Why Bringing Your Cat to the Vet Is Like an Alien Abduction…

A cat looks scared by a UFO and aliens
“Take me to your leader … so I can scratch their eyes out.”

…And What You Can Do to Help

After a decade in practice, I’m thankful I’ve only had to go the hospital for a cat bite once. Since then, I’ve gained a lot of experience and understanding of the feline psyche, and my best summation of how cats perceive going to the vet is this: It’s an alien abduction.

Think about it. For the most part, cats live their whole lives in a relatively small area, and an overwhelming majority of them love it that way.

The most important aspect of a cat’s life is their territory (which includes you). Their territory is their world, their home planet.

Most cats rarely travel in cars and only ever see a travel carrier when they are headed to the vet. Imagine, you’re living your life on your home planet, then you are forced into a pod, and thrust into a metal vessel, and taken to a faraway place that smells aseptic and strange. While there, a weird, hairless ape pokes and prods you. Then, you are thrust back into the pod, whisked home, and your owner acts like nothing happened.

I’m honestly surprised more cats haven’t attacked me. I’d like to think I’d put up a fight too, if I was abducted by aliens. However, maybe if they had a nice spread out and some calming aromatherapy, I’d be amenable to some polite questioning.

Making the Vet Visit as Low Stress as Possible

So that’s what we try to do for your feline family members. Here at Medical District Veterinary Clinic, we are Fear Free Certified. This means all the staff members here have taken training in how to make the veterinary experience as low stress as possible.

We have cat treats at the ready, Feliway spray aplenty, and a separate cat area. We also have gone to great lengths to learn how cats think and how to read their body language. We understand what’s important to them.

Cats often get a bad rap. People think that cats are aloof and don’t care about anything, but cats care about everything! Please know that we are doing our best to be peaceful and compassionate alien overlords.

Try This at Home

There are a few things you can do as well to make the trip to the vet a little less stressful. The first is getting your furry felines accustomed to the carriers you use to take them places.

Just bringing the carrier out before a vet visit can be a trigger. If you’re able to leave the carriers out, put your cat’s favorite treats or toys in there. This small step can help greatly to reduce your cat’s aversion to the carrier.

You can also try using products like Feliway spray, Composure treats for cats, or Rescue Remedy. If you think your kitty needs something stronger, talk to us and we may prescribe medications to help make the visit less stressful. For more information about eliminating the stress in your cat’s life, The Ohio State University Veterinary College has a wonderful site call the Indoor Pet Initiative with information about dogs and cats.

So remember, next time Fluffy’s wellness exam comes around, you may be envisioning All Creatures Great and Small, but they may be thinking more Schwarzenegger in Predator.

—Alyssa Kritzman, DVM

Keeping Indoor Cats Happy

[cat peeking from under covers]

Cats make great pets for city dwellers; most indoor cats are content to live in small spaces, passing the day asleep on a bed or couch, waking for meals and litter box use. They don’t need to be walked outside and they are a great source of love and companionship. Chicago offers many rescue groups and shelters that can help you select and adopt a life-long friend. PAWS and the Anti-Cruelty Society are two such organizations.

Many indoor cats, however, find confined living stressful and act out in ways that are undesirable to their owners. Two of the most common unwelcome behaviors are eliminating out of the litter box and scratching furniture and rugs.

This article outlines some of the ways to make your indoor cat’s existence happy. Because behavior problems can be rooted in medical causes, be sure to contact your veterinarian if you are concerned about your cat.

Think Inside the Box

Excellent litter box hygiene is essential for curtailing inappropriate urination and defecation. Cats are fastidious, so may choose to avoid using an unkempt box. Eliminating out of the box is not a spiteful behavior; it may be, in the cat’s mind, the best alternative. Removing waste daily is recommended.

Make sure you have enough litter boxes for the number of cats in your home. Veterinarians recommend the number of litter boxes equals the number of cats plus one (e.g., two cats demand three boxes).

