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Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia Receives Six Top Veterinarian 2017 Awards

The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia is honored that six of our doctors were chosen as Top Veterinarian 2017 by the readers of Northern Virginia Magazine.  Dr. Ethan Morris DVM and Dr. Richard Bradley DVM, DACVS were voted as Top Veterinarian 2017 in Surgery.  Dr. Anne Chiapella DVM, DACVIM; Dr. Nichole Birnbaum DVM, DACVIM; and Dr. Todd Deppe DVM, DACVIM were chosen as Top Veterinarian 2017 in Internal Medicine.  Dr. Amy Pike DVM, DACVB was voted Top Veterinarian 2017 in Behavior Medicine.  Thank you to those who voted for us.  We look forward to providing exceptional care for your four-legged family members.

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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia believes it is essential to provide your pets with the best diagnostic tools available. In 2012 we installed a state-of-the-art MRI suite with the Vet-MR Grande which is a top-of-the-line MRI machine. Our staff members have been specially trained to operate the MRI for maximum diagnostic benefits.

Though most scans can be read on site, we have retained an off-site radiologist to interpret scans as needed. Having a top-quality MRI in house enables us to provide our clients with the convenience of obtaining accurate diagnostic readings without having to travel to a separate location. MRI can be used to scan almost all parts of the body including:

  • Brain
  • Spinal Cord including Neck, Chest, and Lower Back
  • Shoulder, Stifle, Elbow, and Metacarpal/Metatarsal Joints
  • Pelvis
  • Soft Tissue


The MRI is commonly used to diagnose the following conditions:

  • Herniated Intervertebral Discs Causing Spinal Cord Impingement
  • Neoplasia/Tumors
  • Swelling/Trauma
  • Infection
  • Congenital Abnormalities


Before receiving general anesthesia for the procedure, all patients have a thorough physical exam and bloodwork.  During the MRI scan the patient is monitored closely by a licensed technician while another technician runs the scan.  One of the many benefits of having MRI in house is that any surgery or procedure that needs to be done post scan can be done immediately.

Although some scans require off-site radiologist interpretations—depending on the level of severity, results can be provided in less than an hour.

Whether your pet is in the MRI suite or having a post-scan procedure done, you can be assured your pet is receiving the highest level of care, pain management, and kindness and compassion. Our patients rest comfortably and wake up from anesthesia in a warm and calm environment.

We look forward to addressing your pet’s diagnostic needs!


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You Can Save Money with Specialized Care

We understand that financial costs play a significant role in many decisions.  The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia is dedicated to providing your dogs and cats with top-quality care without the high prices.  Our prices are less than those of other veterinary referral hospitals throughout Northern Virginia.  How do we do it?

  • We do not automatically transfer our patients to our Emergency Division for care.  Sending all overnight patients to the ICU is a common practice in many referral hospitals.  Often this practice results in unnecessary extra charges; does not allow healthy patients to recover from routine procedures in a quiet environment; and overburdens the ICU staff when critical patients do arrive.  Only our critical patients are transferred to our Emergency Division for overnight care.  Otherwise your pet will recover in the same area of the facility where you dropped them off where they will receive the personalized care they need provided by our highly trained overnight staff.
  • Other referral and emergency hospitals spend money which they must recover on discretionary activities like local pet expos and parades.  We choose to limit our spending to what is specifically required to maintain the highest level of care for our patients.  We rely on our highly trained staff, state-of-the-art equipment, leading-edge techniques and procedures, proven results, and long-standing relationships with local referring veterinarians to maintain our reputation as the provider of the best quality yet most affordable specialized care for dogs and cats in Northern Virginia.
  • Our four divisions—Emergency, Internal Medicine, Surgery, and Behavior Medicine—coordinate and work closely together so we are able to source the highest quality materials from large-scale vendors at better prices as we purchase larger volumes of products to supply all four divisions.  We pass this savings on to our clients.
  • We do not add extra charges for things your pet does not need.  We provide itemized invoices so you can see exactly what your pet received while in our care.  While general estimates can be provided over the phone, more exact estimates are provided after a thorough examination.

The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia Team believes it is our responsibility to provide your pets with exceptional care at the most affordable prices and we are committed to doing so.


