Reflections on 2019

With the new year right around the corner, I wanted to reflect on all the things I am thankful for. I started at Norwalk Animal Hospital in June 2018 after spending two weeks interning here during my last year of veterinary school. I instantly connected with the staff and couldn’t ask for a better team to work alongside. I have met tons of clients that have welcomed me with open arms and patients that I will never forget.

I recently got engaged to my long-term boyfriend and we just purchased our first house! I am thankful for everything that has come my way in these past two years and am excited to continue to make lasting relationships with clients while ensuring that their pets are happy and healthy for as long as possible. Happy Holidays!

“Diets and Heart Disease in Dogs: Picking the Right Food for Your Pet”

Starting in 2018 a correlation was suspected between grain-free diets and heart disease, specifically dilated cardiomyopathy, in dogs. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart muscle which causes the heart to enlarge and beat inadequately, sometimes leading to coughing, heart failure, or even death. It was originally discovered in cats that consumed diets with an inadequate amount of taurine, an amino acid important for heart function. Recently, DCM is being seen in more dogs, whether they have a genetic predisposition to it or not, and the interaction of taurine (or it’s building blocks) with certain ingredients has been identified as one of the issues.

So far, research has associated diet-related DCM with grain-free or legume-rich diets, those with “exotic” ingredients, and those made by smaller “boutique” companies. Most people believe that these diets are classified as high-quality due to attractive marketing, however, there is no proof that this is the case or that the food is complete and balanced. This makes it difficult for people to truly know what is best for their pet.

What should you look for when choosing a pet food?

  1. AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) testing statements that are present on food bags that guarantee it provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance, growth, etc. Often these companies will undergo animal feeding tests to confirm this.
  2. WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) recommended – This information is not often present on the food bags, however, brands that fit this associations recommendation include those that employ veterinary nutritionists to create the formula, as well as those that input strict quality control measures when creating diets *(Royal Canin, Hills, Purina, Eukanuba, Iams).
  3. If possible, avoid feeding grain-free diets, boutique brands, or exotic ingredients and instead switch to something with more typical ingredients formulated by a company with a good track record for quality (mentioned above). Preferably these diets should also avoid high amounts of peas, lentils, other legumes, or potatoes in the formula.
  4. Home-made, Vegetarian, or Raw Diets are not recommended due to a possible correlation caused by nutritional imbalances. Ask your primary veterinarian about balanced options.

When it comes to food allergies, most dogs are allergic to the protein source found in food, rarely the grain. Although veterinary diets that are often prescribed for allergies, such as hydrolyzed or novel protein diets, often include peas or potatoes as main ingredients, there has not been an association with them causing heart disease in dogs. These diets are extensively researched and developed by veterinary nutritionists. If your pet has a proven allergy or intolerance to certain ingredients, contact your primary veterinarian to inquire about a diet that may be right for them.

Not every dog develops heart disease on suspected diets, however, the US Food and Drug Administration Center (FDA) and veterinary cardiologists are continuing to research this issue to try to figure out the exact cause. The following link provides more information regarding the current FDA report, as well as a chart of problematic diets:

Contact your primary veterinarian or call Norwalk Animal Hospital if you have any questions regarding your pet’s diet or if you suspect symptoms of heart disease.

*Recommended Brands

Happy Howl-o-ween!

Fall is my absolute favorite time of the year. Apple cider, sweaters, pumpkins, OH MY!
Most of all, many of us here at Norwalk Animal Hospital are huge fans of Halloween. You will often catch us decorating the office and wearing spooky scrubs during the month of October.

Halloween may be all fun and games for us, but it can be terrifying for our animals. Just think about it. Every time that anxiety inducing doorbell rings, the alarm barks go off. Talk about putting the TRICK in Trick or Treat!