Lastly, choosing a litter that is acceptable to your pet can be achieved by trial and error. Most cats prefer a low dust, unscented clumping litter.


Cats are natural scratchers; scent-marking glands in their paws announce to the world that a particularly well-upholstered couch or loveseat belongs to them. Their owners, however, may take exception.

There are some interventions that may be helpful to curb this habit. A scratching post, which can be placed either near or distant from a couch, may be an effective alternative. Strategically deposited catnip may lure your cat toward the desired spot. Regular clipping of your cat’s claws may also deter scratching. Additionally, clear tape applied at the arms of a couch is offensive to cats and can turn them off from scratching your furniture.

Vertical Space

Outdoor cats climb trees to get away from predators, chase birds and other small prey, and get some alone time. Indoor cats need a similar escape. A homemade or purchased cat tree is a great way to offer your indoor cat the vertical escape she needs. This multi-level structure with comfortable places to sleep and play is one of the remedies for reducing stress and undesirable behavior in a small city dwelling.

Food, shelter, litter boxes, and love can change the life of an unwanted animal. Consider adding a cat to your home. You may be rewarded with unconditional friendship and love.

Dr. Barrie Yallof

Could COVID Worries Be Bothering Your Pet?

Care for Yourself So You Can Care for Your Pet

Like many of you, I never expected to experience the pandemic we are currently facing. Social distancing, quarantine, virtual gatherings, and isolation have become part of our daily lives due to COVID-19.

Adjusting to this new normal has been challenging for many people. Pets can often sense an owner’s stress and anxiety, which in turn the pets can absorb. Signs of stress in pets can be very subtle, and these behaviors can mimic pets’ normal behavior, so identifying stress can be difficult for owners.

Indicators of stress in dogs include pacing and shaking, whining and barking, trembling, changes in eyes and ears, shedding, panting, changes in bodily functions, hiding, and acting more withdrawn. While cats can exhibit the signs above, they also commonly overgroom (which can lead to sores on the skin) and fail to use the litter box. Cats in particular, are prone to developing urinary symptoms when they are stressed, so it is important that owners keep a close eye on their cat’s litter box habits. It is clear that our mental health impacts our pets, which is one more reason to be mindful of self-care.

Self-care Strategies

In honor of Mental Health Month, here are some strategies to help deal with COVID-related stress:

  • Separate what is in your control from what is not. Focus on the things you can do, such as washing your hands, drinking water, and limiting your news consumption (including social media).
  • Get outside in nature; fresh air and exercise is beneficial for not only mental health but physical health.
  • Challenge yourself to stay in the present. When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Try to focus on the positive things happening in your life.
  • Stay connected to the people in your life. Reach out to trusted friends and family members when you need support.
  • Use meditation and relaxation exercises to promote a sense of calm.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep.

Enjoy Time with Pets

While many people have transitioned to working from home, pets are enjoying the extra time they get to spend with their owners. You can still enjoy the outdoors with your pets in a safe way by finding quieter and less populated areas. The time outdoors and exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety and is also an opportunity for your dog to have fun and burn off some of their energy.

For your cats, you can find new ways to play with them at home. There are many different types of cat toys available (online shopping is a great way to find some exciting new toys), or you can find some items around the house for the cat to play with. It’s incredible how something as simple as a cotton ball or piece of paper can keep them entertained for hours. This is also a good way to bond with your cat, which is beneficial for mental health.

By taking care of yourself, you will be better able to care for others, including your pets. Although these are uncertain times, we’re in this together!

Amber Slaughter, DVM

Curing Your Pet’s COVID-19-Quarantine-Induced Cabin Fever

Because I am a human being living in the third-largest city in the United States, the coronavirus is on my mind. It’s scary, and we all are dealing with our newly realized pandemic anxiety in different ways. Turning to our pets for comfort is natural and nice, but with that also comes a possible increased focus on their every move and well-being.

