Moving with animals

Written by: Lillian Su, BS, DVM, MVSc, CCRP (Practice Limited to Small Animal Surgery)

Since graduating from veterinary school, I have made cross-country moves with my canine and feline family members six times. My oldest cat, Alexander, has made every single one of these moves with me…unfortunately, Alex hates carriers and he hates car rides – he has a sensitive stomach and gets sick when he’s stressed. Most recently, I made the trek from Ohio to Portland with Alex, his feline sister, and his two dogs. Figuring out a plan to minimize stress for all of my pets while making progress towards the west coast took some planning.

Moving with animals is stressful for people and pets alike. There are many things to consider when making big moves with Fido or Fluffy.

Before you travel… Will you need health certificates? Additional vaccinations? Blood tests?

Crossing between the US and Canada with adult dogs and cats just requires proof of current rabies vaccination. Traveling between states in the contiguous 48 states is also very easy but will sometimes require a current Health Certificate. Valid Health Certificates can only be issued by a federally accredited veterinarian ( and must have been issued within 30 days of travel. Additionally, some municipalities have limits on the number and types of animals one person may keep on a single property. Know the rules and regulations before you move!

If your pet has not been to the vet within the last year, you should at least schedule them for a check up before the move or get a current Health Certificate. Make sure to look into the local and regional animal ordinances so that your pets are in compliance with the law with regards to required vaccinations when you arrive in your new town. If your pet has not been microchipped, it may be a good idea to implant them with permanent identification. If they are, make sure all of your contact information is up to date!

Is your pet crate-trained? The safest (and usually only) way to transport animals by plane, train, or commercial service is in a crate. This minimizes the risk that they will get loose during transport, allows them to have a dedicated space to bed down, and prevents them from being flung about the vehicle in the event of an accident. If your pet is not crate-trained, it might be helpful to acclimate them to the crate they will be traveling in well before you plan to transport them. If you are not certain how to get started with crate training, or if your dog is very stressed by any aspect of crating or travel, you may wish to seek out assistance from your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to help you formulate the best plan for your pet. This will usually include a behavior modification and training plan and possibly drugs to decrease anxiety during training and traveling.

Domestic or International?

Luckily, all of my moves have been within the United States and Canada and therefore I have not had to deal with the rigorous forms, vaccinations, and blood testing that are often required when moving animals overseas.

Many foreign animal agencies and Hawaii require vaccination and testing well in advance of the move and may require quarantine periods before or after moving. Some states and countries have restrictions on certain species, some have different rules for transporting juvenile animals (i.e. puppies and kittens). If you are moving overseas, give yourself as much time as possible to familiarize yourself with all the requirements and to complete each step as some can take multiple months to schedule or might require very precise timing. If you are looking for information on regulations for moving your pet with you out of the US, go to: or seek out a veterinarian experienced with import/export of pets. Even if you are using a company to transport your animals, get everything lined up as early as possible!

Land or Air?

Flying vs. driving with your animals each have their own headaches. Flying with pets requires that they be small enough to be taken as a carry-on (small dogs and cats) or identifying airlines that will fly live cargo. All animal transport will require fees in addition to your own airfare. Airline, time of year, size of animal, size of kennel, type of aircraft, origin and destination cities, and whether there are other animals on the flight already are some of the factors that may play a role in flying with your pet. Most airlines that allow transport of pets on their commercial flights have a webpage detailing rules and regulations for transporting animals on one of their flights or at least a contact number to call. It is always advised to check with the airline before finalizing flight arrangements for your pet.

For me, the idea of giving up control over my animals’ well-being during a move is very difficult so I chose to drive for all of my moves. Driving your animals long distances requires having the time to make the trip, having a reliable vehicle that is able to safely accommodate you, your animals, any driving companions, your animals’ supplies (think food, beds, water dishes, litter boxes, toys, crate, etc.), and your own luggage for the trip.

Are your animals good travelers? Or does being in the car stress them out? If you are traveling with more than one animal, do they all get along? If you have enough time, acclimating or counterconditioning your pets to their travel carriers and to the car is highly recommended. Also, speaking with your veterinarian or having a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist about whether or not anti-anxiety and/or anti-nausea drugs might be helpful in easing the stress of travel may be helpful.

