Determining The Age Of Young Kittens

When people bring young kittens into the clinic, the first question I am asked is ‘How old are they?’  Here are the guidelines I use to determine age in very young kittens.

1)  In normal development, kittens open their eyes around two weeks of age.  The kittens pictured below are less than two weeks old since there eyes are still sealed shut (sorry but the picture is slightly out of focus).

2)  At three to four weeks of age, baby teeth start to erupt.  The small teeth in the front of the mouth are called incisors.  They are the first ones to erupt.  I commonly see the gums swell at three weeks, the tips of the tooth poke through at three and a half weeks and the entire tooth exposed at four weeks.

3)  The next type of deciduous (baby) tooth to erupt are the premolars.  They appear at five to six weeks of age.  I always know when these teeth are coming in because the kittens chew on the bottle.  They force the nipple into the back of their mouth and grind away.

4)  Some of my colleagues use weight as an additional factor to determine age.  I only use weight to monitor growth and feeding schedules, not for age.     

Great Horned Owl Saved By Wild At Heart


On July 27, 2009 the staff at Capital Insight Partners, LLC discovered a Great Horned Owl outside their window.  The poor thing laid next to the building with her right wing stuck out in an abnormal position.  She was dazed and in shock.  Thanks to the quick response of Wild at Heart, Ariel is still alive today.  Within thirty minutes of receiving the call, a volunteer came to pick her up.  This great non-profit organization specializes in the treatment of raptors.  Every year they care for between 400 and 600 hawks, owls and falcons.  Back at the Wild at Heart hospital, Ariel received treatment for her injuries.  X-rays revealed a fractured humerus, the biggest bone in the wing.  She required surgery and extensive post-op care to save her wing.  Note the bright yellow bandage that protects the bone as it heals.      


Today, Ariel is living in an outdoor flight cage with other owls.  She enjoys being out of the hospital and interacting with them.  The large space gives her more room to move her wings and build strength.  Because of the severity of her injury, it is doubtful that Ariel will fly again.  But miracles do happen.  Please keep your fingers crossed for this lovely owl.

I want to thank ‘Sam’ and Bob Fox, the veterinarians and volunteers at Wild at Heart.  Besides helping injured birds in need, this organization has many different programs aimed at protecting raptors.  The Burrowing Owl Project provides habit for these long legged little owls.  So far, over 4,500 artificial owl burrows have been set up statewide.  The Foster Parent Program pairs unreleasable adult raptors with orphans.  It is a win-win for everyone involved.  The orphans are cared for by members of their own species.  This makes them more successful when released back into the wild.  Caring for the chicks allows the adults to experience a more normal life, even in captivity.  Who knows, maybe Ariel will be a foster mom some day.

To learn more about this fabulous organization please go to  The web site gives additional information about the organization including the Barn Owl Recovery Program and the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl Breeding Project.  Wild at Heart depends on donations for their operation.  They receive no state or federal funds.  So if you enjoy watching a hawk soar across the sky in search of dinner or the hoots of an owl at night, please consider making a donation to this great organization.  They stretch a dollar a long way.  If your plans bring you to Phoenix Arizona, schedule a visit.  I guarantee the birds and the people who care for them will inspire you.  It will be an experience you will never forget! 

California Sea Lions – Name The Zoonotic Disease They Carry

On a trip to San Fransisco and Monterrey, I spent time watching sea lions (Zalophus californianus) nap in the warm sun.  The females had given birth in June and then spent the summer nursing their pups.  The little ones grow rapidly on the rich milk.  The males keep a watchful eye over their territory.  They are much larger than the females and darker in color.  Males can weigh up to 1,000 pounds while females are closer to 200.

Unfortunately, California sea lions harbor a serious disease.  During an outbreak, many animals will die.  Name the disease and what organ(s) it affects.    

Diagnosis:  Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a deadly organism that affects creatures of all kinds, including humans.  The organisms causes liver and kidney malfunction.  According to scientists it “. . . is endemic in California Sea Lions but also causes periodic epidemics of acute disease.”  Researchers determined that sea lions who live by dog parks have a higher incidence of exposure.  It is also thought that seasonal migration plays a role in transmission.   

During an epidemic, sick animals haul out on beaches along the California coast line.  Since the disease is transmissible to humans (zoonotic), it is important to keep your distance.  Let wildlife personnel aid the distressed animals.  With fluid therapy, many will survive and return to a life at sea.  Below is a video clip from Monterey California.  The sea lions look like they don’t have a care in the world.  Enjoy!


Gullard, et al., “Molecular Markers , Mat and Modeling:  New Evidence for Leptospirosis in Californian Sea Lions Being Endemic with Periodic Epizootics, Defying the Host-Adapted Strain Paradigm for Leptospirosis.  IAAM 2009.

Norman, et al., “Risk factors for an outbreak of leptospirosis in California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) in California, 2004” J. Wildl Dis, October 2008; 44(4): 837-44.

The Winning Name Is Keanu!

With all the wonderful suggestions to choose from, my husband and I had a thoroughly difficult time choosing a winner.  After much thought and deliberation, we chose the name Keanu.  It is the Hawaiian word for breeze.  This fits him perfectly as he ‘breezes’ from one room to another.  Congratulations to VT for the suggestion!  She will receive an autographed copy of my book when it comes out next year. 