Some of you have the luxury of being able to self-quarantine with your loved ones, and we all thank you. Some of us still need to be out in the real world saving people, and we all thank you too. This blog post, however, isn’t to inform you about anything related to COVID-19 and human health. For that you can look here. This blog is meant to address your animals’ health during this time.

I know that some of you are worried about your animals getting infected. Though we don’t know everything about this virus, veterinary experts say it is highly unlikely to infect or sicken pets.

What I want to discuss is the quality-of-life needs for your pets, particularly dogs, which depend on social interactions with other dogs and people to relieve boredom and anxiety. All the basic points are applicable to cats too, though the cats that go outside and meet people and other cats are rare.

We are all home (hopefully) now. As much as social interactions need to be at a minimum to help flatten the infectious curve, being outside is not unsafe. Walking your dog is not something you should avoid. In fact, strolling through the streets offers a great opportunity for quiet and reflection. What you need to be careful about, though, is stopping to talk to others and going to dog parks or places where humans congregate. Which in turn means that your dog’s social needs may go unmet.

So how can your dog’s and cat’s cabin fever be remedied?

  1. Attention. Because you are managing your two children who are home from CPS, trying to keep up on how many celebrities are positive, and Google-deep-diving whether coronavirus can be transmitted through ESP, you may not think that spending 10 minutes here and there playing tug-o-war with your dog is a priority. But don’t underestimate the stress dogs can pick up on. Even a small amount of attention can help them through this.
  2. Respect boundaries. Though most of your cats and dogs love having you around, it also the case that the sudden increase of bodies home at all times can be a stressor for your 18-year-old cat that is used to the quiet and freedom to sit on the couch alone during your work day and actually enjoy some alone time. I’ve heard from numerous people over recent weeks that they think that their dog and cat may not actually miss them as much as they assumed when they were at work every day. If your animals separate from your space to be alone, it may not mean something is wrong; you just may be annoying. Let them be and make sure there are places for them to retreat to without the clatter of your new bread-making hobby and experimentation with rave-reggae dominating your shared environment.
  3. Toys. Please don’t run to the store and get a bunch of toys right now, but make the existing toys in your house nice and clean and available. Make toys out of your old clothes or use a discarded water bottle, toilet paper rolls (especially you hoarders), etc. If you Google DIY dog toys, you’ll see a lot of ideas. But be careful you don’t use anything toxic or things that your dogs can swallow. I like this page: https://www.wisebread.com/10-diy-dog-toys-you-can-make-for-pennies
  4. Train/Teach your dog new tricks. Don’t give up on your sometimes jerk of a dog who stubbornly will not generally or ever listen to you. Don’t as it’s literally and figuratively never too late to try to teach your old dog new tricks. Maybe this is the time you spend teaching her to sit, shake, solve geometry puzzles, speak Turkish, etc. There are tons of trainers who are helping to do things remotely. I plan to have my dog braiding my hair by the summer.
  5. Go outside. Go outside. Go outside. It may seem contrary to our brains’ frenetic power to actually go in our yard (if you have one) and sit down, but leave your house, walk outside, even though you may need to cross the street to avoid people. You can check Twitter on your front steps with your dog as well as in your living room.
  6. Divide and comfort. Not all households with multiple animals live in harmony. We have an upstairs cat and downstairs cat. Both are annoyed at the upstairs and downstairs dog. Maybe your herd is split up in different ways. Just like playing tug-o-war with your dogs for 10 minutes could go a long way in fulfilling her needs, try to spend some alone time with each of your animals for a bit. Go upstairs and have a 10-minute pet-fest with your shy cat that hates your power hungry younger cat that generally hogs all the attention.

We all hope this passes soon, though that seems doubtful right now. Read books, play farm hustle, calm yourself, distance. Goodbye.

—Brett Grossman, DVM

Preparing Your 4-Legged Baby to Meet Your 2-Legged Baby

[Emmie watches her mom write this blog]

There will always be room in Dr. Kritzman’s heart for Emmie, but the space between the baby and the keyboard was getting pretty tight as she wrote this blog.

