News & Events

News and Events

Why Is My Pet Always Sick?


Everybody gets sick. It’s a fact of life. When a pet gets sick, however, it can be a little harder to recognize. Dogs and cats can’t tell us “my tummy hurts,” or “I don’t feel like myself today,” so pet owners need to be aware of any changes in their animals. An illness may be indicated by things like unusual behavior, such as losing interest in playtime or walks, lack of interest in food, hiding for no reason, sleeping more than usual, weight loss or gain, and showing signs of general fatigue.

While observing occasional shifts in behavior is just a part of pet ownership, sudden dramatic changes or changes that persist for more than a few days are a sign that it’s time for a checkup with your family veterinarian, who may refer you to a veterinary internist in the greater Philadelphia area for further evaluation and treatment. A board-certified veterinary internist is a veterinarian that has special training dealing with diseases and illnesses associated with your pet’s internal organs. He or she has also passed a grueling specialized training and exam process.

Vomiting and diarrhea are two signs that your furry friend is really going through some troubles. Now, dogs and cats both vomit or have an occasional bout of diarrhea when they’ve eaten something they shouldn’t have, so neither should set off immediate warning bells… but frequent vomiting and/or diarrhea, combined with one or more of the unusual behaviors listed above, mean it’s time to take your dog or cat to the vet. While many consider it normal for cats and dogs to vomit up anything from hairballs to whatever your dog got into that day, it’s actually not good for them—and frequent illness can be an indicator of all sorts of other problems. So, if your pet vomits more than twice in a single day, and especially if the vomiting lasts for more than one day, bring him or her to a 24/7 emergency veterinary hospital or make an appointment with your family veterinarian. The cause may be something very common and easily treated, and yet, it’s always better to know for sure. There could be something of greater concern going on that a veterinary internist needs to diagnose and treat.

A frequent but remarkably under-diagnosed condition in pets is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). While you may have never heard of inflammatory bowel disease in pets, it’s more common than you might think. There’s no one specific cause for IBD, but some breeds of dogs and cats can be more susceptible than others, and it can affect dogs and cats of any breed and any age. There are some signs to watch out for, however.

What to Know About Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

Dog breeds predisposed to IBD are French Bulldogs, Basenjis, Irish Setters, and Lundehunds. Many dogs from these breeds will never develop IBD, and many dogs, from shelter mutts to purebred Chihuahuas, will. Here’s a list of symptoms that may be indicators that your dog is suffering from IBD, but it’s always best to let your veterinarian diagnose your dog after you bring him or her in for a checkup:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Bright Red Blood in Stool
  • Chronic Intermittent Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Changes to Coat Hair
  • Fatigue
  • Gas (Flatulence)
  • Rumbling and Gurgling Abdominal Sounds
  • Weight Loss

If you suspect your dog may have IBD, or if your dog is simply experiencing any of the above symptoms, bring him or her in for a checkup with your family veterinarian, who may recommend that your pet see an internist. The internist’s goals will be to identify the cause of those symptoms, and eventually reduce your dog’s discomfort by increasing his or her appetite, managing diarrhea, and vomiting, and helping him or her gain weight back after minimizing intestinal inflammation. This may take the form of reducing food allergens such as meat proteins, milk, gluten, artificial colors, and additives, among other treatments.

What to Know About Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

IBD in cats can look similar to IBD in dogs, but they’re different species with their own physiologies and mannerisms. Siamese cats are the breed most predisposed to IBD, and the symptoms are largely the same—diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, intermittent vomiting, gas and abdominal pain, rumbling or gurgling abdominal sounds, and bright red blood in their stool. As in dogs, no single cause has been identified as the reason some cats develop IBD, but it’s suspected that food allergies can play a part, as can hypersensitivity to bacteria.

What You Can Do

Inflammatory Bowel Disease cannot be cured, but it can usually be successfully treated and controlled. A pet internist will design a therapy to increase your dog or cat’s comfort and reduce symptoms. It’s also extremely important to treat and reduce diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration, and stop most (if not all) of your pet’s vomiting. Usually, pets with IBD have lost weight or become anxious about eating, so it’s important to get their weight back up.

It’s possible your veterinary internist may be able to identify a cause of your pet’s IBD, although the variety of causes can make this a bit difficult. Sometimes the cause is dietary; other times, it can be because of parasites, bacteria, a reaction to a drug they might be taking, or something else entirely. If the internist can identify a cause of your pet’s IBD, it should be eliminated, especially if it is a dietary cause. In fact, dietary manipulation is one of the most effective ways of treating IBD, though sometimes medications are required

The reason we say IBD can be treated, but not cured, is that even once your veterinary internist gets your pet’s IBD under control, relapses can be common. VRC’s internist, Dr. Justin Guinan, a board-certified internal medicine specialist with years of experience, can help you minimize the chance of an IBD relapse in your pet. Before joining the VRC team, Dr. Guinan worked at clinics large and small, in both emergency and specialty medical care.

