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Shedding Light on Pet Food Labels

It can be difficult to know what to feed your pet. Websites, books, breeders, and even veterinarians, all seem to have different information, so how can we know that the diet we choose is the best for our pets? A good starting point is often the pet food label, but this can be a mystery to read in and of itself! Here are some tips to help make sense of it all.


Pay close attention to the product name

There are a few rules that pet food companies must follow when naming their products. These can be helpful when selecting an appropriate diet for your companion. The ‘95% rule’ states that the 95% of the product must be the named ingredient. These foods often have simple names such as “Lamb dog food”, and you can be sure that the majority of the diet is made of lamb. Comparing this to the ‘25% rule’, which states that the named ingredient can be anywhere from 25-95% of the diet. These foods will have a descriptor in the name. For example “Chicken Recipe”, “Lamb Formula”, and “Salmon Entrée” are all examples of labels that follow the 25% rule. These diets can be great, but it is difficult to know what you are getting, so a closer look at the ingredients may be helpful.  Finally the 3% (or ‘with’) rule states that the named ingredient only needs to be 3% of the entire diet. This rule was originally intended to serve as a guideline for foods that had multiple components to their diet, but some manufacturers have made their products entirely around this. “Cat food with chicken” is a good example of a label that one should be wary about as it would only be 3% chicken. Some diets can be a combination of the rules, like “Beef dinner with sweet potato”, where they follow the 25% rule for beef and the 3% rule for sweet potato.  As you can see, the wording can make a world of difference, so keep these helpful hints in mind next time you’re out shopping! 


MyVetStore - Online Ordering

We are very pleased to announce the opening of Nanaimo Veterinary Hospital’s online store available to our clients! Browse through our online MyVetStore for your pet’s food and pet products in the comfort of your own home. You are able to set up auto-orders for your pet’s food at desired intervals so you will never run out again! Your pet food orders even have the option of home delivery.

You can place refill medication requests through the online store and even get reminders of when you are running low on your pet’s important medications.

MyVetStore is easy to use; you may set up an account at home or ask any of our wonderful client relations specialists to help set one up for you.

Visit our online store at or follow the link on our website to place your orders today!



Indoor Life with Clawed Cats

July first marks the date of the 7th province to elect to ban declawing in cats! New Brunswick joins British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island who have already made the decision to ban non-medical declawing of cats. This is a positive step forward for the welfare of cats in BC and around Canada.

This may mean a shift in our thinking of how we cohabitate with our indoor cats. Scratching is a normal behavior for cats. They will scratch vertical or horizontal surfaces, depending on their flexibility, surroundings and reason for wanting to scratch. Scratching helps to shed their nails and strengthen their grip.

Younger cats tend to enjoy scratching on tall vertical surfaces where they can stretch themselves out.  Older cats who may be dealing with osteoarthritis tend to shift their scratching habits to horizontal surfaces. Cats will often scratch after a good stretch when waking up from a nap, which may be on the horizontal surface they wake up on.

Scratching posts or blocks should be made available for your cat to exhibit their natural behaviour in a healthy and acceptable way. There may be locations in the home that your cat prefers to scratch, it is often easiest to place the scratching post in that location. This may mean that a post is placed beside a couch corner to protect the couch…

Cats will often like their cat trees and posts by windows to watch the world outside.

Products like Feliway Friends, a feline interdigital pheromone, can be used to encourage scratching of a desired area. For instance, it can be placed on a scratching post to encourage scratching of it instead of the couch…

There are many types of scratching objects, cardboard wedges or carpet blocks, jute twine wrapped poles or be creative and create your own!