Our dog Emmie has been spending a lot of time in the nursery. It could be because she knows that she’s about to become a big sister. Or she just enjoys having a whole room with great sunlight to herself (for now).

We all wish—and often expect—that our pets will take to new members of the family easily. We love them, we love our kids, so they should love each other! But adding a new family member that doesn’t do much besides cry (initially) and take away precious belly-rub time can be a huge stressor for our pets.

If you’re like me, you’ve imagined that your pup will be like Nana from Peter Pan. I’ve even had to stop myself from buying that cute hat on Amazon multiple times, because it’s not fair to expect every pet to not only love but like a new baby or child in the family.

It’s a big change. So as I’m counting down the days until our little lady arrives, I thought I’d share just a few tidbits about how to prepare our pets medically and behaviorally for a new arrival.

The Medical

There aren’t many diseases to worry about transmitting from dog or cat to baby, but there are a few you should know about. They are all easily minimized, if not eliminated, with the appropriate care and prevention.

The first are intestinal parasites. Hookworms and roundworms that dogs carry can potentially carry can be spread when exposed skin comes into contact with the larva of these worms or the larva is ingested. The worms grow and can live in the skin or sometimes eye. So it’s important to keep your dogs on a heartworm preventive medication that also covers intestinal parasites. These are monthly preventatives for your dog such as Heartgard Plus or Sentinel Spectrum.

Toxoplasmosis also gets a lot of attention when expectant mothers live with feline family members. Toxoplasmosis is actually pretty difficult to get from cats. You’re more likely to get toxoplasmosis from undercooked pork or contaminated water than from your cat. Cats get toxoplasmosis from eating infected wildlife, so for most indoor-only domestic felines, the likelihood is very low. To play it safe, follow a few simple rules:

  • Clean the litter box once a day: it takes longer than 24 hours sitting in stool for toxoplasmosis to become infectious, so if you scoop once a day or more, it shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Keep your cat indoor only: if they can’t eat infected wildlife, they can’t get toxoplasmosis.
  • Avoid feeding your cat a raw diet: again, no infected meat consumption, no problem.
  • Have another family member or friend clean out the litter box once daily. (You might already be doing that if you were averse to smells as much as I was in my first trimester!)

If you are concerned about your possible exposure risk to toxoplasmosis, be sure to speak to your own physician about testing.

Changes in the Home

There are so many changes that come with a baby. Our little lady isn’t even here yet, and our house already feels so different. Your pets are aware of these changes too. It’s important that we try to anticipate changes to our pets’ schedule and lives so that we can prepare them, because once baby is here, there will be enough to worry about.

One new item is the stroller. If your dog is like our Emmie, she gets spooked by everything from a plastic bag floating in the wind to the vacuum cleaner. She has definitely barked at other people pushing strollers. It’s important to introduce the stroller before there’s a baby in it and get the dog used to walking with the stroller. If that means you’ll be that crazy neighbor pushing around an empty stroller with your dog, just say your vet made you do it. For dogs fearful of strollers, use positive reinforcement to create a positive association with being near the stroller. (For Emmie, that means treats—and LOTS of them!) Also, remember that you should NEVER attach your dog to the stroller when cruising with baby.

The car seat is another common piece of baby equipment that you’ll want to expose your dog to. Practice getting in and out of the car with your pup. You’ll want to make sure that your dog cannot get to your baby while in the car. You can purchase a dog seat belt or have a small crate available.

Introducing Baby to Your Pets

Have a family member or friend bring home something from the hospital with the baby’s smell on it before the baby’s arrival. The day baby comes home, have everyone come in before the person holding the baby come in. Keep your pet distracted with praise and treats while the baby comes in, and try to stay calm.

Later, while the dog is leashed, allow her to gently investigate, maybe just smelling at the feet for a short while. Then give your dog lots of praise for the gentle investigation. You want to avoid punishment, instead rewarding and praising gentle calm behavior. Avoid allowing the pet to lick the baby (but a few licks at the feet is not a huge concern). And never leave baby alone with your pets, ever.

