Does Itchy Skin Have Your Pet Feeling Down?

Livermore is finally warming up, and the trees and plants are blooming once again. That’s great for those of us who have been waiting for spring, but it has also been bringing with it fleas, ticks, and environmental allergies. I don’t know about other veterinary hospitals, but here at Ohana Animal Hospital we have been seeing red and gooey eyes, and itchy dogs, cats, and rabbits all day long! Poor Dr. Steffes has been sniffly and sneezy as well, so he is extra understanding of how your pet feels now as well! Let’s take a little while to discuss what we can do to keep our pets comfortable in the safest, and most effective ways possible.

First of all, let’s take a look at what we are using to prevent pesky fleas from causing your dog, cat, or rabbit unwanted discomfort. Unfortunately, there is not just one product that works the best for every animal, and not all products do the same thing. My favorite products for dogs are currently Nexgard and Bravecto, and there are a couple of reasons why. I have found that dogs LIKE THE TASTE of the chew treats, and we all know how difficult it can be to give a dog medication. When the dog likes the chew tablet it much less stressful for you at home. They Work, and they seem to keep dogs from being itchy, which is our whole reason for using them in the first place. I have also found them to be Very Safe, and I know that is often one of the biggest concerns owners have when using flea and tick products. These products are even being shown to be effective for other parasitic diseases such as demodex and sarcoptes mites!!

For cats and rabbits my favorite product is Revolution. Revolution is a topical, spot-on product, which is very easy to apply to the neck and back of cats and rabbits. I don’t know if you have ever tried to give a rabbit a pill, but let’s just say there are simpler tasks. I lean towards Revolution currently because it has been shown to be safe, effective, and easy to use. I actually use Revolution in rabbits and other exotic animals to treat many other skin diseases as well, so there are lots of benefits to using this product. Hedgehogs are really difficult to medicate, but a topical product makes treatment simple. Revolution even helps prevent heartworm disease, which can be a problem for cats and ferrets.


Have you noticed your dog’s eyes being red, scratchy, and building up yellow debris lately?? You are not alone! This week has been full of environmental irritation causing redness of the eyes, irritation, and gooey buildup near the eyes. Of course environmental allergies are not the only cause for a red eye, and it is important to discuss this with your veterinarian. Your vet will likely want to test the tear production in the eyes to rule out a disease called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), test for a corneal ulcer with a fluorescein stain (green dye that helps find tears in the cornea), and may even recommend testing the pressure in the eye to rule out glaucoma and inflammation in the eye. Environmental allergies will result in normal test results, and can generally be very easily treated with some special drops. Don’t let your dog’s eyes be irritated and scratchy, give your vet a call so they can fix the problem!

KC is a much happier dog when her allergies are under control!!!

Worried about the cost of the newest and most effective flea and tick products? We want your animals comfortable just like you do, and we have some ways we make it very affordable for you to get your hands on these products. Stop by Ohana Animal Hospital, or give us a call, and we can tell you about our individual monthly dose plans! We all want the best for our pets these days, and we are here to help. If you have another flea or tick preventative that you love we are not going to try to change your mind, but if you need a little help this year let’s talk.


How Often Should My Exotic Pet See The Vet?

“When do I need to bring my pet back to Ohana Animal Hospital to see you again Dr. Steffes?” That is the most common question I hear at the end of an appointment with my exotic animal clients, and I think one that it’s time we discuss. At the beginning of my career as an exotic animal veterinarian I would answer with once a year, but was not so sure how much I really meant it. I was young, and did not yet have the experience under my belt to be able to answer that question with absolute confidence. At this point in my career, I realize that many of the issues that arise in our exotic pets could have been easily prevented with a yearly, or bi-yearly health evaluation. So, when I am now asked that question I answer without any doubt in my mind, “once yearly in young pets, and twice per year once your pet reaches his/her senior years.”


“Why should I bring my pet to see the veterinarian when it seems healthy Dr. Steffes?” I knew that was what you were thinking, so let’s address that. The majority of exotic pets are very good at hiding signs of illness. If you appear sick and weak in the wild, you are most likely going to be some predator’s next meal. This is one of the main reasons why so many people have stories that go like this: “My bearded dragon was acting completely normal, but it had not eaten for the last 4 months. Yesterday it started to act lethargic so I figured it was time to bring it to the vet. The vet put my beloved beardie on medications, and it died the same night! The vet killed my bearded dragon with the medications he/she gave, and now I will never bring my exotic pet to the vet again because they can never fix these pets anyway.” I understand this thought process, but I want to try to help us move past this. Is it possible that the medication caused the demise of your beloved lizard? I suppose it is possible, but it is much more likely that your dragon was too sick to be saved. I never blame an owner for coming in too late, and I never try make people feel bad. It can be very hard to tell when your exotic pet is sick, and we exotic animal veterinarians know this. That is why it is beneficial to go to your exotic animal veterinarian once to twice per year, even if your pet looks healthy. We are here to help you, and you should not be afraid to use us. Believe me, we are much less likely to bite than your hamster or green tree python. 🙂

Another reason why it is so important to bring your exotic pet in to see the veterinarian, even though it appears healthy, is that we can help you keep it that way. There is a good chance that with a good physical exam we will find issues well before your pet will ever show signs of disease. We may find early signs of pododermatitis (irritation on a rabbit or rodent’s feet that can lead to serious bone infection), and we can help you redesign your housing. We may palpate a mass in the abdomen of your monitor lizard, and with early diagnosis we may be able to save your pet before disease spreads. We may find out that we need to adjust the diet you are feeding your panther chameleon, or that you need to switch the multivitamin supplement you are using for your insectivore because it lacks preformed vitamin a. You may not have known that we can almost completely prevent ferret adrenal disease with the implantation of a deslorelin implant every 16 months. We may find that your animal has a parasite on a fecal test, and by treating it early we can prevent weight loss and gastrointestinal disease. There is great value in preventative medicine, and believe me it will save you money and heartbreak in the long run.


I have learned over time that many of the issues I encounter in exotic animal medicine could have been prevented with early diagnosis, or early adjustment of basic husbandry. Exotic animal medicine has unfortunately been very reactionary in nature, and we often start working on these pets when they are very ill, and the prognosis for recovery is poor. I have started to see a shift in exotic animal clients though, and many people are now interested in preventative care, just like they are for dog and cat family members. This is allowing us to keep many of these exotic pets healthy, and in the home with their caregivers for a much longer time. I am not going to lie and say that by seeing us you will never have a problem with your exotic pet. That is, unfortunately, not how medicine works. If we partner together, and we both take an active role in care, we can provide your exotic pet the best opportunity to thrive.

