If your pet is experiencing a veterinary emergency, please do NOT use this form, but contact your regular vet immediately or call one of the local emergency veterinary hospitals.

Emergency Veterinary Services

If you would like a general question answered about pets, Dr. Burke will respond to you via publication here, so that questions and answers (that may be applicable to other people’s pets as well) can be shared. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide quotes, referrals or veterinary recommendations. Thank you for understanding.


I have a 16 year old cat who is  up all night meowing. Is  there anything I can do?

Dr. Burke Responds: 

There are many  possibilities, your cat may be in pain or have a medical
condition causing confusion. “Cognitive decline” refers to dementia of aging – -but 16 is -for a cat – not THAT old.

You should schedule  an appointment with your veterinarian to try to determine why the cat is meowing more, and what, if anything, can and
should be done .

One possibility is the cat  “going deaf”. Hearing range is measured in Hertz.   Humans hear over a range of  64-23,000 Hz,  dogs  67-45,000, cats 45-64,000.  So obviously cats have excellent hearing and can hear very high-pitched sounds – as one would expect an animal whose  prey are , small, quiet, squeaky mice. As they age, dogs and cats, like  humans,  may experience partial hearing loss.

Most owners notice hearing loss in dogs at an earlier age, than cats,    12-14 years vs  16 or older.  They often sleep more deeply,  are more easily startled  and may become anxious.  My impression is,  when their hearing is normal, they know where everyone is in the house. They look like they are sleeping,  but you can see the ears occasionally-reacting and scanning.  As they lose their hearing,  if they are alone or no one is in their line of sight,  they cry or  “call out”.

Having had, thru the years, 8 cats which lived to 17 -21,  I have found flicking lights on and off, or stomping  on the floor, gets the cat’s attention, they come to me and stop meowing.

(One last hint : If you can, bring a urine sample with you the visit – that can give a lot of information ! And it’s not that hard. The night before the appointment, change the litter while the cat is present, most love to “go” in clean litter. When it squats, slide a plastic lid, under the cat , on top of the litter. A tsp is more then enough.


Is it a requirement to spay/neuter a dog/cat if adopted and if you don’t want them to be neutered can you pay more money?

Dr. Burke Responds: 

Yes, Yes and NO!

First of all, RI is the only state with a state law, requiring spay/neuter of all cats. In this instance, we are ahead of the curve for once! Registered, licensed commercial breeders pay fees to be able to, legally, commercially breed PUREBRED cats (and dogs). In a thousand years if there aren’t more cats than homes for them, huge numbers of suffering feral, abandoned cats, maybe they will allow some restricted breeding of mix breeds.

(Although some Seeing-Eye organizations breed, in-house, “mixes” to get a combination of traits and size), responsible breeders only breed registered, purebred dogs and cats, hopefully proven free of heritable defects. Those animals are not at pounds, or humane societies!

The health and behavioral benefits to spay/ neuter far outweigh the few negatives, (somewhat affected by the age it is done) which a person who obtains a dog from a private source in RI may consider. There are countries in Europe which not only do not require spay neuter of dogs, but one needs to prove a medical necessity; most of these countries expect that citizens are not breeding irresponsibly, or they have huge stray animal populations. There are NO health or behavioral benefits, to breeding,

I imagine the majority of states and municipalities, require licensed humane organizations ( which get tax breaks and are often part of state or municipal animal ‘control’), to insure the spaying of all cats, all female animals, and most, neutering of male dogs. RI humane organizations are required to spay and neuter all pets over 6 months before adoption, and assure that those adopted younger are done at 6 months of age.

It makes no sense for organizations which primarily exist to deal with the results of animal overpopulation, not to require sterilization. There are enough irresponsible humans who intentionally or unintentionally allow their animals to breed, to continue the -over- supply of animals. (A cat or dog could birth over 100 kittens or puppies in their lifetime), The whole “pediatric spay-neuter” concept arose because people who adopted puppies and kittens didn’t fulfill their contractual obligation to have the pet neutered. Are there ever cases where someone is allowed to adopt a dog or cat which has another medical conditions which prevent delay spay/neuter? Maybe once every 5 years, and then only to people we know would never allow the animal to be bred.

There are 80 million dogs and 85 million owned cats in the US. There are at least 70 million unowned, stray, feral cats, and a much smaller number of dogs (Dogs are easier to catch, and more dangerous to the public so animal control organizations remove more dogs, but they still number in the millions.
Aggressive spay neuter has helped to decrease the statistics of over 10 million dogs and cats euthanized yearly in the 70’s to 2-3 million. Los Angeles alone euthanizes about 70,000 pit bulls a year – 2,000 a day.

To summarize: If you want a cat, no matter where you get it, by law, it needs to be altered. If for some reason, you want a dog, and don’t want to spay or neuter it, you will probably not be able to get from any shelter in this state or most states. If your intention was to get a dog, or cat, from a shelter, to breed it, no matter where you get it, you need to know there are major health risks to the pet of breeding (to both males and females). It is a horrible way to try to make money –just like women, not all dogs or cats give birth normally, and an c-section could be 700 to 1,500$.


We adopted a 6 month old puppy from  ( an animal rescue) . We were told she was up to date on her shots. When we took her to our own vet for her first office visit a week after we adopted her .  She needed several shots.

Was wondering what vaccinations are actually legally required in Rhode Island in order for a dog to be adopted?

Dr. Burke Responds: 


Rule # 1  – not all pets need vaccination against all disease – just like people.   

Rule # 2 – it follows, almost never  has any pet had  “all  vaccinations ” or  ” had everything”   and, never , covered forever . 

Rule # 3 – almost all legislation and legal requirements  are  related to rabies – ‘the law ‘ only cares about the disease transmitted to humans .   


Owners of pet dogs cats and ferrets ,  over 3 months of age are required to have them vaccinated against  rabies then, within  a year, and then every 1-3 three years depending on  several factors. 


For the  health of the pet  there are  “core”  vaccines  for different species.  For dogs this is Distemper, Adenovirus 2 and Parvo.   Usually  a series is  recommended  in dogs under 4 months.   At   6 months of age , if the puppy had only had one prior  Distemper Adenovirus Parvo ,  most veterinarians would  recommend a second. Older than that — one should protect for the first year . 


If the dog had already received  two core vaccinations with the second being 4 months or older, it really did not need another one.  On the other hand if the veterinarian recommended  Lyme vaccination and it had not  received that before – different story.   If I am looking at the correct shelter, and what they list — I would expect a  6 month old dog  to was “up to date” for core  vaccines of DA2pp and Rabies, or they would have said if  another was  needed  –  soon.  But unless I saw the original paperwork and contract  vs  what given  at the veterinarian’s – can’t say more — other than,  sometimes,  when a pet has been vaccinated but in a “group ” or stressed situations or vaccinated the day of surgery , some  veterinarians would rightfully  recommend another  to be safe –but that would be  after discussing with you and explaining . 


https://www.aaha.org/professional/resources/canine_vaccine.aspx   This explains the vaccines available and  “standard of care” recommendations.


Throughout the dog’s life, vaccines are very important, but parasite control -intestinal, heartworm, flea tick , proper feeding,  timely spay/neuter, feeding recommendations and proper training are all needed for a healthy life.


TO ANSWER YOUR ACTUAL QUESTION –I do not believe  there are any laws  requiring a dog be vaccinated, or have had vaccinations,  to be adopted out – or to be sold by a breeder .   Many city shelter  and rescues do not have access to a veterinarians.   The onus is on the new owner – and ,  state  law only dictates rabies vaccination.  Again if looking at the correct shelter site, they do much more than most 


The exception would be if the dog is  been brought from out of state. In that case it should have had a health certificate, and, at 6 months of age, have been vaccinated for rabies already..but it might need ” more ” vaccinations .


I hope this helps .



I found out my vet has closed down for good. My dog is coming up for three year’s rabies shot and unfortunately with all the moving …I’ve done I cannot find her paperwork. She also lost the tag that was on her collar. Is there any way possible, if I bring her to a new vet, they are able to look up her information so she can continue on the three-year rabies as opposed to getting another one here and starting over?

