Have a Pet-Safe Thanksgiving

We wish all our human and animal friends a very happy and safe Thanksgiving! Via the ASPCA – with a few extra notes (in italics) by Dr. Elyse Hammer, an emergency services veterinarian at VCA SFVS – here are some pet-safety tips to keep in mind around the Thanksgiving holiday:


Talkin’ Turkey
If you decide to feed your pet a little nibble of turkey, make sure it’s boneless and well-cooked. Don’t offer her raw or undercooked turkey, which may contain salmonella bacteria.

Dr. Hammer adds: “We advise against feeding dark meat with skin, as this is higher in fat and can lead to pancreatitis. Skinless, lean white meat is the best if you really need to give your pet any turkey at all.”

Sage Advice
Sage can make your Thanksgiving stuffing taste delish, but it and many other herbs contain essential oils and resins that can cause gastrointestinal upset and central nervous system depression to pets if eaten in large quantities. Cats are especially sensitive to the effects of certain essential oils.

No Bread Dough
Don’t spoil your pet’s holiday by giving him raw bread dough. According to ASPCA experts, when raw bread dough is ingested, an animal’s body heat causes the dough to rise in his stomach. As it expands, the pet may experience vomiting, severe abdominal pain and bloating, which could become a life-threatening emergency, requiring surgery.

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake
If you’re baking up Thanksgiving cakes, be sure your pets keep their noses out of the batter, especially if it includes raw eggs—they could contain salmonella bacteria that may lead to food poisoning.

Too Much of a Good Thing
A few small boneless pieces of cooked turkey, a taste of mashed potato or even a lick of pumpkin pie shouldn’t pose a problem. However, don’t allow your pets to overindulge, as they could wind up with a case of stomach upset, diarrhea or even worse—an inflammatory condition of the pancreas known as pancreatitis. In fact, it’s best keep pets on their regular diets during the holidays.

Secure your garbage (it may smell especially good and be very tempting to your animal friend), and keep turkey bones, string, foil/plastic wrap, etc. away from your pet.

A Feast Fit for a Kong
While the humans are chowing down, give your cat and dog their own little feast. Offer them Nylabones or made-for-pet chew bones. Or stuff their usual dinner—perhaps with a few added tidbits of turkey, vegetables (try sweet potato or green beans) and dribbles of gravy—inside a Kong toy. They’ll be happily occupied for awhile, working hard to extract their dinner from the toy.

No Lilies! 
A final but very important reminder from Dr. Hammer: As you are decorating for a Thanksgiving gathering, be sure to keep lilies out of the centerpieces; these flowers are found in many ready-made bouquets. They are a true danger!


Related resources:

Staff Spotlight: Brisa Aceves

Our staff spotlight series allows our clients and friends to learn a little more about the people at VCA SFVS. This week we feature Brisa Aceves, a registered veterinary technician at our hospital.

Name: Brisa Aceves

Your position and department: RVT, internal medicine/emergency services lead / treatment tech

When did you join VCA SFVS? February 2005

Favorite part of your job? My favorite part is probably working with the hospitalized patients. We see a lot of patients with multiple diseases or complicated diseases that can cause them to stay in hospital for weeks at a time. It’s a good feeling when we’re able to get them “back on their feet” and home with their owners.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I’m from Santa Rosa originally and moved to SF in summer of 2001. I started work at SFVS as an assistant in 2005, working my way up to tech then taking my RVT exam in 2010. My mother is also an RVT so I’ve been around and had animals all my life.

What does your work day entail? It depends … my work week is split between being a “floor lead” two days and treatment technician the other two. When I’m on as lead, I help manage/organize the floor for breaks, procedures and needs of the IM and ES departments, making sure there’s appropriate coverage and techs assigned to patients and that there’s someone available to help the doctors. When I’m on as a treatment tech, I take care of the hospitalized patients.

Your work-related super power? Handling fractious cats. I’ve been called a “cat whisperer.”


brisa with her kitties, vincent and fredman / photo credit: lisa martin


Any animal companions of your own? I have two big male tuxedo cats. One’s a long hair, the other short-haired. They are 8-year-old brothers and they are amazing.

