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Senior Pets- How to keep your pets healthy during their golden years

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Q:  I have a 5 year old Schnauzer and a 9 year old Dachshund and they are both doing fine but I’m concerned about their special needs as they get older.  What should I do right now to keep them healthy as they age?

A:  What a great question. We all know that pets age faster than humans.  A 7 year old dog is equivalent to about 44-56 years in a human. And a 7 year old cat is about 54 in human years.  But Dogs vary a great deal by breed in their age spans. Small breed dogs tend to live longer and large breeds age faster. Large breeds are considered “senior” at 5-6 years of age and small breeds around 8 years.  Cats often live into their teens and even through their twenties.

    The good news is that pets are definitely living longer today because of improved nutrition and advances in veterinary care.  However, with longer lives, pets develop many of the same ailments often associated with old age in humans: kidney disease, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, cataracts and urinary tract infections.  Your pet should have a complete veterinary exam every 6 months and senior blood panels/urinalysis at least annually which can help detect these diseases at an early stage. Animals of all species are very good at hiding disease because in the wild, signs of visible pain are a sign of weakness and makes them easy prey to predators.  Pets are very adept at hiding their discomfort. They just keep wagging their tails and loving you. The very best chance of early detection is regular wellness checkups.

     Today’s excellent dog and cat foods have made a huge difference in your pet’s longer life.  There is definitely a difference in different brands of dog and cat foods. And yes, higher priced foods are usually better for your pet.  They are more digestible and then your pet has less waste. Higher priced foods (we recommend dry to keep the teeth cleaner) usually have better quality ingredients which means you aren’t stressing out your kidneys and liver. You should consider a diet higher in fiber, lower in calories and a better calcium/phosphorous ratio specifically designed for older pets. Most Commercial pet foods have addressed these special needs for puppy/kittens, adult pets and senior pets with age and breed specific dietary needs.  As pets age, they tend to have joint problems such as arthritis just like us (especially larger breed dogs). It’s important to maintain a moderate exercise program to help keep bones, joints, heart and lungs conditioned (just like us humans as we age). And exercise is really important to prevent weight gain. One of the most common problems we see in older dogs and cats is difficulty passing their stools. This is due to several factors: it’s hard for older pets to squat to pass stool because their stool may be too large or too dry (constipation) and also hip and lower spine arthritis makes it painful to express their bladder and/or pass stool.  Check your cat’s litter box for really hard stools that may be from hairballs. Use a stool softener such as CatLax as often as possible (1-2X a day or every other day). Ask your vet for suggestions on your senior pet’s diet needs. There are lots of excellent choices today.

   Have you smelled your pet’s breath recently or lifted their lip to look at the teeth?  Dental disease is one of the main culprits in kidney, liver and heart disease in pets because of the enormous amount of bacteria that develops at the gum line and deep into the tooth roots.  For humans, dental care is a daily routine. But you can also brush your pet’s teeth and gums or feed dental treats. Teeth are usually graded by Dental Scores of 1-4. You need to have your pet’s teeth cleaned under anesthesia by the time they are dental score 1 or 2 before you get bone loss around the tooth.  Once you get to Dental Score 3 or 4, you have major infection problems and/or loose teeth and will need oral surgery. Bad teeth will definitely lessen your pet’s life span. Pets that have routine dental care have fewer heart, lung, kidney and liver problems as they mature. We recommend an annual dental prophy which includes a senior blood profile.

  Keeping your pet current on vaccinations is important for long term health. We follow a 3 year vaccine protocol starting at 4 years of age, since we do not believe in over-vaccinating your pet.  Every pet at our hospital receives a lifestyle disease risk assessment so we have a specific vaccine plan. For example: do you go camping or walking in the woods with your pet? Then we recommend vaccine for Leptospirosis and Lyme disease. Does your dog attend day care or dog parks? Then you need all the basic vaccines plus Bordetella (kennel cough) and Flu Vaccine.  Is your cat adopted from a shelter or do you have a new rescue kitty? All your cats need to be tested for Feline Leukemia and FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and should have kitten vaccines (need two) and at least one annual booster.

