Matters of the Heart

Matters of the Heart

The heart is an amazing thing. As a metaphor, it represents our feelings, our emotions, our joys, and our struggles. As an organ, it represents the body’s amazing ability to adapt. A little bit of the same thing, right?

Fish have a two chambered heart. Some call this rudimentary as it allows some oxygenated blood to mix with unoxygenated blood, but it works just fine for the fish! Reptiles progressed to a 3 chambered heart, realizing the need for better oxygen exchange on land. Then came the mammals, which most of us know have 4 chambered hearts. Amazing the adaptations our bodies make! Even though the mammalian heart is an incredible and amazing biological entity, it can be faulty at times (especially for some of us with our dating picks in high school!)

Why are we focusing on hearts for this issue? Good question.

One reason is February has just finished up. Who can ignore the pull on the heart strings for Valentine’s Day?! Another reason is a bit more somber. According to the Drake Center for Veterinary Care, 10% of dogs seen in primary care facilities have some form of heart concerns. As our canine companions age, they state that the number of heart related concerns and diagnosis can reach up to 75% in senior pets. That is a scary number. Cats are said to be affected slightly less than their dog partners, although I was unable to find an exact percentage. This may be, like most things in cats, because it is often more difficult to see the signs of heart disease in our feline masters, and is sometimes more difficult to diagnose.

Dogs and Cats are different…

Heart disease is different for the 2 species as well. In dogs, a condition known as mitral valve deficiency is what causes the majority of conversation (Duke says 75% again), while cats most commonly experience hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (85 to 90% of cats, per Mercola). These terms are put here because odds are, us as pet owners will hear them one day even if we don’t understand everything about the disease itself.

What to do with this information…

Yet, take heart. The advancements in veterinary medicine have been astounding when it comes to cardiac care. Yet for all the advancements in the world of medicine, the most important diagnostic tool remains to be…you. Yes, you! The pet owner, mother/father, lover of the pet. How so? That’s why we are blogging, so let’s answer that!

You know your pet.

Have you noticed any signs related to heart disease or other symptoms. These include but aren’t limited to: coughing, shortness of breath, weakness after exercise, collapse, and increased breathing rates.
Has there been other dogs in your pets known family diagnosed with heart issues?
What breed is your dog or cat? Certain breeds may be more predisposed than others.
Do you give monthly heartworm prevention to your dog AND cat? Heartworm disease is a form of heart disease don’t forget!

Wellness care and exams
Even though you’re our best tool at home, veterinarians need to play a major role in evaluating your pets specific risks for heart disease.
As your pet ages, their risks increase just like in humans. Pets over the age of 7 should be seen by their regular vet at least twice a year
Often, a murmur (which is a change in the sound of blood flow in the heart) can be detected long before heart failure ever begins. Also, it is important to note that just because your pet may have been diagnosed with a murmur, does NOT mean he or she had heart failure.

Blood work and x-rays
Yearly or even twice a year exams are essential to evaluate for underlying things that you may not know to look for as your pet ages. This is why allowing a veterinarian to look for these things can be life-saving!
Blood work cannot diagnose heart disease directly, but it can help! For cats,there is a blood test called ProBNP that can help evaluate for heart concerns directly. For dogs, there is a value called CK that can be elevated in heart values. Other diseases such as thyroid disease and high blood pressure can greatly cause the heart to work harder.

X-rays are always a good idea if there is every a murmur noted. Even if the heart looks normal on x-rays, we have a base-line size to look at, are able to look at other things such as the chest/lungs, the intestines, and other organs.

What if my pet has already been diagnosed with a heart murmur or heart disease?

If your pet had been diagnosed with a heart issue, you are still considered the first line of defense for their treatment, care, and potential progression. What can you do at home if your pet has had the diagnosis of a ‘heart murmur,’ ‘cardiac insufficency,’ or ‘heart failure?’
Routine check ups

There are a number of factors and stages to heart disease. Once your pet has been diagnosed with a heart murmur, routine check-ups are essential! In dogs with progressive disease, plan on seeing your veterinarian at least every 3 months.
Veterinarians can discuss changes in medication, evaluating blood pressure, adjusting food, herbal treatments, acupuncture, and other things to keep your pet healthier over time.

Resting respiratory rate
This is the number one indicator of progression of heart disease and is absolutely free! Counting the number of breaths per minute your pet takes while he or she is sleeping is a key diagnostic tool. What we are looking for is increased rate over time.
Monitor for signs

Familiarize yourself with the signs of the progression of heart disease. You know your pet better than anyone else. If you see any signs that are concerning, contact your veterinarian.

Do NOT adjust any medications without discussing with your veterinarian
Even though you will become the expert with your pet and often know how they respond, please contact your veteriarian prior to adjusting any medications.