If your pet is experiencing gastric discomfort and advanced, specialty care has been recommended, take your dog or cat to a veterinary internist such as Dr. Guinan at VRC who can get to the bottom of your pet’s stomach troubles and recommend a course of action that will get him or her feeling a lot better, and quickly.

VRC is a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital located in the greater Philadelphia area. If you suspect your pet has IBD, or are worried about any other digestive issues, contact us immediately.

VRC Welcomes a New Neurologist and a New Medical Oncologist

The VRC Team is growing! Dr. Christine Senneca, a board-certified veterinary neurologist and Dr. Colleen Martin, a medical oncologist, have joined our robust staff of veterinarians. Each brings with her experience and skill in her field that will contribute to VRC’s team of highly qualified specialists. VRC is a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital committed to providing the highest quality care to pets in the greater Philadelphia area. Dr. Senneca and Dr. Martin will greatly enhance our team with their extensive service offerings and knowledge as well as enable VRC to provide care for a wider variety of illnesses and injuries.


Christine Senneca, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology) hails from Long Island, New York. After receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, she completed her clinical rotations at the University of Florida, and then interned at the VCA Aurora and VCA Berwyn Animal Hospitals close to Chicago. Post-internship, Dr. Senneca spent time practicing emergency medicine before completing a residency at the University of Florida, where she specialized in neurology and neurosurgery. Now a member of the VRC team, Dr. Senneca’s areas of interest include surgical intervention for neurologic disease, nervous system diseases of a non-infectious nature, and seizure management.


Colleen Martin, DVM, Practice Limited to Oncology, is originally from Atlanta, GA. With a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from SUNY Oswego and a Master of Science degree in immunology from the University of Rochester, Dr. Martin decided to work in cancer research for a few years. Afterward, she earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada. Her rotating internship in small animals was completed at the Veterinary Medical Center of Central New York, and she completed a second internship and residency in medical oncology at North Carolina State University. As a part of VRC, Dr. Martin’s areas of interest include the human-animal bond, hematopoietic malignancies, targeted cancer therapies, and comparative oncology.


VRC is a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital. If you are a referring veterinarian in the greater Philadelphia area or beyond and would like to schedule a Meet & Greet or Lunch & Learn with our new team members, Dr. Senneca and Dr. Martin, or any of our other doctors, please contact Brian Haugen at

Case Study: The Dangers of Prescription Medication Exposure or Overdose in Pets

Dogs and cats are intelligent, inquisitive creatures and as much as we try to keep them safe, everyday objects in our home can be a tempting danger to them. VRC has covered common household threats to pets such as toxic food items, poisonous flowers, and household chemicals, but today we’re going to write about your prescription medications and what their presence in your home can mean for your pets.

Clarke is a 2-year-old male Labrador from the greater Philadelphia area who is always exploring and getting into trouble. Clarke came into VRC after biting his owner’s albuterol inhaler. Commonly used as an asthma medication, albuterol opens the bronchial airways for people with breathing issues, but it can cause life-threatening concerns when consumed in large doses. Symptoms of albuterol poisoning include severe arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and electrolyte disturbance.

When Clarke came into VRC, he had a heart rate that was twice what’s normal in a dog his size and age, a blood pressure level of 230/165 (for dogs, 120/80 is around normal), and a potassium level low enough to be concerning. Thankfully, the owner knew the inhaler had been bitten, and got Clarke to a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital quickly where we were able to immediately administer IV fluid therapy and medications to block the effects of the albuterol. Thankfully for Clarke, albuterol leaves the body within 12-24 hours, so we felt confident that a short course of aggressive supportive care would save him. As it turns out, we were right! Clarke’s blood pressure and heart rate stabilized within half an hour of being admitted, and within twelve hours we were able to release him to his owners.

Next, let’s look at Buddy, a 7-year-old male pug, and his best friend Delilah, a ten-year-old female pointer mix. Though usually well behaved, Buddy and Delilah love their snacks and treats, which recently got them into trouble, necessitating a visit to our greater Philadelphia area veterinary hospital.

As dogs age, it’s common for them to get arthritis in their joints. While aging is a natural part of any dog’s life, we can help them with medications such as omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine chondroitin, and sometimes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Buddy had been prescribed beef-flavored steroid pills for his hip dysplasia. While his owners were out of the house one day, Buddy and Delilah knocked the bottle of steroids off the counter and ate them all. Once Buddy and Delilah’s owners came home, they found the empty pill bottle and brought both dogs in to VRC for 24/7 emergency care.