Be sure to speak with your veterinarian if you think your pet may need medication to help with the anxiety of the changes that come with a new baby. Sometimes having an anti-anxiety medication can help with the transition to this great new adventure that the whole family is starting.

For more detailed information, the ASPCA and Veterinary Partners have articles that are very helpful, and please always feel free to contact your veterinarian.

Finally, I would like to thank all my wonderful colleagues and staff here at Medical District Veterinary Clinical for their support and well wishes as my husband and I get ready to welcome our future Illini!

She’s due at the end of this month, so if all goes according to plan, I will be on maternity leave through April, with Saturday hours starting again in May, and back to full time in June. We are very excited (and a little nervous) to start this next big adventure in our family!

—Alyssa Kritzman, DVM

Marijuana Toxicity and Your Pets

[marijuana]Seek Veterinary Care for Pets Exposed to Marijuana

Now that marijuana is legal within the state of Illinois, we anticipate an increase in pet toxicities within our clinic. Over the past six years the Pet Poison Hotline has seen more than a 450% increase in cannabis toxicities across the U.S. Within Chicago and Illinois, I expect to see more pets exposed to cannabis toxicosis now that the drug is legally available. As a result of edible marijuana products, many of these cases involve co-toxicities with chocolate and/or raisins in addition to cannabis toxicity.

There are three main categories of cannabinoids. THC, commonly referred to as marijuana, is the cannabinoid that is most commonly associated with toxicity. CDB, or the non-psychogenic cannabinoid, has a much wider safety margin and is currently being researched as to its true efficacy for both pain and seizure control. While CBD appears to be very safe, there is limited science regarding safety, efficacy, and purity of products. The third form is synthetic cannabinoids, which are illegal recreational drugs in all states and cause the most severe clinical signs.

CBD Oil Cautions

While there is limited research around CBD, many pet owners and companies feel there are positive benefits of its use. I recommend using caution because there is very little control over the market and thus the purity of the products can be extremely variable. Dr. Bill Gurley looked at 25 CBD products available in Mississippi. The products were analyzed, and the results were compared to the label claim. In many cases there was no detectable CBD present and in other cases there was a much larger percentage of CBD than the label stated. One product had CBD concentration 2000% higher than the label claim.

The lack of regulation can pose a risk for pets. Additionally, there is some early research that high doses of CBD may result in hepatic toxicity and increase liver values in mice. It is unknown if similar effects are seen in cats and dogs, but many believe they may experience similar side effects. The research is conducted by Drs. Igor Koturbash and Bill Gurley at the University of Arkansas School of Public health. To read their abstract click the link below: https://publichealth.uams.edu/departmentsandunits/centers/cdsr/research/

Signs of Marijuana Toxicity

Animals exposed to any cannabinoids may experience adverse effects. Animals that have been exposed to marijuana can experience many of the signs seen in people, but the most commonly seen signs include drowsiness, depressed mentation, ataxic gait (wobbly), and urinary incontinence (dribbling urine). Less commonly pets can experience vomiting and diarrhea. In severe toxicities hyperactivity, hyperthermia, and seizures have been reported.

Pets that are exposed to synthetic cannabinoids usually have more severe effects.

Additionally, some of the most severe toxicities result from ingestion of edibles resulting in co-toxicities. If you think your pet has been exposed to marijuana, have your pet assessed immediately so appropriate steps may be taken to care for your pet. These steps may include decontamination, activated charcoal administration, and monitoring of respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. The steps will likely be different for each case, depending on the level of toxic exposure, the type of exposure, the time frame post exposure, and the clinical signs currently being experienced by the pet.

Keep Weed Out of Pet’s Reach

So the moral of the story is to keep all marijuana products out of reach of your pets and use CBD with caution. I have spoken with a lot of owners who are currently using CBD products and they have varying opinions. In some cases owners report huge improvements, but more commonly they see little to no improvement. I have not observed major side effects of CBD products in pets, but please use caution. If you ever suspect your pet is having adverse effects, please discuss with your veterinarian and have your pet examined.

