Staff Spotlight: Sonja Ebata

Learn a little more about the veterinarians and staff at VCA SFVS in our staff spotlight series! This week we feature Sonja Ebata, a registered veterinary technician and one of our technician supervisors.

Name: Sonja Ebata

Your position: technician supervisor, RVT

sonja with elphaba and usnavi

sonja with elphaba and usnavi


When did you join VCA SFVS? June 2005

Favorite part of your job? My favorite parts of my job are: providing the highest quality of medicine and care to our patients, building strong relationships with my co-workers, and of course getting to see adorable dogs and cats every day!

sonja (a unicorn -- it was halloween!) helping dr. craig maretzki perform an eye exam on mcduff in the ultrasound room

sonja (a unicorn — it was halloween!) helping dr. craig maretzki perform an eye exam on mcduff in the ultrasound room


Tell us a little bit about yourself: I was born in San Francisco. I moved to Oahu, Hawaii, when I was 11 years old. I knew I wanted to be in the veterinary field since I was in high school. One day, my cat brought me a bird that she caught. I was very upset because the bird was injured. My mother drove me and the bird to the closest veterinary hospital where they were able to care for the bird. The staff at the hospital were very kind and understanding. I was so grateful that they were there to help.

Any animal companions of your own? I have a Yorkie mix named Elphaba and a Chihuahua mix named Usnavi. Both are named after characters from musicals. Both dogs are rescues.

What do you enjoy doing outside work? Walking my dogs, reading, dancing, and exploring new restaurants in the Bay Area.

What are you currently reading? Allegiant by Veronica Roth

What’s in your music rotation right now? Beyoncé, Beyoncé and more Beyoncé!

Favorite TV show? Grey’s Anatomy and The Mindy Project

Our staff spotlight series allows our clients and friends to learn a little more about the people at VCA SFVS. This week we feature Mori Afraz, DVM, a member of our current intern class.

Name: Mori Afraz

Your position: Veterinarian, VCA SFVS 2014-2015 intern

When did you join VCA SFVS? June 2014

naia and mija being very cooperative when it comes to posing for the camera

naia and mija being very cooperative when it comes to posing for the camera 

Favorite part of your job? There are too many! From having the privilege of working with the amazing staff at SFVS to meeting incredibly inspiring clients and their excellent companions, it is truly an honor to have this great responsibility.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I discovered veterinary medicine late in my education, during my junior year of college. After graduation, I studied and worked in a small-animal veterinary clinic in the South of France for several months, which solidified my interest in the field. I returned to obtain a master’s degree in nutritional science and worked as a nurse in a veterinary dermatology clinic in the Bay Area before starting vet school.

I confess that I am a true dermaphile. … I love all things dermatology in our veterinary patients. I enjoy the chronic management of care and the rapport established with clients caring for a companion afflicted with dermatologic issues. Allergies can be a very frustrating part of the overall management of pet health, and my goal is to help clients through these difficult periods. While there is unfortunately no quick fix or cure for allergies like in human medicine, our focus in veterinary medicine is on management that is conducive to a good quality of life for the patient and families living with them.

Any animal companions of your own? I have an 11-year-old pug named Mija and a 6-year-old pit bull/Lab mix named Naia.

What do you enjoy doing outside work? When I do have some free time, I enjoy exploring cafes and finding the best café mocha and pastries around. My family and I also love taking road trips around the Bay Area and exploring the endless beaches and trails.

Favorite pet-related activity in the Bay Area? Pug Sunday at Alta Plaza Park. My husband and I discovered this hidden gem 12 years ago, living vicariously through the pug owners before we adopted our baby girl. If you are thinking about adopting a pug, this is a great way to see them, and hear them, in action. If you are not too fond of the breed, this gathering will at least spark a smile. The best part of this event is that all breeds are welcome. Consider checking out this gathering at least once the next time the weather calls for a picnic!


Did you know that our dog and cat friends can get diabetes, just like people?

What is diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus occurs when the body either cannot produce adequate levels of insulin or it cannot respond normally to the insulin that is produced.

Insulin is a hormone secreted from the pancreas that is responsible for promoting uptake of glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. Without insulin, the glucose is stuck in the bloodstream and the cells cannot get the energy they need.

What does the body do to fix this situation?