From Dr. Burke   Answer : There is no national data base of dog vaccinations. And a tag wouldn’t help , except to ID the veterinary facility which vaccinated  “a” dog…. tags are like a car license plates — without paperwork, they mean nothing.

Dr. Burke Responds: 

If you had licensed the dog in the city you lived in, you would have had to provide proof of the vaccination – so you might be able to contact the city and get a copy of the license, which may show the vaccination .

By business regulation as well as DEM or DOH law, veterinary medical records have to be maintained for 5-7 years, even after a business has closed down. Usually the business makes arrangements with another hospital to maintain their records and provide former clients with information.

You could check with the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association. www.rivma.org (the main page has a “pet owners” tab, with an email,and phone number. ) They should be able to advise you if the records are available from someone else, or who to contact–if nothing else to complain! Whether or not  you can get  the information  in a timely fashion, I don’t know.

If you have moved to another state- proof of ANY prior rabies, should be enough to allow a 3 year rabies booster to be certified for 3 years. RI is “unusual” in its requirements to “start from scratch”  in most cases where the prior rabies vaccination has lapsed. After three rabies vaccinations – most pets are immune for life -but – rabies vaccination requirement and laws and rules are created to protect human health and if the pet is not “legally” vaccinated, they can be in real legal jeopardy.


My dog is 1 year and a couple months old. I couldn’t have her for 2 weeks because I  was moving, I left her with a friend.  Now she appears to be pregnant. How can i find out when she’s due,  and how many puppies she’s having and how many weeks after delivery can she get fixed?

 Dr. Burke Responds:

 Dear D.F,

 You didn’t say how long ago that two weeks was.  Or, if you are sure she was mated. Dogs pass blood for 7-10 days and are fertile for 7-10 days after that.   If looking pregnant after being back home only 4-5 weeks, or she is producing milk already, it could be a false pregnancy.

 Have your dog examined by your  regular veterinarian ASAP, and bring a fresh stool sample to be checked for intestinal parasites (which may be passed to the pups). The veterinarian  can advise you  if they think the  dog is definitely, or probably pregnant, what to feed her, what to watch for, et cetera.

 Depending on when she ovulated, and how many times she was bred,  it may be hard to pin down a date;   basically pregnancy  is  62-66 days.  The best time for a dog to be palpated for pregnancy is 4 weeks — after 5  weeks, it actually is  harder. Ultrasound can diagnose a pregnancy after 30 days but is very poor in predicting the number in the litter.   And X-rays will show pups and the number  about day 45.   There may be benefits, especially if you don’t know the breeding date, to having an ultrasound or X-rays,  but both are optional and not done routinely, especially in an unplanned mating.   Not all veterinarians have ultrasound, and either may be 100$ +.    If the dog is pregnant and gives birth, she (and pups)  should be examined within a day, if possible, to make sure she and the pups are  OK, and there are no pups “still inside” .

 Hopefully the dog received a series of distemper parvo vaccinations  between 8 and 16 weeks and a  rabies vaccination.   (Those are needed again within a year, then about every 3 years).   The veterinarian should have discussed at that time, spaying her at 6- 9 months,( although in some dogs it is recommended to go thru one heat cycle).   If, however,  she never has had routine care, when she is examined, although most would recommend avoiding  modified live vaccines  (distemper/parvo)  during pregnancy,  the risks  are minuscule and in fact may be benefit the pups and her.   There is no reason to avoid vaccinating for rabies during pregnancy and it is very important the dog be legally vaccinated against rabies.   If your veterinarian is unwilling to vaccinate during pregnancy, then it should be done as soon as she gives birth.    That there are no distemper/parvo vaccines  “approved ” for use in pregnant animals is because companies have no reason to spend money to proving safety -when – responsible pet owners and breeders don’t end up in this situation.

 The best time to spay  a dog is after the breasts have shrunk back to normal, which is 4- 6 weeks after the pups are weaned-usually at 8 weeks of age. Once the pups are off the mother, if you give her water only one day, no food, and the next day 1/2 normal food intake, that speeds the process of drying up.


I have been giving my dogs flea & tick & heart worm preventative June 1 thru November 30 only. I have them heart worm tested a month before starting. We live in Rhode Island. I know most vets recommend that these be given year round.

The rationale they give is that these pests can be indoors. However my dogs have very limited exposure to vegetation and minimal with other dogs with the exception of trips to vet and groomer. They mostly use pee pads indoors, and when walking outside we stick to sidewalks and pavement. We check them for ticks after walks. They do not go on lawns or dog parks or doggie daycares. The purpose is to minimize their exposure to the chemicals in these preventatives.

My question is, with current evidence of global warming, are you aware of any new guidelines that would make it necessary to extend the length of using preventatives, if keeping with a seasonal use schedule? I’ve read that in order for ticks to survive outdoors, the nitetime temperature has to be above 50 degrees for several consecutive days.

Also what’s your opinion of this? With annual heart worm testing, what’s the worse thing that can happen? Would you recommend additional and/or more frequent testing?

Dr. Burke Responds:

Dear NM,

Your comment of starting heartworm preventative within a month indicates a higher degree  knowledge  than many.  And for dogs on seasonal preventative, it should be done within a month of the next  “season”.

Fleas like it best between 65 and 80 degrees temperature and humidity, one flea has the potential to create 2000 more during its month lifespan; and when several pets share a home those who do not go outside can still add to the burden. Any pet which goes outside in Rhode Island, is exposed to one that does, or whose environment is infected / infested (multi-family, ground floors) established in a home, may get fleas, ‘inside fleas’ tend to be ‘healthier’ and breed better than those outside! Most years, flea numbers peak in September/October-not in June. Because I start in April or May, I actually treat my own pets with flea preventive until a heavy snow – that may be November or December, one year it was the next February. Ticks tend to be more local, harder to prevent, and dogs pets should be checked for them when they come in, because they and I personally don’t think all pets need tick control – my own pets do get occasional ticks and one got a tick borne disease living on the Providence North Providence line ! Ticks don’t travel as fast and far, and they don’t breed in such high numbers . Although the Lyme tick prefers it somewhat warmer- (apparently June is a big month for exposure (with illness showing months later ) most ticks prefer temperatures from 30-60 so they are a fall winter spring pest. One problem with ticks is they frequent wooded areas, where heavy leaf litter protects from freezing. Many newer products are very safe as they affect nerve enzymes which are not present in mammals. Especially in dogs, many people have found the Seresto collar which lasts for 8 months, replaces Advantix monthly, for much less cost (compare at Amazon as well as pet web sites)

As for heartworm, transmission needs very specific temperatures over periods of 3-4 weeks – basically June thru the end of October, BUT – and this is a very very big but…the same medication constantly ‘treats’ roundworms, and hookworms, which are not only a potential health burden for dogs and cats, but are zoonotic – i.e. transmissible to humans. ( and some heartworm preventatives treat whipworms). Heartworm preventatives are very low doses of very safe drugs. One of the worst prospects we face is development of resistance of heartworms to some preventatives- that probably will trace to haphazard use in dogs not tested routinely,

I would assess your pets risks as very low for ticks, moderate for fleas and moderate for intestinal parasite and heartworm. Fleas can jump from a yard onto your dogs, and after one rain storm, you don’t know where your dog just sniffed — wasn’t previously christened by another’s stool.

Look into Seresto collars, either year round or May thru December, and consider using the heartworm preventive year round.


Was there any 2017 rabies clinic dates yet?

Dr. Burke Responds:

Advertised on the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association site,  www.rivma.org ,  under Pet Owners  – are the  RIVMA sponsored clinics.

They are held  Saturdays and Sunday at various sites.  They have been running since  March, the last date this year is   May 7th.

The RISPCA’s   “Almost  Free Rabies Clinic ”  is annually in October –   TBA  – but probably the 21st. .

Some cities, some animal control agencies sponsor other clinics– and there are numerous places where people can get  their pet vaccinated against  rabies at

low cost throughout  the year.   Certain conditions need to be met in RI  for  a  3 year vaccine to  be certified as a 3 year vaccination.  Owners need to provide  proof  of  THE  prior   vaccination  ( the certificate -not just a tag) .  In other states,  all that would be needed would be proof of ANY  prior vaccination.

