Taking a Pet Overseas

We are moving to England. What do we need to know to move our pets with us?

The site of the UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs: https://www.gov.uk/take-pet-abroad provides all necessary info.


I’ve heard that annual vaccinations are not necessary for my pet and may be harmful. Is that true?

Vaccinations have saved millions of pets’ lives over the years and are a critical part of your pets well-being. The rumors of risks of vaccinations are mostly unsubstantiated hearsay, that when put to the test of rigorous scientific study don’t hold water. Having said that, no one has done any long term studies with large groups of animals to determine how often a pet needs to be immunized. The drug companies will never do the studies because if it shows that vaccinations only need to be given when an animal is young, they will lose a great deal of their revenue. Other research institutions simply do not have the money to fund these expensive studies. Here is what we know and think about immunity from vaccines. Puppies and kittens are highly susceptible to fatal Distemper and Parvo viruses. They need to be vaccinated every 2-4 weeks beginning at around 8 weeks of age, and until they are over 12-14 weeks of age. At our clinic, we recommend this be boosted a year later, and then every 5 years thereafter. Science may soon show that the patient is likely immune for life after the adult booster. We will adjust our interval accordingly if the evidence supports this (how many polio, measles, DPT vaccines have you gotten lately???). Rabies vaccination is required by law. Every dog and cat in Fairfax County must be immunized for rabies by 16 weeks of age, and then every 1-3 years thereafter. Dogs that are around other dogs in and indoor environment should be inoculated for Kennel Cough every 6-12 months. This includes dogs that go to grooming parlors, boarding kennels, animal hospitals, and indoor dog shows. All other vaccines are not necessary and are likely ineffective. Many well meaning veterinarians want to vaccinate for a variety of diseases that scientific evidence shows are not necessary or are ineffective. These include vaccinations for Lyme disease, FIP, Toxoplasmosis, Ringworm, Corona Virus, Feline Leukemia Virus, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Leptospirosis, Giardia, etc. At The Burke Veterinary Clinic we believe in vaccinations. We do not believe in OVER VACCINATING. If we vaccinated our 3000 patients with just one extra vaccine per year at $20 per vaccine, we would generate an extra $60,000 per year. Over my 20 years of practice, that would be $1.2 million dollars extra that I am telling you not to give me (there goes my beach house…).

Can cats get cancer from vaccinations?

The answer to this is yes and no. Much of the information regarding cats and cancer from vaccinations is yet to be learned. Here’s the scoop in a nutshell. Any injection can cause cancer in a cat. The odds are infinitesimally small, to the point where it is not worth worrying about it. You are far more likely to be killed in a car crash driving to the clinic than your cat getting cancer from an injection. There is one exception. Many vaccines are “killed virus” vaccines. These don’t work well by themselves, so the drug manufacturers add chemicals (adjuvants) to help stimulate the immune response. These vaccines are the big culprits in causing cancer in cats. That is why at the Burke Veterinary Clinic we don’t use any adjuvanated vaccines in cats.

We use Purevax® for rabies, and we use the nose drop Heska Trivalent® vaccine for feline distemper. Since this is not injected, it cannot cause cancer. We don’t recommend vaccinating for Feline Leukemia Virus because it is a cancer causing vaccine, and new research shows that once a cat reaches about 4 months of age it has a natural immunity to infection. The only exceptions to this might be cats in catteries or foster homes where there are large numbers of cats with a high turnover of strays, or cats that are in high intensity breeding environments. Fortunately there is likely to be a genetic predisposition to forming the injection site cancers, and very few cats carry this genetic defect.

Cat Litter Boxes

Are some kinds of cat litter better (for the cats) than others?  Aside from health issues, what other factors should be considered when choosing a type of cat litter?

The easy answer is “it depends on what the cat likes.” Having said that, I will elaborate. Most of our pet cats prefer UNSCENTED scoopable litter. Unfortunately pet products are sold to humans not to pets. This means the manufacturers cater to our wishes rather than the wishes of our pets. Scented litters have chemical or natural perfumes that are designed to mask the odors of cat feces and urine, but the cat has such a keen sense of smell that they are often overpowering and unpleasant for the cat. I use the analogy of having barrels of moth balls in your bathroom. Most of us have had the unpleasant experience of using the restroom at a gas station or highway rest stop where they just applied the strong scented disinfectants. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough!! When you use a scented litter, that is what you are doing to your cat. Any product that is added to the litter is easily detected by your cat. One of our clients complained that her cat was voiding just outside of the litter box. She insisted that nothing about the litter box was new. After further questioning she revealed that she had been adding baking soda to the regular litter. That was enough for her cat to reject the box. An easy fix for that situation: just stop adding the baking soda.