    Age is not a disease. Good care allows your pets to live happy, healthy and active lives all through their senior years. Regular vet exams can detect problems before they become life threatening.

Welcome, Lincoln Memorial Students!

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Jefferson Animal Hospitals has been proud to offer clinical rotations to the Senior Students of Lincoln Memorial Veterinary School (LMU), located in Hallogate, TN.  This has been an opportunity for us to mentor and teach these senior vet students before they start their careers as licensed veterinarians. The mission of LMU is to prepare veterinarians who are committed to serving the health and wellness needs of people, animals and the environment within the Appalachian region with an emphasis on the One Health Approach.   These students have focused on comprehensive veterinary health care in companion animals, equine health, Beef and Swine production animal health and public health biomedical sciences. They have embraced compassionate veterinary care valuing diversity, public service and leadership as a commitment to the highest ethical standards


Becoming a veterinarian is a very difficult process for any student.  They are required to have 3-4 years of pre-veterinary curriculum (physics, chemistry, calculus, etc) and then the students apply to a Veterinary School for 4 years of very intense study.  After 3 years of Anatomy, Pharmacology, Physiology, Radiology, Internal Medicine, Pathology, Dermatology, Ophthalmology, Surgery, Orthopedics, Behavior, and Communication Skills, they are ready to actually be in the “real world” of examinations and speaking with pet owners.  We are two Core Hospitals for these students for their required rotations in Emergency Medicine and Wellness.



Because Jefferson Animal Hospital is Open 24 hours, our students have been exposed to a wide-ranging number of emergency cases and surgery:  trauma, bite wounds, exploratories, cesarean-sections, splenectomies, diabetic crisis, Parvo Virus, etc. All the types of emergencies you would expect to see at a human emergency room come through our doors.  And we perform Wellness Exams (for vaccinations, spay, neuter, dental care) at both our locations. Their 4 years of medical curriculum is based on the philosophy of “clinical immersion” that recognizes medical knowledge must be developed side-by-side with clinical skills.

      We have been very impressed with these young people as we have worked with them over the past year.   They are all very smart, compassionate and are going to be the type of veterinarians that we need to continue to improve our wonderful profession.  We wish them all the best as they go out in the world of modern veterinary medicine.



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Has your dog been vaccinated yet?  Dog Influenza is still a serious problem in Louisville and Southern Indiana.  This is an extremely contagious virus passed by aerosol from coughing dog to other dogs.  We are recommending not boarding your dogs or going to dog parks until your dog receives 2 vaccines, at least 2-4 weeks apart.  Even then, they are not protected for 2 weeks after the second vaccine.

If you come to our office with a coughing pet, we will insist that the exam takes place outside and our staff will wear special gowns and mask.  It's THAT CONTAGIOUS!  Do not bring your coughing dog into our hospitals , please.    

We have a special trailer by the back entrance at our 24 hour hospital specifically for exams of coughing dogs.    Unfortunately, your pet can be contagious 7-10 days before symptoms start which makes it very difficult to assess the presence of the virus.

If your dog is coughing, we can take throat, nasal and conjunctival (eye) swabs and blood samples to confirm that it is the dog flu.  If your dog is positive, they will need to be quaranteened for 48 days before considering boarding or bing around other dogs.  A natural infection only lasts 6 months so you will have to have your pet vaccinated after recovery before they should be boarded at a kennel.

Several kennels in the louisivlle and Southern Indiana area have had to close their doors due to this very contagious virus and there have been several deaths.  Symptoms besides a deep cough are fever, anorexia (not eating), lethargy and pneumonia.   Older pets or those compromised with other health problems are at higher risk.   We have had a few milder cases in dogs already vaccinated but they have recovered without serious problems.  It all depends on when your pet was exposed.  

Call us today for Flu vaccine #1 and then we can give the second vaccine in 2-4 weeks.   But please wait outside if your pet is showing any signs of cough.   It's impossible to tell if your cough is just old fashioned "kennel cough" or the more serious Canine Flu.   Testing is highly recommended.