There are lots of ways to avoid putting your animals in stressful situations during Halloween.
Here are some tips to help keep your pet safe and calm:

1. Keeping your pet away from the front door avoids accidental escapes and helps decrease visual and auditory stimulus when trick r’ treaters come to visit.
2. Keep calm, act normal, and keep to routine. Believe it or not, your animal can often sense your mood. If the holiday is making you anxious, they are going to feel it too.
3. Try to avoid walking dogs during trick r’ treating hours if you know they are likely to react badly to crowds.
4. If your dog enjoys walks and being social, be watchful that they do not ingest any candy, especially chocolate which can be toxic to dogs, that might have been dropped along the way.
5. Play music or turn on the television to calm dogs and mask scary noises. My dog, Timber, loves classical music!
6. Close the curtains and keep the light on to limit visual stimulation from outside. Having one member of the household sit with the animals in a “soundproof” area such as a basement or bathroom can help as well.
7. Avoid petting and telling your pet that “It’s OK” during scary events, because they are hearing that it is okay to be anxious and bark during these events. Just sitting with them calmly is reward enough.
8. We may think our pet looks adorable in that T-rex costume, however, few dogs actually enjoy dressing up and having unnecessary objects on them can actual heighten anxiety. No one knows your pet better than you, so if your pet looks uncomfortable when you put that pair of bunny ears on them, decide against it.

Remember, it is perfectly fine to ask your veterinarian for help. Some animals are comforted and respond well to a thunder shirt, which is a jacket that wraps snugly around their body. Norwalk Animal Hospital sells these shirts and can help you find the correct fit for your pet. However, sometimes animals have anxiety that is so severe that it requires the help of medication, of which there are several safe options available. Please consult your primary care vet before giving your animals medication.

Sileo is a newer FDA approved medication for the treatment of noise aversion in dogs that comes in an easy to administer tube and is absorbed through the oral mucosa. This medication is known to calm pets without sedating them and has worked well in several of our noise averse patients, especially those that are afraid of thunderstorms. For more information, consult Norwalk Animal Hospital or your primary veterinarian as Sileo may not be recommended for all pets.

Now to end with a TREAT! One of the most common things that come to mind when people think of fall is pumpkins, which when administered correctly can be given to dogs as well. Pumpkin (and pumpkin puree) contains a ton of soluble fiber that can help firm up soft stool, plus, animals tend to love the taste. However, too much can actually cause diarrhea in dogs that cannot tolerate large amounts of fiber, so be sure to ask us at Norwalk Animal Hospital before adding it into your dog’s diet. If you are a big fan of DIY, here is the link to a simple Pumpkin Oat Dog Treat Recipe that my dog, Timber, absolutely loves:

Have a safe and Happy Howl-o-ween!

Thyroid Disease in Cats and Dogs

Is your dog gaining weight even though his activity level and appetite remain the same? Have you noticed that your cat always seems ravenous for food but is losing weight? If so, your pet may have a thyroid issue.

Hypothyroidism is a syndrome that occurs most often in middle-aged dogs due to decreased thyroid hormone in the blood and is most commonly caused by atrophy of the thyroid gland. Common signs your dog may exhibit include weight gain, lethargy, exercise intolerance or weakness, and hair loss sometimes associated with skin infections. Other uncommon signs include a change in bark, incoordination, and neurologic signs such as facial paralysis.

Clinical signs in combination with a decreased level of thyroid hormone, as well as other supporting abnormalities on bloodwork, is often diagnostic. Hypothyroidism can often be well managed by daily oral thyroid hormone replacement; however, this medication must be given lifelong. Thyroid levels should ideally be tested every 6 months to be sure they are maintained within normal limits. Increased activity levels and elimination of clinical signs are typically seen within 2-4 weeks.