Next you need to consider your route and the weather – is it very hot or very cold during your travel days?  Does your vehicle have air conditioning to keep the interior of your car cool and comfortable enough for your animals? Are there any road conditions or traffic that you expect might prolong your travel time? Do you have all the supplies your pets will need? You should always bring at least a few days more than you think you will need. Do you have a basic first aid kit to deal with any minor ailments or injuries on the road? Are there veterinary facilities in the towns you are passing through?

Most towns with hotels these days have at least some accommodations that are pet friendly. However, every pet friendly hotel has different rules which may include what kind or how many animals they allow, fees associated with your pet staying with you (deposits, additional per pet room fees, cleaning fees, etc.), and rules about animals being left unsupervised in the room. Some may have changed their rules but may not yet have updated their website. When traveling with animals, it is always best to plan ahead, map out your overnight stops, and call ahead to confirm that the place you want to stay is still pet friendly and that your pets are allowed. It is best to make reservations instead of risking needing to drive on later than you anticipated or having to sleep in your car in an unfamiliar place.

Thankfully, my most recent move went swimmingly. One of my dogs is the ultimate couch potato in the car and slept most of the time we were on the road. The other one has a love of gazing out the windows and would lay down whenever he needed a break. The cats are on friendly terms and they were kenneled in a large wire crate together. While I cannot say they were happy about traveling, with a combination of some anti-nausea meds and a light sedative, neither of them got carsick and they only occasionally scolded me for taking them away from the home they had known.

We drove along major interstates, took frequent breaks at rest stops with pet elimination areas and we stayed at pet friendly hotels that I had chosen and called ahead for each day. While I love road-tripping, I viewed this trip as a means of getting my animals from Home A to Home B as efficiently and free of stress as possible, so I drove as far as was reasonably safe every day but we did not take any side trips or detours. At each overnight stop, the cats were free to roam the hotel room and the dogs and I took a much needed walk to stretch all of our legs.

While every animal will respond to the stress of travel differently, you can help to minimize your pet’s and your stress by getting to know them, doing some basic training / acclimation, checking in with your vet for health certificates or a medication regimen, and planning your trip with them in mind. My herd and I are glad to be settling in Portland and we do not plan on any long trips any time soon, although we are old hands at it by now! Best of luck to all of you out there planning to hit the road with your furry companions. Safe travels!

Canine Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease – Do we have to do surgery?

One of the most common orthopedic injuries affecting dogs today is canine cranial cruciate ligament disease. The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) in a dog is equivalent to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in people. The CCL is one of the major stabilizers of the canine knee – it’s main job is to prevent front to back motion of the tibia (shin bone) in relation to the femur (thigh bone). Rupture of the CCL results in an unstable and painful joint which causes your dog to limp. Also, approximately 50-60% of dogs with complete CCL tears will have medial meniscal tears which can increase the pain associated with this injury.

While we don’t know exactly why so many dogs tear their CCL, we do know that CCL disease is considered to be a degenerative process – once begun, it will typically progress over time. If your dog is diagnosed with a CCL injury, your vet and most veterinary surgeons (myself included) will recommend surgery to stabilize the knee. Which exact procedure is recommended for your pet will depend on your goals, your pet’s specific anatomy, and which procedures your surgeon is most comfortable performing. Surgery allows us to evaluate the joint, to remove any torn portions of meniscus (if it is injured), and to stabilize the joint. It is the quickest way that we know how to get dogs and cats back to as close to normal as possible after a CCL injury.

ACL tears in people who are not pro-athletes are often treated non-surgically (bracing, rest, physical therapy) and so one of the most common questions I get is “Do I have to do surgery?”

The short answer to the question is no – surgery for CCL tears is highly recommended but not required. Your pet can live with a torn CCL. However, surgery will significantly help your pet slow the progression of arthritis in their knee, and decrease the likelihood of them having a lifelong lameness.

Cece, a dog we recently evaluated for the Willamette Humane Society (WHS), is the perfect example of what happens when CCL tears go untreated. Cece is an adult pit bull and was noted to have an abnormal hindlimb gait when she was surrendered to WHS. The medical staff at WHS wanted to see if surgery would be an option for Cece and brought her to Sunstone for an orthopedic evaluation.

