Dr. Karel

Sep 112013

Here is an excellent explanation of why canned/wet food is the best for cats from Lisa Pearson:

“Cats have a low thirst drive and are designed to get their water needs met by their prey or food bowl. Canned food (vs dry kibble) promotes urinary tract health and optimal systemic hydration which is especially critical for cats with kidney insufciency. See Opie’s pictures at catinfo.org -

Urinary Tract Health page – for a look at the suffering that water- depleted diets very often contribute to. Please do not fall into the trap that so many people do by engaging in wishful thinking and assuming that your cat makes up the water defcit at the water bowl. Many studies have shown that when all water sources are considered (food and water bowl), cats eating dry food – even the “good drinkers” – consume ~50% the amount of water that a cat on canned food consumes. This is in spite of the fact that cats on water-rich diets rarely go to the water bowl.”

Thank you Lisa!

Mar 262013

It is Easter time and one subject dear to my heart is rabbit care. I often warn about the temptations to buy that sweet little bunny or chick in the pet store at Easter. The live “Easter Bunny” indulgence leads to a great deal of suffering and pain for rabbits because most people do not realize how long the commitment to care for a rabbit is; many of the Easter rabbits are abandoned or surrendered to shelters which creats an overpopulation of rabbits in need of homes. All the while, most rabbit breeders and pet store employees can tell customers nothing about the proper care of these amazing animals. In fact, pet stores will often display rabbits in a cage with cedar shavings as bedding. A rabbit exposed to cedar fumes can develop respiratory problems and, worse, develop kidney disease and failure leading to death. But the pet store owner will happily sell customers cedar bedding for the rabbits. Ignorance is rampant. Clay kitty litter, ingested by rabbits, will block their intestinal tract so it is not an option. Fortunately, there are plenty of paper-based or cellulose bedding products now to keep your bunny safe.

I have a soft spot for rabbits because my rabbit Boodles, who died young many years ago, opened my eyes to how ill-informed I was on his care. In fact, it was the grief over Boodles’ death that led me to abandon a career in business to return to veterinary school and become a vet. I have dedicated many hours learning about rabbit health and have made it a point to educate people on their proper care.  Here is a picture of a class of elementary school kids who took the time to learn about rabbit care from me and my rabbit Harriet.   Harriet_edu3

Harriet is a house rabbit and lives peacefully with the dogs and the cats. She has a collar with a tag and a microchip like the others. She is litter box trained and has her own collection of toys. She has an ample supply of fresh timothy hay and fresh vegetables. The best nutrition products for rabbits are produced by Oxbow. Oxbow produces a rabbit kibble and hay products that are a great base for their diet. In addition, plenty of leafy green vegetables, such as dandelion greens, arugula, parsley and beet tops are a necessary addition.  Limited spinach, kale and carrots are a healthy treat for them. To keep their teeth trimmed, safe chew toys are required and help keep your house safe from the rabbit’s need to chew. Apple branches are a great chew toy for rabbits. I use hay, not cedar shavings, for my rabbit’s litter tray. Fresh hay for eating (a very very important part of their diet) on one side and a well-defined corner for their toilet. Some vegetables and fruit are not good for rabbits and yard plants are potentially dangerous. A great resource for all things rabbit and a wonderful adoption resource is the House Rabbit Society at  http://rabbit.org . The site has great information on healthy diets, toxic plants and substances, tips on husbandry, a list of rabbit friendly vets and lots of info on their care.


Buy a Bunny a Little Time
Mar 102013

Cats love tuna fish!

Photo: Erin Berkeley Marr

There are very few who don’t. Why is fish, as a staple diet for cats, dangerous?  Fish contains an enzyme called Thiaminase. This enzyme breaks down Thiamine, an essential vitamin also known as B-1.  If cats are fed mainly fish, either as tuna or in pet food that is not supplemented with Thiamine, they can become very sick. Vitamin B-1/Thiamine is essential for neural health…. it feeds and protects neurons.  If a cat is thiamine deficient, it will develop neurological symptoms and eventually die if its diet is not corrected. Fortunately, cats can recover from this if they get proper care and a well-balanced diet.  Recently, several pet food companies have recalled their cat food because it was deficient in Thiamin (most recently, today in fact, Diamond Pet Food issued a recall).  Pet food companies must add Thiamine to their fish formulas to compensate for the enzyme and ensure cats get enough Thiamine. It is likely their food was tested and found to have inadequate levels.  I like to give the pet food companies credit for doing the right thing by recalling their foods; it shows they are testing and following through.