What do you enjoy doing outside work? I spend most of my time outside of work shooting traditional film photography or working on art projects focused around photography. I also enjoy going to museums and going to the movies.

Dr. Allegra Roth, one of our emergency services veterinarians at VCA SFVS, recently hosted a Girl Scout troop here. The troop is making a special effort this year to meet with professional women, to inspire the girls and so they can learn that hard work can really pay off.

Dr. Roth spoke with them about her lifelong dream of being a veterinarian, the education that it took to get her there, and what she does day-to-day in her job as an ES doctor.


Dr. Roth also took them through the details of an exam, and each girl had the opportunity to put on a stethoscope and listen to a “patient’s” heart. (Dr. Roth’s dogs, Lexi and Mia, kindly volunteered to be the patients.)


After some snacks, we took the troop over to the SF SPCA, where our friends in the Humane Education program talked to the girls about the importance of spay/neuter and finished off with a tour of the adoptable cats and dogs in their facility.

Dr. Roth and all of us enjoyed having the Girl Scouts visit us and wish them all the best! (Future veterinarians in the group, keep us posted!)

Patient Story: Daisy

Today on the blog, meet the fabulous Daisy! Daisy came to our hospital on referral from her primary care veterinarians at Arguello Pet Hospital, in order to get a second evaluation of her heart prior to going under anesthesia for surgery.

Below, Daisy’s human companion Minette shares more about this 14-year-old beauty. We appreciate Minette’s taking the time to write Daisy’s story and share the pictures with us. It was our honor to be a part of Daisy’s veterinary care team, and we are so happy her dental surgery at Arguello went well!

minette with daisy

minette with daisy

From Minette:

All About Daisy!

In March 2000, when I finally felt ready to care for a dog of my own, I started my search for a female Maltese puppy. When I took Daisy home at 12 weeks old, I assumed I was getting a “foo foo” prim passive lapdog. The joke was on me when I soon discovered that Daisy was the opposite of “foo foo” :) Daisy was a scrappy, feisty, overly curious, and highly independent “big dog in a little body.” And a definite “alpha dog” and pack leader. Daisy considered ME to be the more passive “foo foo” member of her pack. Daisy was fearless and territorial and would bravely face off with a Rottweiler or a Mastiff to protect me (or to rule the street). When Daisy was still a puppy, she once confronted an actual burglar who was breaking into my office downtown, and she scared the burglar so badly that he returned my purse and phone that he had stolen and apologized to me!

The softer, sweeter side of Daisy would come out in quiet times, showing affection to me and my family and friends. And uniquely with children. Daisy would allow (endure) little children to pick her up and carry her around in the most lopsided, uncomfortable positions, and she would never flinch or complain. It always touches my heart to watch Daisy with children. Once a year at Christmas time, Daisy dons huge feathered angel wings and marches in the Redwood City “Hometown Holiday Parade” and blesses the children on the sidelines who scream out “Angel Dog!!!” as if she were a celebrity.

I am a photographer, so I taught Daisy from puppyhood onward how to pose for photos with props and hats and costumes. She became accustomed to being frequently photographed in amusing get-ups. I swear that she is a canine “supermodel” who knows how to smile for the camera and come up with various “poses” and positions of her own.


a sample from daisy’s modeling portfolio!

When not barking at dogs 10 times her size, or modeling hats and fashions, or marching down Main Street in a parade, my Daisy loves these activities:

  • eating
  • more eating
  • rolling around in grass in a park
  • running up and down the hallway in our apartment building to fetch soft stuffed toys in exchange for treats
  • napping with her head propped/draped over stuffed animals … or sometimes draped over my shoes!
  • taking car rides and car trips
  • exploring new places and spaces
  • going shopping with me inside her carry bag
  • going to movies with me in the carry bag
  • sneaking into restaurants with me and being totally quiet in the carry bag (knowing I’ll slip her treats)
  • flying in planes (under the seat) to visit pet-loving relatives in Florida and New York
  • swimming in the pool in Florida

Through the years, Daisy lost most of her teeth (a weak physical trait in Maltese) and by 2012 – when Daisy was 12 years old – she only had four canine teeth and one molar left. That year, Daisy’s vet diagnosed a heart murmur. Her littermate brother was also diagnosed, and he sadly passed away from congestive heart failure in 2013 at age 13. My fears about Daisy’s heart condition escalated as her five teeth deteriorated.