Keep in mind, most  of these clinics offer rabies  vaccination only,  for dogs, and cats. They primarily  exist for ” the public health ”  i.e. to protect people.

Dogs, cats and ferrets are  MUCH more likely to die from other vaccination-preventable diseases,  illnesses, (and trauma).  There is only one brand of rabies vaccine licensed in ferrets, and they are often  ‘pre-treated’ to prevent allergic reactions, so, along with dogs and cats with major medical concerns or history of allergy, they are  best vaccinated at a veterinarian’s office.

Rhode Island has some of the strictest regulations concerning rabies vaccination,  when a 3 year vaccine is recognized as a 3 year vaccination.

The  consequences of  pets of being  legally “over-due”   can include  fines, lengthy quarantine at an owners ‘ expense, and sometimes euthanasia of a pet.

If there ever was an example of being  “penny wise and pound foolish” – letting a pets’ vaccination status lapse, waiting for a 10 $, low-cost clinic, when vaccination for  15-20 $ is widely available, is it.


Our  first  question of 2017 is about obtaining  pets’ medical records.

A cat owner asked:  I am going to go to a new veterinarian. I’ve been with my current vet since I’ve had my cat (approx 7yrs). I have asked the new vet office to get my records from my old vet. Should I have to pay to get these records or is my old vet obligated to give me my cat’s medical records?

Dr. Burke Responds:

RHODE ISLAND PRACTICE LAWS State:  ‘ A veterinarian ……shall keep a written record, or a computerized record, able to produce a printed copy…  and provide a summary of that record to the owner (or the new veterinarian) of animals receiving veterinary services, when requested.’   More and more animal hospitals use digital radiography, which can be copied onto a computer disc, but making copies of regular film radiographs is expensive, difficult, and, like the original record, is the property of the veterinary practice which originally ordered it to be prepared.    ‘Radiographs are to be released (to the new veterinarian) upon the written request of another veterinarian who has the authorization of the owner of the animal to whom it pertains, and it is their legal responsibility to return that radiograph to the original veterinary practice within a reasonable time.’   Some veterinarians will allow an owner to transport radiographs, others may mail the films.   (Some people have difficulty with this concept, saying “I paid for the radiographs.”  You pay for the radiograph to be taken, interpreted, and maintained – like the original record. Because of the difficulty copying, it is an irreplaceable legal document.   (On a practical level, 90% of radiographs are only important for a short time).

‘Records, including radiographs, shall maintained for 5 years from the date of the last patient visit or 3 years….  from the date of death.    ‘The minimum amount of information which shall be included in written or computerized records and summaries shall include no less than the following:’

‘Client’s name;  patient’s name, species and breed,  age or date of birth,  gender and reproductive status, color and/or markings;

The dates(s) of treatment and, the presenting problem,  pertinent history,  examination findings, assessment (  the veterinarian’s analysis of the problem),  plan for treatment/care.’

‘When a patient/owner requests in writing that his/her animal(s)’ records and/or radiographs be transferred to another veterinarian, the original veterinarian shall promptly honor such request.

The fee charged for the transfer shall not exceed the direct expense incurred to make copies of such veterinary records and/or radiograph(s).’

A veterinarian can require a client sign a/their own release form. It’s not defined in our state law, and physicians have 30 days to prepare record copies; for veterinary records 10 days- is reasonable.

In the age of faxes -and because most records are not voluminous, many veterinarians don’t charge to mail or fax records-however they can.  (‘The direct expense’ incurred is not just paper – it is the salaried time of the person compiling / copying /sending the records / costs of maintaining a fax machine, etc.). It’s not stated for veterinarians, but  RI physicians can charge:  Paper RecordsPages 1 – 50 : $0.75 per page, Pages 51+ : $0.50 per page, Electronic Records: Pages 1+ : $0.10 per page, MAX FEE : $25.00. Rush Fee (*delivered in 48 hrs.)  $20.00.  X-rays and other media :  not to exceed $25.00  (per).

I have found, despite most pets’  records being minuscule compared to humans’, 80% of the time, it takes multiple requests to obtain a true, complete medical record.  Partly due to practices transitioning to computerized records, the lack of personnel who understand what is pertinent information (underlined above), some send a  ‘patient history report’  (basically a list of what was invoiced), fail to include copies of prior records send to them,  laboratory results which may be filed separately, or properly and clearly state the full name, duration, of Rabies vaccines, administered, as well as the legal duration of the vaccination.


I got my Pomeranian from a family in NC and they said he was neutered but he is clearly not. He is 9 yrs old . how old is the cut off ? and how much is it for this procedure?

Dr. Burke Responds:

The timing of this question is fortuitous as I just addressed reasons to consider an “elective”  spay on a middle aged female dog.

First of all, the problems associated with unaltered cats, are so many and severe, even if we didn’t live in a state that requires cats to be sterilized,  I would encourage regardless of the  cats age, and  never support an exemption unless the cat was so ill or so sick I didn’t expect it to live even one more year. In a state where it is not legislated,  I ‘d be recommending, as still beneficial to the  cat’s  health unless I thought it had less than 2 years to live !     Dogs are, a different story — especially, male dogs.  Although US humane groups, and professional veterinary medicine supports and promotes  altering  of pet dogs and cats, males and females,  as beneficial for the public health and good, for the environment, and  to decrease the  horrendous effects of pet overpopulation, the  health and  behavior benefits  of neutering male dogs, especially  before puberty ,   is not  clear cut.

Neutering male dogs offers many medical and behavioral benefits, but there are some medical, and a few behavioral, drawbacks.  Most disease conditions, and behavioral problems which are related to testosterone, will benefit or respond to neutering, even when done after the condition has developed.  And there are a few, serious problems which have a higher incidence in  neutered dogs. The orthopedic effects of neutering young large breed dogs is still be studied, and, although controllable, neutering males can affect obesity rates.  There are more negative side effects of neutering male dogs, especially at a very young age, and fewer positive effects than neutering.

A few cites mandate different licensing fees for intact dogs, which may figure into the decision, otherwise-it depends on the dog.  Does he have any problems, behavioral or medical related to testosterone?  Urine marking in the house, aggression towards other male dogs in public settings ( all male dogs see themselves as equal -a Pom is as likely to ‘insult’ a male Pit Bull as a Miniature Poodle ),  tumors around the rectum, prostate infections .   Is he healthy?  Age is not a risk for anesthesia and surgery per se, but the older an individual is, the more likely they are to have conditions which might affect anesthesia.  No individual, dog, cat, person, is too old for a beneficial surgery.  But if , at any age,  an animal has a medical condition, they may have an increased risk of complications.  Most commonly in pets, an owner weighs cost -which may be higher in an older animal, against perceived projected life spa-and what they can afford.   The local spay neuter clinic, charges 200 for routine neuters of dogs under 20 #, who the owner presents as healthy. The pet is given a quick physical that morning, they have an established routine, an excellent track record-but their focus is “low cost” , sterilization of pets.  Common sense, older animals, animals who have not had routine veterinary care are more likely to have hidden medical problems that may affect anesthesia, or, other,  unrelated problems which could be dealt with at the same – most commonly, dental disease.  Most owners who do not have financial limitations, will want their pets treated at a full service veterinary hospital, which will offer  (often require) , laboratory or  other screening before surgery, place the  pet on IV fluids, offer to do a dental cleaning at the same time — all that affects the cost .


I hope you can help we have a 9 year old cat a little over weight but she is not herself she hides under our bed or our granddaughter’s bed or on top of her bed her stool seemed ok if she gets down from the bed she walks a little the lays down then will get up and walk and lays down but we have a problem my wife is disable and I work but my paycheck goes for all the other bills and her check goes for rent.we tried to get into care for animals but told us to call Monday we do not qualify for the Marvin fund to much money and anything else our credit is poor is there anything you can do for us or help thank you for your time.

