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Contact Willowdale Animal Hospital

Open 24 Hours, Year Round

256 Sheppard Ave. West
Toronto, ON M2N 1N3
(416) 222-5409

Seasonal Pet Health News

Look out for distemper

The raccoons of Ontario have seen an unusually high rate of distemper this year, a potentially fatal disease that can be passed on to dogs.

Distemper cases typically spike in the fall and can carried by skunks, wolves, foxes, ferrets, raccoons, dogs. Unlike rabies, distemper is not known to spread to humans. Feline distemper is a separate disease with different qualities and symptoms.

The distemper virus can be spread through direct contact, indirect contact such as a shared food dish or bedding, and even through the air. Infected animals first experience a high fever as the virus attacks the lymph nodes and tonsils before moving deeper into the body and impacting the dog’s entire body, especially the nervous system.

Infected animals will have red, watery eyes, a wet nose, lethargic behavior and loss of appetite. Vomiting, diarrhea, frequent coughing and enlargement of foot pads may also occur.

In the late stages, the dog may experience seizures and hysterical fits. Pets can recover from the disease, but treatment is limited to alleviating symptoms and sick animals must persevere through the disease in order to recover. The best strategy is prevention, including vaccinations and separation from infected animals and carriers objects.

Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog may be exposed to distemper. If you see a raccoon with distemper, notify the city of Toronto at (905) 546-2489 to help control the spread of the disease.

Should you wrap Christmas gifts for pets?

Pets with gift wrapping

Cats, dogs and other pets have long participated in the holiday tradition of unwrapping Christmas presents under the tree, as well as any participation in any other gift-exchanging December holiday their family celebrates.

Most of us even go so far as to wrap the gifts for our pets, and either unwrap them in front of Mittens or help Fido unwrap the gifts. Inside are new toys, pet jackets, snack or cans of premium human food like tuna or beef stew.

Taking a step back, the whole practice sounds kind of silly. Pets are oblivious to the words and images printed on boxes and packaging, so wrapping up a can of shrimp isn’t going to create a Christmas-morning surprise.

But even though they can’t read and depend more on sense of smell then vision, our experiences have been that pets enjoy unwrapping items and discovering what is inside. Sure, they may not be aware that there is something inside for them when they are first presented with the wrapped gift, but if they find a toy mouse or bone inside they will know it’s theirs.

Unlike with kids, you can remove the packaging from pet toys before you wrap them so that they can play with them immediately.

The only thing to look out for is the pet attempting to eat the wrapping paper, which could cause an intestinal blockage. Keep a close eye on your pet during the gift exchange, and avoid using any ribbons, strings, bows or tags when you wrap the gift.

As an alternative, several companies make pet-friendly wrapping paper that can be chewed without causing injury.

Yes, pets can be good gifts

Pets do make good gifts to close loved ones, even for Christmas

We’ve all heard the warnings about giving pets as gifts – it’s supposedly bad for the pets and should never be done. The concern is that the pets will be unwanted and likely to end up in an animal shelter.

But recent research says that’s simply not true.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted research in 2013 to learn the attitudes of people who own gifted pets and found equal love and attachment to gifted pets. Existing research also showed that when pets are sent to animal shelters, less than 1 percent of the pet owners say it’s because they were “unwanted gift.”

In fact, most people with gifted pets believe the act of receiving the pet from a loved one gave them a greater attachment to the pet, even pets that came as a complete surprise.

Now, there are some restrictions. Obviously giving your coworker a new puppy on a whim is a bad idea and puts them in a difficult social situation. Pets are a lot of responsibility and generally a long, long commitment, so you’re best reserving the gift of dog to close relatives or close friends in very limited circumstances. Some people may have restrictions you don’t know about, like family members with allergies who would no longer be able to visit. They may also have a lifestyle that doesn’t work with pet ownership, or be concerned about fur or the cost of having a pet.

Ideally, your gift recipient should have already indicated that they wish for a pet. Getting a pet is a big life change for someone who currently has none, a bigger difference than if someone already has three dogs and receives a fourth.

Pet gifting should not be impulsive. Remember this is supposed to be about improving the enjoyment of a friend. While there are plenty of people it doesn’t make sense to give a pet, giving one to your spouse or child can be a very gesture.

6 ways to make Halloween better for your pets

Pirate Cat

Halloween can be a great time of the year for humans, but for pets it’s a chaotic day with a lot of new hazards and strange happenings that can be confusing or even scary. Here’s six ways to keep your pets safe and happy on All Hallows’ Eve.

Jack-o-lanterns and pets don’t mix

Keep your animals away from lit pumpkins. They may get too close and get singed by the candle or may knock the pumpkin over and create a fire hazard. Both situations can be avoided by keep Jack-o-lanterns outside on Halloween and the pets indoors.

