Frequently Asked Questions for Veterinarians in Manassas

How often should my pet have an exam?

Signal Hill Animal Clinic recommends yearly visits for most pets and older pets coming in more frequently – at least every 6 months. Yearly exams include physical examinations by our veterinarians plus annual or booster vaccinations, parasite screening & prevention, and various lab tests performed.

For puppies and kittens, we need to see them on a more frequent schedule during their first year of life. For pets over age 7, we recommend exams and blood work every 6 months to help us detect diseases and issues before they become a problem.

Why does my pet need a dental cleaning?

Many people think that it is normal for a dog to have bad breath, but that is not the case. Bad breath is caused by bacteria in the mouth that create byproducts that contain sulfur. Regular home cleanings accompanied by scheduled professional cleanings will help to prevent bad breath and the bacteria that cause it.

Besides just bad breath, dental disease:

  • Releases bacteria into the bloodstream
  • Increases risk for heart, liver and kidney disease
  • Can cause severe pain and problems for your pet

Pets need regular dental cleanings to increase quality and length of life and:

  • Allows us to chart dental disease over time
  • Means less time under anesthesia
  • Reduces the need for more advanced and expensive treatment in the future such as teeth extractions and oral surgery

Dental disease is the most common disease in dogs. Recent studies show that 85% of cats and 92% of dogs over age 3 have periodontal disease.

What happens during my pet’s dental cleaning?

A thorough dental cleaning can only be accomplished while the pet is under general anesthesia. The anesthesia we use is safe for all animals and your pet is constantly monitored during the dental procedure. Prior to anesthesia, blood tests are performed to help uncover any hidden illnesses.

A professional cleaning (called a dental prophylaxis) removes plaque and tartar from the teeth. Your pet's entire mouth health (teeth, tongue, gums, and lips) will be examined and assessed.

I noticed a change in my pet’s behavior. Should I see a veterinarian?

Pets cannot tell us how they feel and are able to hide their pain from us (especially cats). Changes in behavior such as appetite change, lethargy, energy level, aggressiveness, inappropriate elimination, and vocalization (barking/meowing) can be symptoms of behavior or health issues. Contact our vet hospital for an exam appointment right away.

What should I do if I notice fleas or ticks on my pet?

Isolate your pet from other animals and small children to prevent the spread of the parasite to them. Bring your pet to our vet clinic for thorough testing for parasites. They can usually be easily treated, but parasite preventative measures are best for both your pet and your wallet. Ask about our available safe and effective parasite prevention products.

At what age should I have my pet spayed or neutered?

Signal Hill Animal Clinic recommends waiting until your pet is at least 6 months of age before seeking a spay or neuter procedure. Contact us to discuss specific details based on species, breed, and size. Spaying / neutering has health and behavioral benefits for your pet and of course, helps prevent over-population.


What are heartworms? How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworms?

One infected mosquito is all it takes to infect your dog with the baby form (larval stage) of the heartworm parasite.

Heartworms are a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets. Twelve-inch-long worms (looks like spaghetti) live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected pets, causing lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and can be fatal if untreated.

How does my pet get heartworms? Heartworms living in an infected dog, cat, or wildlife produce baby worms that circulate in the bloodstream. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it picks up these worms and when it bites another animal, the worms enter through the bite wound. Heartworms can grow and live for 5 - 7 years in dogs and 3 years in cats.

What can I do to protect my pet? Heartworm disease is preventable! Dogs should be tested annually and before starting prevention. Prevention is the safest and most cost-effective option, but treatment is available for dogs (although costly and lengthy). Cats should be tested before starting prevention and re-tested as the veterinarian deems appropriate. There is NO treatment in cats, so prevention is critical and the only means of protection.

Signal Hill Animal Clinic has safe, effective products available that cater to your pet's lifestyle and your budget. Heartworm prevention should be provided 12 months of the year.

How safe is my pet’s surgical procedure?

Our veterinarians take every precaution to make sure your pet comes out of any procedure, whether major or minor, on the way to a swift recovery. To ensure your pet’s safety, we provide round-the-clock care and monitoring for all surgical patients during business hours. We perform all pet surgeries under anesthesia and advocate the use of pre-anesthetic blood work to detect any underlying disease that may affect the response to anesthesia.