Dr. Burke Responds:

This site is meant to be for general, and non-emergency  questions. That being said,  what you are describing could be discomfort- pain somewhere, or weakness.  Cats that are having trouble breathing due to lung or chest disease, or are anemic, will tend to be weak or inactive., If the cat is ill/sick  she likely will not be eating and drinking normally. If she is eating normally and producing normal amount of stool, then very likely is drinking normally.   There are different  possibilities for cats that go outside,  for those vaccinated vs not.  There are veterinary clinics in the area which advertise.


I have an approximately 6 year old dog who is acting really weird and producing milk. She is not pregnant (I know for a fact) never has been. Her back nipples are filling with milk. She walks around crying and sometimes pacing back and forth. She even has moments where she pants and breathes really heavy for awhile then stops.

Dr. Burke Responds:

Any  worrisome  physical or behavioral changes in your pet should prompt an appointment for your with your regular veterinarian.     That being said, I would guess it’s been 5 to 8 weeks since your dog’s  last  estrus or heat cycle.  7-8 months of a year, the estrogen and progesterone levels of all female dogs are very low.  Approximately, every  6 months, all  unspayed or intact dogs experience a surge in estrogen and then progesterone. If a dog  becomes pregnant ,  the  pregnancy itself maintains  the elevated progesterone level until right before birthing.  Dogs that are not bred or don’t become pregnant  may outwardly display changes due to the elevated progesterone. This can include breast enlargement, production of

milk,  and behavioral changes including nesting, mothering objects, anxiety,  nervousness,  restlessness.   The percentage of dogs displaying ‘pseudocyesis’ or ‘false pregnancy’  rises with age and once  a dog shows signs, they usually do in subsequent cycles.  While this condition is  not  dangerous per se,  these same hormonal surges of estrogen and progesterone  increase a dog’s risk of breast cancer, the  most common cancer in intact female dogs, almost unheard of in dogs spayed before or after their first estrus.   Although we now know the risk is different for different breeds, in general, after age two and a half

or 5 heat cycles, the risk of breast cancer in dogs is twice  what is seen in American women, with a similar malignancy rate ( 25 % )  (and dogs have  8 to 10 breasts ).   (95% of  cat’s  breast tumors are  malignant).    While spaying a dog later in life may not decrease the statistical risk, it delays the presentation of the cancer, so it effectively reduces the risk.

There are other reason to consider an elective spay on a health middle aged dog.   Dogs never  go into menopause,  so there always is a risk of unintended pregnancy *,

many  dogs develop a  condition of the uterus called pyometra, for which the only effective treatment is an  emergency surgical removal of the uterus.

There are other conditions and diseases an  intact dog faces, a spayed does not.    The surgical risk is very  small compared to what may lie ahead

*  I am presuming yours is not  registered,  purebred, proved free of heritable defects, which you intended to eventually breed;  good breeding practices include having a first litter under 3 years of age.

I mentioned cats a few times. Since their breast cancers are more highly malignant, an early age spay is  very beneficial to cats.  They also get pyometras and have other gynecological cancers.  But, in Rhode Island, all that is  “moot”.  Unless someone has a breeder’s permit or is given an official exemption, RI  STATE LAW :  ALL CATS ARE TO BE SURGICALLY STERILIZED BY 6 MONTHS OF AGE.  We are the only state that requires this, and we should be proud of that — unfortunately, this law has never been adequately advertised.


I have a 3 year old Chihuahua / min pin and when she gets excited she coughs like she can’t breath. I pat her back and tell her to relax and she stops, should I be worried?

Dr. Burke Responds:

A Dog /cat/ child/ adult –with these symptoms – should have a  thorough physical examination by a medical professional – in this case, a veterinarian. If you can capture an episode on a cell phone –that may be very helpful , along with  the history of how often this happens, when it happens, etc. Those symptoms may reflect a relatively “benign”  problem called reverse sneezing – even Wikipedia has an entry on that  (I disagree with their recommended treatment, the best is to raise the head and gently stroke the  neck, not right over the  windpipe, but to the side of it.) There are other more  serious  causes.


I have a male kitten approx 3 months old. When should he be neutered? Also are there any programs that will assist or places for reduced costs to have this done?

Dr. Burke Responds:

As most states do, RI requires all dogs cats and ferrets get their first rabies vaccination at 12-16 weeks**  Young dogs cats and ferrets also need vaccination against their major infectious diseases. Rhode Island is the only state which also  legislates   that all cats be spayed or castrated/neutered, by 6 months of age.* Thus when obtained as a kitten,  most should receive several vaccinations months before the spay/neuter.

* Low income owners who meet  financial guidelines  can apply (on line)  to  the RI  Companion Animal Foundation “SNAP”  program , which gives  vouchers for “routine”  spay / neuter at participating hospitals for a cost of 71-79 $.      In addition, the RI Community Spay/Neuter clinic charges 75$ for routine cat spays and neuters, vaccine included if needed; one does not have to prove financial need.  The OSAC  RI Community Spay Neuter clinic (off Jefferson Blvd in Warwick)   is specifically and exclusively run for this one purpose, supported by the state veterinary organization.    There are also  some private veterinarian clinics which advertise low cost spay/neuter to qualified individuals.

The rest of the story: I am happy to answer your question, but I am hoping you are asking for a median price or reasonable price, not that you acquired a kitten without the financial means to pay for what will be the lowest cost surgery  your pet will ever need– because that neutering surgery is artificially cheap.   Its possible but  unlikely , that in a life span of  10 years, much less 18-20, a cat will need at least one dental cleaning-which will cost 3-5-8  times what a feline neuter cost.   The average emergency visit will start at 100$, and many medical and surgical problems will come with a 1000$ or, 2000$, price tag – or more.  (Always a fraction of an equivalent treatment or surgery in humans).    Sometimes  there  is financial help  available,  but –owning a pet is not an inalienable right; it is rarely a necessity ;  it is  a luxury and although  a    “humane”  society  tries to limit the suffering of animals, often that translates into euthanasia.  There is no system of   routinely available support for pets .  You can pay for pet insurance, you can cross your fingers– but our society does not provide   ‘Medicaid ‘for pets.

Unless someone is a registered breeder and pays special fees, RI law requires all cat owners. Have their pets spayed or neutered by 6 months.  Personally, as males mature later, I prefer 8 months for males –but state law rules.   RI did not legislate this because spaying and neutering provides huge health benefits to cats, but in order to decrease the thousands of unwanted kittens and cats produced by legions of irresponsive cat owners!

“Low cost” (“below cost”)    spay/castration and rabies vaccinations are widely available, because rabies, and the impact of pet overpopulation,    affects the environment and “public health “–that is –human health.  Thus there are programs supported by public health funds and donations, to lower the cost of   spay-neuter and   rabies vaccinations. Although both of these procedures are very important, they constitute a small percentage of the financial responsibility a pet owner may face.

It is best to have any “new” pet examined by a veterinarian ASAP to check for health problems and based on their age and previous vaccination history, be vaccinated for infectious disease (Rabies is only one of those), and whether or not (rarely not) to have a pet altered, and at what age.

A reasonable estimate for the veterinary care of a cat the first year is (veterinary care, food, litter, parasite control) is minimally,    500 the first year and 400 a year after.      Even if you keep the cat inside, there is always a chance of an accident, or an illness.

**Most every municipality requires rabies vaccination of dogs and state In the US and most require vaccination of cats.   RI state law requires  vaccination of dogs cats and ferrets,  at 3 months of age, another within a year, and then  every 1-3 years depending on  which vaccine was received and if the prior vaccination  had lapsed.  Any reputable clinic or hospital neutering cats will require, depending on age, 1-2 feline distemper +upper respiratory vaccinations, one a year later and every 3-5 years after that.


I have an 11 year old female calico cat. She is very sweet and friendly. I’ve been thinking and doing research on hamsters because I want to get a hamster. The concerns I have are will my cat get used to the hamster over time, will she try to eat it, where should I set up its habitat and in this case is a big cage a wise investment because my cat won’t be able to reach it? I’d really appreciate any opinions and advice you can give me. Thank you.