Here at Ohana Animal Hospital we are doing our best to keep you and your pets together as long as possible. Dr. Zach Steffes can’t wait to meet you and your exotic pet! If you do not live in the Bay Area, a good place to start looking for a good exotic veterinarian is on the ARAV (association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians), AEMV (Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians), and AAV (Association of Avian Veterinarians) websites. They have excellent find-a-vet sections, and are a great resource when you are looking for a vet who sees exotic pets.

Thanks for reading!

Zach Steffes, and the Ohana Animal Hospital Team

Part III: Breed-Specific Activities for Your Canine Friend(s)

While a majority of dogs spend their days doing very little physical activity, many dogs were originally bred for working. Knowing what your dog was meant to do can really help you understand its behavior.


If you are looking for a new dog, knowing about the breed(s) can help you pick one that fits your family.  If you currently have a dog (or multiple dogs), understanding breed-specific traits can help you to provide an even more fulfilling life for your canine(s).

Working Groups

Herding Dogs

Herding dogs include German Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Border Collies (just to name a few). These dogs are full of energy, very smart, and highly trainable. These dogs were bred over hundreds of years for their ability to control and move herds of livestock — which is why many people also refer to them as shepherd dogs.

dog and cows

Although they are still a favorite for farms, the majority of herding dogs today never get a chance to see a farm animal. Still, many owners notice their pet’s instinct to “herd” their families, which often results in owners becoming worried about their dog’s tendency to urgently nudge or even nip at people.

It’s important to recognize that these behaviors are not aggressive.  Instead, they are traces of the genetic lineage of herding dogs.  These dogs not only require serious physical activity on a daily basis, but they need mental activity as well. Thinking is one of the things herding dogs are great at, and they’re not truly happy without daily mental exercise.

Bird Dogs

This group is comprised of several types of dogs — pointers (German shorthair), retrievers (Golden or Labrador), setters (English, Irish), flushers (Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel), and water dogs (Poodle, Portuguese Water dog).  These dogs were developed over time to help hunters of fowl find and retrieve their game.  Bird dogs are known for being smart & loyal, energetic, and loving the water.


Guard Dogs

Guardian breeds such as Giant Schnauzers, German Shepherds, Tibetan Mastiffs, and Doberman Pinschers, and Rottweilers are oftentimes seen as aggressive and untrustworthy because they can be quite ferocious when it comes to protecting their home. However, it’s important to not forget that we bred them to be that way.


The most important thing for these dogs is socialization when they’re still puppies. Young dogs that are exposed to as many strangers as possible tend to be less aggressive with age. If they aren’t exposed to these things when they’re puppies, it can lead to issues with aggression—which may be devastating for you and your dog. These dogs are incredibly intelligent and easy to train, so providing them with appropriate outlets to get out their extra energy will go a long way.

Sight Dogs


These dogs were bred for helping hunters track prey by sight.  The Greyhound, Saluki, and the Irish Wolfhound are sight dogs, which makes them very visual and extremely fast. They will chase anything with quick movement (including kids) and tend to be highly energetic.

Although this group includes some of the fastest dog breeds, they are known for being “couch potatoes” at home.  If there is nothing for them to chase, they are usually quite content to lay by their human pack leader.  Therefore, don’t misinterpret their laziness as them not wanting to be physically active—it’s the owner’s responsibility to engage them in activities they will enjoy.


Like sight dogs, tracking dogs were bred to help hunt prey, but instead of using their eyes, they use their noses. Breeds such as the Beagle, Bloodhound, and Coonhound belong to this group. Their amazing sense of smell is so instinctive that even dogs with no formal training will “track” a scent they pick up. As some of you may have experienced firsthand, if your dog picks up a scent, he/she will probably tune out everything else as his scent drive takes over.  Due to this, it’s not a good idea to let a Hound off of their leash without proper training.  If a scent dog finds a scent, will be long gone, having tuned your voice out completely. With training, however, these amazing dogs are great for search & rescue and scent work.



Terriers were bred to be expert hunters of game. This group, which includes the American Staffordshire terrier, Jack Russell and, West Highland Terrier, is well known for being stubborn, overbearing, and energetic.


These dogs need a firm hand when it comes to training or your house will end up being destroyed. Since they were bred to kill, these dogs LOVE to rip, shred, chew, and shake anything they get their teeth into. Therefore, nip training and socialization are extremely important.

Activities for Working Dogs

  • Taking Turns (Learning Patience/Mental Stimulation)
  • Staying Focused (Learning Impulse Control/Mental Stimulation)
  • Being Attentive (Learning to be Responsive to You/Mental Stimulation)
  • Retrieve (Learning to Bring You Items/Physical Exercise)
  • Hide n’ Seek (Learning to Be Attentive/Teaches Responsibility/Mental Stimulation)
  • “Find It” (Teaches Names of Objects/Mental Stimulation)
  • Puzzles (Learning to Stay on Task/Concentration/Mental Stimulation)
  • Treiball (Satisfies Herding Instinct/Physical Exercise/Mental Stimulation)
  • Playing Fetch (Learning to Be Attentive/Physical Exercise)
  • Dock Diving (Physical Exercise)
  • Disc-Catching (Learning to Be Attentive/Physical Exercise)
  • Nose Work (Learning to Stay on Task/Mental Stimulation)
  • Digging Activities (Physical Exercise/Mental Stimulation)
  • Going for a walk/jog/hike (Physical Exercise)
  • Search and Rescue (Learning to Stay on Task/Physical Exercise/Mental Stimulation)

Non-Sporting Dogs

This is a diverse group of dogs in size and appearance. In contrast to other groups, these dogs lost their ability to perform the tasks they were bred for.  Nowadays, most non-sporting breeds are great companions and choice of many families. These dogs learn quickly and love any exercise as long as it suits their body type.  Non-sporting dogs include the Bulldog, Poodle, Dalmatian, Chow Chow, Boston Terrier, and Bichon Frise (again, just to name a few).


The personalities and temperament of these dogs are unique. In fact, experts can’t make any generalizations about the behavioral traits for the breeds in this group. The tendencies of each breed are unique and can only be traced to their individual backgrounds. Some make excellent watch dogs, while others are lap dogs. Some are good for living in apartments, while others should only live in homes with large outdoor areas to be physically active.

Since it’s so difficult to make generalizations about the breeds in this group, owners should be sure to research breeds to help understand their unique characteristics, discover appropriate activities to do with them, and to determine whether or not that breed is appropriate for what they’re looking for.