Along those lines, a pet peeve of mine are pet food companies who market “cat food”, mostly canned food, that is “all tuna” and “100% Natural Chicken”.  If shoppers are not careful and aware, they often assume this is a complete diet for their cat. IT IS NOT! Many companies do not make it clear that this is designed to be a TREAT and not be the cat’s main diet. The words to look for on the label are the following:


or variations on that statement. Even better, a pet food company will test its food via feeding trials to ensure they are healthy, as shown on this label. For growing kittens, it is best to find a diet formulated for their age and that should be stated in the AAFCO statement.


AAFCO guidelines aren’t perfect and are in need of updating, but they are the best we have at the moment. So please read labels and be aware that there are a lot of companies jumping on the pet food band wagon who neither have the expertise nor the resources to ensure that the products they are producing/marketing are healthy and complete for your pet. Good nutrition is important for your cat’s long term health.

Jan 122013

Jana Rade, and her dog Jasmine, have launched a “Show Off Your Dog’s Waistline” to bring better awareness to the problem of pet obesity. Obesity contributes to many health problems and as our loved ones get older, keeping the weight off contributes to their overall quality of life.

My dog, Flash, has volunteered to show off her trim waistline for the cause. I rescued Flash at 4 months after she was found by animal control officers with a tight rubber band around her muzzle and severe burns on her body having been doused with gasoline and set on fire. She is now approaching 17 years old and although she shows the scars of her trauma, she is in excellent shape and is proud to join Jasmine’s cause.

Show off your dog’s beautiful body and post pictures on Jana’s site.


Join the cause! I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Dec 162012

As I watch my favorite programs on TV, I shake my head at the amount of money spent to advertize pet food. Most ads are geared to convince you that their food is the “best” for your loved one and that you could do nothing better than to feed their food to your pet. These foods, while maybe not the best nutrition for your pet, they are probably ok as basic animal nutrition. However, what really makes me cringe are the vague claims the manufacturers make. For instance, there is a major, and I mean MAJOR, cat food brand that is sold mostly in grocery stores airing commercials with the following claim:

“…. With the highest amount of protein!”

Current knowledge of feline nutrition emphasizes the importance of high levels of protein with low amounts of carbohydrates. Cats are strict carnivores and, unlike dogs, have metabolisms that require mostly protein and the amino acids that come with it. So the commercial of the pet food manufacturer that claims it has the highest amount of protein is appealing to your interest in following this advice.

However, ask yourself what “the highest amount of protein” means. The highest amount compared to what? Here is the information on the package label:

Guaranteed Analysis: Protein: Min. 35.0%, Crude Fat: Min. 13.0%, Crude Fiber: Max. 4.0%, Moisture: Max. 12.0%, Linoleic Acid: Min. 1.4%, Calcium: Min. 1.0%, Phosphorus: Min. 0.8%, Zinc: Min. 150 mg/kg, Vitamin A: Min. 11,000 IU/kg, Vitamin E: Min. 150 IU/kg, Taurine: Min. 0.1%, Glucosamine*: Min. 400 mg/kg, Chondroitin Sulfate*: Min. 300 mg/kg


35% protein in a dry cat food is not particularly high. Pretty average, really. What is more telling is the ingredient list. By law, the ingredient list is listed in order of highest percent of total first. In this food the first four ingredients are chicken by-product meal, ground corn, corn gluten meal and animal fat (no telling what animal’s fat). So, the major protein source is chicken? Well, not necessarily. It is from chicken by-products made into meal (not necessarily bad, by the way) and probably corn gluten. They don’t tell you how the 35% breaks down. But the pet food company’s commercial implies they have the “highest” protein, implying that it is the major ingredient when it is not. There is a heck of a lot of corn, wheat and rice. So, the commercial is terribly misleading. I will hazard a guess that if we asked the pet food company to explain “highest” they will say “higher than our previous products” which were not very high to begin with.

Let’s compare this cat food to a food that I consider a very high quality, high protein, low carb (no grain) dry cat food. Here is what is on their package label:

Guaranteed Analysis: 
Crude Protein (min): 50.0%
Crude Fat (min): 22.0%
Crude Fiber (max): 2.8%
Moisture (max): 10.0% Calcium (min): 2.99%
Phosphorus (min): 1.654%
Vitamin E (min): 212.1 IU/kg
*Vitamin C* (min): 50 mg/kg
*Omega 6 Fatty Acids (min): 3.69%
*Omega 3 Fatty Acids (min): 0.684%, Carotene: 11.29 mg/kg, Vitamin A: 21753 IU/kg , Vitamin D: 1591 IU/kg…etc

: Chicken Meal, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid), Tapioca, Salmon Meal, Natural Chicken Flavor, Pumpkinseeds, ….etc.
Visit the Ingredient Glossary to learn about each ingredient.