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Our Staff enjoyed another wonderful evening at Louisville's Slugger Field, home of the Bats, AAA team of the Cincinnatti Reds.  Hundreds of pet owners brought their canine friends down to the park for an evening with our favorite baseball team.   We gave way pet kerchefs to the lucky first 500 attendees, spun our gift wheel for more free gifts and gave away $50 gift certificates to be used at either Jefferson Animal Hospital and Regional Emergency Center or JAH Fern Creek.   It was a beautiful evening enjoyed by all.

pets and babies, new baby, expecting a child

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Check out the fall edition of Women's Today Magazine for this timely article by Dr. Kennedy on babies and pets in the household.

Q:  Help!  We’re expecting a new baby next month.  How can I prepare my dogs and cats?

A:  That is a great question and Congratulations!  You’re exactly right that you should take some time to prepare your canine and feline household pets.  First, are your dog’s obedience trained?   It’s very important that they respond to sit/stay commands and listen to you when you’re talking to them.  Also, it’s a good idea to have your annual veterinary checkup for all your pets to make sure they’re current on vaccines and don’t have any intestinal parasites or and fleas/ticks.  There aren’t a lot of diseases transmitted from pets to people but there are a few that you’d need to make sure your pets are healthy (roundworms and hookworms are important intestinal parasites and ringworm or scabies are potential skin contagions). 

Dogs and cats are very sensitive to smells so they need to become acclimated to baby smells, especially diapers.  Do you have friends with babies that you could borrow some dirty diapers to start acclimating them to the odors?  Sounds gross but it really is an important step.  Sound is another possible trigger for your pet’s behavior problems.  Have a friend bring their babies over so your pets can hear sounds of crying so they will know that it’s normal.  Don’t forget to keep giving your pets lots of attention.  They’ve had all your attention so far and can get jealous if you ignore them which could cause some behavioral issues.  Please reward your pets for good behavior.  Don’t punish your pets if they misbehave.  A firm “no” with an immediate “sit/stay” command is appropriate.  Practice sessions should be fun and not discipline exercises.

Bring your new baby into the house while your pets are confined and allow them to see the baby but not get too near during first visits.  Never leave your baby alone with your pets until they are well acclimated to the household changes.

The general rule is never leave a child, especially one under three years of age, alone with a pet at any time.   While your dog is in a sit/stay position, carry around a doll wrapped in the baby’s blankets, rock the doll in your arms and let your dog or cat investigate the doll.  Pretend to diaper the doll and get your pets used to all the activities associated with care of your newborn.  The best time to introduce a baby to a household pet is when the pet is calm and the baby is quiet.  Ideally two people are needed: one to control and reward the pet and the other to hold the baby.  There is simply so safe way to rush this process.  Supervised contacts and rewarding the pets so they don’t associate negative events or punishment with the baby.  Most pets bond with an infant in a special way that benefits all of you.  There is nothing more rewarding than watching your two and four legged family members playing and growing together.

Should I be worried about the dog flu?

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What have you heard about Canine Influenza a.k.a. The Dog Flu????  There has been a lot of information on the news and various media outlets about the current outbreak in our area and we would like to put your mind at ease with reliable information.  This is a very contagious virus that can cause coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge or fever.  The symptoms for most dogs will resolve in 2-3 weeks.  Some dogs may contract the virus and not show any clinical signs at all but still be able to spread it to other dogs.  Similar to the human flu, the most vulnerable are young puppies and senior or imunocompromised dogs.  The good news is that there is a vaccine available to reduce the severity of the symptoms should your pet come in contact with the virus.  Due to the fact that the virus is so eaily trasmitted, all dogs over the age of 9 weeks are recommended to be vaccinated.  Jefferson Animal Hospital  is providing the vaccine by appointment.  Please call 502-966-4104 to schedule your pet.

For additional information about Canine Influenza, visit the American Animal Medical Associations site :



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Q:  I just found a tick on my puppy? 

Help! How do I get it off safely and can I catch anything?