Diet Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy

After reading a very sad article on diet related congestive heart failure in a young, 3-year-old dog, I was struck as to just how important it is to discuss diet with pet owners. Every pet parent I have ever met truly wants the best for their beloved pet and wants to feed them excellent food with quality ingredients. The problem the pet food industry has is the lack of regulations, diet testing and quality control. Although there are guidelines made by AAFCO for minimum nutrient standards, not all diets have been tested to show they are balanced prior to hitting the shelves and being fed to your pet, even though they claim to meet these standards. Many of the diets have not even been fed to a pet before going home with you from the pet store.  Popular trends in the pet food industry is to have pet food formulas follow current food trends of people. Wanting the best for their pets, owners naturally think “If it is good for me, it is good for my pet.”

Recent studies and growing numbers of cases of sick pets are now showing that this may not always be the case. One of these diet trends are Grain free diets. Now that grain free diets have been around for a few years, the long-term effects are starting to be seen. Unfortunately, grain free diets fed to dogs have been linked to acquired dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart disease in which the heart chambers become so enlarged and dilated that they are no longer able to pump blood forward effectively resulting in congestive heart failure. DCM can also occur secondarily to infections, toxicity from certain medications, or can be genetic. Certain giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers and Irish Wolfhounds are more commonly affected.

A report released by the FDA has over 300 cases of concern where grain free diets fed to dogs was suspected to be responsible for DCM in breeds that DCM is normally uncommon.

The exact mechanism as to how grain free diets are causing diet associated dilated cardiomyopathy is not clearly understood, though more research and studies are being done to find the cause.

As I was reading about DCM in dogs fed grain free diets in the aforementioned article (Respiratory Distress and Inappetence in a Border Collie by Veterinary Cardiologist Kursten Pierce in the May 2019 issue of Clinician’s Brief) I saw how important a diet discussion is to have. We all want the best for our pets and that includes feeding them quality, balanced foods that they enjoy eating. As more knowledge is being learned about pet food and how it can help, or hurt our patients’ body, we will continue to keep you informed and help you find the best diet for your pet’s current needs. Let’s keep the conversation on diet open. Please let us know about your diet related questions at your pet’s next health exam.


Link to article on diet associated DCM

Respiratory Distress & Inappetence in a Border Collie

Kursten Pierce, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology), Colorado State University

Worms and Deworming

I love the cute little inch worms crawling around on leaves in the summer. I even had a toy one to ride when I was a kid! These are NOT the type of worms we are referring to when we talk about worms and your pet. We mean internal parasites that eat nutrients from your pets’ intestines, stealing food from them!


There are many different species of internal parasites, but all have the same goal in mind (though they don’t really have a brain like us…) which is to use their host (your pet) as a source of food and shelter. Internal worms are usually introduced to the pets’ intestines by means of ingesting a worm egg. These are microscopic and the pet is totally unaware of eating it. Higher risk meals would include poop, dead carcasses or contaminated meats, usually from hunting wildlife. Once they ingest the egg, it is able to hatch and become a baby worm called a larva. Sometimes the larva is ingested directly and the egg stage is skipped. The larva will grow to become an adult and be able to reproduce more worm eggs. Many eggs are shed into the environment for other unsuspecting animals to eat through the feces of the infected pet. It takes most worms only a few weeks from egg to adulthood!

Testing for worms is done by examining your pet’s feces for worm eggs. If worm eggs are found, you have a diagnosis of intestinal worms. If worm eggs are not found, if could mean-there are no worms, there is an all male or all female worm population and they cannot reproduce alone or the worms are too young to be able to produce eggs.


Dewormers will kill the adult stage worms and older larval stages but not the eggs or younger larval stages. This is why regular deworming is recommended for pets that hunt or eat poop and why more than one deworming may be needed if there is a known worm burden present.


Dr. Alex Kirkham



Canine Demodex Mite

Canine Demodecosis is a skin disease caused by Demodex canis, a skin mite that lives in the hair folliclues of dogs. These mites are normally found on the skin of dogs in very low numbers but Demodecosis or demodectic mange will occur when the mites numbers overpopulate. This will cause hair loss, itchiness, redness to the skin and sometimes secondary bacterial skin infections.