Protein is a whopping 50%. The first four ingredients are chicken meal, chicken fat, tapioca, and salmon meal. Tapioca is a source of starch (carbohydrate) which is described in their glossary of ingredients (provided on their website) as “… an all natural ingredient that is extracted from the root of the cassava plant via a series of washing, peeling, grating, and drying steps, a process that removes any cyanogenic glycosides. Tapioca is a unique, 98% digestible, grain-free, gluten-free starch…” Further down the ingredient list are freeze dried chicken, turkey, turkey liver, turkey heart. Also included are cottage cheese and chicken, duck, pheasant and quail eggs. These smaller ingredients are high quality sources of protein. Besides the tapioca, the other source of carbs is a variety of vegetables and fruits such as spinach, broccoli, persimmons and butternut squash.

Clearly, quality proteins make up the 50% protein content with no grains. This is not a “no-carb” product but it includes a variety of carbohydrates that contribute important minerals, vitamins and fiber.

I haven’t named these products because my point here is to highlight the misleading information being fed (pun intended) to you in many pet food company’s glossy, high-cost commercials and advertisements. I encourage everyone to pay attention to the information on their pet’s food package labels and try to interpret the quality of the pet food with the information provided. Not all product labels are good sources of information (some pet food companies are much better than others) so you may need to search on pet food company websites or ask your veterinarian for help.

Nov 222012

Is what you feed your loving companions healthy for them? This is what Bill Good asked me on Tues morning on his show in Vancouver, BC on CKNW AM980. The recent illnesses and deaths of many dogs after they ate chicken jerky treats made in China has prompted many pet guardians to question how safe are the food and treats that many companies sell. How regulated is the pet food industry in Canada and the US? The answers may surprise you. Bill and I had a lively discussion and could answer only a few of the many calls that came in. If you would like to listen to the segment, you can go on-line to iTunes podcasts and listen for free. Here is the link to the Bill Good Show podcasts on iTune. My talk is in the first half of Nov 20th Hour 3. If you have any questions after listening, please contact me. The Bill Good Show Podcast on iTunes

Nov 162012


I arrived in Manhattan, Kansas in an RV filled with four dogs, seven cats, a house rabbit and a parrot – excited about starting my new life as a vet student. My dogs included Flash ,4 year old shepherd mix who had been abused as a puppy, Parker, an 11 year old Golden Retriever who I rescued from a life of neglect, Dougie a 5 year old Chihuahua-pug mix, and Molly, an 8 year old pug.

Parker, the Golden, was a sweet, gentle, wonderful dog who, during my sophomore year in vet school, died after surgery to remove a hemangiosarcoma in his abdomen.

To honor Parker’s memory, I rescued a one-year-old female Golden from the Topeka Humane Society.

There were several Goldens at the Shelter and I decided to adopt this girl because she had a bad rap sheet.

Her previous owners was a couple with a young baby. They surrendered the dog because she “chewed through $350 worth of pillows and household items and crapped all over the floor”. Oh my, sounded much like a normal Golden puppy to me but with that record who would adopt her?

I filled out the paperwork and warned the staff that the only reason I would return the dog was if she was an intractable chaser of rabbits or cats; she would have to adjust to life with the Carnohan tribe.

I drove her home and she marched into the house, flopped down on the kitchen floor and calmly let the cats and the rabbit check her out. She was going to be just fine. After treating her gastroenteritis causing the runs, never giving her the chance to chew the pillows by crate training her and giving her chew toys, Mango became a well-behaved member of the family.

I had always been a cat person and my dog experience was relatively new – pretty much the result of working at an emergency clinic preparing for vet school. Flash, Parker, Dougie and Molly were never destructive chewers and my collection of Kongs, rope toys, stuffed animals and a various assortment of rawhide chews seemed to be safely enjoyed by my pooches. Then along came Mango.

Mango was a chewer.

She loved going at her toys with unabashed vigor; I was pleased she destroyed her toys and not the couch cushions, although one or two bit the dust. She quickly killed the stuffed squeaky toys. I bought new ones and within five minutes each one was dead. I had the common sense at that point to get rid of the plushies but I didn’t suspect that the rope toys would cause any trouble – they were hard as rocks and indestructible. Little did I know.