Most of the glucose in the bloodstream comes from food that our pets eat, but since the energy-hungry cells cannot get access to the glucose circulating in the blood, they begin to signal other parts of the body to release alternative energy sources.

Stored proteins and carbohydrates are broken down to form glucose, which only adds to the ever-growing glucose level trapped within the bloodstream. And, in severe cases, fats are also broken down into an energy source called ketones (more about these later).

Unfortunately, without the insulin that is responsible for blood glucose uptake into cells, mobilizing more glucose does not solve the problem; the cells continue to starve despite the blood glucose level continuing to rise.

What clinical signs should I look for to know if this is happening to my pet?

There are two classic groups of clinical signs that the vast majority of diabetic pets will show:

  1. Weight loss despite an increased appetite
  2. Increased thirst and increased urination

Why? Well, the cells of the body are starving and still don’t know that it’s the insulin that’s the problem, not a truly low blood glucose level. This results in signals to the brain to keep on eating in a misguided attempt to increase the blood glucose.

In addition to the mobilized protein and carbohydrate stores, this increased appetite will further increase the blood glucose level. As the blood glucose level gets higher and higher, it will spill out into the urine as the body tries to get rid of some of the excess sugar. The sugary urine causes an osmotic draw of water into the urine, thereby increasing the volume of each urination. Because diabetic patients are peeing more, naturally they are more thirsty and drink more!

Is there anything else to watch out for?

There are a few other clinical signs you may see at home, including:

  1. In dogs, cataracts
  2. In cats, a crouched or sunken stance, particularly in the hind limbs

What about those ketones?

When the body finally turns to fat stores as a method of providing an energy source for cells, the fat is broken down into a substance called ketones.

Ketones may be a potential energy source for cells, but they ultimately cause more harm than good. When there are excessive levels of ketones in the bloodstream, they, like the glucose, will spill over into the urine, pulling even more of the body’s water with them. They also pull important electrolytes with them into the urine

Ketones still in the bloodstream cause the body to become more acidic than usual, which in turn will effect other normal body functions.

Overall, the body becomes dehydrated, acidic, electrolyte-depleted … and still has a high blood glucose level! This situation can be life-threatening, and is called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). DKA is most likely to occur when there is something else going on in the body in addition to diabetes, such as an infection, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), kidney disease or cancer.

Between all that drinking, peeing and DKA, it’s time we talk about TREATMENT!

Once a pet is diagnosed with diabetes, treatment can be started. Of course, it makes sense that any good treatment would get right at the heart of the matter – the insulin.

It sounds simple: Provide the body with the one component it needs to get all that much-needed glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. However, in reality, this can be a tricky process. Finding the right amount and type of insulin can be difficult, as there is some variation in dosing from pet to pet.

Finding the right amount of insulin often involves multiple vet visits, blood draws and blood glucose curves (where your pet’s blood glucose will be tested throughout the day to be sure that it never drops too low or gets too high during the time period when the insulin is effective).

Additionally, your pet’s insulin needs may change over time, and he or she will require frequent monitoring to check blood glucose and screen for other commonly seen and potentially dangerous health problems in diabetic animals, particularly urinary tract infections.

How is insulin administered?

Insulin comes in a liquid form that is most commonly administered one to two times daily as a subcutaneous (under the skin) injection. This is not for everyone! Most pets will tolerate the injections, but it can be scary to learn how to do at first.

Don’t worry: Every parent of a newly diagnosed diabetic pet will get special instructions on administering these injections.

Very rarely, cats can be effectively treated with an oral medication, but there are no oral treatments available for dogs.

How long do diabetic animals need to be treated?

For most pets, insulin therapy is a lifelong commitment. In addition to the insulin injections and regular monitoring with your veterinarian, there are other lifestyle changes that need to be made, including starting a diabetes-friendly diet and providing regular exercise.

Now, this is where some cats just get lucky! Depending on the cause of their diabetes in the first place, some cats can enter into a remission of their diabetes, and no longer require insulin administration. The diabetes may come back, particularly in the face of certain other illnesses, but treatment may again be temporary. Unfortunately, remission does not occur in our canine friends.

Ultimately, taking care of diabetic pets does require a lot of work, but if you are dedicated to their treatment, it can be rewarding! As always, talk with your veterinarian if you have any concerns or questions about your pet’s health.

dr. emily young

dr. emily young

By Emily Young, VMD, VCA San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, a member of our 2014-2015 intern class

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.


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