Unfortunately there is no substitute for frequent scooping and cleaning. You should scoop 1-2 times per day, and empty and wash the box once a week. Use only soap and water.

Newer litters that contain carbon may be OK, but it is too soon to tell. The new litters with “crystals” are not time-tested. Some cats may like them, but typically cats prefer natural substances. Some cats unfortunately prefer carpet to cat litter. For these special cases you can get new carpet scraps from a carpet store and cut them into litter box sized squares and place them in the box. Throw them away every few days. After a month or two you can start adding a natural substrate litter to 1/4 of the box. Increase the area of carpet covered by litter gradually over 1-3 months until the cat is back to using litter.

To test your cat’s “substrate preference” you confine the cat to a small room with a tile or vinyl floor. Place 5 litter boxes in the room with 5 different types of litter. Include boxes with sand, scoopable unscented litter, peat moss, sawdust, mulch, plain clay litter, carpet, etc. After a few days (or weeks for some cats) you should notice that the cat uses one box more than the others. The cat has chosen, and you must comply.

Some cats do well with automatic scooping litter box devices. These boxes have rakes that are activated a few minutes after your cat has left the box. The rake comes across the litter and drops the scoops into a collection area ensuring that the box is always clean.

I have heard some claims of the dust from fine particulate scoopable litters causing asthma in cats, but i don’t know of any controlled scientific studies to support that claim. These claims are usually associated with the use of hooded litter boxes, but some cats prefer a hooded box with scoopable litter. Give your cat what it wants.

The following guidelines should help you to manage your cat’s litter box issues:

  • Uncovered litter boxes are usually preferred by most cats.
  • Most cats like unscented scoopable litter. Flushable litters are very convenient, but may clog septic systems.
  • You should have one litter box per cat plus one (if you have 3 cats, have FOUR litter boxes).
  • Natural substances are preferred over synthetic. Try Feline Pine®, Swheat Scoop® and similar products.
  • Place the box in an area that the cat prefers, not necessarily where you want the box to be.

If your cat stops using the litter box there is a good chance that the cat has a medical problem. You should contact us immediately so we can be sure that the issue is behavioral and not medical. Urinary tract infections are common in cats, and digestive system disorders or painful defecation may cause your cat to avoid the litter box. On rare occasions cats can benefit from stress relieving medications especially in multi-cat households. DO NOT DELAY IN SEEKING HELP. THE LONGER THE BEHAVIOR IS ALLOWED TO PERSIST, THE HARDER IT IS TO CHANGE IT!

Puppy’s Rough Play

The following question was posed on the AVMA’s website by a veterinarian.  The question is from the receptionist at the clinic regarding her new puppy and its tendency to bite:

The puppy has started playing really rough and I can’t seem to control her when she does.  She’s starts pulling at a shirt, sock or my arm and foot and won’t let go.  When she finally does I will place an appropriate item in her mouth and praise her but she will turn around drop the toy and go for me again.  When she’s pulling on my clothing she play growls like if we are playing tug of war (She’s just pulling, I don’t pull back like in tug of war.  I just try to pry her mouth open to get her off of me and say no).  Sometimes even when I carry her out to the grass she grabs onto my arm, bites hard and won’t let go.   I am all scratched from pulling my arm and hand out of her mouth.  I know that you are not suppose to use their crate as punishment but I just couldn’t get her under control at one point today (she was biting so hard and scratching with her teeth that I was bleeding).  I went to place her in the kennel which was right beside us and she just kept it up, she headed right out the kennel door and was growling the same kind of play tug of war growl with the toy I stuck in her mouth.  Once I got her in and I let her out a minute later she had calmed down, went to lie down and fell a sleep.   I know puppies bite but I am very concerned about the growling and want to nip (pardon the pun) any problem immediately before it becomes a behavior issue.  I have read the biting puppies handout and will try just walking away next time but it doesn’t say anything about growling and that worries me the most.