Dr. Burke Responds:

Although it’s not hard to find pictures of cats with hamsters and mice sitting on a cat’s  head or sleeping together ….those are unusual cats. I would not expect  any cat of any age to “get used to” a hamster, if you mean – not want to  chase/grab/kill/eat. It is near impossible to stop dogs who show a “prey response” from chasing and killing , and that is a more trainable and less predatory species. Whether  your  sweet, friendly 11 year old cat  is a Republican, or a Demo-cat,  I ‘d expect her to nail a hamster — it’s a Syrian  mouse.

Then again, an average cat is not able to destroy a cage the way a big dog could.  This is one question I would refer to a pet store .  You should be able to determine if they know of what they speak, by asking “Which cage is best when there is a cat in the house….and why?”. I googled the question “best hamster cage when you have a cat” and found several entries, including a you tube video.  Good luck.


Hello, I have a chihuahua min pin puppy she is about 2 years old. When she gets excited or nervous or very happy she coughs violently and it makes me very worried. Should I take her to a vet? I have seen other dogs do this and did not think it was a dangerous thing, what should I do?

Dr. Burke Responds:

There is a condition called a reverse sneeze or epiglottal entrapment where the soft palate or fleshy part of the throat gets caught in the epiglottal area  – usually not  life threatening , and there are methods to keep this from happening as much , or shorten the episodes, which your veterinarian can tell you about.  There are many other possibilities, some of which are serious.  So of course you need to have her examined.   If  she has done this her whole life, and you’ve never asked about it-  it makes me wonder : has she been examined within a year ?  Is the dog properly vaccinated ?  On good parasite control? Spayed?


My pom is 12 yrs old and she has this honking sound along with a sneeze, She had blood work done and vet didn’t find anything, now they want to xray her, Are there any clues to what this can be? Thanks.

Dr. Burke Responds: 

There are few cause of  coughing  or  sneezing which would be diagnosed with blood work — or with only  blood work..   “Blood work ” or laboratory screens are often done  because it is a ‘non-invasive’  way to eliminate a large number of uncommon problems,  due to  other clinical signs or physical changes  your dog is demonstrating, to check the dog’s general health, and / or in  preparation for  sedation or anesthesia for X-rays.

Coughing is related to  problems in the  throat, trachea and  chest. Sneezing is always  a nasal problem.    Although coughing +  sneezing are common signs of respiratory allergies in people, allergic rhinitis is uncommon in dog and almost never seen in cats;  “asthma” or allergic lung disease is rare in dogs.  It’s  more common in cats– but not associated with sneezing.

Exposure to respiratory irritants might cause both signs.  Dogs and cats with inflammation of the nasal sinuses, and drainage of material into the pharynx or throat, might also cough, and if a dog  has  tracheal collapse in the neck,  it might result  in a honking cough– that’s a real stretch to connect these.  Keeping in mind, many dogs gag at the end of a cough, regardless of the cause, ‘ honking coughs’ are generally related to congenital or acquired “tracheal collapse”  or weakness of the cartilage rings which keep the windpipe and the large airways open.    A collapse can be over small or large areas from the throat to the main bronchi, more often seen in small breeds.    An excellent review can be found at https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/tracheal-collapse.  Some cases are very easily and unequivocally diagnosed by  well positioned, lateral x-rays of the  neck and chest, and many cases can be managed with medication.   Rarely bronchoscopy is needed to diagnose airway collapse. And there are (aren’t there always )  a few other possibilities.

Persistent sneezing is a common sign in dogs, it does suggest disease of the nasal cavity , you need to watch carefully for any discharge, and if any is seen, is does it come from one or both nostrils.  In a 12 year Pom,  a common problem is an abscessing tooth, especially a K9, which can cause sinusitis, and sneezing of blood.    Dogs with relatively long noses are more likely to get tumors in the nasal cavity, and some dogs, being the sniffers they are, get foreign material in a nostril .  The nostrils are difficult to visualize in the dog, and skull films can be  challenging.

I hope this is of some help.


I have recently re-homed a young dog- She is roughly 8 months. We are her third owners. The people that we got her from only had her for 2 weeks, and prior to that,those first owners were threatening to put her down. Long story short, we have absolutely no records on her. I asked if they knew anything about vaccinations or paper work and they were oblivious. How should we go about this?

Dr. Burke Responds:

I never know how to respond to this commonly recounted history of  how someone gets a dog.  Hopefully the dog has ended up with someone ready, willing and able to take on the responsibility of caring for  a pet  for possibly — hopefully — 15- 16 years.  Having a pet can be a singularly rewarding experience. no matter how obtained, and the basics are the same.

Take her to the veterinarian of your choice for a physical exam, and at least  the “core” vaccinations.  Its unlikely  she has had any vaccinations –but even if she has it shouldn’t hurt to have more  (when started as young pups some get a series of 3-4 vaccinations).  And as far as Rabies – no proof means – not legally vaccinated .  She should be vaccinated for Rabies, and have one Distemper Adenovirus 2- Parvo vaccination .  Over 6 months of age, even if this is the only one,  – just one is all that is needed. (If it’s suggested she needs a series of Distemper/parvo at this age, -that is wrong (Reference  the  2011 AAHA Guide to Canine vaccinations).   Those  vaccinations should be repeated within a year and then every 3 years.   Your veterinarian   will discuss other non-core (optional ) vaccinations  based on lifestyle and area you live in,  feeding and training.   Bring a fresh stool sample if possible for an internal  parasite check, and discuss the best on animal flea tick control.  Heartworm disease is transmitted between June and October in this area,  but for various  reasons it’s recommended year round — whether or not she needs to be heartworm tested this year will depend on if your veterinarian  agrees with the estimated age.  Have the dog evaluated for  the unlikely possibility she has already  been spayed, and if not, get that set up ASAP. Spaying before the first heat is highly protective against breast cancer in dogs, and one heat doesn’t increase the risk that much.   Another reason to move quickly, is if  the dog was bred but is not far along in a pregnancy, spaying is still very safe &  obviously terminates the pregnancy at the same time — with less risk to the dog.


Good afternoon I recently adopted a yorkie from a high kill shelter in NY. He will 2 years old in November. I am not sure if he may be a little stressed because he barely eats or drinks. I would say enough to get by for the day but not like he should be eating and he also is always sleeping and never barks. I have not heard him bark at all in 4 days I have had him. Is this normal behavior for a newly adopted dog or could there be possibly something wrong with him. I kindly appreciate your effort to respond to this inquiry.

Dr. Burke Responds:

Few animals adopted from ANY source, shelter, pet store, private home, humane society, box o’ puppies on the street, have had individual physical exams and evaluation of the level and quality of  a pet presented to a practicing veterinarian.  Some have had some vaccinations, and antiparasite treatment- most need more. Add the stress of  transport to a new home, and  food change, and the special needs of younger,  and smaller dogs (and cats, and people ! )

People often overestimate how much a small dogs needs to eat – they should  initially eat well, when offered food,  4 times ( until 16 weeks of age)  a day,  then 3 times (until 6 months) of age ; they may finish sooner or eat less volume than you expect. If they are appropriately active and growing, the amount they’re eating is likely ‘enough’.    Puppies normally sleeps 14-18 hours a day, but when they are awake – they are very awake!…. then it’s like toddler, go from 60 mph to ‘out’.   It doesn’t sound like this dog is ever active.   It may be fine, it  may be sick; it may have gotten sick.   Like a baby, if you are asking yourself the question – is there something wrong with this dog – answer yourself – I should have it checked.  Actually, most pets when acquired should be examined by your regular veterinarian within  2 weeks –maybe sooner.


What can I do about fleas on a rabbit?  AND


What is the safest and best flea protection. I have a small dog and cat that came from the RISPCA and it appears that I have a flea problem.

Dr. Burke Responds:

Advantage  (not Advantix)  is an excellent product, very safe, safer than  5% carbaryl,  and helps to establish environmental control.   I have confirmed this with several references, including  the Sacramento House  Rabbit Society  http://www.allearssac.org/fleas.html  – which, in spite of snide comments about veterinarians, seems quite informative.  If there are dogs and cats in the house – they also need good flea control because the majority of adult fleas are on pets, but the majority of fleas of stages are in the environment.