Although a trigger is not known, there seems to be a link to a weaker or defective immune system in the patient to allow for overpopulation of the mite. Immune suppression, such as with medications, can be a factor of demodectic mange.

Demodecosis can be seen either localized, with only a few lesions present or can be generalized with several lesions or the entire body affected. Demodex is most typical to be seen in young dogs and puppies with developing immune systems. Adult onset demodectic mange is less common and usually more severe.

Demodex is diagnosed by a skin test called a deep skin scraping in which the skin is scraped and examined beneath a microscope for the mite. If a mite is located a positive diagnosis is made and therapy can be initiated. Today there are many products available for treatment that are much safer and easier than a decade ago, when bathing dips or use of strong medications. Although their use is off label, the medications available today (Bravecto, NexGard, Simparica) are safe for use in dogs with even with an MDR-1 mutant genetic recessive trait, which would result in seizures with use of older medications.

Treatment is continued until negative skin scrapings are found, typically 4-6 weeks later. Secondary bacterial skin infections would also require treatment. Once the infection has cleared, it is uncommon for subsequent infections to occur.


Tick Time

Of the 40 recognized tick species in Canada, the Western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) and the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick (Dermacentor andersoni) are the two primary ticks found on Vancouver Island. Adult ticks can be identified by their eight legs and hard shell (most species), though the larval stage only has 6 legs.

Ticks are obligate feeders, meaning they require a blood meal to survive. The tick has 3 life stages in which they will be active feeders: the larval, the nymph and the adult stages. Ticks may feed on a single host or multiple hosts. The blacklegged tick and rocky mountain tick are 3 host ticks, meaning that they will feed from a different host for each life stage.

Ticks do not run, jump or fly to find a host to feed from. Many species of ticks will seek a host by means of “questing”, where they will climb to a taller area, such as the high point of grasses with their legs outstretched and wait for a passerby. Ticks are capable of detecting subtle changes in temperature, carbon dioxide concentrations and movement and travel towards these changes in hopes of finding an animal to latch onto to feed.

Ticks can be found in wooded areas, grassy areas and even inner-city parks. Risk of tick exposure is anywhere nature is, whether that be city park walking or mountain hiking. Assessing your pet’s risk is important in order to protect them from tick bites and tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, Canine Granulocytic Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis in dogs.

Doing a thorough tick search of pets after outdoor activity is recommended. Removing ticks can be done safely with the use of gloves, tweezers or tick twisters. Tick twisters are an easy way to safely remove ticks by lacing the twister below the mouthparts of the tick and twisting it off. If tweezers are being used, be careful to place them parallel, close against the skin and pull upwards without squishing the tick. Clean the bite area with a gentle soap or anti-septic and avoid picking or rubbing the skin as this can increase chances of local infection.

Using a tick preventative is recommended for dogs and cats that live an at-risk lifestyle.

Check out the Pet Tick Tracker for maps of ticks submitted by pet owners and tips on how to submit tick samples online for continued surveillance of ticks in our community.


Dr. Alex Kirkham


Flea Allergic Dermatitis

If your cat or dog has allergies you have probably heard us discuss flea prevention at one of their visits to NVH. We often recommend flea prevention to rule out flea allergies as a cause of skin allergies in dogs and cats. This is because it can often be difficult to differentiate environmental allergies from either food allergies or flea allergies. One of the ways we do this is to have the pet on regular and effective flea prevention. Another tip that can help us determine if the allergy is due to fleas is of course the finding of live fleas on the dog or cat. This is not always reliable because even a single flea bite can cause a hypersensitivity reaction that can last for weeks and the flea could be long gone by the time we examine the pet. Also cats are very good at grooming and often eat the fleas before we get to see them.  In fact many times we don’t actually see the live fleas. “Flea dirt” is another indicator that fleas are present if we don’t see the live fleas. Flea dirt is the fleas poop found on the animal and it is mostly composed of dried blood. It has the appearance of cracked pepper on the fur.