Toy Group

The toy group is the smallest group of dogs and was bred to fit on laps. These dogs have diverse traits but they share the same characteristics of being small dogs. In the past, they were used to provide physical comfort and entertainment for their owners. Nowadays, they perform very similar tasks. These dogs are also known for their therapeutic value as therapy dogs. They are widely known for not leaving their sick owner’s bed side.

Some examples of dogs included in this group are Pomeranians, Pugs, Chihuahuas, and Poodles.


Activities for Puppies

Playing with a puppy might seem fairly obvious, but if you’re not careful, you can play too rough or too long with your puppy, which can lead to aggression or grumpiness. Without preparing to play, you may create behavioral problems such as nipping or biting. The good news is that with simple preparation, there are a variety of games that will help your puppy to socialize and strengthen your bond.


  • Choose a good time to play.

Pick a time when the puppy is full of energy and they haven’t just eaten.  If kids are going to play, make sure they are supervised.  An important thing to keep in mind is that puppies don’t understand the difference between playing and teasing.  So don’t be surprised if they “nip” out of confusion if kids (or adults) are teasing them.

  • Learn what your puppy likes.

Pay attention to what the puppy runs to or chews on. Test out some toys and see if the puppy responds or not.  Try out different textures and shapes/sizes.  A puppy won’t want to play with something they don’t like, so it’s the owner’s responsibility to provide them with preferred toys and activities.

  • Train during playtime.

Use this time to work on smaller tasks such as “sit” or responding to their name.  You’d be surprised at how fast a puppy can learn if you find the right motivator!

  • Know when to be done with playtime.

Since puppies are often energetic, it’s hard to remember that they can become overtired. A puppy has growing bones and slack ligaments supporting their bones. If the puppy becomes overtired, he/she might move awkwardly and damage those growing joints. Make sure not to overtire the puppy, so stop while he/she still has some energy left!


When you do stop, end on a good note that leaves your puppy wanting more, instead of playing until they’re completely exhausted. If the puppy is worn out, he/she will become grumpy from tiredness—which could lead to the puppy associating play with negative experiences rather than positive experiences.

Activities for Older Dogs

Exercise is still extremely important with older dogs, so be sure keep them active for physical (and mental) well-being. Depending on your dog, consider slowing your daily jog together down to a brisk walk, or take a couple of short walks instead of one long one — use common sense to determine whether or not what you’re doing is at an appropriate level of intensity.  Just as people get sore as they age, dogs do, too!  So be mindful of the limitations your canine(s) may have.


Swimming is a wonderful activity for dogs of all ages, but it’s particularly good for older dogs because it’s low-impact and easy on their weakening joints and muscles. Swimming also helps to build strength, is good for their overall conditioning, and is relaxing and comforting for most dogs.


Tailoring activities as a dog ages is something that many people have a hard time with. Just remember that this is a natural part of life, and honoring that aspect of life is honoring your dog.


Well, that’s it for today!  We hope you’ve learned something about behavioral enrichment for your dog(s), and maybe you’ll even decide to try out some of the activities this weekend!

Until next time,

Ayriel and the Ohana Animal Hospital Staff

Part II: Brain Activities for Your Canine(s)

In Part I, I briefly described basic behavioral enrichment concepts and ideas for physical activities to try with your dog(s). This part is going to focus on how to stimulate your canine’s brain—which is just as important as getting enough exercise!

Brain Exercises for Your Dog

Nose work

Humans have six million olfactory receptors, whereas dogs have up to 300 million. Not only that, but the part of the brain that analyzes smells is 40 times bigger in dogs than humans. Dogs learn about the world they live in through their sense of smell, so it’s important to provide activities that fulfill this need.

Nose work takes advantage of a dog’s innate scent capability.  Make a game out of hiding their food or play hide-and-seek with treats. You can even build obstacle courses for your dog out of boxes, sturdy containers, and portable stairs. Rub the scent in various locations, hiding the meal or the preferred treat in the toughest place to find. You can even hide favorite treats and toys all over the house or yard! Not only does this encourage the dog to problem solve, but it also builds confidence!


Ideally, every dog owner should have a few different types of puzzle toys. All you have to do it fill it up with healthy treats, place it on the floor near your dog, and they get mental enrichment and physical stimulation without you having to do anything but watch and be proud and/or entertained. In the photos below, you will see Anja completing three different puzzles (and looking VERY proud after she finished them all).  Being a German Shepherd, it’s important for her to get plenty of mental stimulation, and these puzzles are amazing!  There are lots of different kinds of puzzles out there, so my advice is to look online since that’s where you will find the best variety to choose from.

Obedience Training

More often than not, it seems that after puppyhood, and once the basic obedience commands have been taught, cognitive challenges tend to drop off.  Obedience training helps to establish boundaries with your dog—which is incredibly important because dogs look to their pack leaders (i.e., you, the owner) for not only direction but also protection.

Obedience training is very important when it comes to nurturing a healthy human-animal relationship and creating a socially compatible pet. Obedience-trained dogs often lead happier and healthier lives than their non-trained canine(s). If dogs learn to not jump up on strangers, sit or lie quietly when asked, and walk politely on lead, they will be more likely to spend time with their owners in public and in the home, and will spend less time alone.

Ring Stackers

Just as toys can teach toddlers eye-hand coordination, they can teach dogs eye-paw (or eye-mouth) coordination. This is a tough game that takes time to learn, so you and your dog will have to work together for hours, since it can take days or weeks to perfect this activity.

Remember to find wooden rings with natural dyes rather than plastic, since your dog will be biting down on these rings quite a bit. The size you’ll want to buy depends on the size of your dog and his dexterity with his mouth.

The Name Game

So your dog can put toys away, but can he/she put toys away by name? A great game to play with your dog is teaching him/her the name of specific toys, and then sending/asking him/her to go get that particular toy. It just takes a lot of repetition to teach the name (and I mean A LOT of repetition).

One way to get started is to hold a toy, say its name, let your dog grab it, then reward your dog for grabbing the toy. Let’s say it’s a stuffed toy named Duckie. Hold Duckie in one hand, say “Duckie,” let your dog grab Duckie, and give a reward (can be a treat or verbal praise). Repeat this 20 or 30 times. Then set Duckie next to a very different toy of equal value, like a ball toy named “Ball”. Say “Duckie” to your dog and if your dog selects Duckie, give a reward. If your dog doesn’t select Duckie but selects Ball instead, say nothing but place Ball back next to Duckie. Say “Duckie” again and let your dog choose. Once your dog is consistently selecting Duckie, place it next to another different toy, and repeat the steps until your dog is always choosing Duckie over other toys.

