Monthly Archives: February 2013


Veterinary medicine has become very sophisticated. Research and development in diagnosing and treating animal disease has enabled general practitioners to do more than eve. And there are veterinary specialists in almost every field imaginable. For example, pets in the Chicago area can receive dialysis for kidney disease or see a radiation oncologist for cancer. But with all of these advancements comes a potentiality hefty price tag. When I graduated veterinary school in 1996 I recall people complaining about how they had to spend hundreds of dollars on their pets. Now those same people are complaining about spending thousands of dollars on their pets.

It’s not a lot of fun but before obtaining a pet you need to make sure you are financially prepared for basic care and emergencies. If you can handle a hit of several thousand dollars then you should be fine. But not everyone is in that position. That is where pet insurance comes in. Currently there are at least 10 different companies out there. So how do you choose which one to get? Reputation is probably the most important factor. Talk to fellow pet owners and ask your vet what their experience is with different insurance companies. Two  things to keep in mind is that there is no one plan that is perfect for everyone and there are always going to be satisfied and dissatisfied customers with each plan.

After reputation the next thing you should look at is benefit schedule. This is the amount of money that the company will reimburse you per incident or illness. I use the word reimburse because the pet owner pays the veterinarian, submits paperwork and invoices to the company then receives a reimbursement check. Comparing companies sometimes can be like comparing apples and oranges. For example, some companies allow an exact cash amount depending on the specific incident while others just give a straight percentage (eg. 80%).

When evaluating specific plans look at preexisting conditions or breed specific exclusions. For example, if you have a pet cat that has had a history of urinary tract infections they may not be covered. Regarding breed specific exclusions, cruciate ligament injuries in large breed dogs may not be covered.

The way I look at it is as a good way to prepare for emergencies. It makes it less stressful to make medical decisions for your pet when the financial pressures are not there. For more information on evaluating pet insurance companies check out:


Funny Dogs & Cats Unconditional Love (1)[1]

In today’s blog I am going to discuss when to see a veterinary specialist. But first I’d like to give some background on exactly what qualifies a veterinarian as a specialist. In veterinary medicine there are a number of areas to specialize in including internal medicine, cardiology, surgery, oncology, dermatology, and  neurology to name a few. In fact there are even subspecialties within these groups such as neurosurgery, nephrology and radiation oncology. Specialists are veterinarians that have received additional education and training in their chosen field. Specialists complete and internship and residency in their chosen field after finishing veterinary school. Internships and residencies are available at veterinary medical teaching hospitals and large private referral facilities. Upon completion of a residency a student of a particular specialty must sit for their boards. Upon passing their boards they become “board certified”. In addition to DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), they will have additional credentials after their name, such as ACVIM (diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Medicine) or ACVS (diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Surgery). Now there are veterinarians that are not board certified but focus on certain areas of veterinary medicine. They will often distinguish themselves with the term “Practice Limited to …”. Many of these practitioners are excellent at what they do but it is good to know the difference between them and a board certified doctor.

So, why see a specialist? The first one is kind of a no brainer but you should consider seeing a specialist when your veterinarian recommends it. So a better question is, why would your veterinarian recommend a specialist? As I alluded to before specialists have extensive experience and expertise in their chosen field. They also have diagnostic equipment that your veterinarian may not have. An example would be an endoscope. This is similar to the tool that they use to do colonoscopies on people. It is basically a fiber optic camera that can go into small places, such as then nose, stomach, intestines and bladder. In addition to allowing the doctor to visualize lesions they can take pieces of tissue for biopsy.

What about the cost? Specialists are often more expensive than general practitioners. This is yet another reason to consider pet insurance. But that is a topic for another day. One way to look at it is that going to a specialist may be expensive but it may save money in the long run. An example of this would be a dog with recurrent skin infections. Often a Veterinary Dermatologist can evaluate and treat a patient in an efficient manor decreasing the need for future visits and medications.

Another reason to see a specialist would be to get a second opinion. If you feel like your pet’s problem is not resolving after several visits you should not hesitate to bring it up to him or her. Often they will be happy to point you in the right direction. To read more about a few of the many areas of specialty check out the following sites:,,


Ok. I’m sure by now most of you know that chocolate is poisonous to pets. But what exactly is it that’s in the chocolate that makes it harmful to pets? The primary component is a chemical called Theobromine. The secondary component is caffeine. The amount of these chemicals varies by the type of chocolate. Cocoa powder and baker’s chocolate have the highest content and milk chocolate and while chocolate have the least. The severity of symptoms depends on the type and amount of chocolate consumed and the size of the pet. A Great Dane that eats a brownie may have some mild diarrhea while a Chihuahua that eats an ounce of baker’s chocolate could become terminally ill.

The systems affected by chocolate are the nervous system, cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal system. Pets affected by chocolate toxicosis can have the following symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, seizures and cardiac arrhythmias.

If your pet ingests chocolate call your veterinarian immediately and let them know what type of chocolate was consumed, how much was consumed, when it was consumed and how your pet is acting. If you have it, bring in the container or wrapper that the chocolate came in. If a harmful amount of chocolate was recently ingested your veterinarian may induce vomiting. Often a liquid called activated charcoal is given by mouth to minimize absorption of any chocolate that may have made it past the stomach. If needed supportive treatments such as IV fluids and medications to counteract the effects of the chocolate are administered.

For more information on Chocolate Toxicity check out:

As you can see chocolate can be bad news for our pets. Because of this we recommend a “Keep Out Of Reach” policy with chocolate. Even if they only eat a small amount and don’t get sick they will develop a taste for it and do anything they can to eat it when it’s around.

Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Countryside Animal Clinic.

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(Written with permission from Chloe’s owner)

Chloe is a 9.5 year old female spayed Australian Shepherd. She presented on August 17, 2012 for a hacking cough. As always she was energetic and affectionate when she greeted us. Her heart sounded muffled on exam so we took a chest x-ray (see below):



X rays revealed a large soft tissue mass in front of the heart. Chloe was referred to an internal medicine specialist and a diagnosis of Thymoma was made. A Thymoma is a tumor that develops in the cranial mediastinum, which is the area in front of the heart. Thymomas are more common in larger dogs but can occur in any breed. These tumors can also occur in cats and can be benign or malignant. While both forms can be deadly the malignant form has a faster and more invasive progression.

Treatment options include surgery, medication and radiation therapy. In Chloe’s case we decided to treat with oral medication given at home. It has been 5 ½ months since the diagnosis and Chloe is doing well. She is not coughing and her energy level and appetite are good. Great job Chloe! Keep up the good work!