Hyperthyroidism is a syndrome that occurs most often in older cats and is caused by increased secretion of thyroid hormone often due to an excess of thyroid tissue. Signs often include increased drinking, eating, and urinating, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or lethargy, and can be associated with cardiac changes such as murmurs, arrythmias, and high blood pressure. Hyperthyroidism can often be diagnosed by checking thyroid levels on bloodwork, and is treated in one of three ways:

  1. Daily antithyroid medication that suppress thyroid hormone production
  2. Surgical removal of part of the thyroid gland
  3. Radioactive iodine therapy, which makes the excess thyroid tissue nonfunctional

Ideally, hyperthyroid cats should be on an iodine restricted diet to help decrease thyroid hormone production. Some cats that are treated for hyperthyroidism will become hypothyroid, so monitoring bloodwork at least every 6 months is recommended to avoid complications. This disease can sometimes mask kidney disease, so treating the thyroid issue can unveil elevated kidney levels. The goal of therapy is to restore serum thyroid concentrations to within normal limits and eliminate clinical signs.

If you think your pet may be struggling with a thyroid issue, please call Norwalk Animal Hospital or your primary veterinarian today to schedule an appointment.  

You’ve Cat to Be Kitten Me Right Meow: Feline Wellness Visits

Mark your calendars because August 22nd is “National Bring Your Cat to the Vet Day!” Although, most pet cats are indoor-only, it is extremely important to have them evaluated by a veterinarian annually. During these wellness visits, they will have their weight taken, a full head-to-toe physical examination, and be given any vaccinations that may be due. These vaccinations protect them from viruses that can be obtained from their housemates or if they happen to accidentally slip outside.

Annual exams and vaccinations are even more important for cats that are indoor/outdoor or primarily outdoor. Legally, it is required that ALL dogs and cats remain up to date on rabies vaccinations. Interactions with feral cats or wild animals pose the risk of causing rabies, and if wounds are noted, a rabies booster needs to be given to your pet as soon as possible. Feline leukemia (FelV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) can also be spread by interacting with infected cats. Monitoring weight yearly uncovers loss or gain that may not have been noticed and can allow veterinarians to gauge whether there may be an underlying issue causing it. Wellness bloodwork is also recommended in order to evaluate blood cell levels and organ function. This allows us to compare values if the patient were to get sick in the future and can aid in diagnosis.

Other reasons to bring your cat to the vet include:

  1. Inappropriate or Abnormal Urination (urinating outside of the litterbox, straining to urinate, urinating small amounts or abnormally large amounts, bloody urine)
  2. Vomiting or Diarrhea
  3. Foreign Body Ingestion (history of eating string, chicken bones, etc)
  4. Seizures or Incoordination
  5. Weight Loss
  6. Inappetence (lack of appetite)
  7. Increased Drinking
  8. Wounds or Open Sores
  9. Lumps or Bumps
  10. Abnormal Behavior

Some owners prefer to avoid annual vet visits due to the fact that their cat is very fearful and becomes anxious or aggressive when at the clinic. However, there are medications available to decrease anxiety and help them become more amenable to being in a carrier and in a strange place. This can often make appointments safer for everyone involved. Please call Norwalk Animal Hospital or your primary veterinarian to discuss pre-visit anxiety medication for your cat.

Other ways to make your cat’s check-up a stress-free experience is to get them used to their carrier. Keeping their carrier available to them at all times allows cats to get used to it and avoids having them associate it with travel.  Most cats will even enjoy going into their carrier to sleep and play when this procedure is enforced. Rewarding your cat with treats when they approach or step into the carrier is also encouraged in order to help them develop good associations. Feliway is a calming pheromone product that has sprays and plug-ins that can also be used around and inside the carrier and may help it become more welcoming.

Please call Norwalk Animal Hospital to schedule a wellness visit for your cat today!

“Your Dog Ate WHAT?!: Common Household Toxins and Items to Avoid”

How many times have you found yourself taking inedible items out of your new puppy or kitten’s mouth? When I first adopted my dog, Timber, that answer was COUNTLESS. If any scrap of food or piece of paper happened to make it to the floor during a meal, Timber was there to vacuum it right up. Puppies and kittens love to eat things they aren’t supposed to, however, certain foods, even in small amounts, can be harmful and if pets are noted to have consumed them, require veterinary attention.

