Paws Off the Plants!


With springtime and Easter on the way, now is a good time to refresh our memories on which plants and flowers are toxic to our animal companions.

Are tulips dangerous for my pet? What about lilies? Roses? Gerber daisies? What should I do if I think my pet ate something toxic?

Find out which plants you should keep out of pets’ reach and which ones are safer options by downloading “The Pet Parent’s Guide to Flowers and Plants” (PDF).

Many thanks to Dr. Allegra Roth for putting this helpful resource together!

As always, VCA San Francisco Veterinary Specialists is available 24/7 for medical advice and emergencies: (415) 401-9200, 600 Alabama Street (at 18th Street), San Francisco.

We have some great news to share! VCA SFVS recently had our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) inspection … and we passed with flying colors! Our hospital has been an AAHA-accredited referral practice since 2009. To maintain accreditation status, hospitals must be regularly evaluated by AAHA.


Unlike human hospitals, not all animal hospitals are required to be accredited. AAHA-accredited hospitals are evaluated on approximately 900 quality standards that go above and beyond basic state regulations, ranging from patient care and pain management to staff training and advanced diagnostic services.

Referral accreditation provides primary care veterinarians with additional confidence that we follow the same high principles they live by, and that we understand the importance of communication throughout the referral process. Clients and patients benefit from knowing their veterinary care team is working together to ensure optimal care.

We are very proud of our team for all their hard work in making sure we meet the AAHA standards.

To learn more about referral standards, visit www.aahanet.org/Accreditation/ReferralStandards.aspx

wpd7a84c12_05_06Have you heard about San Francisco Aid for Animals? SFAfA, a project of the San Francisco Veterinary Medical Association, is a charitable fund dedicated to keeping companion animals and their families together. Grants provided through local veterinarians help pet guardians with financial hardship deal with urgent, treatable conditions to prevent needless suffering, euthanasia or surrender of their animal companions.

Our own Dr. Alan Stewart serves on the SFAfA committee, and we are happy to help get the word out about how to support this group’s important work.

In addition to monetary donations (see www.sfaidforanimals.org/donate.html for details), there are a number of other ways to help support SFAfA:

Donate to Community Thrift

SFAfA is now on the charity roster of Community Thrift! That means you can donate furniture, clothes, books, etc. to Community Thrift AND shop for items there (code 44) – all to benefit SFAfA.

Learn about what types of donations are accepted and get directions to the Donate Door here (it can be a little tricky to find): www.communitythriftsf.org/donate

Please note that furniture pickup is available; call (415) 861-4910 for details.

wp279510dd_05_06Also note: Community Thrift handles a high volume of donations for 200+ charities and needs the donator’s help to make sure items are processed correctly:

  1. Sort and pack types of items into different containers and label what is in them, e.g. clothes, kitchenware, books.
  2. Include large sheets of paper inside the box marked in a type of ink that will not run and ruin anything with “SF Aid for Animals” and its number code of “44.”
  3. Mark different sides of the outside of the box with “SF Aid For Animals” and its number code of “44.”
  4. Make sure the boxes are stamped numerous times with the number 44 by a Community Thrift employee in your presence before being moved from the unloading dock to the back because their stickers will be the primary ID.

Car Donation Services

Donate your car to help SFAfA! Visit www.cardonationservices.com to learn why you should consider donating your vehicle vs. selling it (hint: it’s easy, you get a tax deduction, you help a charity).

If you decide to donate and would like to support SFAfA, go to www.cardonationservices.com/161/donate-a-car-Community-Initiatives-Notate-Specific-Project-in-Comment-Field/ and list San Francisco Aid for Animals as the beneficiary. (Community Initiatives is SFAfA’s umbrella organization.)

My Mutt Program, Pet Food Express

Have you ever noticed all the large pet photos in the Pet Food Express stores? Your pet (all animals, not just dogs) can be a star, too! To participate in the My Mutt Program, make a donation of at least $250 to SFAfA or another nonprofit rescue or shelter.