Dr. Drew Sullivan
Medical Director

Tips for Traveling with Your Pet

[dog and cat with maps and suitcases]As the holiday season approaches, many of you will be traveling near and far with your four-legged family members. Flying with pets has become increasingly common over the years, and as a result of the growing number of pets flying, the travel requirements for many airlines have evolved.

The change in pet travel requirements can be a big surprise for many owners. I have witnessed many owners that are stressed and nervous at the final hour, trying to get everything together for their pet’s trip. The to-do list can seem endless, with many hoops to jump through. I cannot stress enough the importance of proper preparation.

Therefore, to aid in your travel plans this holiday season, and in the future, I put together some tips to help you prepare for airplane travel with your pets:

  1. Check the specific airline pet travel requirements

Each airline has different requirements for travel – including vaccinations, documentation filled out by the veterinarian, and carrier size. If your pet is not traveling in the cabin with you, there will most likely be additional steps to take to ensure they are ready to fly.

  1. If traveling internationally, research travel requirements of the destination country

For travel outside of the United States, additional planning and health care requirements may be required. I recommend checking the APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) Pet Travel Website to research all requirements for the country that you are traveling to. Below is the website:


You should also contact the foreign office of the country you are traveling to for more information.

There are pet travel companies that can help coordinate and organize all travel requirements and documents. This is especially helpful for international travel. In my experience, their service is extremely valuable for owners.

  1. Contact the Veterinarian

You have done your research, so it is time to see us! For some countries, you need to begin the process months in advance, and even when traveling domestically, a health certificate is required (often within 10 days of travel). Therefore, please plan accordingly when scheduling the visit.

I hope this is helpful! Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about your pet’s travel plans.

Happy Holidays!

Amber Slaughter, DVM

When Our Pets Get Too Much Holiday Spirit

[Ellie Kritzman wants some treats]The holiday season is upon us, despite my growing ire every time I see a Christmas display before Thanksgiving. (October 11 outside the Macy’s at Woodfield Mall was my first sighting.)

I think most of us are all too familiar with acquiring some “winter insulation” from holiday feasting. This happens to our pets, too. When I review a patient’s weights over the years, I routinely notice a pattern of hills and valleys of changes correlating to the seasons. Unfortunately, often the winter insulation doesn’t completely go away.

According to a 2016 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 59% of cats and 54% of dogs in the United States are classified as overweight or obese. This is a year-round epidemic, but pets often pack on the pounds in the wintertime.

Winter Weight Gain

There are a lot of reasons for winter weight gain. One is simply that our pets, more specifically dogs, just get less exercise in the winter. Who wants to walk the dog in the dark, cold morning for 30 minutes, when just a few months earlier it was bright out and you could get away with wearing your pajama shorts and t-shirt? (Maybe that’s just me.)

And, we all know that pathetic look Fluffy gives you when her paws get cold.

But more likely, just like studies of human weight management have reported, caloric intake plays a much larger role than activity does.

‘Food’ Does Not Equal ‘Love’

Most of us see food as love, and your dog does too. In fact, switching from free feeding to meal feedings can deepen the human-animal bond. That’s because then the animal connects you to their food source. We might as well use the term “primary food giver” instead of “pet owner.”

From there it’s an easy step to “If I give Fluffy more yummy food, she will know how much I love her.” This mindset can get our pets into trouble quickly. You may eat that tablespoon of peanut butter without the extra 90 calories making a huge hit to your daily caloric budget. Your 24-pound Fluffy, on the other hand, needs only 400 calories a day. One tablespoon of peanut butter for Fluffy would be equivalent to fitting one Big Mac into your day.

Not only would regularly adding a Big Mac make you loosen your belt, but it would also raise your blood pressure, among other health concerns. And it’s the same for Fluffy.

