to tear the next day.  Hmmm.  Now I started to worry a bit.  Eyes can go bad in days so they should never be ignored.  Should I go to her ophthalmologist?  I know she has very bad cataracts in her right eye.  A specialist in our area, Dr. Smith,  has checked her every 6 months for the last 7 years.  But this was her left eye.   Warning bells were going off.

Small squint

Small squint I fortuitously caught

This morning, her right eye was also weepy.  What was going on?  Why both eyes?  Were her tear ducts blocked?  Had she run in the field again and gotten dirt in both eyes?  Maybe something was blooming?  But then there was ever so slight a squint.  That means pain.  It was just for a second – a slight lid droop.

So I asked her to look at me and she did – with both eyes wide open and smiling.  She was fine.  No squinting, pawing, any sign of pain.  But I saw her squint again every so slightly about 10 minutes later.  Nope, too much and too often.

No squint

One snap later - No squinting

I called the ophthalmologist’s office immediately and was lucky.  They had a spot late afternoon where they could squeeze me in.

What’s wrong?

I always know I’m in good hands at Dr. Gratzek’s office.   FlyGirl hopped on the scale when told, followed me down to the room, and sat while Dr. Gratzek looked real closely.  Then came the scary part.

“There’s a thorn all the way deep into her cornea.”  OK, let’s take it out.  Some anesthetic was put in her eye to numb it.  But when the doctor tried to remove the thorn, it went deeper.  Now I was sweating a little bit.

Since I do bloodwork every year, I was comfortable doing anesthesia.  And we had to – this thorn was being slippery and there was a chance it could go further in and drop inside the eye.  If that happened, it would need to be taken out by going into the eyeball.  Obviously not a good situation.  FlyGirl was given a mild sedative and we waited for our turn to come in for anesthesia.

Surgery time

Thorn in the cornea

See the inflammation around it?

We spent the time relaxing in the car.  I wrote Facebook friends and tried not to think about eyeball surgery and Fly slept unconcerned.  When our turn came, she was quiet and calm.  Placed on the table, we tried again.  The nurse held her eyelids open, I gently held her head, and Dr. Gratzek manned the magnifier and needle.

The needle was used the go into the cornea and lift out the thorn — just like a splinter.  Except this dog was awake and it was into her eye!  She just stayed calm and still.   She did better than I ever do at the eye doctor’s!

TA-DA!  It came out!  It was then lifted up and out of her eye with tweezers and everyone cheered and high-fived!  No surgery, no anesthesia, and complete success!  The left eye had a deep scar that indicated it had been scratched a few days before.

Berry thorns

The suspect - Berry thorns

3 lessons for the future

Pay attention to your pup!  I’m so glad I jumped the same day I saw the squint.  Eyes get bad very quickly and the weekend could have been too long – especially if she rubbed it!  As it is she is on an anti-inflammatory and antibiotic in her eye and an oral antibiotic.  We are taking no chances with it developing into some of the cases Dr. Gratzek has seen.  I will be absolutely rigorous and on time with the doses.

Train for calm handling in any situation!  Needles in the eye are certainly not what I train for.  But I do train for handling by strangers and sitting still, calm vet hospital manners, and lots of treats and rewards (her favorite is her toy teddy bear).  It will also make her treatments a breeze.

Keep your health issues known and in control!  I knew her blood showed no problems last time it was tested, her weight is not an issue, and that anesthesia for her was low risk.  It can’t always be that way – but knowing the issues and keeping up-to-date makes surprise visits much safer.

Fixed right eye

A little red, but all better and beautiful

Resting from her big day

In bed resting and healing for tomorrow's fun

Thank you Dr. Gratzek and Kate!

If you want to see more happy pictures of FlyGirl or other creatures that I love, “Like” me on Facebook at “My Personal Vet”.   If you have questions, please ask!

Posted by: My Personal Vet | April 11, 2011

Welcome Home Cynthia

Photo of “Berry” by Orsi Cseke

Photo of “Berry” by Orsi Cseke

Welcome Home Cynthia

I have been waiting here longing for you,
You helped me when I felt so lost and alone.
No one but you saw the fear in my eyes,
And the joy I could give someone’s home.

Though your work days were long with so much to do,
You somehow made time to comfort me so
Now you can rest in peace without fear,
And blissful calm, because you came to know

You were loved so much more than you ever knew,
Because of the goodness you’d share,
With the people and pets you loved all your life,
In a world sadly not always fair.

Your soul of differing hues and veneer,
Seemed to me like a crisp candy shell,
Which would melt at the hint of meanness or wrong,
Though your will to do right never fell.

Thank you from me and the once sick or stray,
For the love you so sweetly gave,
For boundless caring you managed somehow,,
Which grew in your life like a wave…

May that power of love bring you safely home,
And especially here to me,
As I and others wait for you now,
As if on a shore by the sea

You made our lives better our darling friend,
So for you no more worries or fears,
We shared for a short time your laughter and smile,
Though that life was of too few years.

Now you know better how love is yours,
And the peace of no clocks or time,
You once brought me safely into your home,
Now come safely here to mine.

By Elizabeth Ann Molo
May 2010

In memory of our beloved Cynthia

Photo of “Berry” by Orsi Cseke
Connemara, Ireland
May 2010


Posted by: My Personal Vet | February 11, 2011

Dogs don’t wear Dentures

Pulling teeth is the sad result of not enough dental care. And dentures are not an option for dogs. Without proper care, teeth and gums get diseased and bad breath is the result. Bad dog breath is not normal or healthy!

February is Dental Awareness Month, so let’s talk about how to keep our dogs’ teeth in their mouth and their gums healthy.  It doesn’t take much time and my dogs don’t mind a bit.