Flea allergic dermatitis is a hypersensitivity reaction to the flea saliva that enters the animal skin when the flea bites to take a blood meal.  In cats flea allergic dermatitis can present as an itchy cat with hair loss, crusts, scabs, scratches, redness or any variation of these. In dogs we tend to see an itchy patient with red skin, secondary bacterial skin infections and or hair loss. Sometimes flea allergic dermatitis will have a unique distribution in which they seem to be itchy “below the belt”. This means they are itchy in their back half. Dogs often will bite or nibble at their hip area or hind legs or around their rectum.

Treatment involves killing the fleas, stopping their life cycle and ridding the environment of the flea eggs, larva and pupae. An effective and safe systemic medication is usually recommended and these are either monthly or every 3 months depending on the medications. These medications kill the adult fleas and stop the flea lifecycle. To eliminate the environmental stages vacuuming furniture and washing fabrics such as the pets bedding or blankets can help significantly to reduce the flea numbers.  


Dr.  James Kirkham


The Pesky Flea

Spring has sprung and so have the number of dogs and cats we have seen with those pesky fleas. In our warm and moist climate here on the island we see fleas all year round however spring and fall provide optimal conditions for the flea life cycle.

Fleas are amazingly fecund. An adult flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day. Those eggs quickly hatch into larvae then molt and turn into pupae and finally back into adults. As soon as the adult emerges it looks for a host to take a blood meal. The entire lifecycle can occur in as little as two weeks when conditions are favorable.  The only stage of the lifecycle that is on the dog or cat is the adult stage. The rest of the lifecycle is in the environment. Theoretically this means that 1 flea could turn into 50 adult fleas in as little as two weeks. They are also able to pause the life cycle for several months if environmental conditions are unfavorable.  Flea pupae can lay dormant waiting for favorable conditions for months before emerging as an adult.

Fleas are more than just a nuisance for pets.  Of course we all know that scratching or itching can be a result of flea infestations but did you know that some dogs or cats can be covered in fleas and not itch at all while for others a single flea bite can cause a severe hypersensitivity reaction that can last for weeks.  This is called flea allergic dermatitis and can result in severe itch, hair loss, scabs, crusts and skin infections.  Fleas also can be responsible for disease transmission. Fleas can carry tapeworm in their gut that can be transmitted to the dog or cat when they eat the flea.  Bacterial blood disease such as mycoplasma haemofelis and Bartonella henselae (cat scratch fever) can also be transmitted by the flea. In severe infestations anemia can become a problem due to blood loss from the flea bites themselves.

Fortunately there are many safe and effective flea preventatives and treatments available for dogs and cats. Due to our favorable climate for fleas year round prevention is generally recommended in most cases to avoid infestations. Our knowledgeable staff is happy to help if you have questions about flea prevention or flea products don’t hesitate to give us a call or stop by the hospital.


Dr. James Kirkham


Thank you Laura

We are a little sad to announce the departure of Dr. Laura from the Nanaimo Veterinary Team. Dr. Laura will be missed but we would like to wish her all the best in her move back to her family and home province of Ontario.

Dr. James and Dr. Alexandra are happy to help and continue the care for all the clients and patients of Nanaimo Veterinary Hospital.


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MyVetStore - Online Ordering

We are very pleased to announce the opening of Nanaimo Veterinary Hospital’s online store available to our clients! Browse through our online MyVetStore for your pet’s food and pet products in the comfort of your own home. You are able to set up auto-orders for your pet’s food at desired intervals so you will never run out again! Your pet food orders even have the option of home delivery.

You can place refill medication requests through the online store and even get reminders of when you are running low on your pet’s important medications.

MyVetStore is easy to use; you may set up an account at home or ask any of our wonderful client relations specialists to help set one up for you.

Visit our online store at or follow the link on our website to place your orders today!



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Please contact us at 250-758-3985 if you have questions or would like to book an appointment.

New clients are always welcome