My wonderful veterinarians at Arguello Pet Hospital – Dr. Mike Ina and his daughter Dr. Jamie Ina – were understandably concerned about the awful condition of Daisy’s teeth, but they understood my fear of putting her under anesthesia (with a heart condition) to extract the teeth. Fortunately, Daisy’s heart murmur did not get worse, so by the summer of 2014, I was given counsel by Dr. Mike Ina to consider the dental surgery while Daisy was still relatively healthy.

While reviewing October X-rays and blood test results with Dr. Jamie Ina, she told me that I might attain some expert specialist counsel (and possibly some peace of mind about the anesthesia) if I took Daisy to VCA SF Veterinary Specialists, and to ask for Dr. Justin Williams to assess Daisy’s heart, and Dr. Craig Maretzki to assess Daisy’s liver and advise about an elevated liver enzyme on her blood test.

I was at a crossroads, trying to decide IF I should submit my precious 14+-year-old senior dog to dental surgery, knowing the risk. So I went to VCA SFVS in desperate need of help to make my decision.

The rest of the story is the HAPPY ENDING. I had a wonderful experience at VCA SFVS. Both Dr. Williams and Dr. Maretzki told me with confidence to go ahead with the dental surgery and that Daisy was in good shape for her age. Dr. Williams assured me that Daisy’s heart would be fine with the anesthesia. He was totally correct! Daisy survived the dental surgery at Arguello Pet Hospital just FINE! She bounced back to normal in two days.

Daisy is now toothless, but her “Mona Lisa” smile is still intact. She’s still a “photographer’s model.” But there will be no more bacteria getting into her system. And she has sweet breath again and can enjoy her food without dental pain. She is kissing my face and I think it means “thank you Mom for getting me the best of care.”


from another modeling shoot!

The partnership of Daisy’s regular vets with VCA SFVS resulted in proactive and preventive care for my “senior” pet by extracting decayed teeth to extend her lifespan and quality of life.

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? I think you can, if you do everything you can to preserve your older dog’s health for as long as you can. Thanks to Daisy’s regular vets, and our new vets at VCA SFVS, I know she is in the best possible hands for as long as she lives, and I hope she lives a very long life.

Right now, Daisy enjoys living “in the NOW” (the lesson we humans learn from our pets) and she is running around the hallway and later plans to drape her head over her stuffed elephant and dream happy dog dreams. I follow her lead and try to live “in the NOW” and enjoy every single day I have with Daisy.

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.

VCA SFVS veterinary surgeons Drs. Margo Mehl and Phil Watt recently had the opportunity to perform a vasectomy … on a lion!


surgery day

The patient, Bambek, was rescued from Bolivia and now lives at the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) ARK 2000 sanctuary. Many thanks to Kim G. from PAWS for putting the following story on Bambek together for us. It was our honor to work with PAWS, and we wish Bambek and Camba all the best!



On May 28, 2010, four circus lions, rescued from Bolivia when their government voted to ban the use of exotic animals in traveling shows, Camba, Daktari, Simba and Bambek, arrived at the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) ARK 2000 sanctuary after a very long journey by plane and truck.

Bambek peered quietly out of his crate as the PAWS team checked in on him. Soon, he was positioned next to the doors of his new home at ARK 2000 sanctuary.

He began to roar, calling to the other lions for reassurance. The PAWS team scattered straw about the enclosure and shifted the crates up to den doors so Bambek and the others, who clearly did not like being separated, could be together.

As the sun began to rise, Bambek was released into his separate den area while the crates were removed from the area, and finally, the gates were opened and the three males were reunited.

Camba, the female lioness who has been kept separated until all the animals can be neutered, hugged the common fence, pushing her body into Bambek.

Suddenly, all three males began rolling around in the fragrant alfalfa hay, and then raced around the big enclosure sniffing the pine trees, urinating profusely, and somersaulting over the branches to jump on an unsuspecting companion. Camba chased Bambek and the others up and down the fence line, wearing pine branches and hay on her head.