Fleas can affect any pet in Rhode Island that goes outside, is exposed to an animal that goes in & out, or lives in a house where fleas have entered.  Adult fleas live 2-4 weeks; they inject allergy-inducing saliva  while constantly feeding on a pet, producing up to 2000 eggs, which mature in 2 to 20 weeks into more adult fleas. Temperature & humidity levels of 65-85 °favor flea development.  R.I.’s “flea-season” starts late spring, peaks in the fall, & lasts thru several killing frosts or a snowfall–but fleas can live year round in a home.  The cleanest home with the cleanest pets can have fleas & flea eggs. Fleas prefer pets to people, and pets may show few signs unless they become allergic, When humans are getting bitten, it means the infestation is severe, but having “no problems” does not mean no fleas in the house.  The fight against fleas is a yearly battle; the arsenal of products, increasingly safe & effective, is expanding.  Most of our pets need routine, on-animal flea control,  the new products also give  environmental control.    Ticks are not as widespread but can transmit some serious diseases. most active in the cool, damp, spring & fall (30-60˚) although the deer tick  continues to be active at even warmer temperatures.

The move from traditional harsh  insecticides to products which target growth, reproductive and nervous  system enzymes of parasites, has allowed an increase in some pests such as sarcoptic mange and bed bugs,  but has made flea and tick control on our pets much safer .  Nonprescription, topical products which collect in the oil glands of the skin include   Advantage® Advantix®   and  the related  SERESTO  8 month flea tick collar  ( probably the most  eccomical) as well as Frontline  Plus® and generics which contain both  Fipronil, & S-methoprene). These are  available on line, at pet stores, Amazon, and at  your local veterinarians- who is your best source of other related brand products.  Revolution and Advantage multi, which are absorbed,  and also prevent heartworm and some other parasites, are prescription items.  Since most of these products  don’t repel fleas but  kill  in a  short time, they actually help in environmental control . There are other related “good” products, and many  “look alike”  and bogus products , and some old fashioned insecticides repackaged to  look like the newer ones.

Frequent cleaning of the animal’s bedding & vacuuming help to decease flea numbers as do premise sprays & misters/foggers –which should include “IGR”s” -insect growth regulators: biological, non-insecticide products that interrupt the life cycle; re-treatment is often necessary to completely eliminate & infestation. Professional extermination may be an economical alternative in situations of heavy infestation.  Flea-control medications given orally to the pet (Program® & the heartworm preventative Sentinel®), deliver chemicals to the adult flea that act as “birth-control” thus prevent fleas from laying any more eggs & preventing new infestations, thus after 4-6 months, the house will be cleared, but they have no effect on adult fleas so the pet will continue to get new fleas.   6 MONTHS CONSISTENT USE OF ADVANTAGE, FRONTLINE +,   REVOLUTION  ON ALL THE ANIMALS  is also very effective in clearing the environment by breaking the flea  cycle:  substances in shredded dander & hair contain products that prevent maturation of fleas, give ‘birth control’ to the fleas, and fleas are killed before producing more eggs.  For pet owners like you who you discover a problem in the late summer or fall,  you will need to continue control thru that winter; if you start effective  flea control each year in May, and continue until there have seen  killing frosts, you may be able to stop for several months.


I am trying to find out when the clinic to get rabies shots for 2 dogs. I prefer to give to food pantry than other clinic. AND


I needed to ask a question about “titer” blood tests because I wanted to test my yorkie-poo to see if he’s immune to certain diseases so I wouldn’t have to always vaccinate him all the time.

Dr. Burke Responds:

The “Ask the Vet” column is for questions about animal care, medical or behavioral problems, which may be of interest to other pet owners. This will be the last published answer for questions about when, where, how much, when  answers can be found on the RISPCA web site . This one – check under “Pet Resources”.
The RISPCA “Almost Free Rabies Clinic “,  where donated food goes to local food pantries, has been yearly and is planned this year for October 24th. The RI Veterinary Medical Association Sponsors several  rabies clinics around the state  in  the spring ( the traditional time of city license renewals) , and towns and cities may offer rabies clinics at various other times.
All these clinics address rabies as a public health issue- primarily to protect people from Rabies, they exist  in order to get large numbers of pets vaccinated -for Rabies- that may not get vaccinated for elsewhere or otherwise.  There are other  more common and widespread  infectious diseases, which pets should be vaccinated against, along with rabies,  and health conditions which are best addressed  at  veterinary hospitals and  clinics where an animal’s  general health needs are also considered,    Also, although reactions to vaccinations are rare and even more rarely serious,  any pet which has had any reaction to a vaccine shouldn’t be coming to a  mass vaccination clinic.

Do not allow your pets’ rabies vaccination to lapse waiting for a specific clinic, the legal consequences can be devastating, and fines for overdue  vaccination will wipe out any  cost savings.  If cost is a concern, there are facilities  which advertise as low cost, and some pet supply stores have low cost, no exam  vaccination clinics 1-2 times a month on weekends.

Will discuss rabies separately in the last paragraph.     The core ( necessary for  all ) vaccinations for dogs are  Distemper, Parvo, Adenovirus 2.  ( DA2p)  — and Rabies .  These are generally excellent, efficacious vaccines with few side effects, and revaccination in adults  is generally now recommended no more than every 3 years.   **

A yearly, good physical examination, evaluation of weight, review of diet and lifestyle, parasite control , heartworm testing +/- internal parasite testing, is invaluable preventative health  care.   Extensive annual laboratory testing of  healthy dogs is now routinely recommended – but  — that  does not  mirror the current  recommendations in  human health.

Antibody titers give some information about the very complex immune system—at one point in time.  The presence of antibodies may indicate previous vaccination,   or even  exposure to a disease – it doesn’t necessarily prove immunity.   Vaccinations  stimulate  lymphocytes to produce humoral (antibodies in the blood stream) and cellular immunity.   Antibody   “titers”  are highest  weeks after a booster vaccination, the  titer may fall to a  low level  but when exposed to the disease, memory cells quickly  kick up production.  Thus a low antibody titer doesn’t suggests, but doesn’t prove the need  for a booster vaccination.   Likewise a high titer doesn’t guarantee protection in all cases – if the individual has poor cellular immunity.   And — high titer today doesn’t guarantee a high titer in 6 months.    And the kicker …… to check a blood antibody titer against  the core  vaccinations of  Distemper, Parvo and Adeno 2  you may pay from  80- 200$  compared to the charge for the actual vaccine, which, when separated from and exam or office visit,  is likely 15-30 $ .     Add to it the difficulty of getting 10-15 mls of blood from a small dog….I probably have answered your question.

That being said – be an educated pet parent, and consumer.  Check on line for  “2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines”.    Manufacturers  certify vaccines for the minimum period they protect, it’s really not in their interest to spend millions of dollars proving a vaccine protects a dog for 5-6-7 years. After all, (depressingly) less than 30% of dogs alive today will be alive next year.  Only 30% will be owned by the same person.   There is now at least one DA2p  vaccine  certified by the manufacturer as a 3 year vaccine.  But the veterinary community  pretty much across the board now  accepts that in adult dogs,   all currently available  DA2p  vaccines give at least 3 years immunity, some accept for  5 years, and  some would say -lifetime.   In the case of an outbreak, an  unusual exposure,  or a  high risk dog, your  veterinarian  may recommend boosters more frequently, but  for most RI  house dogs, vaccination of DA2p more than every three years is – questionable.

As for  the following non-core (not all dogs need)  vaccines: some of these  are unlikely  to give strong long term immunity  and many more likely to cause reactions, esp. in small dogs – so the need for these should be made in  a one on one discussion with your veterinarian.  One weights the risk vs benefit for individual dogs, by area of the country, and lifestyle.   Lyme vaccination –you can prevent Lyme as well as several other diseases by proper tick control!   Leptospirosis,  injectable Kennel cough, and  K9 flu may be indicated for some dogs.     Intranasal Kennel cough  has minimal reactions- but also has relatively short term immunity.  The only one of these required by most  boarding facilities, some groomers and dog play groups is  Kennel cough – the intranasal is very safe – and yearly.  There are a few other vaccinations pushed by corporate practices but few primary care veterinarians  or universities- like giardia.    Other than Leptospirosis, there are no commercially  available titer tests for any of these vaccinations.