Pet Food Express hires a professional pet photographer to arrange a photo shoot of your adorable critter. And once you choose an image, it is blown up to poster size and put on display in the store of your choosing. For more information, visit www.petfoodexpress.com/my-mutt/make-your-pet-a-star/

dog-limpRecently, VCA SFVS veterinarian Dr. Corynn Johnson discussed a dog’s paw problem – specifically a toenail issue – with the pet owner. The dog’s human companion was concerned about inflammation on her dog’s paw near the toenail. Her dog was limping and not putting weight on that particular foot, and the problem wasn’t going away. Dr. Johnson shared the following information:

When toenail issues persist beyond a few days, veterinarians become concerned about the underlying cause, particularly if the problem has been unresponsive to antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

Potential Causes

Possible nail bed disorders include fungal infections, resistant bacterial infections and foreign bodies (e.g., foxtails).

Dogs are susceptible to multiple types of toenail cancers, which can be benign, such as a keratoacanthoma, or malignant. Squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma and basal cell tumors can be aggressive cancers and should be treated promptly.


A veterinarian should perform a thorough examination of the toe while the pet is sedated. The hair should be clipped to reveal any changes to the skin, and lymph nodes in the respective leg should be examined for enlargement. Your veterinarian can obtain a tissue biopsy of the affected area to determine if cancer is present, as well as collect samples for bacterial and fungal culture to rule out infectious causes.

Radiographs (X-rays) of the foot will indicate whether the bones in the toe are affected, which is common with tumors. Additionally, if there is any evidence of foreign material, your veterinarian can use this opportunity to surgically remove any offending object.

Patient Story: Phyllo

Phyllo, a 10-year-old brown tabby, arrived at VCA SFVS on March 18. His temporary caregiver had brought him in on emergency, to have Phyllo thoroughly checked out. The caregiver was close friends with Phyllo’s guardian, and she had just found Phyllo’s person deceased, as well as Phyllo’s brother, Dash.

Phyllo survived the few days on his own. He did have some dehydration and hunger, and VCA SFVS internal medicine specialist Dr. Alan Stewart found numerous bladder stones, one quite large, that would need to be surgically removed.

The temporary caregiver had covered all veterinary costs up until then, at which point we took over (the caregiver continued to make medical decisions for Phyllo).

Phyllo with Dr. Hammer

Phyllo with Dr. Hammer, one of our emergency veterinarians

Dr. Alice Bugman performed a cystotomy, from which Phyllo has recovered quite well. (Phyllo also did very well being pestered all day long by our staff, who love him and wanted to spend as much time as possible with him.)

Phyllo with Dr. Bugman

Phyllo with Dr. Bugman

Now for the really great news: Phyllo has found a new home! Ted, Phyllo’s new person, learned about the situation from the temporary caregiver. Ted began making preparations to welcome the kitty into his home, and he introduced Phyllo to his new digs last week.

Phyllo with Ted!

Phyllo with Ted!

Phyllo in his new home

Phyllo enjoying his new home

Ted reports that, after a few hours of hiding, Phyllo settled right in and now runs the joint!

Phyllo is an amazing cat, and we feel so lucky to have been part of helping him begin a new life. His temporary caregiver and her family provided wonderful support and advocacy for Phyllo during this time, and we applaud their dedication to him, as well as to the memory of his guardian and cat brother. Without them, Phyllo could have slipped through the cracks … but together, Phyllo is beginning a great new adventure.

Patient Story: Harry

Meet handsome Harry!


Harry came to us because he was having trouble urinating. Internal medicine specialist Dr. Craig Maretzki discovered that Harry’s trouble was due to a urethral obstruction. Dr. Margo Mehl, one of two board-certified veterinary surgeons at VCA SFVS, performed a surgical procedure to fix Harry right up.

With a nod to the recent award season, Harry’s mom, Judith, reports that:

“The Oscar for BEST PATIENT and BRAVEST SF DOG goes to: HARRY!”

And here is Harry’s acceptance speech:

“I wish to thank all my good friends who helped me make a remarkable recovery, and the doctors and care-givers at the SPCA and [VCA SF] Veterinary Specialists, especially  Dr. Love, Dr. Maretzki and my surgeon, Dr. Mehl.

