From Nose to Tail: The Benefits of Pet Ownership


Originally published in the August 26, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage –

If you take the time to read this monthly column, you must be an animal lover. Well, you are not alone! A National Pet Owners Survey performed by the American Pet Products Association for 2021-2022 estimated that approximately 70% of US households own at least one pet. The breakdown showed that about 69 million families own dogs, 45 million own cats, 3.5 million households have a horse and 10 million have pet birds.

Those of us who worked in the “trenches” of small animal general practices throughout the early course of the COVID-19 pandemic saw an absolute eruption of puppies and kittens being introduced to households.

Like the term Baby Boomer generation, we now have a generation of dogs and cats that will be known, at least by the veterinary community, as COVID puppies and kittens. Many cases we cared for were first-time pet owners who finally found themselves with enough time and desire to raise a pet while stuck at home. People found themselves greatly drawn to the comfort, engagement, and companionship pets provide.

Regardless of our exact circumstances, most of us were uneasy and anxious about the unknown during the first two years of the pandemic. What better stress relief was there than a warm, furry baby cuddling on your lap or jogging by your side?

Our first question is, “What is the human-animal bond?”

The American Veterinary Medical Association defines the human-animal bond as a “mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors essential to the health and wellbeing of both.”

A national survey conducted in 2021 by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute showed us that the COVID pandemic has led to a significant increase in the daily hours that owners spend with their pets. Sixty-four percent of these respondents stated that they are now more likely to devote more time to their pets after the pandemic.

While a majority of pet owners reported that their health improved due to owning a pet, 87% of respondents acknowledged that their mental health improved the most. Many of these pet owners have even reported discussing the benefits of their human-animal bond with their doctors and/or therapists. This survey also found that human practitioners are increasingly recommending pet ownership to their patients!

“What are some of the proven health benefits of owning a pet?” is our second question.

Research studies and surveys reveal a plethora of physical and emotional health benefits that pets provide to us.

According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, these include, but are not limited to:

• Reduction of stress.

• Reduction in feelings of depression and/or anxiety.

• Grief support.

• Improvement in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder severity.

• Support of healthier aging (including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia situations).

• Improvements in autism spectrum disorder.

• Improved cardiovascular health parameters due to increased exercise.

• Improvement in childhood allergy, eczema, and asthma parameters.

The proposed scientific basis behind the magic of the Human-Animal Bond has much to do with its effect on our physiologic responses, such as influencing our hormone levels of oxytocin, cortisol, and epinephrine. Studies have also correlated prenatal and adolescent exposure to pets with a more robust adult immune system. We have also found dogs to have incredible senses that can detect pre-seizure situations and low blood sugar, among other ailments.

Our last question is, “are there ever any negative impacts of owning a pet?”

Surely not 100% of pet ownership is positive at all times. Responsible pet ownership comes with emotional, financial, and sometimes even physical impacts. Pets can develop diseases, suffer from mental health disorders such as aggression and/or anxiety, and also zoonotic diseases, which are a subset of diseases we could contract from pets. Some examples include rabies, ringworm, roundworms, and leptospirosis.

The CDC is an excellent resource for learning more about zoonotic diseases. You can protect yourself and your pet from many of these conditions by being educated and proactive with their wellness care.

So, no matter what type of pet or pets you have, love and care for them as much as they love and care for you. You both will be better for it.

Dr. Meg Varner-Soden, DVM, is the veterinarian at the Johnson College Animal Care Center as well as an instructor for the Johnson College Veterinary Nursing Program. She has been practicing veterinary medicine for 12 years.

Nose to Tail: Keeping Pets Cool

By Kimberly Konopka, BS, AS, CVT, ESMT

Originally published in the May 27, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage.

It’s a beautiful summer day and you are thinking: Do I go for a car ride, take a walk, or even stroll on the beach? As a responsible pet owner, there are some things to consider before you choose.

Leaving your pet in a hot car may lead to deadly heat stroke, and, in several states, it may be illegal. A quick stop with the windows cracked open can become deadly quicker than one may think.

According to, as of 2019, 31 states and the District of Columbia have some form of law against leaving animals unattended in a hot car. These laws vary from state to state, involving legal action against the car owner, while other states have laws to protect a person who may use forcible means to rescue a vulnerable animal. It’s recommended that you review your state laws on this topic.