Think twice about pet costumes

Pet costumes are for the amusement of the owners; not the pets. Many pets hate the experience, but some will find it tolerable. If you think your pet won’t mind wearing a silly costume try putting it on them earlier in the week and see if they object or if it shifts around too much for them to handle.

Mind the cords

If you have an elaborate yard display or a haunted house in your garage be very careful where the trailing electrical cords are placed. Pets love to chew on cords and you can prevent them from being zapped to make sure they placed somewhere where little teeth can’t get at them.

Keep your pets indoors on Halloween

A dog in the yard that barks at every person who comes nearby won’t grant an exception to Trick-or-treaters, so keep your dog inside for the night. Halloween is also a night of pranks and busy roads so don’t let your animals outside where they can be decorated and nabbed by pranksters or struck by a vehicle. This goes double for black cats who may be targeted because of the holiday.

Make it impossible for pets to escape

Opportunistic pets love to bolt for the door when it’s opened for visitors. and Halloween is a night of constant door openings. You won’t have to hold onto a pet’s collar while admiring children’s costumes at the door if you put your pets in a safe place, such as a closed bathroom or a roomy cage.

No candy for Fido

Don’t feed your pet Halloween candy. While most people know that chocolate is poisonous to dogs, what’s less known is that the artificial sweetener xylitol is also harmful to dogs. Xylitol is commonly found in sugar-free candies and is extremely toxic to dogs.

5 tips for naming a pet

A pet’s name says a lot more about its owner than it does about the pet itself. Names allow pet owners to express themselves, but like all forms of creative expressions there are some common mistakes to avoid and guidelines to follow.


#1 Make it short and sweet

The best pet names are one or two syllables in length, like “Max,” “Baxter” or “Princess.” This is both easier for the pet to recognize, and it makes it easier to scream the pet’s name when it chews up a favorite pair of shoes.


#2 Involve the kids

Any kids in the family will likely have some name ideas of their own to contribute. Just be prepared to veto ill-chosen names. Imagine what it’ll be like 10 years from now if you name the family pet after a character from a kids TV show and little “Pikachu” is still part of the family. An easy compromise is for the kids to draft a short list of names and let the kids chose one from the list.


#3 Take names from history, pop culture or mythology

There is a rich world out there to draw pet names from, such as historical names like “Poe” and “Caesar,” entertainment tie-ins like “Ozzy” or “Homer,” and a whole world of mythological figures. Here are links to lists for inspiration of mythological dogs, such as Cereberus, and mythological felines, such as Barong.


#4 Attributes or behavior

Classic pet names like “Spot” and “Mittens” come from basic observations about the pet’s appearance. This is a time-tested approach, along with names based on animal behaviors and personalities, like “Sir Barksalot,” “Dash,” and “Pounce.”


#5 Remember your pet will grow

Pets will physically change over time. It may sound cute to name your chocolate lab “Olive” while it’s little, round and black, but one day that dog will be an adult and the name won’t make as much sense. Light fur may darken, skinny animals may become fleshed out and big eyes may become more proportional. Hamsters, on the other hand, will remain little puffs of fur forever. Plan accordingly.

February Pet Health Tip: Get A Dental Exam

Pets need dental care just as much as we do. During your pet’s annual physical exam, your veterinarian will likely examine their mouth and check to excess tartar build up, damaged teeth and gum health. They may recommend a professional cleaning, change in food, and cleaning regimen for your pet to maintain good dental health. Since pet’s use their mouths not just for eating, but also grooming, it is important to keep their teeth healthy.

Diet can also affect your pet’s dental health.  We generally recommend Royal Canin, a supplier of high quality, specialized dog and cat foods in the veterinary, pet specialty and breeder channels. Royal Canin offers a comprehensive veterinary exclusive line of therapeutic and life stage formulas.  Royal Canin food is available in hospital and through our convenient web store.

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Vet Check Ups

January is a good time to get your pet in for their annual physical.   Start this year off on the right foot with your pet and schedule an appointment today.  During your pet’s physical you can expect:

  • Parasite testing
  • Updated on vaccinations
  • Address any health concerns you’ve noticed
  • Your pet’s weight
  • Your pet’s joints
  • Nutrition and supplements
  • Inspection of eyes, ears and teeth
  • Examination of your pet’s paws, joints and reflexes

While January is a big month for our personal health resolutions, it is just as important to keep your pet healthy. Your vet may recommend a diet, an exercise regimen or a change in supplements for your pet.  By bringing your pet in for an annual physical exam, you help prevent illness, are likely to catch health concerns early on and treat them promptly.  Overall, this will save you money and time in addition to providing a happy and healthy life for your pet.

To help your pet prepare for it’s annual exam, refer to our post on Fear Free Vet Visits!