As freshmen vet students, there were no classes Friday afternoon and you were encouraged to don your freshman scrub top, identifying you as a rank beginner, and spend the afternoon in the clinic observing, learning and getting your first look at what to expect in three years. Not being as young as some of my classmates who liked to blow off steam on Friday afternoons in Aggieville, I didn’t miss a Friday in the clinic. I loved it. I loved watching surgeries.

My favorite professor was a wonderful man, a top-notch surgeon, named Dr. Dennis Olsen. He was a marvelous teacher and whenever he was behind the glass in a surgery and would see me, he would wave me in so I could observe first-hand. I would don the hair net, the mask, the booties and the gown and watch this man perform what I could only think of as miracles for hours every Friday. I learned so much from Dr. Olsen and had the utmost respect for his passion for teaching.

One day, Mango began vomiting and stopped eating.

After multiple bouts of her vomiting and me seeing a young dog not looking very happy, I took her into the clinic. The clinicians, along with the 4th year students,, worked her up.

Radiographs were taken and it showed something in her stomach…. a gnarly, amorphous blob filling it up.

I made every attempt to learn as I fretted about my dog’s fate and readily agreed that Dr. Moore, our expert with the endoscope, should attempt to pull out whatever was in Mango’s stomach, saving her from surgery. It was worth a shot.

Mango was anesthetized and wheeled into the scope room where Dr. Moore began to guide an endoscope probe with a prong at the end into Mango’s throat.

This prong looked like one of those tools to grab light bulbs too high to change by hand, only smaller and stainless steel. The room was filled with technicians, students, interns and residents. We were all intently watching the TV screen as the probe travelled down Mango’s esophagus. Everyone was taking bets (no money involved – vet students are poor) as to what exactly the blob in Mango’s stomach was: a dishtowel had top votes, a sock, underwear (Oh, I really hoped it wasn’t that), a stuffed toy…..just what?

Dr. Moore arrived at the stomach and we all looked at the screen and saw a jumbled mass of …… no one could really tell.

There was some grass, we could see that. Dr. Moore grabbed the blob , made sure she had a good grip, and began to gently pull, trying to guide the mass through the opening of the stomach and up the esophagus. She was having a difficult time; it wouldn’t budge. She tried re-gripping and pulling from different angles but no luck. Finally, she announced that the scope wasn’t going to work and started to remove the probe. Only, the probe wouldn’t come out…. it was stuck! She kept trying but she could not get the probe out.

A quick call to surgery….. get a surgical team ready to go and a suite ready….Mango was going directly to surgery!

Now, through all this, Dr. Moore is telling everyone how expensive that probe is, thousands of dollars, and that it needed to be protected from any damage. I am sweating bullets worried about Mango and now, the probe. It wouldn’t be a good start to my career to be the student whose dog destroyed an expensive endoscope probe.

So here I am, handed the end of said expensive probe sticking out of Mango’s mouth, now free of the endoscope, as the dog is wheeled through the clinic halls towards surgical prep, closely followed by Dr. Moore (continually exhorting me to be careful with the probe) and about a dozen students and doctors.

All eyes were on this entourage and I am dying, just dying.

As Mango is being prepped for surgery, who comes out of the scrub room but Dr. Olsen. If I hadn’t had both hands gripping the probe and he hadn’t been scrubbed and sterile, I would have given him a big bear hug. His kind eyes looked at me from behind his mask , and then he looked at the dog, then at me again and said “You’re assisting me, right?” My stress and fear disappeared and I replied “Of course”.

The entourage was still a buzzing mass outside the surgical suite looking in through the glass windows. Dr. Olson calmly instructed a technician to take over holding the probe as I gowned up. The first order of business was to open the stomach and carefully disentangle the probe’s fingers and gingerly hand it back to Dr. Moore. Whew, at least that was done. Now, we could focus on saving Mango.

Dr. Olsen began to explore the blob in Mango’s stomach, now exposed.

He gently moved it and revealed a large, mass of cotton string intertwined with a great amount of grass. Mango had tried to resolve her stomach ache by eating grass. The grass had mixed with……. oh it dawned on me….it was the rope toy.

However, it didn’t look like the nice tight rope I remembered; it had expanded into a Medusa-like chaotic mess.