Discuss openly concerns about costs and treatment if they exist.
Sometimes heart disease isn’t always easy to treat, both for you and for your beloved pet.
Your veterinarian should offer you the best level of care, including an echocardiogram. Do not feel guilty or upset if you cannot do all the testing that is discussed. This is common, but feel comfortable having that conversation with your veterinarian.

All in all, I think that the best part about these matters of the heart is that few of us can argue that our pets have the biggest heart of all. With proper monitoring, we can often prevent problems before they start. With proper care, we can help even the biggest hearts prosper on.

Sincerely yours,
Dr. Jessica Tracy of Blue Ridge Animal Hospital

The Tooth Behind Dental Month!

It’s almost that time again! February is Pet Dental Health Awareness Month!

Alexis taking a bite out of dental disease!

Many of you may be wondering what all the hype is about Pet Dental Month. Some of you may even be surprised there is a whole month dedicated to the health of our animals’ teeth. Blue Ridge is here to help you understand your pet’s dental health and what you can do to take charge of it.

42. That’s how many teeth are normally found in an adult dog’s mouth. That’s 10 more than the average human! A cat has even less at 30. As you can imagine, each of those little teeth provide their own microenvironment and are a haven for bacteria, plaque, tartar, and even food particles. The size and surface area of the teeth, if taken together, would be about the size of your hand. Take a look at your dog’s or cat’s mouth. How do those teeth look? If you see signs of infection and tartar, it is the same idea as a terrible skin infection or eye infection on the outside of your pet!


– Preventative measures

You can teach your kiddos to enjoy tooth brushing!

a.) Brushing teeth. Yes, we know it’s tedious and often difficult. Many dogs and especially cats are not very willing for us to come at them with a foreign object that is expected to scratch all surface areas of their mouth. The good news? Training can help! The bad news? It may take some time, and brushing is still considered the best way to prevent dental disease long-term. Make sure you use ONLY doggie specific toothpaste. Human toothpaste has too much fluoride in it!

b.) Dental Diet. There are special diets specifically made for healthy teeth and gums.. The most effective diets are ones specifically formulated for this purpose and have research behind them, such as t/d by Hill’s and Royal Canin Dental Diet. My pets all have Royal Canin Dental Diet incorporated into their meals, and they absolutely love it!

c.) Rinses and water additives: Do rinses work? They can help. These rinses and additives can help reduce the number of bugs (bacteria) in the mouth. While this doesn’t address the plaque and tartar that’s already present, it can help cut down on bad breath and further infections. These rinses and additives can greatly benefit pets that have gingivitis with very little tartar present. Watch labels though! Most of these rinses contain fake sugars which certain pets may have more difficulty with than others. [Example of brand(s) you approve of?

d.) OraVet Chews: These chews have a special ingredient that can help reduce tartar from sticking to your pet’s teeth. Even though there are options when it comes to dental health chews these days, this is the only one on the market formulated with this special ingredient. It also makes their breath smell like vanilla cupcakes, so there is that!

Kodak can’t wait for his Dental Diet!

Yearly to biyearly dental cleaning
The hardest part about this for most people is the anesthesia and having to do it so routinely. The good news is that at Blue Ridge, we do anesthesia the same way you would expect at a human hospital. Your pet will receive an anesthetic protocol tailored to their needs. Blood work is done prior to the procedure. An IV catheter is placed, through which they receive IV fluids during the procedure.Their blood pressure, oxygen, EKG, and temperature, are monitored throughout the procedure. Blue Ridge uses a specialized warming blanket to keep them warm during their procedure. A nurse is present at all time monitoring and taking vitals. We even offer dental radiographs! This becomes very important in dogs and cats because the majority of their disease happens UNDER the gumline. Only certified personnel can perform any surgical removals of teeth or specialized cleaning. Keeping your pets’ safe and healthy during any procedure is our number one priority.
Know your pet!

– Most of the time, dogs and cats are great at hiding tooth pain. Watch them closely for any signs of a problem such as bad breath, cocking head to the same side while eating, slowing down when eating, bleeding gums, pawing at the mouth, or excessive drooling. If you’re seeing any of that, we want to know!

– Other Fun Facts

a.) Dental disease has been shown have effects on the heart and kidney. Severe dental disease has been linked to animals being more likely to promote heart issues and kidney failure.
b.) Veterinary Dentists do exist! For more extensive procedures such as root canals, a referral can be made by your regular veterinarian.
c.) Up to 80% of dog have dental disease by the age of 3!

As always, thanks for sinking your teeth into our blog! Look forward to hearing from you with any questions, and seeing your babies for their yearly dental cleanings soon.

Sincerely yours,
Dr. Jessica Tracy and the Staff at Blue Ridge Animal Hospital

Christmas time here at the Ridge…

As we enjoy the joys of the holiday season, we just wanted to wish everyone and their furry friends a VERY WONDERFUL Holiday Season.