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The Dangers of Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar-free sweetener found in food, candy, gum, and in some medications.  It has become popular due to its sweet taste and low glycemic index.  Xylitol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hepatic necrosis (liver injury) in dogs.  Xylitol tricks a pet’s body into thinking it is receiving sugar which causes blood sugar production to decrease.  However, since there is no actual sugar in xylitol, the blood sugar can drop dangerously low and cause vomiting, weakness, depression, lethargy, seizures, coma, and even death.


Items containing xylitol include:

  • Sugar-free gum and candies
  • Weight loss products
  • Sugar-free peanut butter
  • Sugar-free pudding/gelatin
  • Mouthwash
  • Toothpaste
  • Prescription medications
  • Over the counter medications (especially those made for children)
  • Skin care products


The following treatment is recommended for ingestion of xylitol:

  • Induce vomiting
  • Hospitalization
  • Monitoring blood sugar levels
  • IV fluids
  • Liver protectant drugs
  • Dextrose supplementation
  • Blood work monitoring

If you suspect your dog has ingested Xylitol—it is critical to seek immediate veterinary care!


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Obesity in Cats

All of us have known at least one overweight cat in our lives. While many of us think it is cute or normal for an indoor cat to be a little pudgy; unfortunately, it presents many serious risks to their health. More than 50{f571b3b87eba4595ba925d4d29cc6296a96d97cc5607ee0a02dff6e8365f2230} of all American cats are overweight or obese. Sadly, overweight cats have a decreased life span of two and a half years. Cats were designed to hunt and forage for every meal and calorie they consume. Our fortunate and well-loved cats don’t have to work quite as hard for their survival as their predecessors did. They consume their meals happily and enjoy a life of leisure.

The risks of obesity in cats are very real. Overweight cats have a higher incidence of Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems, liver disease, urinary tract complications, arthritis, and orthopedic issues. Further complications occur when these conditions are combined in an overweight cat.

You can check your cat’s weight by petting them. When you pet your cat—you should be able to feel their ribs but you not be able to see them. When you stand above your cat you should see a tuck at the waistline. If you are uncertain, ask your veterinary staff to help you evaluate their weight.

You can help your cat live a long and healthy life by cutting calories and switching to a weight-loss diet. Make your cat work for their food a bit by hiding small amounts around the house, using puzzle cube feeders, or tossing kibble for them to chase. It is not always easy to get a cat to exercise but laser pointers are a fun way to try.

It is the goal of every pet parent to keep our furry kids happy and healthy. Early weight loss can keep them with you even longer.

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Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV) or Bloat is an Emergency Condition

gastric-dilatation-volvulus-or-bloatGastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), commonly referred to as Bloat, is an emergency condition in dogs.   When a dog’s stomach dilates or becomes enlarged, it can twist. The stomach is not able to release any of the gas that builds up inside and this can cause a pet to become very ill in less than an hour. GDV is life threatening and will not resolve on its own. Immediate intervention is essential. GDV can also occur without the stomach twisting. The stomach twisting is called torsion. GDV with and without torsion has the same symptoms. Both types of GDV need to be treated right away.

Causes of GDV

  • Large, deep-chested dogs are at risk. Examples include Great Danes, German Shepherds, Weimaraners, St. Bernards, Rottweilers, and Standard Poodles.
  • Dogs are more at risk of developing GDV if they are running, jumping, and playing outside immediately after eating. Let your dog rest after eating a meal or play before a feeding.
  • Dogs who eat one or two large meals a day are at greater risk than dogs who eat multiple smaller meals a day.
  • Dogs who eat very quickly are more likely to develop GDV. Owner of dog breeds who are at risk can encourage slower eating by purchasing special food bowls that make it harder for their pet to eat too quickly. Please see the image included.
  • Drinking large amounts of water—usually after exercise—can increase a dog’s risk.


Signs of GDV

  • Distended abdomen
  • Non-productive vomiting/retching
  • Restlessness
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Hypersalivation (drooling more than usual)


Problems Associated with GDV

  • Loss of blood flow to/from the abdomen
  • Pressure on the diaphragm from the stomach being filled with gas which causes difficulty breathing
  • Rupture of stomach


GDV is easily diagnosed so if you suspect your dog has Bloat bring them to your emergency veterinarian immediately. If you have a dog that is at risk for GDV due to breed, activity, or eating patterns, talk to your veterinarian about a procedure called Gastropexy. Gastropexy, the internal tacking of the stomach to the abdominal wall, can be done during other procedures such as spays to prevent the stomach from twisting in the future.