Holiday Food Hazards

During the holidays it’s common to feel that our pets should get special holiday meals just like we do. Unfortunately, I’ve seen illnesses related to every special dish you can imagine:

  • Turkey bone stuck in the esophagus of a Yorkshire terrier.
  • Vomiting up orange mush after getting too much sweet potato casserole (you know, the one with the marshmallows on it).
  • Anemia from too much garlic in the roasted potatoes.
  • Swallowing a needle attached to a garland of popcorn (oddly enough, that dog didn’t have to have surgery).
  • Chocolate toxicity from getting into the gifts under the tree.
  • And more Thanksgiving pancreatitis cases than I can count.

Whether these treats are given or stolen, we need to be wary of our pets getting rich, sugary foods that they aren’t accustomed to. Indulging in our holiday foods can cause pancreatitis, diarrhea, toxicities, and/or gastritis in our pets.

If you insist that Fluffy gets her Thanksgiving dinner, set aside a small amount of turkey and vegetables (no onions, garlic, or grapes!) and cook them plainly by either boiling or cooking with a small amount of olive oil.

Avoid giving pets “just a little bit” of everything that makes it to your holiday table. Trust me, they will still think it’s a Thanksgiving miracle that they get even a tiny amount of human food. And remember, most pets will think kibble is a treat, if you act like it is.

One final note: please don’t tell my dog, Emmie, that I wrote this blog about not feeding your dog too much food. She’d plot my demise if she knew! (That’s Emmie above, decked out in holiday ribbon and begging for turkey with her eyes.)

Happy Holidays to you all!

—Dr. Alyssa Kritzman

Scare Tactics: The Obligatory October Blog

[dog dressed as Coast Guard officer]The pressure to write an autumnal Halloween post regarding animals is intense. In a sense, I understand that the public wants to hear the hits. But doesn’t anyone want to read my small and carefully worded treatise on 1976’s children’s musical mafia masterpiece movie, Bugsy Malone? Or a simple reflection on how playing Hearts with one dog and two cats is the ideal with which all other forms of happiness should be compared? Yes. I understand my limitations to be understood. So in that regard:

There’s nothing bad about Halloween or this time of the year, and yet anyone who works in the veterinary world knows the inevitable problems this time of year brings into our everyday world, and I shall address all the obvious ones and a few not-so-obvious ones.


As someone who spends a great deal of my free and sleeping time thinking about candy, I completely understand why having a complete and quality selection of sweets available for your trick-or-treaters is integral to your obligation of being a good human.

Again, and also at the risk of revealing too much, as someone who thinks about the difference in peanut butter-to-chocolate ratios between normal Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Pumpkin Halloween Cups, I get why you may want to plan early and be prepared to have more candy than any one house could possibly pass out in a 3- to 4-hour Halloween evening.

That being said, despite whatever you have heard, thought, or been told by your co-worker who swears that his Aunt’s dog loves candy, candy is toxic to dogs and can make cats very sick.

Chocolate can kill your dog, causing neurotoxicity and cardiovascular toxicity and, at a minimum, forcing dogs to be treated for severe gastrointestinal and pancreatic trauma.

A small dog can get sick (and die) from a small amount of candy. A big dog can also get sick from the amount of candy it can consume in short periods of time.

One moment away from the candy tray to compliment a few kids who have come to the door dressed as Star Wars Jedi (though inevitably with the wrong color light saber, not that I am paying attention), can give a dog, especially my dog, just enough time to destroy your night and cause a quick immediate trip to the emergency room.

Just because your dog ate chocolate once and didn’t get sick, doesn’t mean that it’s safe forever. And there are differences between eating 6 oz and 36 oz.

Join the billions of people who need to call ASCPA Poison Control if you need help. Or call us, if we are open. Or call your local friendly ER. Do this immediately.

If you want to go out and participate in Halloween with your child who has very specific tastes and forced you to stay up till 3 am on Halloween Eve again for the fifth straight year so you can make Tron’s light sequence on his costume perfect, or if you want to go out yourself dressed in the Midwest’s most popular Halloween costume (Sexy Raincoat-wearer), well, first take care of your animal.