Step 1:  Get them used to mouth handling
The trick is not to just jump straight to sticking the brush in the mouth. You want them to enjoy it – and they will. Get them used to being touched all over mouth and face. Don’t just start with putting your fingers in their mouth. Pet gently all over. Move their lips a bit but don’t focus on the end. Focus on getting them to enjoy their face being handled.  Treats are wonderful and they deserve some.

After several sessions of mouth handling, they should permit it calmly. Some pups will allow it right off the bat. But don’t rush them. Be aware you are asking them to permit something you probably wouldn’t enjoy unless allowed to get used to it. While doing this, start looking at the teeth and try to decide whether your dog’s are healthy. We’ll discuss how to evaluate them later.

The next lesson will be introducing the toothbrush and paste. But for now, let’s look at our goal:

Teeth brushing GOAL avoid the tartar!! This dog needed all this tartar chipped off and subgingival cleaning under anesthetic.   Brushing their teeth can reduce the number of times they need anesthetic and the number of dollars you spend on it!

Example of Clean and Dirty

Before cleaning: The large tooth in the back is covered with tartar and the canine tooth on the top has some beginning. The rest appear fairly clean.

Before Cleaning - dirty teeth

Check out the Tartar especially on the back carnassial!

After cleaning: Look at the difference!

After Cleaning - clean teeth

Clean teeth!

Posted by: My Personal Vet | December 25, 2010

Wishing you a fun season!

Such a great year!  We’ve made so many new friends and met some really wonderful dogs and cats.  Here’s a little fun we had.

Posted by: My Personal Vet | October 12, 2010

Tired of Battling Fleas Alone?

We all need a little help sometimes!

The Ultimate for inside Flea Fighting: FleabustersSEM photo of cat flea

Not only do they come into your home and handle all the grunt work for you, they guarantee their work! They promise that you won’t see a single flea for a whole year!

Don’t be dismayed by their product being listed as a pesticide.  That means it kills pests —– and that’s what you want.  This is the good ol’ Borax style powder made finer so that less needs to be used.  It has also been neutralized so that it will actually trap the fleas.   Then the company properly removes the powder.   This company has been doing this for a 20 years now and I have only heard their praises sung.  That is a good track record!

You can also buy their powder and do it yourself, if you have the time to do a thorough job.  Don’t spend time and money and not do it thoroughly!

The Ultimate for outdoor Flea Fighting:  Add beneficial nematodes your Yard!

There are really cool worms that feed on other larvae.  These are the ultimate in organic treatment.  Llama and horse owners have been using parasitic wasps for fly control for years.  These come in 2 types:  those that feed on moving larvae and those that feed on stationary larvae.  Flea larvae are mobile.  This also works best in sandy soil like we have here in Aptos, California.  Don’t neglect your yard when you consider where those darn fleas are coming into your home.

For more do-it-yourself tips, be sure to read our October Newsletter, coming out tomorrow!

If you’re not on our mailing list, sign up right now on the Right Hand Column Sign Up Button.

Posted by: My Personal Vet | October 11, 2010

Don’t have fleas? Read this!

A long time ago, I read a study about cats and fleas. I can’t find the study now, even with Google, but here’s the gist: They took a lot of cats (twenty?) and put them in cat-safe but flea-tight cages. Some poor grad student counted out fleas and placed 100 of them on each cat. The kitties ate and slept comfortably overnight. The next day, they counted how many fleas were on each cat. Very very few.

The point is: Not seeing fleas on your cat does not mean you do not have a flea problem! Those little barbed tongues are exceedingly efficient in catching the little jumping bugs.

Even if you only see one, it means a whole lot more.  For every ONE flea you see figure:  55 eggs, 35 little larval worms, and 10 little pupae ready to hatch.  For EACH flea there are 99 flea stages.  Ick.

So, how to really tell?  Here are 5 simple tests:

  1. Do some nice grooming with a flea comb over a piece of white paper towel.  If you dampen the towel and it turns a rusty color, that is known as flea dirt or flea poop.
  2. Check your pet’s bed for the small larval stage or more flea dirt.  With 1 flea, there are 35 little worms.  You might need a magnifying glass but they will be wiggling.
  3. Wear white socks and walk around.  Especially where pets sleep or in corners that don’t get vacuumed.  The fleas will jump onto socks and you can spot them.  They can jump 8 feet!
  4. Ruffle around your pet’s neck and back fur to get them to move onto naked tummies.  You can generally see them easier there.  All you need to see is one flea.
  5. This is my favorite but I haven’t tried it.  Put out a large bowl and fill 3/4 full of water.  Shine a green nightlight into it. They jump for green, land in the water, and can’t get out.  Time-lapse photography also is fun to watch with this method!
Posted by: My Personal Vet | August 20, 2010

Travelling to Northern California?

Lots of activities for your pet, too

There’s a San Francisco Bay Area site,, where folks can find pet activities, where to go, what to do, local news.  All kinds of ideas, training tips, and  questions answered.   They have a feature called Experts Weigh-In. Someone asks a question and several experts are given a chance to answer from their unique perspective.  There are lots of opinions and different ways of looking at things.  I was thrilled to be asked to participate in the last panel.

Alan asked a question about his little girl Basset Hound puppy.

Q: I have a basset hound puppy (9 months) and I have been feeding her Jeffrey’s Raw K-9 Meals for the past month. For the past 3 weeks, she has had really runny stool and I was wondering if I should switch her out of the raw diet and back to kibble. There’s some controversy over raw diet and I’m not sure if this is the right thing for my dog.

Read all our answers and check out the site at the same time!    Raw Diet Weigh-In

Older Posts »