How hot is too hot for my pet? Temperatures in vehicles can rise very quickly. A lovely 70 degrees outside the car changes to 89 degrees within 10 minutes inside the car, and within 30 minutes, may reach 104 degrees. As the temperature increases by 5-degree increments, the vehicle’s inside rises exponentially.

What does heatstroke look like in a pet? The clinical signs of a pet overheating include excessive panting, increased heart, and respiratory rates, difficulty breathing, mild weakness to stupor, and collapse. If your pet’s internal body temperature approaches 104 degrees, the clinical signs might include seizures, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting.

Dogs and cats both have sweat glands in their feet but utilize a second method for cooling down as they do not sweat like humans. Dogs pant to cool themselves down, while cats lick their hair coat. However, brachycephalic breeds — those with a flat snout like boxers, pugs and Persian cats, for example — are more susceptible to heatstroke because they can’t pant as effectively as other breeds.

When it comes to taking a walk down the road, or on the beach, not only is heatstroke a concern but there is another danger to watch out for: burned paw pads. Asphalt, pavement, artificial grass, sand and even dirt can become so hot that it may cause blistering and burning of an animal’s paw pads. Puppies and kittens are at a higher risk of damage because their paw pads are still very sensitive.

When outside temperatures reach 85+ degrees and remain constant throughout the day, even a short stroll may cause serious injury. According to the American Medical Association, if the air temperature is 86 degrees, the asphalt temperature is 135 degrees. The general rule of thumb for determining if the surface is too hot for your pet is to either place your palm or barefoot on the surface for 5 seconds. If it’s too hot for you to handle, it’s too hot for your pet.

How do you recognize injury to the paw pads? If your pet limps, is reluctant to walk or stand, licks or chews their feet, or if the pads are darker in color than usual, you will want to examine further. There may be visible signs of a burn, such as blisters. Bring the pet to a cool location and flush the feet with cold water or cold compress. Try to keep them from licking and seek veterinary care as burns will need to be addressed to help prevent further damage or infection.

There are a few things you may try to help reduce the chance of paw pad burns and injury:

Paw wax: This is a wax created explicitly for pets and designed to help protect the pads from hot surfaces in the warmer months and potentially harmful chemicals such as rock salt and anti-skid when it’s colder.

Dog shoes/boots: If your dog will wear them, this is one of the best ways an owner can protect their pet’s feet from injury. These may come in a variety of styles and materials, but you will want to make sure that the bottom of the boot has a rubber sole. Please understand that not all pets will tolerate wearing them or be comfortable walking in them. Be sure to work with your pet well in advance of the day you want them to wear them for protection.

During the hot months, it’s a good practice to check your pet’s paw pads regularly. This will train your eye to what is “normal” for your pet and allow you to apply a pet-safe moisturizer to keep pads soft and healthy and help to prevent injuries.

This information should help you keep your pets safe this summer season.

Kimberly Konopka, BS, AS, CVT, ESMT, is the program director of the Veterinary Nursing Program at Johnson College. She has been in the field of veterinary medicine for 15 years.

Nose to Tail: Protecting pets from fleas and ticks

By Meg Varner-Soden, DVM

Originally published in the April 29, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage.

As the days become warmer and rain replaces snow, my mind switches gears away from skis and shovels to gardening and hiking.

There’s nothing I love more than to be outside all day with my family and our dog. However, especially now that I am both a pet and human parent, I dread the unavoidable surge in encounters with parasites — especially fleas and ticks. Today, I will try to answer a few of the more common questions many pet owners have about these external parasites.

Our first question is, “Why are veterinary teams so concerned with year-round prevention of fleas and ticks on my pets?”

Actually, human health care providers are as concerned as your veterinary team because, while flea and tick infestations are an unsightly nuisance, they also present a real risk of vector-borne diseases, which are diseases spread by biting insects, for both our pets and ourselves.

Ticks become active as soon as that thermometer reaches 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Folks, we have had warm spells as early as February for the last few years, so it’s never too early to keep alert for ticks.

There are several common species of ticks in our region, ever-increasing in prevalence due to wildlife movement and a warmer climate. They may carry Lyme disease (Borreliosis), Anaplasma, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichia and Babesia. These diseases may be tricky to diagnose quickly and have the potential to become a chronic problem, which is both an emotional and financial burden to carry.