Chocolate has a delayed reaction, so people will sometimes think if their dog seems fine after a few hours, that the dog will be fine. Often the worst effects happen at hour 6, 10, or 12.


Someone needs to stick up for people who want to dress their animals up in costumes. If your dog or cat had real agency, they’d break out of our houses and set up an equal and free society in an abandoned but warm warehouse somewhere in Pilsen. But they don’t. So dress them up, take a picture and just enjoy your day. If they don’t like that type of thing, then don’t. If you have a Pug and dress them up as Pugsy Malone, I would appreciate a photo. And, really, any photo.


Be attentive to your anxious dogs and cats. Doorbells ringing, witch decorations with electronic cackles, kids running around, people with “toy” guns (which in Chicago are just “guns”), screaming, flashing lights, and just general festivities can set tons of dogs and cats off in their angst-ridden misery.

Just like you do for 4th of July and New Year’s, feel free to ask for sedation protocols or anxiety medications, and it’s never a problem to pre-medicate for the subsequent GI upset and urinary discomfort that occurs from severe and acute trauma.

Maybe walk your dogs at 4 pm and then wait until 10 pm to avoid the rush. Maybe lock your cats upstairs so they can’t run out the front door.

And do you have a black cat? Well good, because I love them, but don’t let them outside. Actually, keep all your animals inside that night.

Call with questions or concerns. Send us your Halloween photos. Dress as your own ethnicity. Read books with first-person cat narrators.

Brett Grossman, DVM

Beware of Toxic Pond Scum, aka Blue-Green Algae

[blue green algae]In recent weeks you might have heard talk of “blue-green algae.” According to the ASPCA Pet Poison Center, there has been a spike in reported cases. A number of Facebook stories have also attributed the death of dogs across the United States to this toxic “algae.” The social media interest has prompted many major news stations to air segments about this “algae.”

Here is a brief overview of this toxin and pointers to help keep you and your pets safe.

Blue-green algae is actually not even algae but a naturally occurring bacteria known as cyanobacteria. During rapid growth phases, this bacterium produces colonies that create “blooms.” These bacterial blooms create a blueish-green paint-like look to the surface of the water. The look of the bacteria resembles algae, hence the name blue-green algae.

Cyanobacteria can be found in all fresh water lakes, streams, and ponds and is most prevalent in the warmer summer months. The bacteria may produce toxins that can cause illness, but not all cyanobacteria produce these toxins.

To be safe, it is best to avoid all water sources that appear to have any presence of blue-green algae (blue-green paint-like appearance, surface mats, discolored green/blue streaks). The State of Illinois recently issued a warning to Illinois residents about the potential of blue-green algae and recommends to avoid contact with suspicious-looking water.

For those of you who live in Chicago, the Chicago Park District issued a warning in June recommending staying away from the Humboldt Park lagoon, where traces of blue-green algae had been detected. The Park District posted big yellow signs around the lagoon warning visitors of the potential risk. Look for the yellow warning signs around Chicago parks, but if the water looks suspicious, do not let you dogs in the water or allow them to drink the water.

There are various toxins that can be produced by cyanobacteria. Mild forms of illness include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness. More severe toxins affect the neurologic system and can lead to death within 15 minutes of exposure.

Given the toxicity of this dangerous bacterial toxin, it is safest to avoid bodies of water where there is the potential of blue green algae. If you have any questions about blue-green algae, please don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian.

Drew Sullivan, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic


Sources and for more information, visit these sites:

ASPCA Pet Safety Alert: https://www.aspca.org/news/pet-safety-alert-rising-dangers-blue-green-algae

State of Illinois Warning: https://www2.illinois.gov/Pages/news-item.aspx?ReleaseID=20479

Pet Poison Hotline Blue-Green Algae: https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/blue-green-algae/

Chicago Tribune warning: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-humboldt-park-lagoon-algae-warning-20190626-iu6xt6hipregddhk7r34cgoitm-story.html

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.