This is the answer that was given by Dr. Ciribassi, a specialist in animal behavior:

First and foremost, do not over react to this. It is NOT dominance and the dog does NOT need someone to show it who’s boss. Puppies use their mouths for play, exploration and teething. It is not appropriate for biting to occur but it is not abnormal. Left untreated, puppies will not develop appropriate bite inhibition and inappropriate mouth behavior can continue. Punishment escalates the problem to force the puppy to use preemptive bites.

When dealing with play aggression you need to look at it from 2 perspectives: prevention and how to deal with the biting as it is happening. For the latter situation, realize the puppy is looking for attention so the best approach is to immediately remove yourself from the interaction. At first this should be by folding your arms and turning away. If the puppy’s response is mild, it is best to wait it out and remain in one spot. Be aware that he will get frustrated and crank up the degree of aggression to try to get his point across. You MUST wait this out and not give in by looking at, yelling or pushing the puppy away. If the aggression is too physical to deal with, then walk out of the room and leave it behind (put up a gate or close a door between. Wait until the puppy is COMPLETELY calm for a while before returning. If it is still calm after returning (or if he just relaxes if you have not had to leave the room), go through 10 minutes or so of simple obedience exercises using treat rewards. You are telling him that calm relaxed behavior gets rewarded. If he still gets cranked up, then there is no problem with using the cage for a time out. You do not need to get angry, just be matter of fact. You might want to consider using a head collar and leaving it on with a drag leash to facilitate training and relocating to the crate. Take it off if unattended.

For prevention, you need to go through several short bouts of obedience training each day so that he understands that when he is relaxed, good things happen. Consider using a stuffed Kong during problem times of the day (times when he is more prone to get worked up. Give him the toy BEFORE he gets worked up as a preventative maneuver. Be sure to have scheduled bouts of interactive play OUTDOORS so that he does not associate inside with rough play. DO NOT PLAY ROUGHLY WITH HIM. He does not need to get stimulated. He
already knows how to do that. Do not play on the floor with him; do not use hands and feet as play toys. Any time he uses his mouth on you, you walk away. It will not go away overnight but will improve over a couple weeks if consistent.


We are planning on having children and were told that cats can carry a parasite that could be harmful to the fetus.  Do we have to get rid of our cat?

No you do not have to get rid of your cat!!  What you are concerned about is a protozoon called Toxoplasma gondi.  While this organism can infect many different animals, it only goes through its complete life cycle in cats.  Humans become infected with the organism by eating under cooked meat, or from cat feces.  The infection only rarely results in illness in people.  It is estimated that between 50 percent and 80 percent of adults in the United States have acquired the infection, but disease is only seen in patients with immune deficiencies.  The biggest risk of Toxoplasmosis infection occurs when the infection is acquired during pregnancy.  There is significant risk of birth defects during the first trimester of pregnancy.  There is much less risk to the fetus if the infection occurs in the second trimester, and virtually no risk during the last trimester.

Some couples want to have their cat tested for the disease, but this is usually of no value, because cats only shed the organism during the first 3 weeks of their infection.  Cats become infected through eating rodents.  This is yet another reason for keeping your cat indoors.  When a cat eats an infected rodent they will pass spores of the Toxoplasma in their feces.  The organism is not contagious until 24 hours after the cat has defecated.  Once it undergoes sporulation, it can now infect people or other animals.  Since farm cats occasionally defecate in animal feed, livestock become infected when they eat the contaminated grain.  Once the organism infects the cow, sheep, pig, or goat, humans can then eat the infected meat.  Cooking the meat well done kills the organism.  People can become infected via cat feces if the neighborhood cat is using their garden for a litter box.  Wearing gloves while gardening, as well as thorough washing of hands and vegetables will prevent human exposure.

Physicians will often test women for Toxoplasmosis when women become pregnant.  You are actually better off if you are positive on the test, because it means you have been exposed and are immune from acquiring the infection.  If you are negative, you and your baby are vulnerable.  It is best to get tested before you become pregnant if at all possible.  Once you decide to have children, you should take the following precautions:

  • Assume that you are at risk.
  • Assume that your cat is actively shedding Toxoplasma organisms regardless of blood test results.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling your cat.
  • Wear gloves when gardening.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after gardening.
  • Wash vegetables before eating.
  • Cook meat well done.
  • If possible, get someone else to scoop the litter box.  If not possible, wear gloves, scoop twice a day, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling the litter.

As always, you should consult with your physician for specific advice for your particular situation.  For more information visit this topic on the CDC website

Cat Food

What is the best food for my cat to eat?

