When Concerns for Your Pet’s Food Are Too Much to Swallow …

What we feed our pets is an extension of love and nurture. We want to feed the healthiest and tastiest without worrying about the quality of a selected commercially sold product. Recently, concerns for alleged problems with the Purina brand Beneful have boiled over into the media and caused quite a stir. Media attention and “finger pointing” at dog food companies when a pet becomes ill, without proper evidence of the named food being an issue, leads us to have un-necessary doubts and fears about what we pour into our furry friend’s dish… and unnerves the most confident pet parent.

Finding a place to turn for comforting updates can be frustrating to pet owners across the country when an issue is reported with commercial pet foods. Pet parents seeking answers and craving resources to satisfy their concerns for Fido’s well-being have many resources available to provide current, up to date information about animal food products including foods and treats. While calling the veterinary office is a great initial step with any pet related concerns, veterinary staff are managing a lobby full of cases and a loaded schedule which may lead to limited time to relay detailed information. For a complete assessment of pet food problems or recalls, owners can call the product company directly about any concerns or more proactively search the listing of pet food recalls provided online by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can also find current details online from The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) who publishes up to date recalls on pet foods, treats and products on their site for public review. Gain a mouthful of knowledge by searching the following sites and when in doubt about your pet’s well-being, seek an in-hospital veterinary exam and evaluation with your trusted veterinary medical team.



Our pets are more than 4-legged critters...they are members of the family

Our pets are more than 4-legged critters…they are members of the family



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All I Want for Christmas…

Holiday cheer is everywhere – glittering décor, bright lights, smiles and joy! As we prepare our homes for the celebration of family and blessings this December…we must also prepare our homes for not only Santa’s arrival, but the safety of our little Santa’s Helpers! Yes – our little furry friends, feline and canine both, will be just as excited to check out the pretty décor, ornaments, tinsel, the blinking allure of tree lights, and be filled with curiosity about all of those presents under the tree. This holiday, keep dangling décor, gifts, goodies and seasonal cheer up away from your pet’s reach. Already this season we have seen accidents from climbing the holiday tree, trauma from nibbling into the electrical light strand, injury from broken ornaments, ingestion of baking goodies, and are gearing up our emergency team for four December weeks of preventable issues that will be presenting at our Animal ER door.

Santa put the Animal ER on the Nice List this year!

Santa put the Animal ER on the Nice List this year!

Your furry friends are no different than the over-joyed kiddos this time of year – ready to take part in the festivities though it’s our duty to secure the surroundings of home for their protection. When guests visit, take a moment to spread cheer and a warning about those mugs of eggnog and platters of treats…little noses are quick when tempted.

Have a joyous holiday and a safe one at that. All I want for Christmas is a community of healthy pets and happy families! Happy Holidays from the care team here at the Animal ER of NW Houston!

Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well as the 26th  in addition to our standard hours!

~Dr Jennifer Hennessey

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Handful of Tears

Caring for the hearts at both ends of the leash…a veterinarian’s job doesn’t stop at the pet but encompasses caring for the entire family.  From minor illnesses and sometimes devastating traumas, my job and the emotions that flow during any given shift can sometimes feel like I am a passenger on an amusement park ride … thrills, adrenaline and a momentary tincture of relief. My job is filled with ups and downs, sadness and reward, depending on the cases that present through my emergency room door. On any given shift, I find my most trying moments are the somber times of the pet’s loss. With a doctorate from veterinary school and the education obtained in the classrooms there I am prepared for the challenges of diagnosis and treating. I have also since graduation recognized and embraced  my calling of caring for critters in crisis. The talent of healing critical illness and the skill set to turn life-threatening into “bouncing out the door” has developed from over 15 years of practice and experience. But today, despite handling case after case, I recognize the most trying times are those behind that syringe, holding the paw of someone’s beloved pet, and my emotions and heart synchronized with the owner’s as they cope with the sudden grief and helplessness of losing their furry friend.

Pets provide an endless, unexplained devoted love that teaches us how we should be caring and treating other human beings. Pets are present through our toughest and greatest life moments and when it’s their time to go, suddenly we are faced by the reality of life’s preciousness; the sometimes sharp pain of the reality that we can not control and hold onto those that we love which stings with a reminder that we must take nothing for granted. With each explanation of the euthanasia process, my owners stare at me sometimes with denial and disbelief in the event about to occur. My duty is to gently send this amazing and innocent pet into a peaceful passing with dignity and love yet after countless euthanasias, I still catch a moment to compose and feel sadness. Tonight is no different, a process that some could perform without any hesitation, still has me in grief as I hide my emotions and again set another furry life off to a better place. My heart hurts for the family as I support them with comforting words aiming to remove their thoughts of guilt or confusion. I am committed each day to deliver care with compassion; empathy for the individuals who weep as my hand reaches for that final injection.