A:  Springtime is definitely the peak time for Ticks and yes, there are several serious diseases that both you and your pet can suffer from.   There are 15 species of ticks in North America but only a few that can affect you or your dog: the American Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick, Deer or Blacklegged tick and Brown Dog Tick.   Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Anaplasmosis,  all serious diseases of people and pets

There are several excellent preventatives for your pets such as Seresto Flea/tick collar, Frontline Plus, Brevecto and Nexguard.  Walking through the woods or tall grass is a quick way to have ticks attach to your body or your pet.  We recommend vaccinating your dog for Lyme disease if you do any camping, hunting or walking in the woods. 

Removing a tick with blunt tweezers or disposable gloves is recommended.   If you must use your fingers, shield them with a tissue or paper towel.   Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible, reducing the possibility of the head detaching which may increase the chances of infection. Do not twist or jeck the tick but pull straight out.  Applying some medicinal alcohol can cause the tick to loosen its grip.  Wash your hands after removing the tick and be sure to check all over your pet’s body for additional parasites. Check our website www.jeffersonanimalhospital.com/library for more information about ticks and tick borne diseases.


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Meet Frank.  He is a 5 year old male, neutered Great Dane who recently came to our hospital as an Emergency Bloat, often called GDV (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus).    Frank had immediate emergency surgery to de-rotate his twisted stomach and in spite of a guarded prognosis, he is recovered and thriving post-surgery.   We wanted to describe to you the causes of this life threatening problem so you don’t have to go through a similar surgery with your pet.  Even though this problem is most common in large, deep chested dogs, it can occur in any size and any breed.   We strongly recommend having the stomach surgically “tied down” during a spay or neuter procedure to prevent the “twisted stomach”,  Surgical tie-down won’t prevent the “bloat” but it does prevent the deadly “twist”.

The definite cause is still unknown but the most common history is a large breed dog that eats or drinks rapidly and then exercises. In recent studies, stress was found to be a contributing factor to GDV. Sometimes the condition progresses no further than simple dilatation (bloat) but in other instances the huge, gas-filled stomach twists upon itself so that both entrance and exit (cardia and pylorus) are occluded.

We know that large, deep chested breeds are more prone to GDV. These include Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Weimaraners, Irish Setters, Gordon Setters, Standard Poodles, Basset Hounds, Doberman Pinschers, and Old English Sheepdogs. Most commonly the condition occurs two to three hours after eating a large meal.

This is always a true emergency and assistance must be sought immediately.  It is critical that the pressure on the stomach wall and internal organs is reduced as soon as possible. Our veterinarian may first attempt to pass a stomach tube. If this is not possible due to twisting of the stomach, a large bore needle may be passed through the skin into the stomach to relieve the pressure in the stomach.   Treatment for shock should begin immediately by administering intravenous fluids and other medications.

Once your pet has been stabilized, the stomach must be returned to its proper position. This involves major abdominal surgery and time is critical. 

The primary goal of surgery is to return the stomach to its normal position, remove any dead or dying stomach tissues and help prevent future GDV. Our veterinarian will discuss the technique or combination of techniques best for your pet’s condition.

Survival rate depends upon how long your pet has had GDV, the degree of shock, the severity of the condition, cardiac problems, stomach wall necrosis, length of surgery, etc.  Even in relatively uncomplicated cases there is a mortality rate of 15-20% for GDV.

We can help you with instructions for diet recommendations and exercise regimens to prevent stomach dilatation and/or rotation.   Check our LIBRARY of articles for more specific information about your pet’s health care needs.  http://jeffersonanimalhospitals.com/pet-owner-resources/lifelearn-need-to-contact-lifelearn.php




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This is one of our favorite patients “Midnight” (name has been changed to protect the innocent).  He’s a black cat who lives inside and outside.   We worry about him at Halloween for a variety of reasons.  BUT, the good news is that HE HAS A MICROCHIP which will protect him if he gets lost or picked up by strangers.  When he goes outside there are a large number of dangers that we worry about.   Because he is a black cat, we worry because he might be picked up and “abused physically” by cruel pranksters, bad people who think it’s cute to torture animals.   We advised his pet parents to keep him indoors during the holidays.