Keep Your Pet Safe This Winter

Winter time is here and with every season, there are certain precautions you need to take for yourself and your pets.  Here’s a few tips on keeping your pet safe this winter.

1-Keep them warm
Pets can get hypothermia and frost bite just like us!  Even if your pet is pretty hearty and loves the cold, bring them in when it’s bitter cold and at night.  If you plan to take them out in the cold for a walk or snowshoe hike, consider a light jacket.  Keep their sleeping space warm as well, even if it’s as simple as providing a sleeping pad or bed.

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2-Be prepared for storms
You may be ready to be snowed in, but make sure you have enough supplies for your pets as well.  This includes extra food, clean water, first aid, shavings or liter and heat.  Sometimes, evacuations are necessary.  Make sure all your pet’s documentation from your vet is readily available and that you have supplies packed away for them.

3-Don’t let them wander in a storm
It’s tragic when you hear of a cat or dog getting lost, freezing or worse during storms.  Keep your pets safe inside and if they must go out, keep a close eye on them!

4-Watch those paws!
Salt is so harsh on a pets little pads.  Even if they never go outside, it can be tracked in and transfer to their feet.  Keep your floors clean and wipe down their paws after they have been outside.  Also be aware that cold ice and snow can cut open their paws as well.  Be aware if they start to limp or appear to be bleeding from the paws.  Use a product like Mushers to protect and condition their pads during the winter.

Protect your Pets Paws

5-Stay visible
The days are fairly short now so keep your pet visible with a reflective collar, leash or jacket.  Bright colors work best and help with visibility in the day time as well.

reflective leash - pet visibility - pet safety tips - pet care - winter safety for pets - toronto

Celebrating the Holidays with Your Pet

Holidays are a busy time for us, entertaining, shopping, cooking, wrapping gifts, and hosting guests can be exhausting.  But don’t forget to include your pet!

Here’s a few ways to include your pet in the festivities

1-Bring your dog to that holiday party
After you ask permission of course!  This is great socialization for them and you won’t have to worry about rushing back home to let them out.  Just make sure to keep an eye on your dog, guests may want to feed them food he can’t eat or he may become irritated by all the hustle and bustle.  If your dog has a difficult time socializing, leave them at home but make sure to give them plenty of exercise and attention before and after the party.

2-Treat them to a gift.
Give your pet a gift during the holidays too.  It could be a snack, a new toy or bed. They will certainly appreciate it!  Take a look at our pet gift guides here.

3-Spend some time with them.
Pets value our time and company.  Whether you’re playing games with them or snuggling up on the couch, they will love that you gave them a little personalized attention and it will help you relax after all that gift wrapping!

4-Take them for a holiday hike!
We all want to avoid that holiday weight gain so take a few moments to get out for some fresh air and exercise with your pet!

5-Provide your pet with something to do.
Pets may get bored while you’re away for festivities or may not want to be around when all the guests are gathered in your living room.  Consider getting them a toy, puzzle or play place to occupy them while you entertain.

6-Keep your pet safe!
Read our holiday safety guide for pets blog here. 


Holiday Safety Tips for Pets

Pet Feast

Make sure to keep your pets away from the table and unattended plates of food, and be sure to secure the lids on garbage cans.  There are so many foods that can be poisonous to your pets over the holidays, chocolate, chicken bones, alcohol and more.  Also be careful of guests visiting your home who may want to sneak your pet a little bite.  They may not be aware of how this may affect your pet.  Provide your guests with real pet treats if this is a concern.

Securely your Christmas tree so it doesn’t tip and fall, causing possible injury to your pet. This will also prevent the tree water from spilling. Stagnant tree water is hazardous to your pet and can contain a lot of bacteria.  Don’t allow your pet to drink from the tree water basin.  Be cautious of wires as well.  Some pets love to chew on everything so be careful that they don’t chew on your string of lights.


Cats love tinsel because it looks like a fun “toy”. But a nibble can lead to a swallow, which can lead to an obstructed digestive tract, and may require surgery. Use something other than tinsel to wrap around your tree.

Pets Gifts

By now you may have heard plenty of recalls for pet toys and food alike.  Go with a brand you trust and one that you usually give your pet to prevent an upset stomach or holiday trip to the ER.

Holiday Greenery

Holly,  mistletoe and most lilies can cause gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems. Use artificial plants made from silk or plastic, or choose a pet-safe bouquet.

Give them Down Time

The holidays are a stressful time for pets too.  Give your pet his own quiet space of respite—complete with fresh water and a place to snuggle and know when to give them a break from social time with the family.

New Year’s Noise

As you count down to the new year, please keep in mind that strings of thrown confetti can cause blockages in your pets stomach if ingested, much like tinsel. Noisy poppers can terrify pets and cause possible damage to sensitive ears.  Try a thunder shirt on a skittish pet or use pheromones to help them with all the noise and excitement.


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