With your pet’s comfort and safety at the forefront, we utilize pain management protocols before, during, and after surgery until they are completely recovered. This includes monitoring vital signs, assessing your pet for pain indicators, and keeping them well-fed, warm and comfortable in their surroundings.

My dog is overweight and I am concerned about the health risks of obesity. Should I be concerned? What is the best way to get the weight off?

This is an excellent question because the number one nutritional disorder we see is OVER NUTRITION. In the United States, we are blessed with an abundance of food. Even the poorest people in our country suffer from the health problems of obesity. Obesity in dogs is not just a cosmetic problem. There are serious health implications of being overweight. Studies have shown that hip dysplasia is 4 times more common in obese dogs than it is in lean dogs. Also, obese dogs die an average of almost 2 years younger than thin dogs. Fat is not just a storage depot for extra calories. It is a big producer of free radicals. These are chemicals that contribute to aging and health problems such as cancer. The age of onset of chronic diseases like heart failure, kidney and liver failure, and cancer occur almost 2 years earlier in obese dogs than in dogs that are fit. Some dogs are obese due to a medical condition like low thyroid hormone, or excess cortisone. Be sure your dog has a physical exam before starting a weight loss program. Sometimes blood tests are needed to rule out a medical condition.

Almost every one of our clients is in disbelief when we tell them that their dog is overweight. We are simply used to seeing mostly overweight dogs, so we think our dog must be OK. The “rule of thumb” for gauging obesity is that you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs easily without seeing them. Once we have determined that a diet is in order, we can tailor it to your dog’s specific needs and goals.

Exercise is of great value and you should be sure your dog is getting plenty of activity. As they say “it takes muscle to burn fat.” For dogs and humans, the same general principles of dieting apply. We used to think that it was simply a matter of taking in fewer calories than you burn up. Now we know that taking in fewer calories alone will result in loss of lean body mass as well as fat. We want your dog to maintain muscle, not lose it. The best weight-loss diets are those that reduce calories AND INCREASE PROTEIN. The best way to reduce calories is to decrease the amount of fat that you eat. A gram of fat has 2.5 times the calories as a gram of carbohydrate or protein. It is also important to reduce the amount of soluble (easy to digest) carbohydrates. These are the starches like rice, corn, potatoes, etc. As with human diets, think of high protein, low fat, high fiber, low soluble carbs. This makes beans among the best weight loss foods around. Beans are very high in protein, they are non-fat, high in fiber, and low in soluble carbs. Other foods that can be included in your dog’s weight loss program are anything in the squash family such as zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, sweet and dill pickles, acorn squash; frozen mixed vegetables (these can be fed frozen, steamed, or microwaved); most fruit (avoid raisins and grapes as these are poisonous to dogs).

Things that you can use to flavor the beans or veggies include stewed tomatoes (Italian or Mexican flavorings work well), fat-free chicken or beef broth, soy sauce, mild salsa, ketchup, etc. You may add herbs and seasonings if your dog prefers. Garlic and onions should be kept to a minimum as these can cause anemia if fed in large quantities. Don’t worry about the salt content of canned vegetables unless your dog has congestive heart failure.

Some clients fear the possibility of gas and flatulence if dogs are fed beans. This does not occur commonly. We find this to be more of a problem just by changing brands of dog food than by feeding a bean diet. Green beans are a good component of a weight loss program, but they are not as nutritious or as good of a protein source as other beans. I prefer canned beans because they are pre-cooked and ready to serve. Just about every type of bean is acceptable. Pinto, white, northern, black, red, refried beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, etc. Carrots should be cooked or canned if possible because large pieces of raw carrots can cause intestinal blockage. Frozen beans and other vegetables are fine too.

There are many commercially prepared weight loss foods for dogs on the market. You can try these first if you prefer, but whatever method you choose, be sure to weigh your dog regularly to monitor their progress. You are always welcome to bring your dog into the clinic to use our walk-on scale. Have the receptionist record your dog’s weight in the medical record. As always, if you have any questions or concerns call us at the clinic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the best food for my dog?

There are many opinions regarding the proper feeding of dogs. Some people advocate premium brands while others prefer canned food over dry. The truth of the matter is that there is no convincing scientific evidence to say that any food is better for your pet than another. Breeders, dog trainers, groomers, pet store employees, shelter and animal rescue workers all have their favorite dietary recommendations. Unfortunately few of these individuals have any advanced (or even rudimentary) education in biochemistry, physiology, or nutrition. The result is an alarming amount of misinformation. When studies compare dog food side by side, no one can tell which dogs were fed which foods.