Sadly, we realized how spacious that den area was compared to the metal boxes that had been their home for most of their lives.

The three males fell asleep on top of each other against the fence next to Camba until PAWS keepers released the lions into the huge sunny hillside habitat with trees, logs and lots of vegetation.

The PAWS tigers, in the adjacent habitat, were stalking their new “neighbors” and roaring over the hillsides.

Bambek and the other lions roared back, and long conversations developed between the two species, almost a big cat welcome wagon.

Bambek and the lions from Bolivia were home and had become the Pride of PAWS.

Bambek chose to sleep out in the habitat that first night, gazing up at the stars, likely for the very first time in his life.

Why did Bambek need a vasectomy?

When the lions arrived from Bolivia, they were reproductively intact. Bambek was very close to his male companions, Daktari and Simba. During the day, they would lie close together in their grassy habitat and at night, they would sleep together in a big pile in a den. After both Daktari and Simba tragically died with cancer, Bambek was left alone in his habitat, which shared a common fence line with his neighbor, Camba the lioness. Bambek began to show an interest in Camba, and the two lions romp along the fence together, and even sleep next to each other, touching through the fence.

In hopes of introducing Bambek to Camba, and to prevent any possibility of pregnancy, vasectomy surgery was performed on Bambek with the assistance of veterinary surgeons Dr. Margo Mehl and Dr. Phil Watt, with their assistant Melissa. (If you neuter a male lion, he’ll lose his mane, which is why the vasectomy route was chosen.)

The surgery went well, and Bambek has fully recovered. We are looking forward to carefully introducing these two in hopes that they will provide companionship for each other.

About Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)

PAWS was founded in 1984 and is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of captive wildlife. PAWS operates three sanctuaries in Northern California and is home to elephants, tigers, lions, bears and others. Rescue. Protection. Sanctuary. Education. Advocacy. www.PAWSweb.org

Ways to support PAWS/donate > www.pawsweb.org/support_paws_home_page.html

Patient Story: Charlie

Today on the blog, we feature Charlie! Charlie has made a few trips to our hospital, most recently to see Dr. Diana Bowen, one of our internal medicine specialists, for gastrointestinal issues.



As you can see, Charlie is quite the handsome orange kitty, and we are honored to be on his veterinary care team. Below, Charlie’s human companion Si Si shares a little more about him.

From Si Si:

We rescued Charlie when he was about 4 weeks old in front of our house on 08/24/99. He liked to sleep and play with the toys when he was young.


He always liked to sit on Daddy’s shoulder like a parrot.


I believed that Charlie was reincarnated by my first orange tiger boy named “Sweetie” from SFSPCA (1979 to 1994). That was why he is very special to me.

We rescued Miss Lucky (Charlie’s half sister) in front of our house on 11/30/00. We rescued Pouncer on 08/26/06, Blackie on 10/16/07, and Jolly on 07/16/08.




Charlie used to play with all his brothers and sister and was very happy. Lately, he tries to hide from them. Dr. Bowen saved both Charlie (three times) and Lucky (one time).

I am totally blessed that Charlie is in Dr. Bowen’s hands because of her professionalism, knowledge, compassion and patience.

Many thanks to Si Si for sharing these fabulous pictures (we especially love the pigeon-watching kitties) and for trusting us with her “orange tiger’s” veterinary care.

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.


Our hospital is in search of a special canine or feline patient to be our 2014 holiday card model! Want to see your animal companion(s) featured on the card?

Here’s how to enter, in three easy steps:

  1. Email a high-res photo (300 dpi) to prsfvs@vca.com by 11/10/14.
  2. Include pet name and age, why he/she visited VCA SFVS, and your VCA SFVS doctor and your primary veterinarian (if applicable).
  3. Also send a sentence or two about why you think your furry friend(s) should be this year’s card model.

A panel of our veterinarians and staff will choose the finalists, and then we will open up voting for the winner in an online public poll. The winner will receive copies of the holiday card and a special gift from our hospital.

We look forward to seeing your photos!

(We know it may be a *little* early to be thinking about the holidays, but we need some extra time to collect entries and votes, and then design/print/mail the cards. Thanks for understanding!)


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