It sounds like your dog is now older but for our readers with young pups: dogs which start their vaccine series  as puppies  at 6-8 weeks,  should get a series of 2-3 to cover to  12 weeks (most manufacturers recommend, and I think correctly),  or to 16 weeks  ( American Animal Hospital Association vaccine recommendations ).   There is an old saw  “there are no stupid questions ” . That is not true– I have been  asked this  an embarrassing number of times:  what about waiting  to vaccinate a pup  until maternal antibodies wane to the point one vaccination will protect– or wait until a puppy  is  over 16 weeks, when  they only need one vaccination.  Great, if the puppy doesn’t get  exposed, sicken  and or die from one of those diseases after they lose maternal immunity  ( 6-8-10-12 weeks of age ).   For small dogs, who may be slightly more likely to have vaccine reactions, minimizing exposure  during the first 4 months of life  (no public parks ) + a series of 2-3 is the safest.   To titer a puppy, 1-2 times for hundreds of dollars, increasingly visits from 2-3 to  4-5 vs vaccination, seems an easy choice.

The general recommendation now  is after a proper  puppy series,  to repeat the DA2p at 1 year, and then every 3 to 5 years, depending on exposure.   Older dogs with unknown vaccination history,  – every three years .

Rabies – The first rule of rabies vaccination: it’s for people!  Although the vaccine protects dogs from rabies, few dogs are actually exposed to rabies,  many more lose their lives to euthanasia , when they are not  properly and legally vaccinated against this (rationally and irrationally feared) disease .  All  the laws  and  regulations are written and enforced to protect human health – period.     A dog with a high rabies titer  and no “current” “legal” rabies vaccination  as defined by the municipality  they live in – is an unvaccinated dog.   An unvaccinated dog, possibly – exposed to rabies –  will be – vaccinated, and quarantined, for  45 days in some states to up to 180 days in others, including Rhode Island. Or –it will be euthanized.    A vaccinated dog,  positive titer or not,  exposed to a proven rabid animal – will be required to be boostered, still possibly quarantined for a shorter period of time –or , euthanized.

Proof of high antibody titer in a properly vaccinated dog, may shorten confinement or quarantine in certain situations …along with a booster vaccine. And  IN ADDITION  to  rabies  vaccination,  proof of a high titer may shorten the quarantine imposed on dogs imported into  free countries and islands.     All this translates into – get and keep your dog vaccinated for rabies as required by local ordinance to minimize this vaccination.


I have 2 male cats and one of them is peeing on my furniture, I don’t know which one. Do you have any suggestions on what to do.

Dr. Burke Responds:

It is important to know which cat- it could be both, but if  at any time you can get a small volume of urine, ( a tsp =5 mls  – is enough urine ) you can submit the sample to your veterinarian for a “complete  urinalysis “. That is a sp. gravity, dip stick AND sediment exam.  (If it’s the same site each time, you may be able to rig something up -saran wrap under the area to catch fluid ). A complete  urinalysis is the only test which can  eliminate all medical causes, vs. behavioral.   Until you get a urine, or if you do and the urine is normal, there are steps you can take to address the problem, even if you don’t know the culprit.   If the urine is abnormal, or drugs are to be given, of course you’ll need to know which one.

“Litter box lapses”  are the most common behavioral complaint of cat owners. ( In dogs, it is aggression).  95% of intact males, and near that many intact female cats when in heat, will “spray ” (urinate on a vertical surface), or deposit urine in an inappropriate site ( horizontal surfaces or on objects ).

10 % of neutered cats-males and females, also display this behavior, and -the likelihood is  ‘additive’.  In other words,  if you have 5 cats, there is a 50% chance one or more will urinate outside the box. The domestic feline is not “social” in the way dogs are; and realistically, the behavior  is normal -unacceptable in the human home – but normal.  It is the ability to suppress or ignore basic instincts which allowed  dogs and cats to become  pets.

I’m presuming both are cats, ( i.e. not kittens, over 6 months ) and both are neutered .  If one or both is an intact “tom ” cat, this is nature’s way of punishing you for procrastinating – and for breaking RI state law!  Chop Chop !

Depending on how frequently it happens, you could alternate confining one cat at a time.  The best method: if you have or can borrow a video cam, or nanny cam,  train the video camera on the spot.  When and if you find urine, review that tape .  Fluorescein impregnated strips and drops, used  in the eye to show ulcers, can be put into a  capsule and given orally to a cat. The cat’s urine  MAY  fluoresce with a black light for day or so .  B-vitamins are very safe, and make urine very bright, even neon yellow and are over the counter,  in which case you would give 100 mgs  a day to a cat – the drawback-  it may not show on furniture, might stain it more,  and cat urine is often very yellow anyway .

I will close with  connections to two great  articles addressing “litter box lapses” .  The most common points made, are: The closer the urine (or stool) is to a box, the more likely the cat finds the litter type, or the condition of the box, unacceptable. And, number of cats = number of boxes – and some experts recommend  “+1 “. It helps both in cleanliness, and when one cat is a bully. Boxes should be big enough, and accessible to even to physically infirm cats. In general, covered boxes are not the best – they tend to be smaller, and easier for humans  to “miss” the need to clean. Solid waste should be  removed any time found. Boxes should be completely cleaned at least weekly (with a mild cleaner ), even with scoopable litter, and discarded  yearly. Location Location Location : boxes  should not be located near food or in high traffic or noise areas .


Cornell Feline Health Center –  House soiling http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/health_information/brochure_housesoiling.cfm

American Association of  Feline Parishioners  – House soiling http://www.catvets.com/guidelines/practice-guidelines/house-soiling


Our cat is in quarantine at (a local animal control) because he tangled with a raccoon in our yard. He was an indoor cat that got outside accidentally and his rabies vaccination was expired. The raccoon escaped. After taking our cat to the vet, where he was examined, given antibiotics and a rabies booster, we were instructed to take the cat to Animal Control. The cat has been in quarantine in Animal Control since June 3rd. On June 5th a rabid feral cat was captured (in Rhode Island) so now everyone is understandably very nervous. We will not put the cat down. We are willing to pay for the legal 6 months quarantine if that is what is required. We are not allowed to even visit the cat. We are concerned (for many reasons). We simply want to ensure that our cat is given every chance to survive.

Dr. Burke Responds:

I am so sorry to hear about your predicament. Your cat’s case is somewhat unusual, but not unheard of: escaping and tangling with wildlife. Dogs and cats may be exposed to raccoons, skunks, other stray cats and dogs, and some cats are “exposed “when bats get in the house. Although very few of these animals – even the bats – have rabies, the disease is ever present, and suspicion of any contact between a “legally unvaccinated “ dog cat or ferret,  with wild, or unvaccinated domestic animals, may result in an order of quarantine.

(The owner made this cat’s records available to Dr Burke .This cat was administered a 3 year rabies vaccine when obtained, and 14 months later – 18 months ago).  In 48 states, he would be considered currently vaccinated, given an additional booster “just in case” , placed under “strict confinement“ at home for  30-45 days, or if quarantined, at most for 45 days. Although the CDC commissions a board of experts to recommend guidelines for Rabies control, rules and regulations are promulgated by state and local authorities, and unfortunately for your cat,  Rhode Island rabies laws are unusually strict, and do not recognize a 3 year Rabies vaccine for 3 years, unless given before the previous vaccination expires.

Rabies vaccinations protect pets from a horrible and ever-present disease. But these vaccines were developed, are required, and legislated, for dogs, cats, and ferrets, primarily to protect humans.  Not every unvaccinated animal exposed to rabies, will develops an infection (compared to many diseases, the risk is low). It depends on the bite, what animal is the bitter and the bitee.  But, if infection takes hold, and is not ‘treated’, the risk of dying from rabies is virtually 100%.  The amount of money spent on “rabies control” is enormous and probably secondary only to HIV – another disease where the fear of catching far outweighs the likelihood.  The cost of “treating” a human after a possible exposure is over $10,000.  The public health system doesn’t want to spend that kind of money if they don’t have to.  And thus require by law that owners get and keep pets vaccinated  – even paralyzed pets in a 10th floor apartments, cats that “never go outside”, dogs whose little paws barely touch the ground much less the wilds beyond their yard. At a cost as potentially low as $100 for a pet from age 0-16, it makes sense.  One has to realize, ultimately, where rabies is concerned, that no one in the public health world, the DEM or the legal system “cares” about an individual animal. Period. It’s all about a risk real or imagined to humans.