Please contact your veterinarian if your pet has eaten any of the following items:

Human Food

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee or any caffeinated products
  • Raisins or Grapes
  • Alcohol
  • Avocados
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Sugar free products containing xylitol, such as gum
  • Macadamia Nuts, Walnuts, Pistachios, Pecans
  • Bones, Skin, or Fat drippings
  • Corn Cobs


  • Lilies or other plants
  • Batteries
  • Rodenticide, Bait Traps, Insecticides
  • Fertilizers
  • Drugs (over the counter, prescription, recreational, etc.)
  • Drain or Pool cleaners
  • Lead (paint chips or dust)
  • Zinc (pennies made after 1982)
  • Foreign Items (Clothing, String, etc)

Many of the above items contain ingredients that animals cannot metabolize and can cause liver or kidney failure. Others have the potential to get stuck along their gastrointestinal tract and cause a blockage or rupture, often requiring emergency surgery. If your pet is a non-discriminate eater, keeping them contained to a small room or crate can help avoid incidents and keep them safe when you are not around to supervise their activity.

Do not attempt to make your pet vomit at home before contacting your primary veterinarian or emergency clinic because, depending on what they ingested, this may cause more harm than good.

If ingestion occurs after hours, Norwalk Animal Hospital now offers a FREE “Guardian Vets” phone service that will put you in contact with a veterinary professional that will help you determine whether your pet should be seen immediately by an emergency clinic or if they can wait for an appointment.

Please talk to your primary veterinarian or call Norwalk Animal Hospital today if you have any questions about household toxins or if you think your pet has been in contact with them.

Heartworm and Fleas and Ticks…OH MY!

Now that it is getting warmer out, it is very important to keep your pet up to date on heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives. Although they are less prevalent during the winter, parasites are still found, so ideally preventatives should be administered year-round. It is also important to have heartworm and tick-borne disease screening done annually, especially if the pet has not been receiving preventatives on a regular basis. This blood test allows diseases to be diagnosed early, even when the pet isn’t showing any symptoms and provides us with useful information on their long-term health.  

Ticks can be found on grass and leaves and will crawl onto pets that pass nearby. They then feed on blood from their host and once engorged, eventually drop off. Ticks are not species specific and will feed on humans as well. They have the ability to transfer diseases such as lyme disease, anaplasma, ehrlichia, and others that can make you and your pet ill. 

Pets often contract fleas by interacting with other infected animals. However, humans can also unknowingly transport these parasites. Flea eggs are extremely sticky and can stick to the bottom of shoes and paws, making them easy to accidentally bring home. Flea eggs can remain viable in the environment for up to 2 weeks. Once fully grown, adult fleas will find a host to live on and feed on their blood. Fleas can also be found in the environment after dropping off infected animals, as well as at more immature life stages. They are extremely difficult to rid from the environment and often require the help of an exterminator. Severe flea infestation can lead to anemia in pets. Some fleas also carry tapeworm and can transfer it to their hosts if ingested, causing weight loss and GI upset.

Heartworm disease, although often seen in Southern states, is slowly becoming more prevalent towards the East Coast. The parasite that causes heartworm disease, Dirofilaria immitis, is passed on by infected mosquitos when taking a blood meal. The parasite then moves from the injected site to the pet’s bloodstream and heart, growing along the way. Symptoms of heartworm disease include persistent cough, exercise intolerance, lethargy, and possibly heart failure, however, pets may be asymptomatic until it is too late. Treating heartworm disease can be very hard on animals and can be fatal, which is why preventing it is the kinder and safer way to go.

There are several heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives available, whether you prefer oral or topical administration and Norwalk Animal Hospital can help you decide which may be best for your pet. Purchasing these products from your primary veterinarian is recommended to ensure that you are receiving safe and reliable products straight from the manufacturers. Please call Norwalk Animal Hospital to purchase your preventatives today!

Time To Play…Name That Lump!

You are relaxing with your pet and notice that you feel something unusual while caressing them. Have you felt that lump before? Do not be alarmed, but it is always a good idea to have lumps and bumps (aka. masses) evaluated by a veterinarian.