Did you know that sometimes a single tick may carry and transmit more than one of those diseases at a time and one type of tick, called the Brown Dog Tick, prefers to live and hide indoors?

Fleas can cause anemia, flea bite dermatitis (a robust allergic skin reaction to the flea saliva), and are vectors for tapeworms, Cat Scratch disease, Hemoplasmas and even plague. Flea numbers can explosively escalate in a short time. A flea infestation, once noticed, is incredibly frustrating to eradicate because it takes significant time and diligence to clear all of its life stages. In health care providers’ opinions, proactively preventing an infestation is much more prudent than reacting to them after the fact.

“How can I prevent fleas and ticks from infesting my pets and home?” is our second question this month.

Many products are available — for both cats and dogs — that can simultaneously combat fleas and ticks for lengthy periods of time. There are both prescription and over-the-counter options, and they come in a variety of formulations ranging from collars to oral tablets to topical formulations. Consult with your veterinarian about which products are the best choices for your pets, lifestyle and budget.

Also, nothing beats a good flea combing routine, running your hands over your pets daily and routine bathing. My children anticipate that they are going to bathe every evening and we are going to check everyone, including the dog, for ticks.

When it comes to protecting the inside of your home, minimize the clutter that parasites can hide in, mitigate the presence of mice and vacuum and launder regularly — including the pets’ bedding. Promptly change out of your yardwork/hiking/hunting clothes and put them in an isolated area (or even run them through the laundry), and jump through the shower before you start relaxing inside. Be mindful of the humidity and heat in the house — fleas thrive in higher humidity and temperatures. Fleas are also more likely to thrive in homes full of carpet and fabric-upholstered furniture, anything that mimics a furry creature.

Outdoors, you can decrease the density of fleas and ticks by closely manicuring your grass, choosing plants that don’t attract deer, avoiding the lingering presence of leaf litter and brush piles and limiting ground cover and woodpiles close to the home.

Also, be mindful of the number of furry animals you own — the more pets, the more feeding stations available to fleas and ticks.

Ultimately, like with anything, knowledge is power. One excellent educational resource I recommend for all pet owners is, the Companion Animal Parasite Council website. And if you find your pets becoming prey to fleas and ticks, consult with your trusted veterinary team.

Dr. Meg Varner-Soden, DVM, is the veterinarian at the Johnson College Animal Care Center and an instructor for Johnson College’s two-year veterinary nursing associate degree program. She has been practicing veterinary medicine for 12 years.

From Headlights to Taillights: Preparing for Summer Travel

By Mark Kozemko ’79, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director

Original published in the July 23, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage.

Last month, we answered questions about what items to pack into a car care survival kit you’d take with you on a drive-away vacation. According to the response we received, it looks like you still have a few questions about getting your vehicle ready for summer travel. This month, we’ll cover some of the more specific questions we received over the past few weeks. Let’s get started.

Our first question is, “I don’t travel except for our annual vacation to the shore. Over the past three vacations, we used the same vehicle. Why is my fuel mileage different every year?”

There are several reasons your fuel mileage varies from year to year with the same vehicle.

First, I hope you’re performing a pre-travel inspection on your vehicle, including tire condition and air pressure, oil condition and level, transmission fluid condition and status and more.

If you are not performing that inspection, I highly recommend you do. Improper tire pressure alone can reduce fuel mileage significantly. Old or incorrect engine oil can lose its ability to lubricate correctly, causing the engine to work harder and use more fuel. The same goes for transmission fluid. If the transmission is not shifting correctly, your fuel mileage may decrease. The bottom line is, make sure all your fluids are up to par before you travel.

Second, road conditions can factor in your vehicle’s ability to get the most miles from a gallon of fuel. The friction between the road surface and the tire can cause unnecessary drag and make the engine work harder. The constant stopping and starting in construction areas also factors into decreased fuel mileage.

Third, driving habits are a huge factor in getting good to excellent fuel mileage. The more you follow posted speed limits and start from a stop, smoothly, you will see an increase in your fuel mileage.