Cece is a happy, friendly girl and can walk on all four of her legs, but she stands and walks with her weight shifted towards her front legs, limps on both hindlimbs and is bow-legged and partially squatting because she has suffered bilateral CCL tears. Based on her physical exam and x-rays, we know that Cece’s CCL tears happened multiple months to, possibly, years ago. Both of her knees are thick with scar tissue and bone spurs from severe progressive arthritis – a natural consequence of her body trying to stabilize her knees. She has a funny posture and gait and her knees are a little creaky and occasionally sore, but she is able to get up and about and to run and play. Is surgery an option? Yes. Would surgery have helped when she was originally injured? Absolutely. Would surgery help her significantly now? I’m not sure. With the amount of arthritis and secondary change to her knees, it is hard to say how much benefit she would get from the traditional surgical procedures we use to stabilize the knees after CCL injury. After further discussion with her care team, we decided Cece would be best off with some concerted efforts in medical management for her arthritic knees rather than surgery at this time.

In general, for small dogs (less than 10-15 lbs) with CCL tears, I give them an approximately 50% prognosis for being able to develop enough scar tissue and arthritis to have a fairly function knee. In larger dogs (more than 40 lbs) that number drops to about 20% or lower. For patients that are not good surgical or anesthetic candidates, medical management or bracing and medical management may be the right choice. All dogs are capable of making scar tissue around their knees and making some improvements on their own, but how well they do is really variable from dog to dog. Most dogs with CCL tears will do much better if we are able to surgically stabilize them sooner rather than later.

If your family vet suspects or has diagnosed your dog with a CCL tear, Dr. Su would be happy to meet with you, to examine your pet, and to discuss your treatment options with you! Our goal at Sunstone Vets is to find the treatment that best fits your pet’s and your family’s needs.

*Sunstone is thrilled to hear that since her visit, Cece has found her forever home! We wish Cece and her family all the best!*

Making medical decisions for your pet

When your dog or cat has a serious medical problem or is facing a big procedure, knowing what to do or how to deal with it can be sometimes be stressful and overwhelming.

Having practiced veterinary medicine for over 11 years, I have a clear vision for the best ways to help my patients and their people but when it comes time to make big decisions for my own animals, my training goes out the window. I can be just as worried and emotional about the decisions I am making for my own animals as my clients are when considering a big surgical procedure for theirs. This is precisely the reason why any time I have concerns about one of my animals, I rely on the advice and expertise of my trusted colleagues – my pets need me to be their mom, not their doctor.

Here at Sunstone Vets we firmly believe that our pets are the family we choose. As pet owners and animal lovers ourselves, we know what it is like to be in your shoes. Your family veterinarian may have referred you to us for a second opinion or for advanced care they do not provide. We are on your side, a part of your pet’s care team, and we are here to help you understand what is happening with your pet. We want to work with you and your family veterinarian to find the best way forward for you, your animals, and your family.

Making decisions as to how to treat will depend on your pet, their diagnosis and prognosis, your goals for treatment and what treatment options are available, your finances, and your ability to manage ongoing care.  As veterinarians, we want to help you make the right decision for your pet and your situation.

The best way to partner with your veterinarian, with us, is to be honest – communicate openly about what you are hoping to achieve, what resources you are able or willing to invest, and whether or not caring for your animal and their current condition is feasible given your schedule and lifestyle.

We will also be honest with you about your pet’s disease process, their prognosis, our expectations for what might happen with each of the options we present to you, how much it will cost, and how much on-going care will be required. We will also honestly support you in making the best decision for your pet and your family – whatever that decision may be. Our goal is to be your partner in maintaining your pet’s health and quality of life, trust us to provide guidance and to support you through the care your pet needs.

Managing Osteoarthritis in Dogs and Cats

Just like people, dogs and cats can suffer from arthritis. Arthritis is any condition that results in inflammation within a joint. Joint inflammation typically causes progressive irritation and thickening of the joint lining, bone spur formation, and erosion of the cartilage surfaces. These things result in joint pain which leads to decreased range of motion and decreased function.