“Thank you Teresa for visiting me in the hospital and at home and giving me treats.


“Thank you Everett for carrying me up the stairs when, after having the stitches removed, I was too groggy to negotiate them myself.


“And of course I want to thank my Mom, who has always been there for me.  She had great faith in me and knew I’d make it through.

“I’ll be seeing you in all the old, familiar places…  For a long time to come.”

We are happy we could be on your veterinary care team, Harry. Thanks to Judith for sharing your award speech and these photos with us. Your admirers at VCA SFVS wish you all the best, and congrats on your award!


Would you like your dog or cat to be featured in our Patient Stories series? Please email us for information. We look forward to hearing from you.

Patient Story: Tucker

Today we have a special patient story featuring Tucker, a Maltese-Poodle cross. Tucker was diagnosed with canine immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP), a disorder in which an animal’s immune system starts destroying its own platelets.





This case also involved a little help from a dog named Sirius, who served as a blood donor for Tucker. Sirius is the animal companion of Tanya, one of our overnight veterinary technicians.

Here, Tucker’s human companion Mary shares his story:

“Tucker was horribly sick and not expected to live. I am so very grateful to the whole VCA team for their hard work and vigilance that saved him. … I can’t say enough great things about Dr. Alan Stewart. He seemed to have a sixth sense about Tucker. Combined with his amazing knowledge and experience, Dr. Stewart was able to see Tucker through this life-threatening time.

“Everyone worked so hard to help him – the nurse who volunteered her dog for two blood transfusions, the nurse who offered to drive him on her day off to UC Davis, the doctors who collaborated on his treatment, the wonderful people who doted over him 24 hours a day, the office staff who were so kind to me when I basically set up camp in the lobby … ”


Sirius on the night of the transfusion

As you can see, Sirius is quite the contrast to little blond Tucker! Sirius began life as a Guide Dog for the Blind. After a forelimb injury, and lots of care from the SFVS staff and Dr. Phil Watt, he was adopted by SFVS tech Tanya in August 2013. Now he spends his time frolicking with his siblings, destroying his mama’s National Geographic magazines, and growing stronger (and cuter) every day!

Sirius and friend at play

Sirius and friend at play

Now for more fun stuff! Tucker says:

“Tucker here. I was born in Williams Lake, British Columbia. It is cold there and being a Maltese-Poodle cross, I decided not to cut my long hair because it is nice and warm. I am shy and look away when the cameras come out. I like to sneak in people’s gardens and eat their broccoli. Then I pretend I was just rolling around on their lawn. I like to go to tide flats and catch tiny fish. I like to go to playgrounds and slide down the slides. I am good at begging for cheese. I like to hug my stuffies.”



We want to thank Mary and Tucker for sharing this patient story! We are sorry they had to go through such a scary experience, but our doctors and staff were honored to be a part of Tucker’s veterinary care team. We also want to thank Sirius for stepping in to be the blood donor!

More about immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP), from SFVS emergency veterinarian Dr. Elyse Hammer:

ITP is an immune-mediated disorder in which an animal’s immune system starts destroying its own platelets. It is seen in both cats and dogs, but is much more common in dogs. ITP can be either primary (idiopathic, meaning there is no underlying cause) or secondary to another disease (tick-borne infections, drugs or cancer, to name a few).

Platelets are very important in normal blood clotting. When the platelet count becomes sufficiently low, animals can start spontaneously bleeding. Most commonly, pet owners will notice bleeding from the mouth or nose or bruising under the skin (called petechiation or ecchymosis). Blood in the stool or vomit, lethargy, and anorexia are also common signs.

Tucker’s bruised belly, part of the differential diagnosis of ITP

Tucker’s bruised belly, part of the differential diagnosis of ITP

ITP, though sometimes challenging (as in Tucker’s case), is treatable and is one of the immune-mediated conditions often managed here at VCA SFVS. Therapy often entails hospitalization on IV fluids, potential blood transfusion if bleeding is significant, treating any underlying causes, and starting immune-modulatory drugs.

Would you like your dog or cat to be featured in our Patient Stories series? Please email us for information. We look forward to hearing from you.


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