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Holiday Safety Tips

The holiday season is a joyful and merry time with friends and two- and four-legged family members.  The following holiday safety tips will help make the holidays safe for your furry family members and enjoyable for all. 

Christmas Trees
Make sure your tree is secure and can’t be tipped over by playful or curious pets. Placing it in an off-limits room or gating it off is helpful.  Make sure ornaments that could be mistaken for chew toys, fragile ornaments, and those with sentimental value are hung close to the top of the tree so they’re not tempting. Christmas tree water additives can be potentially hazardous to your pets. Some contain antifreeze, and the old wives tales about adding aspirin or sugar to your tree water to keep your tree fresh are not only false but they can cause serious harm to your pet.

Holly, mistletoe, poinsettias, and some lilies are poisonous.  They should be kept in areas where your pet can’t get to them at all.  If you think your pet has ingested any amount of these plants—call your veterinarian for immediate help. Candles and exposed wires may be attractive to your pet as items to play with.  Make sure they are hidden or kept in pet friendly areas. Tinsel and strings are fun for cats to play with but they are also very dangerous. If ingested they can get tangled up in the intestines and cause blockages.

Eating and treats are part of the holidays. While it’s OK for your pet to safely join in the edible festivities—make sure they don’t ingest certain toxic foods.  Chocolate and candies can contain harmful chemicals that are toxic to pets. Avoid turkey and chickens bones for your pets as they are small and sharp and can cause harm while being eaten and also once they are in the intestines. High fat and spicy foods can cause intestinal discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, and, in some cases, pancreatitis.

If you want to give your pet a special holiday treat offer them plain green beans and carrots, turkey or chicken with no seasoning, or other bland foods. Make sure to limit the amount and ensure they don’t overeat.  If your pet has free access to the house when you’re away—be sure to take out the trash or lock it away removing any temptation.

Enjoy the holidays with your beloved pets in a safe and pet-friendly way. 

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The Importance of Post-Surgical Care & Recovery

Post-surgical care and recovery are as important as the surgical procedure itself. After your pet’s procedure you will receive post-operative care instructions regarding:
  • Exercise Restraints
  • Food and Water Intake
  • Incision/Wound/Bandage Care
  • Medication Instructions
  • Recheck Appointments
  • Physical Therapy
Exercise Restraints
It’s important to remember that although your pet may seem to return to normal shortly after surgery they are not finished healing. We cannot see the healing that is taking place inside which is why most of these restraints are in place. Complying with your pet’s restraint directions allows their body to heal more quickly and ensures a shorter recovery time.
Food and Water Intake
Some surgeries involve food cut backs due to decreased activity levels. If activity decreases—calories should decrease too. Other surgeries, such as intestinal ones, require special diets, reduced amounts, or no food at all.
Incision/Wound/Bandage Care
Caring for the incision is important for many reasons. Allowing your pet to lick or chew at their incision can result in opening the surgical site back up or introducing bacteria that can cause infection. Bandage care is important because you cannot see underneath the bandage. If the bandage gets wet, damaged, or slips it can cause infection, skin disease, skin sloughing, or even death of the limb.
Medication Instructions
Discharge instructions will provide you with a list of your pet’s medications, how often to give them, and the corresponding doses. It is very important to give antibiotics until they are gone. This will help reduce possible infections and promote healthy healing. Pain medicine allows your pet to heal with less discomfort. Limping, lethargy, not eating or drinking, and crying out are some signs of pain—all of which can be avoided by giving their pain medicine on time and until gone.
Recheck Appointments
Different surgeries have different reasons for rechecks that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Rechecks allow the doctor to monitor recovery and allow for more activity or the freedom to do whatever your pet wants to do again.
Physical Therapy
Physical therapy, when needed, is very beneficial. Proper physical therapy can encourage movement, muscle growth, blood flow, healing, and more. Not adhering to regular physical therapy sessions can delay healing, cause damage, or result in lack or misuse of the affected area.
Following your pet’s post-surgical directions is important to ensuring the success of their surgery and providing your pet with a comfortable recovery.
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Tips to Keep Pets Safe When You Have Guests

  • Warn your guests if your pets will be free inside your home so they can be sure not to let them out by mistake.
  • Consider leaving your pets in a closed room if they are highly reactive to people they don’t know.
  • Supervise any children your pets don’t know as many children are not taught how to interact around pets and could accidentally become injured.
  • Inform your guests not to give your pets any table scraps.
  • Holiday decorations and plants can be very dangerous for your pets so be sure you and your guests keep them out of your pets’ reach.
The Emergency Division of The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year to provide exceptional care for your pets when needed. You can reach our Emergency Division at 703.361.8287.
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Traveling with Your Pet

  • Be sure your pet’s identification tags are up-to-date and attached to your pet’s collar.
  • Make sure your pet’s collar is not so loose that it can come off when you attach the leash.
  • Consider microchipping your pet—most shelters and veterinarians have the microchip scanner that facilitates reuniting pets with their owners.
  • A loose pet in a vehicle can be a dangerous situation if you are involved in an accident. It is best to crate your pet or buy a specifically designed pet seat belt.
  • No matter how well trained your pet is do not allow him or her to be off leash in an unknown area.
  • Never leave your pet alone in the vehicle, even for a very short period of time.
  • If you are traveling by air, consult your veterinarian for a health certificate which is required by most airlines.
  • Consider the weather at the time you will be flying and arrange flights accordingly.
  • Consult your airline about allowing your pet to fly inside the cabin.

