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

Posted by: My Personal Vet | August 16, 2010

California DMV

California Driver Handbook update

An Animal Safety Warning is being included in the California Driver Handbook. Assemblymember Anthony Portantino (La Cañada Flintridge) and the Department of Motor Vehicles want people to remember that leaving a pet in a closed car is unsafe. They will be adding a warning to the California Driver Handbook and California will become the first state to add language about animal safety in its 2011 Driver Handbook. It will warn drivers that it is against the law to leave an animal in a vehicle in unsafe conditions. If the animal is injured or killed, the penalties are: up to $500 in fines, 6 months in jail or both.

Posted by: My Personal Vet | August 10, 2010

Adult Cat and Dog Vaccinations

A Quick Reference Guide

Clients ask us all the time, “What vaccines do my pets need?”  For each pet, we customize all aspects of their care; vaccinations included. You will be asked about each pet’s personal circumstances so Dr. Sharp can determine which vaccines are truly necessary. Because her decisions are based on your answers and your pet’s health, the answer to that question won’t be the same for everyone. What we can tell you is which diseases are in our area and what factors Dr. Sharp weighs when making her recommendations.  Keep in mind that year to year recommendations may change, too!

A Few Decision Factors:

  • How many cats do you have? Do any of them interact with outdoor cats?
  • How often has your cat become ill? Is your cat ill right now?
  • What have they been vaccinated for in the past? Any vaccine reaction?
  • Do you ever board your cat when you leave town?
  • What breed is your dog?
  • What vaccines have they had in the past? Have they ever had a vaccine reaction?
  • Where do they visit and what do they do? Do they travel? Go to the beach?
  • Are they currently healthy?

Adult Feline Vaccinations

Rabies – Legally, although strongly recommended, this vaccine is not required in California but may be required by local laws. If your cat bites anyone (including at the vet office) a 10-day isolation may be imposed. There are two versions of this vaccine: 3-year and 1-year. The 3-year version of this vaccine is a known to cause fibrosarcoma. The newer, 1-year vaccine appears to be significantly safer. Because the 1-year uses a much lower volume of the vaccine and has no adjuvant, it poses a lesser risk for cancer. Dr. Sharp uses only the 1-year injection.

  • Length of Protection: One Year

FVRCP (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calici, Panleukopenia) – This vaccine protects against 3 viruses. It covers throat, nose, mouth, and low white blood cell viruses. Seen frequently in kittens, these diseases can cause mouth ulcers, chronic sneezing, and eye diseases. Panleukopenia is very serious in kittens. This vaccine has been changed from every 1-year to every 3 years because it’s been found to last at least that long. This may be extended in the future.

Length of Protection: Three Years

FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) – FeLV is quite common in our area and we do often recommend vaccinating cats that have access to the outdoors. The vaccine does pose a risk for cancer at the injection site so the pros and cons need to be discussed with your vet.

Length of Protection: One Year

Other options based on exposure and illness: FIV, FIP, Chlamydophyla, Giardia, Bordetella vaccines.

Adult Canine Vaccinations

Rabies – Rabies vaccinations are required by law in California and in order to license your dog in Santa Cruz. This is true for any dog over 4-months old. You can test for antibody levels in the blood. But most, if not all, authorities will not accept the results in lieu of vaccination.

Length of Protection: Three Years

DHPP (Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza) – Parvovirus (usually just called Parvo) is common in our area and is still being seen this year! Parvo is no longer a guarantee of death but is very expensive to treat and is highly contagious; even to cats! All of these diseases are important to be protected against and can be fatal. The vaccine is extremely effective and all have extremely low reaction rates. The duration of these vaccines is known to be up to 9 years and antibody levels can be tested. Titer testing (checking for antibodies) is not entirely accurate but if the levels are high, they are assumed protected from the disease.

Length of Protection: Three Years (But there are options for testing)

Leptospirosis – Carried in urine and water, this is a spirochete(image) that is contagious to other animals and humans. There are many serovars (variations); one type can quickly cause devastating kidney failure and may result in lifelong kidney disease or death. This vaccine is most frequently the cause of a vaccine reaction. Unfortunately, this disease is very frequent in the Santa Cruz area. And protection does not last very long – although it was recently extended from 6 months to 1 year. This is also should be discussed thoroughly with your veterinarian.

Length of Protection: One Year

Bordatella – Also known as Kennel Cough, this is used to protect dogs who have lots of contact with other dogs– so think about classes, boarding, veterinary hospitals. It causes coughing which is how it spreads . A current strain has developed that is much more serious and, as always, secondary pneumonia is a concern. The length of protection on this vaccine has been extended from 6 months to 1 year.

Length of Protection: One Year

Other options based on exposure and illness: Lyme, Giardia, and Snakebite.


To keep your pet healthy, have an open discussion with your veterinarian to decide what is best for your situation and their care.


About the Author: Joanna Doubleday

Joanna came on board with My Personal Vet as Practice Manager in August of 2009. She brings with her a crazy Tonkinese cat named Bella, her Catahoula puppy Dexter, and over 10 years of     experience in customer service and business management.  She has worked in a variety of settings including several years in both healthcare and hospitality.

Born and raised in Santa Cruz, she’s passionate about giving back to her community. She has done work on My Personal Vet’s behalf for Second Harvest Food Bank and the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce since joining our team.  She is also continuing her education at Cabrillo College in pursuit of degrees in business and health services.

Have something you’d like her to write about? You can email her at

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