I am a veterinarian. I care for  individuals, 2-legged and 4, as if they are apart of my own family. My responsibility to care for and guide families through the toughest moments of all is a precious gift …that often leaves me holding a paw and a handful of tears.

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Regarding Ebola and Our Pets

In recent news, the developments with the Ebola virus infection has everyone looking for and asking questions about the risks to themselves and their loved ones. I sit here looking into the deep brown eyes of my Angel, and thinking like an owner rather than a veterinarian, I feel sad about the recent news of a dog in Spain who lost it’s life for being in contact with a positive Ebola patient. I feel concerned for the unnecessary anxieties and worries now that my clients and pet owners across the nation will unfortunately feel regarding the safety of themselves and the potential risks our pets may or may not pose with this illness.

Everything we know about the Ebola virus and dogs extends from the large outbreak in Africa in 2001 when over 400 dogs were exposed; exposure equals access and contact however and nothing more. While dogs have demonstrated positive antibody development (meaning their bodies are responding as if infected) they are a dead-end host meaning they do not appear to transmit or spread the virus. Dogs as well do not develop illness when exposed to the virus. Our pets are innocent by-standers that may witness this ugly epidemic but at this time need to be regarded as low risk factors. At the current time, the US Center of Disease Control  and Prevention (CDC) has stated there are “no reports of pets becoming sick” or “playing a role in the transmission of Ebola to humans”. With the understandable concerns for the development of this serious viral disease, especially following the recent positive test of the Dallas healthcare worker, I encourage pet owners to rest assured that their dogs are not apart of this public illness issue. Although as cat people know, the cat would find being considered equal to anything regarding a canine as an insult, cats are likely equal in the low risk population (though none have been evidently exposed).

If your furry family member becomes ill please seek evaluation with a veterinarian though feel assured that Ebola is not a topic of concern in our veterinary offices.

I will keep on top of any breaking news developments with Ebola with pets and report here to you if information changes or details unveil anything further. haley

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Food for Thought

Recently, dog food marketing  trends and fads of what’s best and healthiest have led to a feeding frenzy. The overwhelming question we all ponder as we stroll up and down multiple rows of pet food…what’s the reason for all of the options along with price variation? How does a pet owner make a smart selection before being consumed by an overwhelming frustration and confusion?

After a week’s worth of evaluation and investigation outside of the Animal ER, I experienced confusion, intrigue, and at the bottom line…discovered the dilemma that many pet owners face – how do I feed my pet without unreasonably breaking the bank?

Great Day Houston with Deborah Duncan July 2014

Great Day Houston with Deborah Duncan July 2014

Watch my interview on Great Day Houston as I discus pet food basics


Today, families care and regard their pets as family members which means that the preferred helping found in Fido’s dish is now commonly a reflection of what’s on the dinner table. The truth of feeding should primarily be a focus on your carnivorous companion’s health and should stem from a diet that is created to match what Fido would naturally find appetizing and “typical” for the species. Caution must be taken when tempted to devulge your pet in the tasty goods from your personal dinner plate as well as caution when selecting a diet sold as “human grade” or with ingredients that match a human eating style such as peas, berries, and ingredients that are not normally consumed by ancestors of your preferred four legged friend. Buying food should be uncomplicated and affordable. Feeding a companion today should start with buying a food with a common commercial brand name, ensuring that your first ingredient is a protein and that the cost of the food does not exceed the budget or… cost significantly more that the foods on a restaurant menu! To add more information to the mix, corn and byproducts are often coined as unnecessary evils in your pet’s meal plan whereas they are quite the opposite. Corn, corn gluten meal, and protein byproducts offer a nutritious benefit to your pet’s foods so spending money to cut them out of the recipe, is often unncessary unless guided specifically by your veterinarian.

Without chewing up specific brand names or pet food manufacturing companies, a piece of advice is overall to buy a product that is not sold as “gourmet” or “premium”,  as the more marketable the label reads, the more leary one should become stopping to question if the food is more propaganda versus value.

Picking out a pet food can be as expensive and complicated as you make it but my advice…shop for the best nutrients for the budget and let the creativity in ingredients of the manufacturing marketeers be something for them to chew on before it eats a hole in your wallet.