“Anti-vaccination” sentiment has spilled over from discussion of children’s vaccinations to that of pets’ vaccinations. Considering for what and how often pets should be vaccinated should be based on an individual animal’s risk factors.

Some owners seek, and may obtain, “exemptions” from the legal requirement to have their pet vaccinated for rabies. Occasionally this is due to an allergic reaction to vaccinations (often the pet is getting more than one vaccination that day, and is actually reacting to the volume of adjutants). The majority of pets (and people) properly medically managed can be safely re-vaccinated, even when the reaction was severe. Knee-jerk blanket recommendations not to vaccinate  animals with immune diseases, conditions  or taking drugs affecting the immune system  (cancer, chemotherapy, immunosuppressive drugs) is unsupported by both the veterinary and  human literature. KILLED vaccines may be recommended MORE frequently – not less. (See references)

Owners seeking and getting exemptions from Rabies vaccination, need to understand that if there is even a hint their pet was exposed to rabies, the pet will either be euthanized, or vaccinated for Rabies, and then quarantined for 6 months.  There is no third option- no quarantine for 6 months then release without a rabies vaccination. It simply isn’t allowed here in Rhode Island.

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3299519/

2   http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00023141.htm

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804763
  2. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat, Craig Greene

Faced with a 6 month quarantine, considering expenses, a pets personality, and physical condition, many owners have to choose to have a beloved pet euthanized.  Making sure your pet is medically, and legally Rabies vaccinated (and if required licensed) and having proof of that could save its life! In your particular case, it’s clear that you love your cat and are willing to wait out, and pay the fees associated with, his quarantine. The consequences of this situation may seem too extreme to you, but unfortunately, it’s the law in Rhode Island. Best of luck with your little friend, and please make sure that he is up to date on his shots in the future. You may not be able to see him during this time, but be assured that he’ll remember you when it’s time to come home.


My cat is missing hair. This has been going for a while, and started happening when I took in 6 kittens from outside. My daughter loves the kittens so I want to keep them. Can I do something for my cat or could I donate her to you and you could cure her?

Dr. Burke Responds:

I am guessing the cat has not been examined for this problem  or you would have included what your veterinarian said.  For the general question – There are many reasons for hair loss in cats. Diagnosis is based on pattern, changes in the skin, and other findings on physical examination. Statistically, allergic reactions to flea bites or flea allergy dermatitis would be the most common cause of hair loss in cats; in kittens under a year of age ringworm is a possibility. If the older cat’s problem started after the kittens came, it could be something contagious from, or to, them, and they may also start loosing hair.   Ringworm, a superficial fungal infection can also be transmitted to humans; it is curable but it takes 4-8 weeks to treat and most shelters can’t risk exposing their staff and their shelter population.

As for the kittens: Almost all cities and towns in Rhode Island limit the number of pets a person can keep – and most designate 3-4. Rhode Island law requires all cats be spayed or neutered by 6 months of age.  To protect animal and human health, all cats and dogs by law need to be  vaccinated against Rabies, initially at  3-4 months of age,  a year later and then yearly to every 3 years depending on the vaccination type.  For their own health, cats (and dogs ) need vaccination against distemper and other diseases.  6 cats needing all this at one time –  big bucks !

As for getting rid of the older cat, while keeping the kittens: Although there are many advantages for children being raised in homes with pets, it rarely works out well unless adults in the home also love and want pets, and can afford to properly take care of them. I’m sure you didn’t mean to suggest the main reason to give up the older cat is that your daughter prefers kittens. Kittens always turn into cats – but cats always maintain an “inner kitten” .


My 100 pound lab has been prescribed Rimadyl 1150mg daily for joint pain. I would like to buy on-line at a reduced rate. My vet won’t give me a script because he sells this med at his office. Is this common practice?

Dr.  Burke responds:

In order for a veterinarian to dispense or order dispensing of a prescription drug, a “valid doctor/ (client) patient” relationship has to exist.  A veterinarian determines a pet’s needs and medication based on history, physical examination and other diagnostics like blood tests, X-rays, etc.  For domestic pets, minimally a yearly physical examination is needed, and for some pet patients, and many drugs, physical examinations, blood, urine, and other diagnostic testing may be required before starting a drug, and  at  regular intervals- determined by the veterinarian.  (This may include a requirement that the pet be vaccinated for certain diseases, for its own and others’ safety).

Those requirements having been met, the RI Dept of Health Rules and Regulations for Licensed Veterinarians state  “Any veterinarian licensed in the state of Rhode Island who writes a prescription for an animal patient shall provide a copy of that prescription to the owner of the animal patient, upon request of the owner, for the purpose of filling the prescription with a licensed pharmacy”. (Part I Section 10.6)

Personally, I don’t think that is very well written. (It sounds as if one can get the drug AND a prescription). Wanting to protect clients and patients from the multitude of illegal and fraudulent internet pharmacies, and myself from someone altering a prescription,   I  have discussed with the head of the Pharmacy board the essence of  “writing a prescription” – and it is: prescribing – not necessarily handing someone a written  prescription.

Perhaps it would be better stated  “for any prescription drug a veterinarian would  sell / dispense for  his/her  patient,  the owner/ client can request  instead, the drug be prescribed to an  in-, or out-of-state dispensing pharmacy licensed by  the State of Rhode Island. **  Keep in mind, no veterinary hospital or clinic in Rhode Island, (or from what I know, any state) is licensed as a dispensing pharmacy. One veterinary hospital cannot sell medication to a non-client, even  a prescription. Many drugs we prescribe are “human” drugs and can be prescribed to and purchased from a “human” pharmacy.  (Rimadyl is a flavored formulation of  carprofen, a NSAID not used in humans, so although some local human pharmacies may stock this drug for pets, generally it is ordered from on-line pet pharmacies. Whether or not it is less expensive on line, may depend on the number prescribed).

If your veterinarian refused to give you a  prescription for 100 tablets, because your dog is due to be rechecked in 2 weeks , or is overdue a recheck — make an appointment.  If your veterinarian would sell or dispense the medication, and they refused to hand you a written prescription because they were afraid it may be misused, they probably are within the letter of the law.  But if your veterinarian refuses to prescribe to, or approve a request from a legal  pharmacy, a drug he/she would dispense to you, you have grounds to complain to the state veterinary or pharmacy boards. (And, unlike copies of X-rays or medical records, where a reasonable charge can be levied, they cannot charge for the act of writing a prescription, or responding to a pharmacy request).

If you will allow me a few other comments—your pet’s problem is a very common one.    Compared to cats, dogs in general  and many of the popular large breed dogs are prone to degenerative joint disease –  knees, hips, backs, elbows and shoulders.  “Nutraceuticals ”  like glucosamine and chondroitin, and Omega fatty acids, may help –  a little, and have few side effects, but their production is not regulated by the FDA  so brands vary widely in value. Used appropriately, there is a place for the cheapest NSAID –aspirin – in the treatment of osteoarthitis in some dogs.   Exercise should be moderate, and consistent- all weekend warriors suffer on Monday. Lastly, not to be insulting, and maybe,  your dog is—really tall— but most 100# Labradors are – fat.  A 10 # weight loss can ease arthritic pain more than a fistful of drugs. For overweight individuals, weight loss is the safest, cheapest, and best treatment for osteoarthritis degenerative joint disease.

** Most of the major U.S. based on-line pet pharmacies are licensed to sell  in Rhode Island.  The last time I researched this, there were about 30. If you are unsure of  a pharmacy, the easiest way is to call the pharmacy and ask for their non-resident RI pharmacy number.  Or, you can go to the RI Dept of Health site and look up Licensees/ Pharmacy/ Facilities/ Non-resident/ Retail/ Active. Unfortunately, you cannot search the 800 listed in alphabetical order!