As there was no way for us to know how many pills either dog had eaten, we had to assume a full bottle’s worth of pills was consumed by both. NSAIDs have a narrow safety margin, meaning overdose can happen even with one or two extra pills—not only that, but NSAID overdose can lead to severe stomach ulcers and failure of the liver and kidney. First, we induced vomiting, but when no pills were produced, we had to admit both dogs to our hospital to flush them with IV fluids and administer medications that helped reduce the risk of ulcers.

NSAIDs are usually metabolized within 48-72 hours, so we kept both dogs for observation over that time. Buddy’s liver and kidneys were fine, so he was discharged before Delilah, who had to be hospitalized for an additional two days due to injury to her kidneys from the overdose. Delilah was sent home after she stabilized, but it was a close call. If her owners hadn’t gotten her to the veterinarian so quickly, her kidneys might have shut down.

All’s well that ends well, but the moral of both stories is that it’s important to keep all medications away from your pets unless they’re being carefully administered. Given how difficult it can be to get a pill into your pet sometimes, it may seem like your animal is safe from accidentally ingesting medication, human or animal, but accidents can happen. especially This is especially the case with medications that are flavored to be tempting as well as with human medications that may look or smell interesting or unusual.

Best practice is to keep all medication, human or animal, on counters they can’t reach, or even better, behind the doors of your medicine cabinet. Don’t leave bottles on nightstands—even “child proof” plastic bottles can be destroyed by the powerful jaws of animals that like to chew.

August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day. Yes, this day is for human overdoses, but pets can overdose too, and International Overdose Awareness Day is as good an excuse as any to look over your home and see what’s lying about waiting for an accident to happen, or to make things even safer by tucking your medicines even further out of reach!

VRC is a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital located in the greater Philadelphia area. If you suspect your pet has overdosed, contact our emergency medicine and critical care center. It’s open 24/7, 365 days a year.

Case Study: The Dangers of Allowing Your Dogs to Play with Sticks

Summer is here, which means great weather for you to play with your dog in the park. Regular readers of this blog will know VRC, your specialty veterinary healthcare hospital, recommends appropriate exercise for dogs of all ages, but today we’re talking about the dangers of one common activity for dogs—playing fetch with sticks you find on the ground. While playing fetch with a stick is an iconic image of dog ownership, it’s much safer to use a ball or other toy with your dog.

Dr. John Anastasio, our medical director and a board-certified criticalist at VRC, recommends dog owners never play fetch with sticks off the ground. A good example of why owners should avoid this practice is the case of “Sadie”..

Pet Health Situation and Challenge

Sadie came into the ER after a night of coughing and gagging. She was obviously experiencing neck discomfort, and gagging was triggered when the affected area was touched. Her owner had noticed her chewing on a stick, a favorite activity of Sadie’s, and because of all this Dr. Anastasio suspected a foreign body lodged in her esophagus.


The first step to treating Sadie was to run routine lab work. Afterward, Dr. Anastasio recommended putting her under general anesthesia so that an endoscopic evaluation of Sadie’s mouth and throat could be completed. During that procedure, VRC’s experts noticed a small puncture wound with a protrusion. It could not be removed with endoscopic instruments, so Sadie was operated on to remove a seven-inch stick lodged in her throat.

Results and Recovery

Sadie recovered well and seems in good health post-operation. VRC’s veterinarians recommended post-operative observation for a few months, as there was some concern she might experience scarring, narrowing of the esophagus, or infection. But, after three months, Sadie is doing fine.

What Pet Owners Need to Know

What’s the takeaway from this case study? Obviously, Sadie’s case is somewhat unusual, but she’s not the only dog we’ve seen here at VRC who has needed emergency care after picking up and playing with sticks outside. We have treated dogs who have had sticks lodged across the roof of the mouth, splinters, punctures, lacerations, eye injuries and even eye loss, internal blockages due to ingestion of wood, impalement of the heart and lungs, and obstruction of the respiratory tract.

Dogs love to pick up sticks, and the temptation for a pick-up game of fetch can be strong, but the best thing to do is limit your dog’s contact with sticks. Keep your yard as clear of sticks and twigs as you can, but also teach your dog the command “leave it” so that he or she will be able to resist the temptation to pick up sticks while on a walk. Only play fetch with a stick-shaped toy from the pet store, or something like a tennis balland allow your dog to satisfy his or her urge to chew with appropriate items in a supervised environment. Of course, we know dogs love to pick up items off the street, but it’s important to do your best to make sure what goes in their mouth isn’t going to harm or choke them, necessitating a trip to your veterinarian in the greater Philadelphia area.

Dr. Anastasio is a board-certified criticalist at VRC, a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital located in the greater Philadelphia area. If you’re in need of our emergency medicine and critical care services,  we are open 24/7, 365 days a year.