Run Errands 

Going to get the mail, making a quick stop at a friend’s house, getting your morning coffee from Starbucks (or Peet’s if you prefer), or a spin through the car wash (as long as this doesn’t cause anxiety) will expose your dog(s) to a variety of different stimuli.

Although I don’t have dogs, I’ve taken my cats on errands to help get them used to riding in the car, as well as helping them to understand that every time they ride in the car, it doesn’t mean they’re going to the vet!  This has made our visits to the vet much less stressful, so I suggest you try it if your canine(s) experiences anxiety when going to the vet.

Plus, your canine friend(s) will just be happy to just go with you wherever you go!  However, if you do decide to bring your dog(s) to run errands, I would recommend leaving them at home on days when you will need to leave them unattended in your car for longer durations of time (unless it’s a nice, cool day out).

Give Your Dog a Job 

Every dog needs a job, whether it’s carrying a backpack on the hike or fetching a ball. It helps boost their self-esteem when they feel like they’re contributing to their pack. However, some dogs play an important role beyond their immediate human family. They help keep us safe, assist those with disabilities, and manage our livestock (I will discuss this topic more in Part III).

Some easy jobs to try at home could be engaging your dog in a game of Frisbee, getting involved in a sport like agility or Flyball (which I mentioned in Part I). Take your pup for a long walk, hike, or swim (physically and mentally stimulating).  Ask your dog to get the mail or put their toys away.  There are SO many options!  You just have to find the right job for your dog(s).

A last, and critical part of giving your dog a job, is to find something that fulfills your dog’s breed. For example, if you have a retriever, nothing will leave it more satisfied than a hearty game of fetch.  Hounds would be delighted to complete a task that requires smelling or digging.


  • As a dog owner, it’s your responsibility to find activities your dog enjoys.  Not only will this help them, but it will also help you and your family to lead less stressful lives if you’re not constantly dealing with a bored canine.
  • Be patient with your dog during the learning process—it can take some time for them to become comfortable with the activity and/or the environment (e.g., agility facility).
  • Be creative!  Start using your imagination!  Make an obstacle course out of furniture and household items, make your own puzzles, or come up with a new game to play.
  • Take a few minutes to search for breed-specific activities for your canine(s). There is SO MUCH information out there (whether it’s online, books, magazines, etc.), and your dog(s) will thank you for helping them fulfill their duties! 

Well, that’s it for now! Thanks for stopping by, and remember, stay tuned for Part III: Breed-Specific Activities to Do with Your Canine(s)—coming later this week!


Until next time,

Ayriel, and the Ohana Animal Hospital Staff

Part I: Behavioral Enrichment for Your Canine(s)

How Do I Know if my Dog is Bored?

Dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, reptiles, rabbits, gerbils, and animals of all sorts, spend most of their days lying around with nothing to do. While they’re busy lying around, their wild relatives experience days filled with activities such as hunting, scavenging, foraging, and gathering food for survival. They experience the thrill of tracking a prey, the excitement of finding a new location to store food, and the satisfaction of a nice nap to recover once they’re all done.

Unfortunately, animals in captivity (meaning pets, too) can’t tell us when they’re bored.  Instead, we have to look at objective data (i.e., observable) to measure boredom, and this data often presents itself in the form(s) of abnormal behaviors—whether it’s some kind of stereotypy (e.g., pacing, excessive licking, rocking, etc.) or behaviors that are generally viewed as being unwanted or “bad” (e.g., tearing up shoes in the home, digging in the yard, excessive barking, etc.).

Before I continue, let me briefly explain that stereotypy describes a behavior in a human or animal that is repetitive and serves no particular purpose (or function).  For example, you may observe a wild cat pacing back and forth in a zoo exhibit or notice a chimpanzee rocking back and forth.  With dogs, you may observe excessive licking or chewing, spinning, tail chasing, hair pulling, nail biting, or biting the air. With humans, you may see hand flapping, hair pulling, or biting nails. Unfortunately, there is no specific variable that causes stereotypical behavior(s) to develop, but there are several potential causes (e.g., increased stress, lack of mental stimulation, etc.) that we can predict are responsible.

That being said, you can never know for sure if your dog is bored, but by observing behaviors your dog engages in, you can begin to determine whether or not boredom is a likely explanation for why your dog engages in abnormal behaviors (including aggression).

What Can I Do if I Think My Dog is Bored?

The answer lies in an area of research known as behavioral enrichment.  Behavioral enrichment is a principle of animal husbandry that enhances the quality of captive animal care by identifying and providing the environmental stimuli necessary for optimal psychological and physiological well-being.

The fact that animals have to interact with humans at all causes the animal to assume behaviors that may be deviant in comparison to their wild relatives. For example, we put dogs on strict feeding schedules, altering such things as hunting time, choice of food to eat, and their natural eating patterns.  We decide when it’s time to be calm and when it’s okay to be playful (which can be VERY confusing for your dog). We clean up after them and pick up their droppings.  Although this seems completely normal to us, it is not completely normal for our canines (and other pets).

It’s important to recognize that their housing situation and social environment will always be inappropriate for their species (i.e., unnatural), and that this can ultimately cause unwanted behaviors such as aggression, boredom, and physical or psychological illness, to develop. It is the pet owner’s responsibility to attempt to decrease these problems by providing an enriching environment.

There are three different areas of enrichment I will be covering over the course of this week, and they include physical exercise (Part I), mental exercise (Part II), and breed-specific activities (Part III).  So, let’s start out with the easiest one: physical exercise.

Physical Exercise 

Dogs are active by nature. Their ancestors, wolves, covered many miles every day in search of food for survival.  Many domestic dogs were selectively bred to be even more active, with a focus on hunting, herding, or patrolling. Preventing them from their genetically programmed activity level can build frustration, which may exhibit itself in the form of hyperactivity, chewing on items not meant for chewing, chasing cats in the home, barking, digging, tail chasing, and home destruction.

Exercise also helps to prevent obesity. As with humans, obesity is becoming a major health problem in dogs. Obesity prevents dogs from enjoying many physical activities and can make it more difficult for dogs to deal with heat. Obesity is also associated with certain medical problems, including arthritis, increased risk of torn ligaments, back problems, cardiac problems, difficulty breathing, increased risks during surgery, and various skin problems.

So…what are you waiting for?! Let’s check out some ideas on how to get your dog more physically active so you both can lead happier and healthier lives!

  • Go for a walk/jog/skip/sprint (whatever your dog prefers!)

Bringing your pup along for your morning walk/jog helps to increase stamina and strengthen muscles. However, if you choose to do this, remember it’s your dog’s outing, too!