Dr Jen Hennessey



For detailed advice on feeding your pet, contact your veterinarian for recommendations on selecting quality and a balanced, smart food choice and steer clear of advice from the sources and opinions selling the foods until you have the full scoop on what to be looking for amongst their shelves.


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Sago Palm Toxicity – A Pretty Yet Poisionous Plant

Sago Palm Plant

Spring is here! Before exercising your green thumb, learn more about what’s safe to plant in your pet’s yard. Many beautiful plants might be hazardous to your dogs and cats. The Sago palm plant is one particular tropical plant that should be excluded from any pet accessible landscape.

All parts of the Sago palm, a cycad plant, are poisonous if ingested but the seeds or “nuts” contain the largest amount of a toxin called cycasin. Even though the plant is covered with sharp spikes, your pet will not consider them a reasonable deterrent for their curious taste buds. Often times, Owner’s will find that out of all the plants and greenery in the yard, the single Sago palm is what their pet cannot resist chewing on. Unfortunately, pets can suffer from serious to fatal complications after ingesting this beautiful plant. This sad tragedy could easily be prevented by avoiding the plant all together. Familiarizing yourself with what the Sago palm looks like is essential to identifying it and avoiding its accidental incorporation into your yard. Most Sago palms are not labeled and simply are sold as a small palm tree. Ingestion of a small portion of the plant or seed can potentially lead to very serious effects, which include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures, liver failure and death. Many of the pets seen by veterinarians for Sago palm ingestion die within 7-10 days following plant ingestion due to liver failure. If the ingestion is caught immediately, see your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can try various methods of detoxification and start liver health supplements which may save your pet’s life!

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a list of toxic and nontoxic plants on their webpage at http://www.aspca.org. Unearthing new information on your future yard greenery is the best plan for insuring a great Spring for you and your pet!

Jennifer Hennessey, DVM, CVJ

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When Your Pet Needs Emergency Medical Care

By Jennifer Hennessey, DVM, CVJ

Your beloved pet can become ill or suffer an accidental trauma at any time. During those times when your family veterinarian’s office is closed, there will be a local animal emergency clinic open, waiting to care for your pet. Before an emergency arises, plan ahead and locate your area emergency veterinary clinic and discuss emergency care options with your family veterinarian.  Financial preparations, such as an animal emergency savings fund or pet insurance, may also help you afford the cost of urgent care if it’s needed.

Knowing what to expect upon arrival the Animal ER will help your visit go more smoothly and reduce the stress of your “already stressful” situation. If possible, call the emergency clinic before you take your pet there and describe your pet’s symptoms. The staff can advise whether or not to bring your pet in immediately. Your call will also alert the emergency clinic about your pet’s circumstance which allows them time to prepare for immediate treatment upon your arrival (if needed).

Prepare to take along a form of payment, your ID card, and your pet’s medical records. Upon arrival to the emergency clinic, your pet will be assessed to decide if there is any immediate life threatening issues and if your pet needs to be seen before another patient. The “triage” system will be implemented, as in a human ER, which will place pets at risk of immediate death ahead of other sick pets. Be aware that it is not uncommon to wait 1-4 hours to see the emergency veterinarian for an exam and consultation. All pets are important to the emergency clinic and the pet care team. They will try to see your pet as soon as possible.

After a full veterinary exam has been done for your pet, the vet will discuss exam findings as well as their diagnostic and treatment plans with you. Depending on the type of testing and/or treatments recommended, you should be prepared for at least a 1-2 hour wait for these tasks to be completed. The emergency vet may recommend that your pet stay in the hospital overnight or for a few days for further observation.

When your pet becomes ill or hurt, contact your veterinarian or your emergency clinic right away. Taking the time to plan for an emergency with your pet while they are healthy is the key to reducing unnecessary distress should an accidental illness occur.

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Off on the Right Paw…Puppy Fitness Basics

By Jennifer Hennessey, DVM, CVJ

Puppies, not unlike toddlers, benefit on numerous levels from daily exercise. Regular exercise activities will create a happier dog and also reduce bothersome behaviors like digging, hyperactivity, destructive chewing, etc. Understanding the basics of proper puppy fitness and physical training is essential, not only to help your puppy develop properly, but also to reduce risk of injury.