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Effective Treatments for Fleas

flea-63043Fleas are a nuisance that most pet owners have to deal with at some point. For most pets it is not a serious issue as long as owners stay on top of their flea treatment year around. If your pet is one of the unlikely few who has been diagnosed with flea allergy dermatitis—you will have to be more diligent about flea control than the average pet owner. Here are some tips for treating your pet and your home if you find fleas on your pets.


Treatment for Fleas for Pets

  • Bathe with Dawn dishwashing liquid or a flea shampoo. Be careful as this will strip all flea product from your pet so make sure to apply flea product one or two days after the bath.
  • Apply flea/tick topical spot-on treatment.
  • Use a flea-control collar. Some are effective for up to eight months.
  • Administer an oral product to kill live fleas. This can be obtained from your veterinarian.


Treatment for Fleas for the House

  • Sweep, mop, and vacuum all floors and furniture.
  • Use carpet sprays for fleas to get into tighter places, such as upholstery and carpets.
  • Fog your house. Be sure to use enough to cover every room.
  • Throw away the bag each time you vacuum.
  • Wash all bedding, sheets, rugs, and toys in hot water.

If you find fleas on your pet, alert your veterinarian as soon as possible so that the flea infestation does not get out of control.


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Pet Safety During the Holidays

With so much going on during the holidays, planning ahead for our pets may not occur. There are many hidden dangers associated with the holiday season.

  • Company coming in and out of the house may allow pets to leave through an open door
  • Decorations can easily be swallowed or cause an electric shock if chewed on
  • Extra treats that we enjoy can be very toxic to our pets


We recommend taking the following simple steps to protect your pets during the holidays.

When company is coming:

  • Watch the exits
  • Have a quiet room where your pets can go if there is too much commotion
  • Ask your guests not to feed your pets any treats
  • Be aware of the weather if you are going to leave your pet outside

Before leaving the house:

  • Unplug all decorations
  • Take out the trash
  • Do not leave food out on counters
  • If your pet cannot be trusted around decorations, crate them while you are gone

Have the following information easily accessible:

  • The nearest 24/7 Emergency Veterinary Hospital
  • Your veterinarian’s hours and contact information
  • ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 1.888.426.4435 (a fee may apply)

Happy Holidays!

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Poinsettias and Pets

image001“I found my pet licking the Poinsettias I displayed as holiday decorations.  What should I do?”

Poinsettias are often feared by pet owners as a toxic plant.  While it isn’t good for our pets to eat or lick Poinsettias, the plant is not as toxic as the public thinks.  The Poinsettia is considered to be only mildly toxic.  The white sap the plant produces can be mildly toxic if your pet is exposed.  Look for signs like drooling or licking their lips more frequently.  The sap can also cause skin irritation.  If a large amount of sap is ingested it can cause vomiting and diarrhea. If your pet is showing interest in your Poinsettias, sternly but verbally tell them no and redirect their interest. Take precautions by placing your poinsettias in areas where your pets do not have access without your supervision.  Our warmest wishes to you for Happy Holidays!


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Holiday Safety Tips for Your Cats

my-cat-at-christmas-tree-1-1406484Christmas decorations can be especially dangerous for cats.  Cats are naturally attracted to garland, tinsel, small ornaments, and ribbon.  They look like fun toys for our kitties.  Since cats are able to reach high places many more of these items are accessible to them.  Some cats ingest parts of these items which can require you and your pet to visit the emergency room during the holidays.  You might not realize that your cat is secretly eating tinsel from your Christmas tree while you are sleeping until it is too late.  You can take precautions by keeping small, edible decorations and garland, tinsel, and ribbon out of their reach.

If you notice your cat playing with a dangerous ornament or piece of ribbon, tinsel, or garland you should remove it right away.  If you think your cat has a loss in appetite, is lethargic, or you notice vomiting or diarrhea, it is important to call your veterinarian immediately for a check-up.