You should be willing to stop when the dog wants to smell the surroundings or greet another dog.

Remember to ALWAYS stop if your canine friend needs to go to the bathroom, and don’t forget to bring poop bags!  Not only is it important for cleanliness of neighborhoods, parks, and trails, but it also helps with disease control, fly control, and preventing other dogs from consuming what your dog left behind. Plus, cleaning up after your pet is just part of being a responsible pet owner, right?  Right!

  • Get involved in Flyball 

In this sport, dogs are part of teams and the rules are similar to a human relay race. Dogs race down a course with four hurdles. At the end of the first leg sits a box with tennis balls. The dog must stomp on this box to release a ball and then return to the starting line carrying the ball while jumping the hurdles. Once he or she crosses the starting line, the next dog takes off. The goal is to be the fastest team without any penalties. Penalties may include dropping the ball or a dog taking off down the course before his or her teammate crosses the starting line.

  • Check out Tracking

Not all dogs are tracking breeds, but just about any dog can participate in the sport of tracking, which is a competitive event for dogs and handlers. Hours before the competition, a scent trail is laid out. Once the trail is set, dogs (and their owners) begin the work of finding an object at the end of the trail.  Not only is this activity fulfilling for the dog, but it’s also fun for owners to see their innate scenting skills at work!

  • Find an agility group or class

If your dog has a lot of energy or extra weight to lose, find an agility group or class. This high-energy sport is not only great exercise, but it also helps to develop confidence and other important skills. This activity was designed to demonstrate a dog’s willingness to work with his/her handler in a variety of situations.  Dogs and handlers must negotiate an obstacle course while racing against the clock.

It’s important to mention that you don’t have to compete to enjoy agility! So don’t let the fear of competition stop you from getting involved. Just taking an agility class offers many other benefits for you and your dog.

  • Play a game of fetch

Fetch is easy to fit into your crazy schedule, and it’s a great way to use up extra energy as well as bond with your dog. You could go to a nearby park or just play in your backyard!  Something else that’s neat about fetch is that it can be an indoor sport, played from the comfort of your favorite couch or chair.  If your dog doesn’t know how to play fetch, you can train them!  Remember, you don’t have to commit to playing fetch for 30 minutes a day, every single day.  Start out with an amount of time you know will be consistent with (it can even be 5 minutes to start), and slowly build this over time.

What I’m trying to say is that there are no excuses for why you can’t play fetch with your canine friend(s).

  • Play with other dogs!

Have you ever been to a dog park and just observed how the dogs play with each other?  If you haven’t, it’s amazing to watch how they create their own games and expend their extra energy.

Too many owners are scared of having their dog socialize with other dogs.  Unfortunately, when owners are nervous or fearful, they engage in behaviors that the dog often picks up on (such as nervous tics, increased physiological responses, changes in vocal patterns, etc.). Then, the dog often engages in abnormal behaviors (such as barking or increased aggression), which leads the owner to conclude that their dog doesn’t like other dogs.  Because of this, the dog may be forced to become even more isolated, which can lead to even more abnormal behaviors developing over time.  Anyway, you get the idea.  It can develop into a vicious cycle.  Dogs are social animals and they should be given the opportunity to learn from and interact with other dogs.

  • Don’t forget about toys!

These are just a few toys that my friend, Anja, loves to play with.  There are several types of balls, stuffed animals with squeakers inside, and tug toys (her personal favorite).

One thing I always emphasize with pet owners, is that you need to find the right toy for your canine.  Just because one dog enjoys tennis balls does not mean that your dog will.

My advice is to go out and purchase a nice variety of toys and play around to find out which one(s) your dog prefers.  You could take them out one at a time or you could lay them out and let them seek out which toy they want. Do they enjoy tug toys?  Frisbees?  Stuffed animals?  Toys with squeakers?  Toys without squeakers?  Long toys?  Short toys?  None of the above?  If so, donating slightly used toys to your local humane society is always a fantastic idea (I often do this with toys my animals don’t use)! As a pet owner, it’s important that you take some time to really figure out what toy(s) your pet prefers.

Lastly, an important point to mention is that preferences change over time—sometimes even within the same day or hour!  That’s why I recommend you experiment with which toys your dog prefers on a daily basis.  It’s not fair to assume that they will love the same ball for 2 years (or 2 days/weeks if your dog gets bored easily).  Wouldn’t you get bored playing with the same toy over and over again?

Although there are LOTS of other options for physical exercise, you would get way too bored listening to me go on and on about it.  You should plan to take some time out of your day to research different physical activities you and your dog(s) will enjoy.  Not only will they be happier and healthier, but you will be happier and healthier, too!

Stay tuned for Part II coming this week!  I’ll be discussing the importance of providing mental stimulation, as well as different ideas for you to try out with your dog(s). 

Until next time,

Ayriel and the team at Ohana Animal Hospital

Designing a Veterinary Hospital – What went into designing Ohana Animal Hospital

Since opening up, numerous people have asked us why we opened our own veterinary hospital, and why we chose to build it they way we did. The simple answer is it has always been a dream of ours to own a hospital and provide high-quality pet care. We want to elevate the level of care that our patients receive, while staying a family-oriented practice at the core. When we started to make a list of things that we would like to have in our own practice, we quickly realized that the best way to make it a reality, was to build our own hospital. So we shifted our focus from looking at for-sale ads, and started looking into real estate options and different locations.

We found the perfect location off Las Positas Road in Livermore, CA and we began designing our dream practice. We started off with a completely empty space. It was a blank slate, with the only constraints being the four walls and one weight-bearing pillar in the back half of the space. We had a little less than 3000 square feet to play with, and the sky was the limit. You would be amazed how hard it was to design a hospital! It was on our 9th revision that we finally got the floorplan you see today.

We wanted a hospital that was state-of-the-art, but also welcoming and warm. As you enter the hospital, the first area you see is our large and welcoming reception area. To the left is where our receptionist will greet you, weigh your pet, and help you fill out your forms.  To the right you will find comfortable couches and chairs to sit in, as well as a fully stocked coffee bar for your enjoyment while you wait to be seen.  While deciding on what floor to use for our reception area and exam rooms, we went away from what “traditional” veterinary offices do. We first wanted something that resembled hardwood that gave off a warm, homey vibe. However, we needed something durable but  easy to clean, because accidents are frequent! The furniture was carefully selected based on the knowledge that our patients would likely be on them too – after all we want them to feel at home! We wanted furniture that could withstand normal pet wear and that could be easily cleaned and sanitized. So pets, feel free to jump on up!