KEEP PETS AWAY FROM LIT PUMPKINS.  Candles can singe their noses and light fur on fire.  This also goes for artificial lights such as electric votives and glow sticks.  Pets love to chew on things they’re not supposed to, and cats in particular seem to love these items. Over the past year, 70 percent of Pet Poison Hotline’s calls relating to glow sticks and jewelry involved cats. In addition to the choking hazard, the contents of glow sticks can cause pain and irritation in the mouth.  Keep an eye out for mouth pain, as well as profuse drooling and foaming at the mouth.

DON’T FEED CANDY OF ANY SORT TO ANIMALS:   Chocolate is especially dangerous, more poisonous to pets than any other candy. Chocolate contains methylxanthines, chemicals similar to caffeine that can quickly sicken dogs. In general, the darker the chocolate, the more poisonous it is.   And Candy Wrappers are dangerous. It’s hard enough for a human to stop at just one piece of candy, so imagine how difficult it is for a pet. Large ingestions of sugary, high-fat candy can lead to pancreatitis, which may not show up for two to four days after the pet ingests the candy. Pets that have ingested candy may show signs such as decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, abdominal pain, and even kidney failure or organ damage.

RAISINS ARE DANGEROUS because very small amounts of raisins (or grapes) can cause kidney failure in dogs and cats. Some dogs develop idiosyncratic reactions at any dose—in other words, ingesting any amount can cause serious damage.  Pets that have ingested raisins may show signs like vomiting, nausea, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, and severe kidney failure. 

ARE COSTUMES A GOOD IDEA? Your clients may love the costume, but does your pet? Some costumes can cause discomfort in pets, and any metallic beads, snaps, or other small pieces (particularly those made of zinc or lead) can result in serious poisoning if ingested. Finally, don’t ever dye or apply coloring to a pet’s fur, even if the dye is labeled non-toxic to humans.   If clients dress their pets in costumes, teach them to make sure it doesn’t impair the pets’ vision, movement, or air intake.

DON’T MIX YOUR PET WITH TRICK/TREATERS AT THE FRONT DOOR.  Cats and dogs can frighten children and vice versa.   Doorbells are ringing, children are screaming and other noises will spook your pets.  Place them in a quiet area away from the excitement and noise of costumed goblins at your front door.  This will also prevent your pet escaping when the front door is opened repeatedly.


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Does your pet hate going to the vet?  Do they start shaking as soon as you get the car keys?

Have they had such bad experiences in the past that you try to find every excuse not to go for those very necessary vaccinations and health care needs?

This is Rachel.  Her owner loves her and says she is just a fantastic dog-an absolute gift and blessing to their family.  She will lay still and allow toddlers to pull and crawl on her, is super enthusiastic when her human walks in the door and is the type who will sit by your side when you’re sad.

However, Rachel had a painful experience at the vet when she was young (severely tore a nail, needed surgery and associated the vet with the pain).  After that experience she had extreme anxiety whenever her Mom took her to the vet.  She’d cry whine and “put on the brakes” when it was time to go back to an exam room.

She was normally a very friendly dog to anyone else but became very aggressive at her vet visits (growling, snapping, and refusing to even enter the building) and would normally need to be muzzled.  

So, Rachel’s Mom heard about the GENTLE HANDLING techniques at JEFFERSON ANIMALHOSPITAL FERN CREEK.   Our staff has received extensive training in techniques to help pets like Rachel enjoy their visits and not be fearful  (yes, FEAR is the main reason for aggressive behavior in pets).

So Rachel’s Mom Found out about the LOW STRESS/FEAR FREE techniques at our Fern Creek Hospital.  She called to speak with one of our trained staff and explained Rachel’s fears and made an appointment. HOWEVER,  Rachel wouldn’t even come in the door so the staff asked Rachel’s Mom to just sit outside on our bench and she did this for several visits.  This is called DESENSITIZATION.  For example: If Your pet has car anxiety,  you can have them just sit in the car, then start the engine, then take short trips, then longer trips and they will eventually see that there is no need to be fearful.