I deeply wish to thank everyone who submitted a name for the little black kitten.  I was amazed by the energy and deliberation so many of you put into the project!  Your comments and questions are what make this blog fun and hopefully, useful.  I especially enjoy the friendships I have made with animal lovers all over the world.  So again, I want to thank everyone who submitted a name for your thoughtful ideas.  I would also like to encourage other blog readers to leave comments so I can get to know you as well.  

Dr. Kris Nelson      

Warning For Animals On Vetsulin Manufactured By Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health

Recently, I received an e-mail alert from the FDA’s Center For Veterinary Medicine.  I believe it warrants sharing with people who love diabetic animals.  The injectable insulin product Vetsulin manufactured by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health may contain inconsistent amounts of crystalline zinc insulin.  This can result in either over or under dosing a patient on the medication. 

If your pet is on Vetsulin, watch closely for any changes in behavior.  In cases of hyperglycemia (too much sugar, not enough insulin) patients drink a lot of water and urinate often.  In hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar, too much insulin) the animal is lethargic.  If the sugar drops too low, the patient might seizure. 

I like Vetsulin a lot, especially for dogs.  So as a fan of the drug, I and many other veterinarians are hopeful that Intervet/Schering-Plough will succeed quickly in their efforts to correct the problem.  Until then, the responsible advice is to contact your veterinarian.  A change in treatment may or may not be appropriate for your pet’s particular circumstance.     

H1N1 Transmited From Humans To Pet Ferrets And A Cat

Recently, the American Veterinary Medical Association notified its members about three cases of H1N1 in pets.  Two ferrets and a cat contracted the virus from their human family.  One of the ferrets and the cat recovered with supportive care.  Unfortunately, the other ferret died from the disease.  So far, there has been no documented spread of the virus from pets to people, just people to pets.  

During this flu season, monitor your pets closely for signs of illness.  If you are sick, please take these simple steps to protect them.  Keep them in another room.  Wash your hands well before touching them or handling their food and water bowl.  Wash for two solid minutes with soap and water.  In veterinary microbiology, the professor conducted an experiment to teach us the importance of proper hand washing.  He divided us into groups and had one member per group wash their hands.  When they finished, another member ran a moistened cotton swab over their skin and then streaked an agar plate with the swab.  Next, he had the same person wash their hands for two minutes while another group member timed them.  Again we swabbed their hands for culture.  Two days later, the results shocked us.  The plate from the ‘normal’ hand wash grew twenty plus colonies of bacteria while the two minute wash grew one.  The same principle applies to viruses.     

Therefore, I want to encourage you to take the time to really wash your hands.  Pay special attention to the area under your nails and between your fingers.  Let’s do everything we can to protect ourselves and our families during this flu season.           

Black Long Hair Kitten Has A Home!

                         The ‘Thinker’ has a home!

This section of the blog is called “The Vet’s Pets”.  So here it is that I announce the following great news;  my husband and I decided to adopt the black long hair kitten!  He is an easy-going guy who should fit in nicely with our other cats.  Every day, I place him in a carrier while Kalani and Tigre have the run of the house.  The two older boys aren’t quit sure what to make of this little bundle of energy.  They sit on the sofa and observe him from a safe distance.  ‘Fuz’ is his temporary name and he meows pathetically from the crate.  He wants to play with his older brothers in the worst way.

Now that he is part of the family, he needs a proper name.  My husband and I like Hawaiian names because they remind us of our honeymoon in Kauai and twentieth (yikes) anniversary there a short time ago.  Please send us your ideas!  We are having a tough time finding a name that suits his personality.  The person who suggests the name we choose will win an autographed copy of my first book which will be published next year.  Mahalo!  – Dr. Nelson   

Halloween Pet Safety Tips

Happy Halloween!  Tonight emergency clinics around the country will be busy with sick animals.  Unfortunately, Halloween is not all fun and games.  Candy designed for human consumption is a big problem.  Chocolate is toxic for dogs and cats.  While cats seldom eat chocolate, dogs love it.  I treated a cocker spaniel who ate a two pound box of chocolate.  The puppy required three days of hospitalization but survived.  In large doses it can prove fatal.  Another problem is sugar free chewing gum and candy that contains xylitol.  As little as one stick of chewing gum may cause a fatal drop in blood sugar in a ten pound dog.  Thank goodness cats are resistant to the effects of the sugar substitute.

Electrocution and burns are another hazard.  As the popularity of Halloween rises, so do the number of cord bites especially in young animals.  When decorating, keep cords away from your pets.  Also, think about your pets when decorating with candles.  I see a lot of singed whiskers after Halloween.

Accidental escape is another tragic event on this night.  With all the festivities, it is easy to leave a gate or door open.  Confine your pet to a safe room or crate until the trick-or-treating is over.  This is especially true with black animals.  I have seen some horrific animal abuse to black animals at Halloween.

Lastly, Operating Rooms will be busy removing foreign bodies during the next few days.  Decorations and costumes are the likely culprits.  Again, confine your pet to a safe room or crate to prevent this from happening.

The photogenic feline pictured above is Sox.  She is a lucky girl for two reasons.  First, she was adopted by The Animal Hospital at Tatum Ranch after suffering a spider bite that required extensive surgical intervention.  Dr. Anger performed multiple procedures to debride and reconstruct her rear end.  Second, the hospital is set up to keep her safe from all the problems listed above.  Sox will spend her night curled up in bed, safe and sound.  In the morning, she will resume her duties as the Animal Ambassador for the clinic.  It is common for veterinary hospitals to have a “clinic cat”.  The next time you visit your veterinarian, please take time to meet them.  Their stories will amaze you.