Category Archives: Veterinary Education

Not as good as you think.

Recently the FDA has warned veterinarians that there may be a correlation with Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and specific ingredients in pet food.   Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the muscles of the heart.  In DCM the muscles weaken, causing the heart to enlarge and not function correctly.  Signs of DCM include lethargy, coughing, difficulty breathing, and episodes of collapse.  Certain breeds such as Cockers, Boxers, Newfoundland, and others are affected due to genetic factors.  However, the FDA has noted DCM in breeds not typically affected.

The common factor in the dogs reported to the FDA – diet.  The dogs were being fed grain free diets with legumes (peas, lentils, etc.) or potatoes as the main ingredients.  Some dogs tested had taurine deficiencies, others did not.  Early reports indicate that the dogs ate these foods as their primary diet for periods ranging from months to years.   The dogs improved when their diet was switched to a balanced diet.  Most of the dogs also needed medication.   At this point the FDA is working with veterinary cardiologists, nutritionists, and manufacturers to determine the underlying cause.

The grain free craze in pet food was started as a marketing plan by certain dog food companies.  There is no scientific evidence that grains cause problems in most dogs.  For the 10% of dogs who have a true food allergy, 95% of those allergies are to a protein source, not a carbohydrate.  If you feel that your dog has a food allergy, please talk to one of our veterinarians so we can develop a plan to address your concerns.  At this point, grain free diets are not worth your dog’s heart.

Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.


It does matter what is in the food bowl.

Dog Eating Steak

Recently a client wrote in asking about feeding human food to dogs. I thought I would take the opportunity to address that, as well as some other nutritional questions we often get. Animal nutrition has come a long way since the days when cats foraged for themselves, horses got fed straight oats, and dogs got what was left over from the plates. When little was understood about animal nutrition, many of our companion animals suffered from a variety of nutritional disorders and diseases. Luckily, I have not had to witness first hand those problems, but they are lurking right around the corner if our pets do not get what they need in the right amounts and ratios. A lot of research, time, and effort from the big companies goes in to making sure the formulas in dog and cat food meet all their nutritional needs. The FDA regulates pet food, and many companies follow the guidelines by AAFCO. If the product is a prescription diet specifically designed to treat a certain disease, even stricter guidelines apply. The manufacturer of the food does matter, as a recent study found that over 50% of the foods found in a pet store have cross contamination of ingredients, and some of the food did not even contain the ingredients listed on the bags (one large, nationally advertised company just lost a major lawsuit in federal court over such an issue). Claims that grains are bad for your pet may apply to some animals with allergies, but is not an across the board recommendation. Adding large amounts of human food on top of the dog food (known as “top dressing”) can throw off the balance of the nutrients in the kibble. Cats also have different nutritional requirements than dogs do, thanks to their unique metabolism.

With recent recalls, some people have resorted to cooking homemade diets for their pets. This can be challenging to get it right, as oils, mineral additives, and multi-vitamins need to be added in the right ratio to assure optimal nutrition. Chocolate, coffee, alcohol, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins, raw yeast products, artificial sweeteners, onions and garlic are just some of the human foods that can be toxic to dogs and cats. Raw diets carry the risk of introducing Salmonella and E. coli into the environment. Just two days ago, I saw a dog with a major allergic reaction after being fed a raw, pasteurized, cow’s milk product.

So what’s a pet owner to do? My recommendation is to stick with a national based company (I have my favorites, and I know the other vets in our practice do as well), and talk to us about your questions and concerns. We want to help your pet live a long and healthy life, and nutrition is a key component to achieving that.

Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.

Home Remedies Can Be Dangerous

Several weeks ago a client decided to administer a home remedy to her dog that was having some GI issues, on the advice of a friend.  Twelve hours later, the dog was dead.  I know this is probably an obvious statement, but cats and dogs are not humans.  They metabolize drugs very differently, and what would be OK for a person, can cause irreparable harm to your pets.  One Tylenol tablet can kill a cat.  The majority of dogs will develop GI ulcers after being given aspirin.  Giving drugs to your pet without the advice of a veterinarian can limit our choice of drugs we can safely use to help your pet.  There are certainly some human drugs that we routinely advise our clients to give their pets, but the dose and frequency are often different than what you or a family member would take.  Please help us by discussing all medications, vitamins, and supplements you have given your pet when you bring your pet into the hospital.  We are always available to answer questions about medications and supplements, so we can make sure to keep your furry family member safe and healthy.

On behalf of the staff of Willow Creek Veterinary Center, have a Happy and Healthy New Year!


Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.

Is your scratching/itchy pet keeping you awake at night?

With late summer and early fall comes the surge in the fall pollen counts.  That means itching, scratching, or biting if your petdog-food-allergies suffers from inhalant allergies.  Dogs and cats show their allergies through their skin, unlike humans who typically suffer with sneezing, runny eyes, and a runny nose.  Spots that are the hallmarks for allergic skin disease (atopy) include the feet, groin, armpits (axilla), and ears.  Secondary skin and ear infections are not uncommon.  Luckily, we now have many options to help your pet.  Antihistamines (Benadryl, hydroxyzine, etc.), combination drugs, allergy testing and desensitization, drugs to block cell receptors, and of course steroids.  Each choice has benefits and side effects.  Once one of our veterinarians has determined that your pet suffers from atopy, we can work together to find the best solution for both you and your pet. pet-dermatology

Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.

Does Your Furry Companion Suffer from Noise Phobias?