Although they appear more commonly in older animals, and the majority are benign, it is impossible to know definitively what a “mass” is without having your veterinarian take a sample and evaluate it. This is a painless procedure that can be done at any veterinary visit. If the mass is ulcerated, an impression smear would be taken by pressing a glass slide onto the area to obtain some cells. The sample is then dried, stained, and looked at under a microscope during your visit or sent out to a pathologist to evaluate. If this procedure cannot be done, a needle biopsy, or fine needle aspirate, can be taken, which consists of vacuuming cells into a sterile needle, propelling them onto a glass slide, and looking at any cells that are obtained under a microscope. There are some situations where masses don’t “exfoliate well,” which means that not enough cells were shed to obtain a good sample. At that point, a biopsy may be recommended if the mass seems worrisome. This requires removing a piece of or the entire mass under sedation or general anesthesia to send out to a veterinary pathologist for evaluation.

Common masses seen on animals include:

  1. Sebaceous cysts, which are blocked oil glands. These are not considered harmful unless they rupture externally and become secondarily infected, after which removal is often recommended.
  2. Warts, are benign smooth or cauliflower-like growths that often appear on the skin of aging dogs. These are sometimes surgically removed because they can become a source of chronic irritation and infection when located in an area that the pet continues to lick and chew at.
  3. Lipomas, or fatty tumors, are a benign build-up of fat that do not metastasize. These masses can get quite large and uncomfortable, so some owners elect to have them removed to improve quality of life.
  4. Abscesses are a build-up of pus under the skin, often caused by a bite or puncture wound. These need to be drained and treated with antibiotics to avoid persistent systemic infection.
  5. Mast cell tumors are the most common skin cancer in dogs and can look very similar to the above masses. This demonstrates the importance of having masses assessed. These tumors are malignant and have the ability to metastasize, however, surgical removal is curative for some stages.

It is important to monitor masses for change in size, shape, or color and to report them to your vet if noticed. If specific masses have been tested and confirmed to be benign, it is important to retest them if extensive change or growth has been observed.

Ultimately, if the mass seems to be bothering your pet or is in a place where it inhibits movement, it is recommended to have it removed and biopsied. This is done under general anesthesia and can be combined with other procedures such as dentals to avoid additional anesthetic episodes in the future. Further steps will be recommended based on biopsy results.

Call Norwalk Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment to have your pet’s lumps checked today!

Cognitive Dysfunction and Aging in Dogs

Nobody likes seeing their pets get older. You may find that they sleep more, are less active, and have more difficulty walking up the stairs. They may also have trouble sleeping at night, which most of the time means, that you, as an owner, are ALSO not getting a good night’s sleep. If occurring long-term, this issue can be very distressing and can affect the bond between you and your pet.

As pets get older, it is a good idea to have twice yearly check-ups in order to ensure that they are happy and healthy. At Norwalk Animal Hospital, we offer a “Senior Profile” work-up which includes an exam, basic bloodwork (complete blood count and chemistry), a thyroid test, and a urinalysis. This will evaluate your pet’s blood cells, electrolytes, and organ function. If requested, this can be combined with abdominal and chest x-rays and/or an abdominal ultrasound in order to increase the likelihood that possible issues are caught early.

With advanced age, dogs can develop cognitive dysfunction, which is a slowly progressive disorder similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Symptoms can include restlessness, changes in sleeping habits, anxiety, disorientation, and/or incontinence. It is always important to have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out possible medical reasons for symptoms such as these. If nothing medical or behavioral can be found, often managing the symptoms with medication and diet change is enough to keep pets comfortable.

Goals of treatment are to slow the progression and improve cognitive function as well as to relieve any pain and stress that may be associated. Treatment options include:

  • Avoiding events that may cause your pet distress.
  • Avoiding punishment when your pet does something unfavorable and rewarding them for good elimination behavior.
  • Keeping your pet contained to a small room or area of the house without stairs so that they cannot injure themselves.
  • Placing them on a regular feeding schedule and a diet high in antioxidants and fatty acids, such as Purina Pro Plan “Bright Mind” or Hills b/d to promote cognitive health.
  • With the assistance of your primary veterinarian, adding melatonin or anti-anxiety medication to your pet’s routine can help improve their sleep cycle and quality of life.
  • Encouraging mentally stimulating activities, such as treat balls, puzzles, and interactive exercises can help slow progression.