To maximize efficiency, we wanted a hospital that flowed well and was patient focused.  We wanted to make sure that no matter where we were in the hospital, our patients were always in sight. The heart of the hospital is our treatment room. We have two treatment tables where we perform pet dental cleanings, minor laceration repair, and we can collect blood and other diagnostic samples when needed. The tables are connected by a large column in the center that is hiding the one supporting pillar that was present at the start of construction.  Surrounding the main treatment room are the surgery suite, the ultrasound suite, the radiology (or X-Ray) suite, the ICU (intensive care unit), the exotics ward and the cat-only ward. Everything (except our imaging rooms) has glass windows and doors, or are completely encased in glass (like our ICU). This allows our doctors and technicians to see all of our critical patients at all times, while also providing a quiet area for them away from the hustle of the treatment room.


The ICU is completely encased with glass so that it is visible to the doctors from the office, as well as to the technicians at most places in the treatment room. We designed an enclosed ICU, as opposed to the usual open cage bank seen in this area of your average veterinary hospital. This makes sure that our sick patients would not be bothered by the healthy rambunctious dogs that are coming into the treatment area for things like vaccinations.

Our Cat-Only Ward features fabulous Cat Condos. While no animal loves being in the hospital in a kennel, cats need a place to hide and feel secure, especially away from barking dogs! These condos allow separate partitions of the condo so there can be a litterbox only space, a sleeping space and an eating space. We can grant them as much or as little space as they need! We also made sure that their ward in the hospital is away from the other wards, so it stays quieter for them.


In our Dog-Only Ward, we have three spacious dog runs, as well as a larger bank of cages. They are towards the back of the hospital, so these are for our non-critical patients. The dog runs have glass doors, which allow us to easily check in on our patients to make sure they are as comfortable as possible during their stay. With the glass doors, we get full visibility. And without the metal grate doors, those excitable dogs that love to jump on the doors when we peek in, won’t risk catching their nails on the grate! As owners of big dogs ourselves, we love these!

FullSizeRender (3)

In our Exotics Ward, we have cages with small grated doors to keep our small patients securely inside their cage (if you have ever owned a snake, you understand how important this is!) We also have heated floors and ceilings that allow us to heat up their entire cage, providing warmth to our exotic friends. We also have an ICU cage inside the exotics-only ward, which is fully stocked with a temperature controlled oxygen cage, and a nebulization chamber which is very important for the critical exotic patient. It was important for us to have a designated ward specifically for these animals since the sight, smell and sound of our dog and cat patients causes them significant stress.  Many of our exotic animals see dogs and cats as potential predators, so we wanted to make sure they could feel safe during their stay with us.


Our state-of-the-art surgical suite has a heated surgical table, which is great for all of our patients to allow them to stay warm while undergoing surgery. We designed a sterile, clean suite that is well lit. There is a swinging door that allow us to easily wheel patients in and out of surgery. The suite has its own temperature control which is nice when we need to warm it for our exotic patients, or cool it down for our doctors.  It is spacious enough to allow us to have all of our surgical equipment close by, including our suction, blood pressure monitoring devices, ECG, syringe and fluid pumps, endoscopy unit, and electrocautery unit. There is a clear pass through window area where we can find our sterile sutures, surgical packs, and surgical instruments, as well as be able to get the attention of the rest of the staff if assistance is needed.

We even made an ultrasound suite to allow us to have a designated dark area where our patients can be scanned.  We have an oxygen port in the room so we can bring an anesthetized patient into the suite if needed. The room has a folding table mounted on the wall, so small patients can be on the table, and large patients can be scanned on a soft mat if needed.

Everything we chose has a particular function. There is not an inch of space that is unused here! From our built-in oxygen system that has accessible ports throughout our entire treatment area, to our lab tower that was built vertically to efficiently fit our lab equipment without wasting counter space. Even our exam rooms were designed with our doctor’s preference in mind. We chose folding exam tables, since both Dr. Steffes and Dr. Hacker prefer to do their physical exams on the floor with the patient! The folding exam table gives us more floor space to do that, while allowing us to have an exam table at the ready if needed.

We hope you enjoyed the behind the scenes look at our hospital! If you ever would like a tour, please let us know! We would be happy to show you around!!

Thanks for stopping by!

Dr. Hacker and the team at Ohana Animal Hospital

What To Expect From Your Visit With The Exotic Animal Vet

My life as an exotic animal veterinarian has been interesting to say the least. I have worked on king cobras, rattlesnakes, crocodile monitor lizards, rabbits, chinchillas, hedgehogs, ferrets, opossums, endangered tortoises, and many others! My day often starts with my receptionist asking, “Hey Dr. Steffes, Mrs. Smith has a 20 foot reticulated python “Fluffy” that seems sick, will you see that?” My usual response is, “Of course!” My receptionist then usually comes back around the corner and says, “Mrs. Smith wants to know what is going to happen if she brings Fluffy in today, what should I tell her?” I am always surprised by this question, and surprised by the genuine concern that I hear in an owner’s voice when they ask. Is it going to be $1000.00 if I walk in the door, am I going to be judged a bad animal caretaker, is this going to be a waste of my time and money, is there anything that can even be done for Fluffy??? I cannot speak for every veterinarian, but I wanted to give everyone some insight into how we go through every case at Ohana Animal Hospital.

The first thing you can expect when you walk in the door at Ohana Animal Hospital is to be greeted by our amazing receptionist. She will make sure that you get all the necessary paperwork filled out, and can send for technician help if you need a hand carrying Fluffy in the door. At our hospital you can actually complete all the documents on your computer at home prior to arriving if you have the time. Many exotic animal problems are the result of a number of issues, and the in-depth exotic animal questionnaires help the doctors get a lot of the husbandry/care information out of the way before your appointment, so we can focus on the problem at hand when we get into the exam room. Once your documents are completed you will be ushered into one of our four examination rooms. One of our highly skilled technicians will then come in and get a weight and brief history on Fluffy. While the technician is getting the weight and history, the doctor is normally reading through the husbandry questionnaire and any previous records. Once the technician is finished with their questions they brief the doctor, and then the fun happens.

Zach - Indigo Snake
Dr. Steffes taking X-rays on a Mexican Indigo snake

Once the doctor enters the exam room you will get his/her undivided attention. I like to take time in my examination rooms getting to know the owner, the pet, and performing a thorough examination. Occasionally an angry or scared animal will need to be sedated for examination, but often times not, and so the exam will be performed right in front of you. Once I have performed my exam I have a discussion with the client about my thoughts on what the problem may be, and how we need to go about diagnosing and resolving the problem. Many of the exotic animals that come in have been hiding an illness for months, and can require testing the same day to get an answer, so don’t be surprised if tests are recommended. I always recommend what I feel is the best plan, and then the client and I will decide on the best way to proceed.