We have had some interesting new developments in our understanding of cat physiology and it has prompted us to re-evaluate our feeding recommendations for cats. The embarrassing part is that it took so long for the veterinary community to come to what I think is an obvious conclusion. Cats are pure obligate carnivores. They only eat other animals in the wild. They are not designed by Mother Nature to eat any vegetables. Why do we think we can change their basic nature? It is because of this basic fact of physiology that we at the Burke Veterinary Clinic recommend that cats only eat canned food. Dry food contains large amounts of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates cause the pancreas to produce large amounts of insulin which causes the carbohydrates to be converted to fats and stored. This leads to obesity in cats, and more importantly it leads to diabetes. Cats that produce lots of insulin throughout their lives can eventually “burn out” their insulin producing capacity and become diabetic. When cats have high levels of blood sugar from high carb diets, they can develop glucose toxicity which also results in diabetes. Obese cats can develop a fatal liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. These cats can only be saved by surgically implanting a stomach feeding tube and syringe feeding them for up to 2 months. Another important advantage of feeding canned food is the higher moisture content. Every mouse, bird, turtle, snake, or other animal that is eaten by cats in the wild is 80 percent water. Why do we think we can get away with feeding dry food that is zero percent water? The higher moisture content of canned foods improves urine production and decreases kidney and bladder problems.

For the above reasons, canned cat food is a “no-brainer.” Unfortunately the worse diet you can feed is a mixture of canned and dry. It is like cheating on the Atkins diet. Even small amounts of carbs will trigger the insulin release that causes the glucose conversion to fat. DO NOT FEED CATS ANY DRY CAT FOOD. Even the most expensive cat foods on the market contain close to 30 percent carbs. A mouse is about 5 percent carbs. You don’t have to spend a fortune on premium cat foods. Basic store brands like Friskies® or 9-Lives® are fine. There is no evidence that kitten foods are any better that adult foods for a kitten, so feeding a kitten regular adult food is recommended. The average cat should eat 2-3 ounces of cat food 2 times a day. Believe it or not, the average cat should weigh between 5 and 8 pounds! Staying slim will add years to your cats life.

I know some cats don’t like canned food. My own cat refused to eat any canned food. Unfortunately she became diabetic and had to go on insulin injections 2 times per day. It took me a year to get her to like canned food, but persistence paid off. After 6 months of not eating dry food, she actually became non-diabetic and no longer needed insulin injections. Don’t let this happen to you. DO NOT FEED CATS DRY FOOD! EVER!!

Spaying and Neutering Your Pets

People tell me that pets should be spayed or neutered. Is that really important?


  1. Neutering male animals eliminates risks of testicular cancer later in life.
  2. Neutering male animals greatly reduces the possibility of prostate disease. These problems occur frequently in older animals that are more at risk with regards to anesthesia and surgery.
  3. Intact (non-neutered) male dogs have a much higher risk of perianal adenomas (tumors) and perineal hernias than do neutered dogs.
  4. Neutering male dogs greatly reduces their desire to roam and wander from home. 80 percent of all dogs that are hit by an automobile are unneutered male dogs.
  5. Intact male cats mark their territory by spraying foul smelling urine. Neutering will eliminate this.
  6. Neutering will not make your pet fat. Overfeeding and some diseases lead to obesity.

Personality changes due to neutering are extremely rare. Neutered pets do not become “wimps.” The only behavioral changes that are seen with neutering are a decrease in inter-male aggression, and a decrease in the desire to roam. We recommend that all male pets be neutered by 6 months of age.


  1. Spaying your pet eliminates the risk of reproductive diseases like uterine infections, ovarian cysts, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and pyometra (infected uterus).
  2. Spaying your dog before the first heat virtually eliminates the risk of mammary tumors (breast cancer). Each heat cycle that a dog has increases the odds that she will get breast cancer. Between 45-65 percent of dogs that are unspayed will develop mammary tumors.
  3. Spaying eliminates the problems of bleeding 2x/year due to heat cycles, and the unwanted male visitors that will be around while your dog or cat is in heat.
  4. Epileptic animals are prone to seizures while in heat. Spaying will decrease the incidence of seizures.
  5. Spaying does not make pets fat and lazy. Overfeeding and certain medical conditions are the culprit in obesity. Most pets should be spayed by 6 months of age.

Dog Breeds and Children

We’re thinking of getting a new dog. What breed is best for a family with children?