If diet change is contraindicated for your pet, the addition of supplements and antioxidants, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may have a protective effect and improve behavioral function. If pets are maintained on medications long-term, it is important to have them checked at least twice a year to be sure liver and kidney function is not being compromised.

If you believe your pet may be struggling with cognitive dysfunction, please consult your primary veterinarian or make an appointment with Norwalk Animal Hospital today to learn what you can do to help them.

Help! One of My “K9s” is Loose!

Dental Health MonthFebruary is dental month! Have you been considering having your pet’s teeth cleaned but are hesitant to schedule it? Well this happens to be the best month to do so because every dental procedure (including extractions) done at Norwalk Animal Hospital this month will have a 10% discount applied!

**This discount also applies throughout the year if a dental procedure is scheduled within one month of recommendation. **

Periodontal disease, although a very common finding on most physical examinations, is often more prevalent in smaller dogs, cats, and older animals. Since animals can’t brush their teeth daily like humans, calculus builds up over the years, entraps bacteria, and causes inflammation of the gum tissue, or gingivitis. Typically, the smaller the animal, the more crowded the oral cavity and the more likely they are to develop dental disease; however, it can be seen in animals of all ages and sizes.

Periodontal disease can be difficult to assess in your own pets since many animals are not amenable to having their mouths opened, especially if they are uncomfortable. The first thing you may notice is a bad smell coming from their mouths, drooling, or decreased appetite. Teaching animals to enjoy having their teeth brushed (especially at a young age) is an important step to preventing dental disease and being able to evaluate your pet’s mouth regularly. Finding a specific toothpaste flavor that your animal enjoys can make them think of daily brushing as a treat! Pet-friendly toothpaste and brushes are available at Norwalk Animal Hospital.

Here are some tips for teaching your pet to enjoy having their teeth brushed. Be sure to give them plenty of praise during each step!

  1. Place some pet-friendly toothpaste on your finger and have your pet lick it off to make sure they enjoy the flavor.
  2. Using a finger, get your pet used to the sensation of having the toothpaste rubbed on their gums.
  3. Place some toothpaste on a finger brush or toothbrush and allow your pet to lick the paste off it.
  4. Introduce the brush into your pet’s mouth while moving it in a circular motion against their teeth.
  5. Teaching your pet a command, such as “Brush,” before doing the deed can help increase responsiveness and make it more exciting for the pet.

Dogs are often more willing to having their teeth brushed when compared to cats. Do not be discouraged if this cannot be done at home or if it causes too much stress for your pet.

Dental procedures must be completed under general anesthesia to be done accurately and allows us to better evaluate the extent of periodontal disease and treat it accordingly. At Norwalk Animal Hospital, every animal is closely monitored by trained veterinary technicians during procedures that require sedation or anesthesia.

When teeth are broken, the center of the tooth, or “pulp,” is often exposed which promotes bacteria to build-up and that tooth to die. Discoloration can sometimes, but not always, be a sign that a tooth is dead as well. Unassessed periodontal disease can sometimes lead to abscess formation of tooth roots and increased discomfort for the animal. Dental x-rays are routinely taken of mobile and fractured teeth to help evaluate the jaw bone and allows us to decide whether the tooth needs to be removed to promote future oral health.

Cats tend to develop resorptive lesions, which means that their body tries to absorb teeth. The gingiva, or gum tissue, surrounding the tooth is typically very red and irritated and is often very painful when probed. It is unclear what causes these lesions but tooth extraction, or crown amputation (removing the part of the tooth above the gum line) is curative. However, cats that present with these lesions at one point in their life will often develop more in the future. Dogs can develop these lesions as well, however, it occurs much less often.

Please contact Norwalk Animal Hospital today to schedule your pet’s dental procedure!