I feel it is my job to offer every client the best diagnostic and treatment plan I can, but that is often not the only way we can work through a case. Owners and I often times start off in a step-wise fashion, and progress through a case as needed. You will not be looked at as a bad owner if you cannot spend $600.00 on viral testing in your ball python. Some owners have been saving for months to have $45.00 for a course of antibiotics, and I understand when that is where we need to start off. We veterinarians know that you could have easily not come in the door, so we know that if you are here, your pet is important to you. Many hospitals offer various payment options; so don’t be embarrassed to ask what plans we can offer.

I never perform any tests or treatments without you being completely on board, and you will always be provided an estimate for services BEFORE those services are done. Being a veterinarian is about working with the animal owners to best care for their pets. Once we decide on the plan, we will either take the pet into the treatment area for testing, or we will make up the medications we are sending home. Once we are done with our tests, and we have any medications put together, we will show you how to perform any treatments we are sending home. I always let people know that if they have any trouble with treatments they can come back for help, and I mean it. Owners are often nervous about performing treatments, and we do our best to do everything we can to make sure you are comfortable before you leave.

Argentine Boa intubated under anesthesia

Once you feel comfortable with the plan, you know how to perform the necessary treatments, and you are ready to go home we will help you get Fluffy back out to the car and on the road home. I always make sure my clients have ways to reach me when I am not at the hospital, as Fluffy’s recovery really does concern me. You may think your veterinarian goes home and forgets about Fluffy, but you are wrong. There have been many occasions when I have woken myself up in the middle of the night thinking about what else I need to do to help your pet, or wondering how one of my patients is responding to treatment. Hopefully, after a couple of weeks Fluffy is back to normal, and you will not have to see me again until Fluffy needs her normal yearly exam.

Going to the veterinarian should not be scary, and it should be as painless as possible. At Ohana Animal Hospital we do our best to make the experience painless, educational, and sometimes even fun. After 10-12 hours of work, Dr. Steffes then goes home, takes care of his 20 animals, kisses his daughter goodnight, and then falls asleep on the couch. Until tomorrow, when it starts all over again.


Contact us today to schedule your appointment! -





How We Are Making Rabbit Anesthesia Safer At Ohana Animal Hospital

I can remember starting off my veterinary career being terrified to anesthetize rabbits. I had always heard that they did not do well with anesthesia, it wasn’t safe, they were impossible to intubate (get a tube into the trachea to provide a secure airway), and most of them would die!! I used to be scared to anesthetize my rabbit patients, and I completely understand why many rabbit owners come into Ohana Animal Hospital afraid of anesthesia.

Jessica Rabbit feeling good after being spayed

Anesthesia is required to perform surgery on a rabbit (spays, neuters, mass removals, etc.), to appropriately evaluate the teeth and perform occlusal adjustments (trim the teeth into normal alignment), and occasionally for x-rays and diagnostic sample collection (blood collection, mass cytology, skin tests). We can perform most x-rays, blood samples, and other tests with injectable sedation, but occasionally general anesthesia is needed to limit the stress for the patient.

I learned early on that anesthesia could not be avoided, so I made it a focus of mine to learn how to make it safer for my patients. I remember when rabbit anesthesia was no more than holding a facemask over the rabbit’s nose to administer gas anesthesia, listening to the heart with a stethoscope, and then hoping luck was on my side that day. Many of those procedures went just fine, but I can still remember a couple of cases where that was not the case, and those cases are what drove me to be better.

I am proud to say that here at Ohana Animal Hospital we are practicing at a whole new level. Rabbit anesthesia still has it risks, but we have found ways to make it much safer. We have special in-house lab equipment so we can make sure your rabbit is healthy before moving forward with anesthesia. We have a special exotic animal hospital ward, which allows our rabbits to be housed away from dogs and cats, which can be very scary for a nervous rabbit. All of our rabbits are given pre-anesthetic medications which help us provide more balanced anesthesia, and not have to use too much of any one drug. All of our patients have an intravenous catheter placed so we can provide fluids during anesthesia to help maintain blood pressure, and also so we can give emergency medications if needed. Our rabbits are all intubated with the help of an endoscope, which allows us to make sure that we can breath for the rabbit if needed (most rabbit anesthetic deaths are the result of failure of the respiratory system). Our rabbits all have their blood pressure monitored, heart rate and rhythm monitored, end-tidal CO2 monitored, and body temperature monitored while under anesthesia, and until fully awake. We use heated surgical tables and warm air devices to keep our patients warm while anesthetized. There is also one technician dedicated to monitoring anesthesia, one technician dedicated to assisting the surgeon, and at least one doctor on the case at all times during the procedure.

The majority of our surgical patients are awake and eating within 1-2 hours. I can now honestly say that I do not fear rabbit anesthesia, but I still maintain a healthy respect for each case. I know that in the future we will be even better than we are now with anesthesia, but I know that I personally am so much better now than I was at the beginning of my career. I look at each patient as a member of the Ohana Animal Hospital family, and that means they get the best care that can be provided.

Thanks for reading today! I’m off to play with an Angora rabbit who is now happily recovered from mass removal surgery and eating some fresh greens.

Jannie recovering from her mass removal surgery with Dr. Steffes

Feel free to call Ohana Animal Hospital anytime at 925-394-4990, or email me at with your questions. And check out our website to see all the surgical services we offer for exotic animals!

Zach Steffes, DVM

How Pheromone Products Can Help You and Your Pets Live a Happier Life

I’m going to start out by saying this: Feliway (for cats) has drastically improved the lives of our cats, Elliott & Maxwell (it’s better if you just learn their names now since I will talk about them excessively…as all cat owners do, right?).  Coming from a research background, I’ve learned to look at things objectively, and by observation and data collection, it’s obvious that Feliway has helped to reduce aggressive and anxious behaviors, loud vocalizations at all hours of the night, and has even helped to take our stress levels down from no longer dealing with various behavioral problems.

Additionally, I know of several cat and dog owners who use Feliway/Adaptil to help with reducing anxious behaviors, aggression towards other animals in the home, scratching, spraying, and various litter box behaviors.

That being said, let’s talk a little bit about what pheromones are and how using Feliway/Adaptil may improve the lives of the pets (and people) in your home.

What are Pheromones? 

Pheromones are species-specific, chemical substances produced from glands located around the mouth, chin, forehead, and cheeks, that are released into the environment by an animal, which affects the behavior and/or physiology in animals of the same species.  Even bees, rabbits, squid, moths, and mice use pheromones to communicate!  Crazy, right?!