Short breeds, tall breeds, no breeds, all breeds. My apologies to Dr. Suess, but unfortunately there is no particular breed that you can count on to reliably and consistently meet your requirements. The most important character trait for selecting a dog is the individual dog’s temperament. Because the AKC and other breed sanctioning organizations have no specific requirements for gentle temperament in their breeding standards it is always a gamble when selecting a dog. I find myself quoting Forest Gump all too often, but selecting a dog is “like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.”

I’ll try to address a few of the common pit-falls in dog selection so the reader can have a better understanding of how to best find a dog that suits their needs. Keep in mind that up to 50 percent of all dogs are given up in the first year of ownership. The relinquishment is almost always because the owners never should have gotten the dog in the first place. They either didn’t have the time (or the will) for proper training and socialization, or they acquired a dog that was completely unsuited for their situation. DON’T BE IN A HURRY, AND DON’T GET A DOG ON AN IMPULSE!!

Before selecting a dog ask yourself a few questions:

Do I want an adult or a puppy? Puppies are great fun and a great learning opportunity for the family, but they require an extreme amount of time to train and socialize. If you have very young children and work outside the home, you are not likely to have enough time to properly care for a puppy.

How old are my children? Most trainers recommend that you not get any dog until the youngest child is at least 7 years old. Most younger children do not have the capacity to behave appropriately around a dog, and unfortunate consequences result. Interpret this guideline based on your children’s maturity and your capacity to supervise interactions between the kids and the dog. If your children are older, realize that the kids will leave home, and mom and dad will inherit the dog eventually. My experience tells me that no matter who the dog is acquired for, it ends up being “mom’s dog.” That is why mom’s preferences get more weight than the others in the household during the dog selection process.

Do I want a big dog or a small dog? Each has their advantages and disadvantages. Many bigger breeds are calm and laid-back, but because of their size they can intimidate children. A big happy goofy dog will easily knock small children over. Smaller dogs are easier to handle as they are not big enough to pull you down the street or knock you over, but they often have dominant personalities that can be a challenge with training. While a dog may not be aggressive or try and bite your children, they may try and bite your children’s friends. 90 percent of dog bites are from the family dog or the next door neighbor’s dog.

Do you want a pure breed or a mutt? With pure breed dogs, you will usually have an idea of the size and type of dog, but I’ve seen the “friendly” breeds have poor temperaments and I’ve seen the “mean” breeds be the nicest dogs ever. Mutts are a nice choice because they are usually free (or very cheap), and they are plentiful. Many rescue groups will subsidize the early medical care including vaccinations and spay-neuter costs as well. Up to 50 percent of all dogs in shelters are purebred. This means that someone bred them, someone bought them, and someone gave them up.

One of my favorite things to hear is “we did a lot of research before we got this breed.” Unfortunately the information about breeds is usually written by people that profit from the sale of that breed. You won’t find much negative written about any breed. One important item to research is “what was the breed originally used for, and how does that impact its behavior?”

Sled dogs live in a pack of 20 other dogs in artic climates and have the energy to pull you across Canada. Herding breeds chase livestock and nip at their heels. Hounds chase rabbits all day long and bark repeatedly to tell you where the rabbits are. Terriers chase and kill small rodents around the farm. Guard dogs and dogs of war were sent into villages to kill as many people as they could before the soldiers came in to pillage. Toy breeds are shrunk-down versions of bigger dogs which brings health concerns. Big dogs are prone to hip dysplasia. Breeds that are very popular have been ruined by the puppy mill industry. Breeds that are very rare are so inbred that they have been ruined as well.

Another statement that I cringe over is “we got the dog from the best breeder around and this dog is from Champion lines.” I got news for you. Virtually every purebred that enters our clinic has claims of champion lines. The phrase has become meaningless to me. I also find that the breeders that put on the best show to prospective buyers usually have the worst quality of dogs. Buyer beware!

Before you get any dog, ask a veterinarian for all the negatives they can think of about a breed type. Ask several dog trainers what breeds they see the most problems with. Don’t rely on your friend, co-worker, or neighbor for substantial input. If at all possible, check out the parents of the dog and assess their temperament. Never buy a dog off of the internet without seeing it first. Keep in mind what the breed was originally intended to do.

I realize that the tone of this discussion may come off as somewhat negative, but if you heed my warnings you stand the best chance of getting a dog that will be a enjoyed by the family for many years. Good luck in your search for the right dog and as always, call us with any questions BEFORE you get the dog.