We wish you and your pet safe travels and a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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Food Safety Tips to Keep Your Pets Safe this Thanksgiving

  • Keep holiday food out of reach of pets as any food that your pet is not used to eating can wreak havoc on your pet’s gastrointestinal system.
  • Don’t give your pets foods that contain too much fat such as dark meat turkey, butter, nuts, gravies, bacon, ham, etc. as they can cause pancreatitis which is a potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Never ever give your pets chocolate or any candy or desert containing Xylitol which is an artificial sweetener as chocolate and Xylitol are highly toxic to your pet.
  • No garlic, onions, raisins, grapes, currants, herbs, or essential oils as they can be toxic to your pet.
  • Turkey bones can puncture or become lodged in your in your pet’s gastrointestinal system so don’t give your pets access to them.
  • If you deep fry your turkey—do not allow your pet anywhere near the deep fryer.
  • Keep your holiday trash out of your pet’s reach.
  • If you must share your holiday meal with your pet—offer a very small amount of white meat turkey without skin, a dollop of mashed potatoes, some green beans, and a little lick of pumpkin pie.

The Emergency Division of The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year to provide care for your pet when needed. You can reach our Emergency Division at 703.361.8287.

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Cruciate Ligament Injuries in Dogs—Rarely in Cats

A Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) injury is one of the most common orthopedic problems in dogs and is the most common reason for hind limb lameness in dogs. In people the CCL is called the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).

The CCL attaches the back of the femur to the front of the tibia and is responsible for stabilizing the knee joint. Dogs are susceptible to CCL injuries due to the natural slope of the knee that causes instability. CCL injuries occur in dogs of all breeds, ages, and sizes but they are especially common in Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, and Pit Bulls.

A CCL can be partially or completely torn. A partial CCL tear can cause symptoms that resolve over time, but the ligament can NOT repair itself. Eventually a partial CCL tear will eventually lead to a complete tear. The longer a CCL rupture is present the more arthritis forms and therefore, the pain and lameness increase. The majority of dogs who injure their CCL will also injure their meniscus that is the cartilage-like structure that is responsible for shock absorption and weight bearing. Due to the risk of degenerative changes it is advisable to seek veterinary care as early as possible.

Symptoms of a CCL injury include:

  • Lameness in a hind limb
  • Non-weight bearing on a hind limb
  • Trouble rising from sitting or lying position
  • Decreased activity
  • Hopping on three legs
  • Sitting with legs out to the side instead of under the body
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Pain

Diagnosing a CCL injury can be as simple as palpating the knee and observing the dog as it walks. X-rays are usually taken to confirm the presence of fluid in the joint which occurs with injury, the degree of arthritis, and to rule out any other injuries such as a fracture or dislocation. The CCL and meniscus cannot be seen on x-rays.

Two important steps should be taken when treating a CCL injury:

  • Surgical repair
  • Medical management of arthritis

Many surgeons consider the TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) surgery to be the gold standard for CCL injuries.

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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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Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia Provides State-of-the-Art Emergency Clinic

The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia just re-opened our completely renovated and expanded state-of-the-art emergency clinic. The clinic has a hospital design with an intensive care unit, oxygen cage, isolation unit, treatment room, radiology, on-site lab, surgery unit, all new equipment, four exam rooms, and a large waiting room. Open 24 hours a day/365 days a year including holidays—our Emergency Clinic treats all types of dog and cat emergencies.

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The Dos and Don’ts for Thanksgiving Table Scraps

vrc-thanksgivingIt is easy to give table scraps to our dogs and cats after the Thanksgiving meal.  It is not advisable to offer table scraps to pets on a regular basis but Thanksgiving can be an exception if you follow the recommendations below:

  • Set aside a small amount of turkey and sprinkle it over your dog’s or cat’s normal food for several  meals.
  • Allow your pet to have a small bowl of cooked vegetables or raw vegetables.
  • Add a small amount of mashed potatoes to their food.
  • Let them have a small bite of pumpkin pie or canned pumpkin.
  • Split a dinner roll with them.


Do NOT allow your dog or cat to eat any of the following from Thanksgiving dinner:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Turkey Bones
  • Raisins or Grapes
  • Chocolate
  • Ham (which can be very hard for pets to digest)


Be sure to give your dog or cat only a small amount of the approved table scraps above.  Avoid high fat foods because they can cause pancreatitis.  If your pet has food allergies—be sure to adhere to their normal diet only.

Remember—if you have a pet emergency—the Emergency Clinic of the Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia is open 24/7 365 days per year including holidays to take care of your dog or cat.  Our new state-of-the-art Emergency Clinic has a hospital design complete with ICU, oxygen cage, all new equipment, and more.  Our number is 703.361.8287.