For example, I recently purchased a new truck — used, but new to me. It has an eight-cylinder engine, as did my old truck, but slightly bigger. My old truck got a whopping 11-12 miles per gallon with my driving habits. With the same driving habits, mostly highway driving, the new truck consistently gets about 3-4 mpg better. When I drive to and from work, 20 miles each way, through the small cities and towns, follow speed limits and don’t push my engine to outperform itself, the truck is getting just under 20 mpg, which is a lot better than the 11-12 mpg I was getting with my old truck.

If you are a seasoned driver, you may ask yourself, isn’t highway mileage supposed to be more than city mileage? It’s written on vehicle window stickers that way. The fact is, newer models have engine and transmission options designed to, if driven correctly, increase fuel mileage.

“Why does my air conditioning cut out when I accelerate?” is our second question.

More than likely, this issue is a cracked or broken vacuum line to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning control unit. If you pay close attention when your air conditioning cuts out, you’ll notice it doesn’t really cut out. The airflow changes direction. It may be redirected to the floor or defroster vents.

This redirection happens because when you accelerate, you decrease the vacuum that your engine creates. When you reach cruising speed, or let up a bit on the accelerator pedal, you’ll probably notice the airflow returns to the dashboard vents.

You can self-diagnose this issue if you’re a Mr. or Ms. Fix It, or, you can have your repair garage look into it. Newer vehicles have electronic controls that virtually eliminate this issue. Of course, other things can go wrong in these systems, so keep your eyes on them.

Our third and last question of the month is “How do I know the correct tire pressure for my vehicle?”

Usually, the manufacturer puts a sticker in the driver’s door jamb that indicates the correct tire pressure. If you don’t see it there, it may be stuck to the fuel door or in the fuel filler neck area. If a tire pressure sticker is not on your vehicle, the best thing to do is to google the make and model of your vehicle to find out proper tire pressure. Whatever you do, DO NOT fill to the maximum pressure found on the tire itself. It is not the correct operating pressure and may cause a dangerous situation. Go by what is listed on the sticker, not the tire itself.

I hope everyone enjoys the rest of the summer. Drive sensibly and stay safe.

From Headlights to Taillights: Bells and Whistles

By Mark Kozemko ’79, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director

Original published in the April 30, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage.

Did you ever get into a vehicle to test drive it and wonder, “Why does this vehicle have so many gadgets? What do they all do? Will I ever use them all?”

I know it sounds funny, but many new car buyers don’t even use some of the standard options, never mind all the extra “bells and whistles.” This month I’m fielding questions about what some of these extra options — or gadgets as I call them — are and how they work.

Before I get into the questions, I want to point out that the reason new vehicles come with an abundance of these options is mainly due to consumer demand. When manufacturers receive a high number of requests from their modern, tech-savvy customers for a specific option, they respond, as long as the request is within reason.

Our first question is, “What is adaptive cruise control and how does it work?”

Adaptive cruise control allows a driver to not only set a speed to travel but also set a specific distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them. This option doesn’t come in all vehicles yet, but as we all know, when it works in certain vehicles, it won’t be long until most manufactures will offer it as standard equipment.

Once the driver inputs the cruise control settings mentioned above, other than steering, the vehicle is basically in control. When cruising, if the vehicle in front of you slows, your vehicle will reduce speed to maintain a safe distance. When the vehicle in front either moves out of the way or speeds up, your vehicle will accelerate to return to your preset speed. This is accomplished by a combination of sensors and cameras. This option is often paired up with additional options like lane-keeping assistance, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking.

I can tell you from experience, driving a vehicle equipped with adaptive cruise control is awesome. If you have an extended commute, you may want to check out vehicles with this option.

The second question is, “What are active headlamps?”

This active headlamp option, which was designed to give the driver better visibility when traveling on winding roads, gives your headlights the ability to move to the right or left from the straight-ahead position. The headlight movement is accomplished using motors controlled by sensors in the steering system. The sensors send a signal to a control unit telling it what direction the driver is steering, and, in turn, activates the motors to move the light assemblies in that direction.

At this time, this option is only available on select models and is not very useful unless your commute involves very winding roads.

The third and final question this month is, “Is the Pro Trailer Backup Assist™ option worth getting for my Ford truck?”

Per, a driver enters a few measurements into the Pro Trailer Backup Assist™ system, then a camera tracks the trailer position while you’re backing up your truck and guiding the trailer. You rotate the knob left or right in the direction you want the trailer to go while the system controls the steering wheel.