Regardless if your puppy is a family pet or a future athlete, you must take into consideration your dog’s size, breed and age when selecting between play activities and rigorous exercise.  Exercise activities can be categorized as either self-paced or forced exercise.  Examples of forced exercise include leashed jogging, excessive frisbee or ball play, and long walks. Puppies should not experience forced exercise until over 6 months of age. Puppy fitness at this early age should be completed at their own pace such as running freely with the option to sit or rest when needed. Your little friend has boundless energy and can easily overwork his young body and joints. Developing an age appropriate exercise plan will allow for a safe and smart way to develop your puppy’s inner athlete without risking joint/bone stress.

Age-Appropriate Puppercise

If less than 6 months of age:

  • Start with a consistent routine of obedience training and short duration, non-forced exercise
  • Rule of thumb on training at this age: exercise for 5 minutes per month of age twice daily (i.e. 20 minutes/session for a 4 month old pup)
  • Obedience work at this age will set the foundation for a better future relationship between you and your pet

Puppies 6+ months of age:

  • Initiate strength training such as learning to shake or wave a forepaw, sitting up  to beg, standing on hind limbs and balancing, running off-leash and tugging
  • Typical strength training exercises can be completed in small spaces, such as in your living room, and strengthen forelimbs, back/core body, and rear leg muscles

Puppies 14+ months of age:

  • Now that the growth plates have closed, start endurance training and high impact exercise including jumping and running.
  • If your pet is neutered or spayed, it is recommended to wait until 20 months of age due to delayed growth plate closure. Experiencing too much rigorous exercise before growth plates close can lead to long-term joint/bone issues.

Fitness Fun!

Time spent training your puppy is rewarding and strengthens that special bond between you and your pet.  Motivation to work with your pet will come easy when you consider your pet’s fitness activities as part of game time. Most importantly, remember to always use positive re-enforcement techniques when working with your furry friend.

Safety First!

Remember to seek advice from your pet’s veterinarian about overall fitness abilities and appropriate activities. Avoid overtraining your little friend with the same routine to prevent boredom and improve overall muscle development. Keep in mind when working with your pet that hard, hot pavement or loose unstable surfaces may result in injury. As a puppy parent, your job is to look after your pup’s best interest as you would for a child. Restrict exercise immediately after eating and regulate exercise by allowing or enforcing resting times. Dogs that overplay or work during hot, humid conditions are susceptible to heatstroke therefore be aware of the weather before starting outdoor activities.

Raising a puppy is an exciting and unique experience. Exercise and physical training will create a happy and healthy pet thus providing a win-win for the whole family.

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Make It a Paws-itively Perfect Spring

By Jennifer Hennessey, DVM, CVJ

After being cooped up all winter, it’s time to enjoy the outdoors!  As the weather begins to warm up, both you and your pet will soon be finding yourselves outside enjoying the spring weather. And, while warmer weather may mean fun in the sun, there are many safety tips to consider ensuring a safe, enjoyable spring season!

As we prepare to shed our coats during the warmer temperatures, remember that your pet still adorns theirs. If you have a dog whose breed has a long, thick coat such as Golden Retriever, consider scheduling a springtime pampering session with a groomer.  A spring clip will help your pooch stay cool and will reduce the chances of overheating.  With the warm, muggy days ahead, keep your pet’s outdoor time limited and slowly increase their exposure/activities outdoors.  Our pets need to acclimate to the changing weather in order to effectively and safely adapt to the demands of hotter weather. Heat stroke is not just a summer emergency! Heat stroke incidence is actually high in the spring due to the sudden long days in the sun after the cooler winter months.  While outdoors, make sure your pet has plenty of available shade, breeze and fresh water.

Spring time means cleaning time! As we begin home cleaning regimes, use caution with any cleaning products that may come in contact with your pet. Keep cleaning products out of reach from your pet. Liquids may accidently be licked or ingesting which can lead to severe illness or death. Chemicals that contact skin/hair can be irritating and painful. And, just because a product is labeled as “natural” or “green” does not indicate that it’s safe for your pet.  Also, keep your pet in mind during spring yard and garden improvements. Use caution, or better yet just avoid, fertilizers and pesticides. Many plants, though eye pleasing, are toxic to dogs and cats so research your landscaping décor before planting. Use caution with indoor plants and flowers, especially lilies, especially if you have cats.

Along with the beautiful flowers, birds and butterflies, warmer weather also brings pesky insects and parasites to your yard and pet. See your family veterinarian for flea, tick and heartworm prevention.  If you wait until you have parasite problems, the issue becomes more costly and difficult to control.

What a great time of year! Play and plan smartly for your four-legged friends and help them have a safe, fun spring!

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