As Dr. Olsen explored further, he discovered that this mass of string continued its tangled chaos through the pyloris and into the small intestine. He couldn’t pull the mass out because it might do a lot of damage to Mango’s intestine. This is what is called a “linear foreign body” and it is very dangerous because it has the potential of doing a great deal of damage to the intestines which are continually contracting to try and move its contents along. Dr. Olsen ran the intestine (carefully examining the length of the intestine in a disciplined orderly way) and determined that this linear foreign body was potentially quite long. He made the first incision in the small intestine a few inches below the pyloris and cut the “rope” to remove part of it. He proceeded to make eight more incisions before he announced that Mango’s gut was free of her rope toy.

With 9 incisions and a stomach to close, it took another hour to finish the surgery. We were exhausted.

Mango made a full recovery and I purged my house of rope toys, rawhides and plushies, restricting Mango to large Nylabones , Kongs and beef knuckle bones.

She went to surgery one more time a while later.

We were visiting my sister, who had small dogs with small toys, and I didn’t think to pick them up before it was too late. But Mango lived another 11 years, healthy, happy and never again needed to go to surgery until last Summer when we discovered she had a mass in her abdomen. However this time it wasn’t her fault; it was cancer and she passed having lived a great life.

I learned my lesson the hard way about dog products and warn my clients about dangerous toys.

Each client knows his dog best and some dogs are fine with rope toys and plushies and never shred them. However, if they shred at all, consider the risk and think of Mango and me with the endoscope wheeling down the clinic hall.

My vet school experience with Mango also went a long way to forge my knowledge about handling abdominal symptoms.

If I had waited much longer, Mango could have died.

It is important not to wait long before taking your dog or cat to the vet when he shows signs of something wrong; vomiting, especially vomiting with nothing coming up, is a sign of several serious and life-threatening conditions including bloat and foreign bodies.

I have seen the sad result of clients who wait when the veterinarian suggests an exploratory abdominal surgery, only to have their beloved pet die.

Veterinarians’ diagnoses are limited to the information they have and radiographs and ultrasounds can only tell them so much. We were taught in school never to be afraid to suggest exploratory surgery, if the patient can handle it.

Most of the time, surgery gives the surgeon a clear view of the problem and it gives him/her the option to take biopsies.

It sometimes exposes other problems that were not obvious.

With blood work and exams, a veterinarian can determine how safe it is to perform surgery and carefully weigh the risks involved.

It is often safer to do surgery than to “wait and see what happens”.

I had a client who brought in her dog on emergency for vomiting , lethargy and inappetence. The exam, radiographs and the blood work didn’t tell us anything but the owner suspected a foreign body. I suggested an exploratory even though we really didn’t know what was going on. I explained my reasoning and the client agreed.

We opened the dog up to find massive ulcers in his stomach.

Not only did we get an immediate answer, we were able to take biopsies, check the rest of his abdomen, and best of all, we were able to directly place six to ten sulcralfate pills into the stomach (a medication that coats the stomach and goes a long way to help ulcers to heal). We sent the dog home on antacids and he made a full recovery.

The owner was very happy she made the decision. So was I.


Jan 042011

Litter Box Logistics

As a proud caretaker of twelve fabulous felines, I am constantly battling managing their litter boxes, unused and used cat litter, where to put 12 boxes (one for every cat is recommended) and the all too frequent missing of the target.

I have tried covered boxes, large boxes, wee wee pads, rugs, boxes in closets, boxes in corners, not to mention the strategically placed shop vacs for easy clean-up. I even designed my new house here in Vancouver to make it easier for the cats and me on a day to day basis.

Cat Litter Research

Needless to say, I have a keen interest in kitty litter. One on-going research project, using my own cats as guinea pigs, is trying all the various litter products now on the market.

Thank goodness for demand for better products, because an improved supply is entering the market. At the moment, I have 4 wood-based products, a cellulose litter and a clay litter on trial.

I used to use wood pellets made for pellet stoves and may try this product again; it is cheap and I am keen on finding an effective way to either recycle the litter or use it as alternative fuel to heat the clinic or my home. As a former resident of British Columbia’s Cariboo region, I am very familiar with pellet stoves and am eager to design a trial to test the idea.

This type of research will be ongoing and is part of the mission of Animal Nutrition & Wellness Centre.

Good Husbandry: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Hopefully, I will be able to advise and provide services to my clients who have cats, and want to find a better litter and a better way to get rid of it rather than throwing it in the garbage (I know that many of you are just as mistrusting of your plumbing and the claims of litter being “flushable”).

I also hope to provide architectural advice on home design and provide custom products that will make it easier to manage cat litter.

Get Adobe Flash player