It all depends on your comfort level when backing up your trailer. If you are new at trailer backing, then this option is definitely for you. If you’ve had your trailer for a while and used it several times, I don’t believe an option like this is worth it.

I have a great deal of experience towing. I’ve towed everything from a 53-foot trailer to a short 15-foot water buffalo when I was in the Navy. It was always more difficult for me to back up the shorter pieces of equipment than the larger ones. I still do my fair share of towing cars, boats and Jet Ski trailers. I think I would find myself fighting with a truck that is trying to do something for me that I am very comfortable doing myself.

Keep in mind that all of these options or gadgets, as I call them, come with a price tag. Always weigh the pros and cons of any option to determine if it is worth it to you when buying a vehicle. Don’t be afraid to ask the “What is this? What does it do? Will I use it?” questions you have. Make sure you get the answers and try out every option and gadget before you take any money out of your pocket.

From Headlights To Taillights: Springing Ahead With Vehicle Maintenance

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director. Originally published in the February 26, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage.

It’s been a snowy February, but per Punxsutawney Phil, spring is on its way. It’s just going to take a little while longer to get here. As we’re preparing to say goodbye to snow and hello to warmer weather, we’re receiving questions about car maintenance that may be required after the long, cold winter. Let’s get to them so you can plan ahead.

Our first question is, “Should my car battery be replaced after the long winter we’re experiencing this year?”

Before you go and replace your battery, I recommend having it inspected and tested first. As I said in a previous column, your vehicle battery is one of — if not the most — important component to get your vehicle through a rough winter. If you had your battery inspected and tested in the fall, you should have it re-tested. Even though it had enough life to get you through the winter, that doesn’t mean its power is stable enough to keep you going throughout the spring and into summer. Extended periods of below-freezing temperatures, which we’ve experienced this year, weaken and take a lot out of a battery. Take the time now to get a new inspection and test to determine if your battery requires replacement.

“Does my engine oil need to be changed after the cold winter months?” is our second question.

When we discussed oil change intervals in a previous column, I recommended that you keep your maintenance schedule on track throughout the year and I’m sticking with that recommendation. Oil changes are the most economical maintenance you can do to drastically extend the life of your vehicle’s engine. Don’t go beyond the recommended time or mileage between oil changes, but you can change your vehicle’s oil sooner or more often than recommended. As the vehicle owner, it’s your call on whether you think the mileage or time is close enough to put fresh oil in your engine.

“Is there such a thing as summer and winter air that I should put in my tires?” is our third question.

There is no such thing as summer or winter air. It’s just compressed air.

You can, however, have your tires inflated with nitrogen, which helps eliminate oxidation and corrosion. Nitrogen pressure in a tire will bleed off or dissipate much slower than compressed air and you’ll see slightly higher fuel mileage with it. If you’re thinking about using nitrogen, it is considered a green alternative, which means it’s better for the environment. One thing to keep in mind, with compressed air, you can check and adjust your own tire pressure. If you use nitrogen, you’ll have to find a repair shop equipped with it to adjust your pressure. It will cost you to have your tires inflated with nitrogen more than you pay for compressed air.

Our final question is actually two questions, “How do I clean the buildup of salt and chemicals that accumulated under my car over the winter?” and “Can I do it myself?”

The best way to clean the underbody of your vehicle is by using a pressure washer. Most repair shops have pressure washers that are used for a variety of jobs, including cleaning customer vehicle undercarriages. These pressure washers come in many different pressures and gallons per minute. They also have several different spray tips, from wide-angle to a pencil spray, and include attachments that connect to the hose and slide under the vehicle, making it easier for technicians to get the undercarriage clean. Prices range for this service at repair shops or body shops.

Can you do it yourself? Yes, but you’ll have to purchase a pressure washer and attachments. The consumer versions come in a variety of pressures and usually two power options, gasoline or electric. The good news is, you have choices for your individual needs and situations. Keep in mind, to make any of these pressure washers work as designed, you will need a water supply. Lastly, you have to be ready to get wet!

With these steps and, of course, guidance from your automotive technician, your vehicle will be back in shape after enduring a cold and snowy northeastern Pennsylvania winter. I’m not sure about you, but I’m hoping next year Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow and we’ll get an early spring.