The other FEAR FREE tip is to constantly give treats to make all these experiences positive.  We have patients now who come in our door, jump on the scale and wait for their treat.  We have conditioned them to receive a reward to come in the door, get on the scale, get on the exam table, receive their vaccines and allow blood collection for lab tests.  POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT is the key to reducing FEAR and STRESS.

Rachel now enjoys her visits to our hospital.  For the first time since she was a small puppy, she recently had a vet visit and she never growled, snapped, cried or whined.  Rachel allowed our vet to take her paw, rub her belly, take her blood sample and happily took favorite treats of peanut butter and Cheese-its from the Doctor and the staff.

All of this progress is HUGE!  Rachel never allowed the doctor or staff to come near her much less take food or blood samples.  Rachel’s Mom is thrilled to know that Rachel’s medical needs will now be met without being afraid.



Traveling with your pets, what do you need to know?

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If youll be flying or driving to visit family this summer and traveling with your dogs or cats, what do you need to know in terms of rules and regulations of traveling with pets? This a really great question. Planning ahead is the key to a smooth trip when traveling with pets. Traveling by car in the Continental US does not require any special permits but going across the border into Canada or Mexico does have specific Health Certificate requirements. Also, the rules when flying with your pet will depend on the airline and the destination. Flights within the US usually only require a simple Health Certificate signed by your veterinarian but check with your airlines for their specific requirements. If you are traveling abroad, each country has their own requirements and some have specific tests or quarantine periods. Advance preparation can take as long as 6 months in some cases. Health Certificates are different for each country and you need to start early, like 4-6 weeks ahead of your flight or even longer. Start with the USDA Office at www.aphis.usda.gov and check our web site on Health Certificate information: http://jeffersonanimalhospitals.com/24hr-veterinary-care/health-certificates-for-travel.php. The key is to start early to make sure you have all the requirements lined up. Call us when you need help. Do NOT wait until the last minute to find out what your airline or state/county at destination requires. e content

Pet Q&A with Dr. K

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School Starts, seasons change....but what about our pets?
Q. With school beginning, our family will start to leave our one year old puppy alone at home for an extended part of each weekday; do you have any recommendations for the best way to limit separation anxiety?
A. Separation anxiety is a big problem when pets are left alone. This results in vocalization (attempts to call the departing figure back), hyperactivity, hyperventilating, salivating, shedding, destructive behavior, and elimination problems. They can also quit eating and become depressed. Gradually acclimating your puppy to being alone is the best preventative. Start with just a few moments of separation, gradually working up to 60-90 minutes. Eventually leave your puppy 3-4 hours and then the entire workday. Keeping your pet occupied with toys (Kong balls work well), leaving the TV on and games will prevent boredom. Until then, hire a pet sitter, take your puppy to a friends or boarding kennel, or consider taking him/her to work with you.

Check our Womens Today Family Fall issue for the rest of Dr. Ks recommendations.

Ask Dr. K - Safety tips for your pet

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Its September and, the temperatures are climbing into the 90s, and your pet has gotten out of the yard and is loose in the neighborhood. What are your main fears?

  • Heat stroke, theres no access to water

  • Dog fight , bite wounds or worse

  • Being hit by a car

  • Getting lost and we cant find him

  • Eating something weight and needing surgery to remove a foreign body

Does your pet have a microchip? Thats the first thing you need to prevent problems if your pet gets lost.
Once youre found your wayward child, make sure he cools down with some water, but not too cold and not too much at one time.

Then make an appointment with your vet to check him out for wounds or a pain in his belly that might indicate hes eating the wrong stuff. Weve done hundreds of Exploratories in our many years of practice: golf balls, underwear, pantyhose, corn cobs, towels, needles,legos, pacifiers and string are just a few of the items weve removed. One client poured gravy on the driveway and by the time their dog ate the gravy mixed with the gravel, surgery was ncessary to empty out the stomach and intestines. What a mess that was.

Prevention is much easier by keeping toys and other objects picked up in the yard and around the house.article content.