Most commonly in dogs and cats, osteoarthritis develops as the result of injury to, instability of, or disease within the joint. If we can identify a specific cause of osteoarthritis, we may have surgical treatment options that could improve comfort and function of the joint and slow the worsening of the arthritis. However, once arthritis has started, it cannot be reversed and requires lifelong medical management to maximize your pet’s quality of life.

The components to the medical management of osteoarthritis include:

(1)  Keeping your pet at a lean body weight. It has been repeatedly proven that in animals (and people!) that being overweight will increase the likelihood and speed of progression of a variety of diseases, including arthritis. Keeping your pet lean (or weight loss if they are overweight) will help to reduce the stress on their joints.

(2)  Maintaining moderate levels of low-impact exercise. Too little activity can lead to stiff, painful joints and loss of muscle while too much activity can lead to injury – finding the right balance is the key to maximizing strength and mobility while limiting stress or strain on arthritic joints. Walking and swimming are great ways to exercise arthritic pets!

(3)  Medications to manage symptoms. Typically, this means starting with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) – there are many NSAID formulations that are designed specifically for dogs and cats. NSAIDs are commonly used to decrease the discomfort associated with arthritic joints. They are usually a safe starting point when it comes to trying to improve joint comfort but like any drug, they can have side effects and should only be given when prescribed by a veterinarian. [Most NSAIDs you can find in human drug stores are dangerous for your dog or cat. Please do not give any over the counter medications unless specifically directed to do so by your vet.]

(4)  Joint supplements. Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), avocado soy unsaponifiables (ASU) and many others are used either by themselves or in any number of combinations to make both veterinary and human formulated nutraceutical supplements. Some (omega-3 fatty acids, ASUs) have good evidence that they help decrease symptoms or slow the clinical progression of osteoarthritis. Others have anecdotal evidence of helping to decrease pain associated with arthritis and have at least been proven to not worsen arthritis. In addition to oral supplements, your dog or cat may benefit from an injectable supplement (i.e. Adequan). For recommendations, please ask your vet.

(5)  Regenerative medicine therapies. Use of stem cells, platelets, and other specialized protein products is one of the fastest growing areas of medicine. There is some data supporting the use of stem cells and platelet products for decreasing pain and slowing the progression of arthritis and these therapies can be applied to pets as well. Platelet and stem cell therapy is available at Sunstone.

If you have a dog or cat who is limping or slowing down or stiff from what you suspect is arthritis and you would like to have them evaluated or you would like to explore options for making them more comfortable, please feel free to schedule an appointment with Dr. Su. Appointments are available Monday – Thursday, 8am-6pm.

Conditioning your pooch for summer activity

Spring has sprung in Portland! With warmer temperatures and longer days, many people and their pooches are taking the opportunity to get out for longer walks and more activities.

Most of our pets seem to have no problems going from laying on the couch to a romp through the woods or racing around at the dog park. However, if your dog doesn’t get much activity over the winter or if they tend to be pretty sedentary during the week, you may want to consider a gradual ramp up of their activity to build strength and endurance. Easing them into a more active lifestyle will allow their muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, heart, and lungs to get stronger and more accustomed to doing more vigorous exercise.

Just like people, dogs that are out of shape can be more prone to injuries or health issues and most would benefit from a controlled conditioning period before engaging in athletic activities. Depending on your dog’s current level of activity and fitness, it might just take a few weeks or as long as several months to get them well-conditioned for vigorous activity.

If your dog is a total couch potato and gets very little exercise or if you are uncertain if your dog is healthy enough for a specific activity or sport, please have them evaluated by a veterinarian before beginning a new exercise program.

A pre-exercise evaluation would involve a complete history and physical exam to evaluate your dog’s general health status, listening to their heart and lungs to screen for obvious cardiovascular or respiratory disease, and a thorough orthopedic evaluation to make sure their bones and joints are comfortable and stable enough to take on the activity you have planned. Depending on your dog’s history, health status, and exam findings, your vet may recommend additional tests.

If you would like your dog evaluated before hitting the trails this spring or if you are looking for advice on how to safely increase your dog’s activity, please schedule an appointment with your Primary Care Veterinarian.