(loosely based on We Need a Little Christmas by Johnny Mathis)

Pour out the kibble
Pick up the poop before we step in it again
Fill up the water bowl
I may be rushing things, but dinner time again now
For we love our little furry friends
Every single minute
Fur on every cushion
Tail wags and a pet
Yes, we need our little fur friends
Every single minute

They love them because they’re furry
And prove to us there is no hurry!


Nutritional November – Taking a bite out of Pet Obesity

Royal Canine Veterinary Diets

Royal Canine Veterinary Diets

Nutrition November

November happens to be pet diabetes awareness month. To some of you, the fact that dogs and cats can suffer from diabetes may come as a surprise. As a matter of fact, we are seeing a drastic rise in diabetes with our domesticated pets. It is estimate that 1 in every 200 cats and 1 in every 400 dogs will get diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime. If you are one of our owners giving injections twice daily, you are most definitely not alone! There is even evidence that these numbers continue to rise almost at the same rate as the human epidemic. What could be causing these numbers to rise? One of the biggest health concerns facing our furry companions today is obesity and nutrition.


Obesity is known as a silent epidemic that is affecting our pets at an alarming rate. At this time, over 75% of patients that enter veterinary hospitals are considered overweight. This excess weight can lead to diseases and complications such as diabetes, arthritis, heart and vascular issues, and an overall decreased life span.

FAQs about Nutrition:
These are the questions and concerns most often heard from pet owners regarding weight and veterinary nutrition


1.) What about no by-products grain free diet?

By-products are actually the most nutrient-rich portion of the animal. By-products include liver and kidney portions. While we as humans may not like the idea of these products, they actually contain less calories on average, more protein (up to 10x more!), and more vitamins and minerals. When a company uses any material other than the meat, it is listed as ‘by-product.’ Recent marketing might tell us this is a negative concept, but it is actually a very healthy choice.

Grain-free is also a new hot topic in veterinary nutrition for many veterinary owners. Everywhere we go we are seeing signs of gluten free and grain free, so it must be better, right? Not necessarily. Gluten is generally used as a protein source and is not a filler. Grains are not generally the enemy with allergies or even intestinal upset. Few dogs have shown an allergy to wheat, but no evidence has been seen that link it to other grains. Corn has often been touted as having a nutrition deficit, but it is usually the first choice because the kernel of yellow corn contains 36 grams of protein and over 2743 IU of Vitamin A! Also, keep in mind that dogs and wolves are genetically different for their nutritional needs due to domestication. Wolves also ingest fiber sources through the intestines of their meal.

2.) Why would I want to use a veterinary specific diet over a regular over-the-counter diet or even feed less?

Veterinary weight loss diets allow you to feed a larger amount to get better results. This may sound strange, but one of the biggest factors leading to the lack of success in weight loss in pets has to do with their discomfort, vocalization, and requesting food from owners. The majority of these foods are formulated to have higher fiber and higher protein in general. This allows your pet to feel fuller LONGER. While it may seem that the cost could be a deterrent, a recent study in a veterinary journal states that weight loss food is cost neutral. This means the amount of money you spend on the food is the same as what you would spend addressing obesity related events that would occur secondary to carrying excess weight! (German 2015 JSP 56(6):366)

3.)Just a few treats aren’t THAT bad, right?!

The right treats aren’t that bad at all! However, the treats we generally feed are notorious for being the major culprit for leading to obesity. A small milkbone doesn’t look like it can be that suspicious, it can be loaded with calories. The diet plan can also help you save money on treats! Use items such as cauliflower, green beans, zucchini (chopped), and broccoli for treats. Many people would be surprised with how much their pets, even cats, can like these items once you find the right one!

4.) How much weight SHOULD my pet lose?

Each pet is different and an ideal body weight should be calculated by your veterinarian. However, the ideal weight loss in a dog is 1-2% per week in a dog or 0.5 – 1% in a cat.

5.) Any other tricks?

Food toys and food puzzles! These little tools increase exercise, stimulate the mind, increase movement, and lets your pet have fun! There are many types of these out there including KONG Wobbler, Seek A Treat, Buster FoodCube, Twist ‘n treat, Trixie Mad Scientist Cat, and PetSafe SlimCat to name a few!

Is your pet at risk for diabetes?

It’s Blog Time!


Welcome to our Blue Ridge Pet Blog!

We are glad to have you here and hope you enjoy the pages to come!

At Blue Ridge, we decided to start blogging in order to address some of the most common concerns, questions, and overall health concerns owners tend to have about their beloved fur children. Over the weeks we will address such pet parent ponderings as pet obesity, dental health, vaccines, behavior, blood testing and what it means, acupuncture and eastern medicine, what AAHA accreditation means to our clinic (and you), tick borne diseases…the possibilities are endless.

Do you have a question or topic you would like addressed in these pages? What have you been wondering about?

Please check back with us weekly for the adventure to begin.