The most common nutritional disease we see is OVERNUTRITION. Obesity is rampant among the human and animal populations in the United States. We have shown clearly that thin dogs live 2 years longer than fat dogs. Purina® funded the study that demonstrated this fact. If a pet food manufacturer pays for and publishes a study that says we should feed less pet food, I believe them. Although canned food is nutritionally complete and adequate, most of our canine patients that eat canned food are obese (it is the exact opposite for felines). If you feed canned food you must pay attention to portion control and weigh your dog regularly. Optimum body condition is reached when you can feel your dog’s ribs, but you cannot see them. For dogs with heavy coats, you should use your hands to feel over the ribcage for any jiggle.

There is no advantage to feeding puppy food. The nutritional requirements of puppies are met fully with adult dog food. Puppies should be fed 2-3 times per day. They should be offered enough so that they walk away with food left in their bowl. The food should be left out for a maximum of 10 minutes. As puppies reach 3-4 months of age, limit the feeding to 2 times per day. Rapid growth in puppies leads to orthopedic problems, hip dysplasia, and arthritis later in life. Puppies that grow up skinny are healthier than puppies that grow up chubby.

Although we don’t have any particular brand preference for dog food, we do recommend avoiding “generic” dog foods and “wholesale club” brands. The way they keep their costs low is often by changing the ingredients to whatever is cheap at the time. It is best to keep the same food throughout your dog’s life. Don’t buy whatever is on sale or whatever you have a coupon for. Don’t waste your money on “premium” brands that you can only get at special stores. As long as you feed a national brand that you’ve heard of before, you should be fine. Stick with names like Purina®, Alpo®, Pedigree®, etc. Some dogs do better on brand A, B, C, or D, but others will do better on brand X, Y, or Z. In summary, feed whatever your dog likes. Don’t buy into the marketing hype of premium or trendy dog foods. Stick with the same food. Don’t overfeed.

I have often thought that I might want to be a veterinarian. What are the educational and work experiences required to be a veterinarian?

I’m delighted to hear that you are interested in becoming a veterinarian. It is a challenging and rewarding career with many options for employment in industry, private practice, and public service. Veterinarians work in the military, for pharmaceutical companies, in state and federal government agencies, as livestock veterinarians, on fish farms, as well as in companion animal practices, zoos, wildlife parks, laboratories, and so on.

The educational requirements are that you receive a high school diploma, and complete at least 2 years of college before entering veterinary school. You must pass courses in Physics, Organic Chemistry, and General Biology (each with a lab). Most veterinary students have completed a Bachelor’s Degree, but some are admitted after 2-3 years of college. The competition is great. There are typically 10 applicants for every available slot in U.S. veterinary schools compared to 1 applicant for every 4 slots in U.S. medical colleges. Most applicants have some work experience in veterinary clinics or on farms prior to admission into the veterinary program. State residency requirements are strict, and so most students from Virginia will attend the veterinary school at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Some students will attend veterinary school in a foreign country for 1-4 years before transferring to a U.S. veterinary school.

Once you are admitted to veterinary school, you must complete 4 years of education resulting in a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. The coursework is challenging. The first 2 years are spent learning basic sciences of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and pharmacology. The third-year is spent studying disease processes and their treatments. The fourth-year is spent in the teaching hospital managing actual cases with supervision by veterinary specialists and instructors. During the fourth year of veterinary school, the student must pass the National Board Exam and the Clinical Competency tests. After graduation, the student must then meet the individual requirements for the particular state in which they want to practice. Once these requirements are met, the veterinarian is free to begin practice.

Unlike physicians, veterinarians (and dentists) are not required to complete internships or residencies before practice, but most will work in a clinic with other veterinarians as mentors. There is a growing trend in companion animal medicine for veterinarians to pursue a specialization in a particular field such as ophthalmology, dermatology, surgery, and so on. These individuals will spend 1 year at a veterinary school or specialty practice as a general intern, and then approximately 3 years in a residency program eventually becoming certified by the “Board” of their particular field of study. In order to claim the title of “Specialist”, the individual must be certified by a group of specialists that are recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

As you can see, becoming a “Veterinarian” can lead to many career options. Good luck on your quest!