Feliway (for cats) is a product containing the man-made version of feline facial pheromones either as a spray or as a diffuser.  This product has been used to help reduce stress during various situations (e.g, visitors, moving, & visits to the vet), and to help reduce scratching of furniture, urine spraying, over-grooming, and hiding. If you ever see your cat (s) rubbing his/her face on places, objects, and other people, they aren’t just being crazy cats (believe it or not), but are essentially saying, “This is my territory and I’m safe here”.

Adaptil (for dogs) contains the pheromone that’s produced during lactation to help puppies to bond with their mother and help improve their learning of new experiences. This product has been shown to help dogs learn to cope with new and/or stressful situations, being away from their owner, dealing with previously feared events such as loud noises (e.g., fireworks), traveling, going to the groomer, interacting with new people or pets, and visits to the vet.

 Where can Pheromone Products be Purchased?

You can purchase Feliway and Adaptil online or at your local pet store(s); however, I must add that they are not cheap.  If you go the diffuser route (usually the best way to go), pheromones will be continuously released throughout the day/night, which means diffusers will need to be replaced on a monthly basis.  If you decide to purchase spray, then you may need to replace it once every 2 months or so (depending on how frequently you use it).  Another consideration to make is how involved you will be in this process.  For example, if you work 12 hours/day, then you won’t be home to spray Feliway/Adaptil when needed.  On the other hand, if you work from home, then using the spray may be a good option for you.

I cannot stress enough that the price is worth it!  I’m not one to spend a lot of money, but seeing the behavioral changes was (and still is) incredible.  We observed a decrease in aggressive behaviors fairly quickly between Elliott & Max, as well as a general reduction of anxious, and territorial, behaviors.

Will Pheromone Products Fix All Behavioral Problems?

Sadly, I can’t say for sure whether they will eliminate all of the behaviors you’d like to get rid of.  Sometimes there are additional measures that need to be taken before behaviors will change.  Some examples include modification of the behavior(s) of the owner(s), increasing the number of litter boxes in the home, arranging furniture differently, providing activities and toys, and the list could go on.  Owners are responsible for providing an enriching environment for their pets.  For example, it’s not fair to get angry at a dog that engages in problem behaviors due to the owner never being home, not having enough chew toys, or not getting enough exercise to burn off excess energy.  Nor is it fair to attempt to modify the behavior of an animal that is in physical pain.

That being said, an important consideration is to ALWAYS RULE OUT HEALTH ISSUES before implementing a strategy to reduce negative behavior(s) with your pets.  You never know if they’re experiencing pain from a health issue until you bring them in to get checked out.  For example, when I used to work with kids and they engaged in challenging behaviors (e.g., screaming, lashing out, etc.), we would make sure they were checked by a healthcare professional prior to implementing any behavioral interventions.  You would be amazed at how often their behaviors were caused by pain they were experiencing (usually GI issues or tooth pain), but they didn’t know how to express it appropriately.  If your pet is acting different, get them checked out before you do anything else.

Lastly, if your pet is engaging in negative behaviors, here are a few things to consider (even if you decide to use Feliway/Adaptil):

Litter Boxes: If you own multiple cats, then you need more than 1 litter box.  Make sure to clean litter boxes frequently (meaning DAILY) and place them in areas your cat is comfortable in.  Provide 1-2 inches of unscented litter (usually preferred over scented litter) rather than 3-4 inches.

Scratchers: When dealing with scratching behaviors, the best strategy is not to try to stop your cat from scratching, but instead to teach your cat where and what to scratch. Make sure to provide your cat with appropriate, cat-attractive surfaces and objects to scratch, such as scratching posts and cardboard scratchers.  It’s important to figure out what your cat prefers.  Do they like vertical scratching posts?  Do they like horizontal scratchers?  Do they prefer cardboard surfaces over carpeted ones?  These are all very important things to consider for your feline friend(s)!

Toys/Activities: Maybe your cat/dog doesn’t prefer the toys you’ve purchased or the activities you attempt to engage them in.  Maybe they’re bored of staring at the same ball you bought years ago. I can’t tell you how many toys I’ve bought that our cats won’t touch (they will usually play with the materials they are wrapped in), or how frequently we rotate toys to help prevent boredom. However, when we do find a toy or activity they enjoy, they tend to run around like maniacs, do fancy parkour moves around the apartment, make chirping noises, and bolt from one room to the next.  The key is finding what toys and activities your pet prefers, and prevent boredom by rotating toys and activities on a regular basis.

In conclusion (I could write forever on behavioral strategies), if you’ve ruled out health issues with your veterinarian and have addressed the issues I’ve listed above, and negative behaviors are continuing, using Feliway/Adaptil may be a great option for you to consider.

Until next time,

Ayriel, and the Ohana Animal Hospital Team

Brown Beard, the Bearded Dragon, has Intestinal Surgery

Brown Beard is a 9 month old, female bearded dragon. She was brought to Ohana Animal Hospital because she had not been able to go to the bathroom normally for about one month. She was straining every time she tried to go, and only a small amount of stool would occasionally be produced. The owner initially tried some mineral oil to see if that would move the blockage through the intestines, but it didn’t seem to be working. The owner was referred to our veterinarian, Dr. Zach Steffes, to discuss further options to make Brown Beard comfortable.

After discussing the problem with the owner, we decided that surgery was the best option. Brown Beard was quickly losing weight, and was starting to have life threatening systemic problems the result of the long-term intestinal impaction. Brown Beard was started on pain medications, antibiotics, and an intraosseous catheter was placed to provide fluids. She was anesthetized, and surgery was performed to remove all of the sand and other material stuck in the intestinal tract. She recovered well from surgery, and was hospitalized on fluids, pain medications, antibiotics, thermal support, and was syringe fed a liquid diet to help her put on weight once again.

Brown Beard enjoying the sun after surgery

Brown Beard was kept in the hospital for two weeks in the intensive care unit, and is finally ready to go home. She still has a long road to a full recovery, but she is doing great. Brown Beard is a good example of a relatively common problem in reptiles. We frequently see cage substrate ingested by bearded dragons, and then get stuck in the intestinal tract. If caught early, you can often provide fluids and get the material to move through the intestines, but if caught late, surgery is often the best option. The earlier surgery is performed, the better the outcome in general. Make sure to call us immediately if you notice that your reptile is having trouble defecating. We can help!

We wish you all the best Brown Beard, and we look forward to removing your stitches in 6 weeks!! The lesson of the day is don’t eat sand. Sand belongs on the beach, not in your intestinal tract.