As we head into the warmer months, many dogs will experience problems from noise phobia associated with thunderstorms and/or fireworks.dogs and fireworks  Stress can manifest itself as barking, drooling, heavy panting, trembling, house soiling, and hiding.  Some dogs can become so stressed that they will run, and I have even witnessed the aftermath of dogs breaking through doors and windows during panic attacks.

There are many things that you as a pet owner can do to help your dog with their noise phobia.

products5Thundershirts are a brand of garment that help some dogs calm down by providing compression to the torso.  Behavior modification can be tried.  You ignore the symptoms of the stress, and only reward the dog when they remain calm.  You can try playing audio recordings of storms or fireworks, gradually increasing the volume while continuing to praise calm behavior.  If the behavior is still severe, Zylkene is a new anxiety drug that is based on milk proteins that can be used for anxiety in the short or long term.  For animals where Zylkene does not seem to help, other anxiety drugs are available, but may take weeks to become effective.  Unfortunately, some dogs may need a mild sedative to help keep them safe during periods of loud noises.  As always, our veterinarians are here to help and guide you on the best solutions for your pet.

Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.

Canine Influenza

The recent outbreak of canine influenza in the Midwest has made headlines as over 1,000 dogs have been affected.  I thought I would review what we know about the outbreak.  This strain of influenza is caused by the H3N2 virus.  It is an airborne virus, but can be passed on hands, clothing, and bowls.  4 out of 5 dogs exposed will become sick.  Symptoms begin 2 to 4 days after exposure.  Symptoms last for 2 weeks.

Dogs cough, have a high fever, runny nose and eyes, sore throat, decreased appetite and lethargy.  sick-pet

The virus can last on hands for 12 hours, and 24 hours on clothing.  Unlike the human influenza virus, there is no evidence that this is seasonal.  Treatment is symptomatic, as there is no treatment for the virus.  10% of the dogs may go on to develop pneumonia, which would be treated with antibiotics.  The current influenza vaccine does not prevent this outbreak of influenza, as it is a different virus.  Currently, this has not spread outside the Midwest area, but obviously care is needed if you take your dog to dog shows or events where people and their dogs are traveling from out of state.  If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s health, please do not hesitate to contact our staff so we can answer your questions.

Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.

Just Another Fad?

Lucky catRecently we have noticed an alarming trend in our patients.  The current fad in nutrition is the high protein, no grain formulas touted by big companies with even bigger marketing budgets.  While limited grains may be appropriate for dogs and cats with food allergies or other medical issues, there is no scientific proof that grains are bad for animals in general.  In the past year we have had multiple patients that are on such diets develop urinary problems, including kidney and bladder stones.  A balanced diet is the key to good nutrition for your pets as well as yourself.  There are plenty of diets available to support your pet’s nutritional needs without resorting to the latest “fad diet”.  Please feel free to discuss your pet’s nutritional needs with one of our veterinarians on your next visit.

Ann Bastian, V.M.D. Dog Eating Steak

Happy New year to you and your family.  As we start the year, I wanted to make you aware of some changes you will see the next time you bring your pet in for their annual exam.  Based on our most recent understanding of the immune system and vaccines, Willow Creek will be changing how we administer vaccines.  The changes are in line with the recommendations of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association.  Rabies is required by Pennsylvania state law, and will be administered as required.  Certain vaccines will be considered core vaccines, meaning that all animals should be vaccinated for these diseases.  For some of these vaccines, the frequency of administration will be extended, while others will remain the same.  Other vaccines will be based on you and your pet’s lifestyle and risk exposure.  Vaccines are a vital part of maintaining your pet’s health, and the doctors at Willow Creek will help you make educated decisions on what is best for your pet.  As always, your pets and their health are our top concern.

Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.

National Pet Week

May 4-10, 2014 is National Pet Week. This is a chance for all of us to reflect on what our pets bring to our lives. Numerous studies have proven that owning pets is beneficial to our health, from lowering blood pressure and stress, to helping with depression. They protect us, help the physically challenged, provide companionship, and so much more. For me, pets have provided exercise, stress relief, travel opportunities, and a whole group of people I consider my second family. There have been tears and frustrations, but they are far outweighed by the great moments that can never be replaced. My pets have challenged me, while being there through thick and thin. So, to Petey, Molly, Tristan, Ramses, PJ, and Rio, thank you for being part of my life. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.



April is National Heartworm Awareness Month

As winter finally loses her icy grip on the Berks County area, the warm weather heralds the start of another parasite season. One issue that continues to plague the entire country is heartworm. In the last survey conducted, clinics in our area report 1-5 cases per year. We just finished treating a local dog for heartworm in February. Heartworms are a parasite that are carried by mosquitoes. An infected mosquito Fun mosquitobites a dog or cat, transmitting the immature form of the heartworm. The heartworm then develops inside your pet, living there from 2-7 years. Heartworms cause damage to the heart, and vessels leading to and from the heart, which can cause symptoms of coughing, exercise intolerance, and lethargy. The treatment involves a compound in the arsenic family, and takes several months to complete. Also adding to the dilemma of treatment is the fact that the drug is no longer manufactured in the United States, and therefore needs to be imported on a case by case basis. Luckily, monthly heartworm preventatives can alleviate the need for treatment, and help control other parasites as well. If your pet has missed months of preventative, or was never started on preventative, then a blood test for heartworm will need to be performed before starting medication to avoid a reaction. Make sure your pet doesn’t fall prey to an easily preventable disease.

Dr. Ann Bastian