Ask a Vet: A Surprising Wintertime Risk to Your Pets


Alexandra McLaughry, DVM, is a graduate of University of Oregon and University College Dublin Veterinary School. She works at VCA East Mill Plain Animal Hospital and cares for her own dogs, cats, and children in Portland, OR.

Q. What are you talking with your clients about right now?

A. Still keeping up with flea control even through the winter. I am still seeing a lot of fleas on pets, despite the cold weather.

Q. How do I know if my dog has fleas?


A. I use a flea comb (fine tooth comb) and will trap fleas in it or flea dirt, which looks like black specks. If you put those black specks on a white paper towel and add water, you can smear it to reveal blood. The blood is actually flea poop.

For more information about the health risks of fleas, and how to use flea control medication safely, please see this FDA newsletter article.

Q. Do I need to ask my vet about flea control, or can I just buy it online or at Costco?

A. Where and who you buy the flea treatment from is just as important as the type of flea treatment. If your dog has a reaction to a product and you bought it online or at a big box store you are left without help for treatment. Big box stores don’t buy the products from the actual manufacturer, but from other people or business owners, so the manufacturer cannot guarantee that the product has not been tampered or is from the USA.

Q. What happens if my dog has an adverse reaction to a flea control medication?

A. If you bought the same product from a veterinarian, your veterinarian will do an exam, treat for the adverse reaction and report it to the company, so you can be promptly reimbursed for treatment by the veterinarian and for the flea product.

There were 44,000 complaints made to the EPA regarding topical flea prevention medications in 2008. Almost none of them were purchased from a veterinary office.

5 cool handmade gifts for pet lovers

It’s that time of year when we’re all frantically rushing around to find gifts for our friends and family. But it’s also a great time to think about how we can support small businesses and craftspeople. Shopping for handmade gifts at not only shows your friends you care enough to pick out something special just for them, it also allows you to avoid the parking hassles and crowds at your local mall.

For the mod dog

Etsy seller Diane of The Olive Crow makes pet bed covers that function like duvet covers. I love that they’re washable, and she encourages buyers to stuff her covers with pillows, foam, or other items you already have around the house. Diane selects bold, modern prints in durable upholstery fabrics like barkcloth so your pet’s bed can be a design highlight rather than an eyesore:


The chevron dog duvet cover

For a gift that gives back

Handmade4Hounds is an Etsy shop where pet-loving Etsy artists donate their wares, with sales supporting Greyhound and other sighthound rescue groups. This month all proceeds, minus fees, will be donated to Greyhound Placement Service of New Hampshire. Etsy seller ClassicHound has donated one of their elegant design-y Martingale collars to the cause:


Size medium “caviar” Martingale collar

For the eclectic cat lover

If you’ve ever wanted to re-create the leg lamp of “A Christmas Story” fame, but as a cat scratching post, you’re in luck (what, just me?!) Cat-in-the-Box Creations sells whimsical feline furnishings that think outside the beige, carpeted box:


The mannequin leg cat scratching post

For lovers of doggie decor

Cindy and Kirby Pringle of Dogtown Artworks use their own pets as models to create whimsical photographic art for dog and cat lovers alike. They’re also the authors of “Happy Tails: Earl and Pearl on the Farm” and “Happy Tails: The Call of Nature”:


Kinfolk family portrait

For the 007 Dog

Do you have a sophisticated pooch on your gift list? Because it would take a very elegant pup to carry off luxemutt‘s Martini Bow Tie collar:


The Martini bow-tie collar

I really like the colors available, and the construction looks solid, especially compared to “novelty” collars I’ve seen in shops.

Still at a loss for special gifts for friends and family? For more gift ideas, even for non-pet folks, check out Etsy’s social Gift Ideas feature. It uses your Facebook friends’ interests to recommend handmade gifts. And it won’t post to your wall unless you ask it to.

How to recognize bloat in your dog


Recently, one of my neighbors lost their beloved dog Callie to bloat (also known as torsion, gastric torsion, and gastric dilatation-volvulus or GDV). Most pet parents know that this is a serious condition, but may not know how to spot it early enough to increase the likelihood of recovery. Callie’s condition wasn’t caught in time to save her, but I hope that talking about what bloat looks like to us can help save other dogs.

The “TL;DR” Video

If you want a quick summary of how to recognize bloat, watch this video:

Symptoms of bloat

A hard, round stomach. Get to know what your dog’s tummy feels like when he’s feeling chipper, so it will be easier to recognize this telltale symptom of bloat.

Unproductive vomiting. When your dog’s stomach twists and pressure builds up, she’ll want to vomit but her stomach opening will be closed off.

Signs of discomfort. If your dog is anything like mine, he won’t show any sign of pain until it’s reached a fairly critical point. Restlessness, whimpering, and excessive drooling can all be signs that your dog is in distress.

Some breeds are more susceptible to bloat than others

Large, deep-chested breeds such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Labs are popular pets – and more likely to suffer from bloat than other breeds. If your dog fits this profile, ask your vet about bloat, what you can do to prevent it, and how best to get in touch with the closest animal hospital if you ever suspect bloat.

Preventing bloat

Eating too soon before or after exercise, eating a large meal of kibble, and feeding in a stressful atmosphere are all suspected of causing bloat. Alexandra McLaughry, DVM, recommends putting small amounts of kibble in each section of a muffin pan to slow eating and lower the risk of bloat. I’ve also found that Jake takes longer to eat his meals when I put several of his toys in his bowl – I always make sure they are large toys with no chance of being swallowed whole.


Go to the vet. Now. Don’t wait.

Jake is half Lab and half Standard Poodle – two breeds that are both at high risk for bloat. Callie’s passing reminded me that part of my job as a responsible caretaker for Jake is being alert to his canine body language. Catching bloat in time can save your dog’s life.