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.

Nose to tail: Lifestyles of the common cat

By: Amanda Melnyk, AS, CVT, ’09 

Originally published in the March 25, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage.

This month’s column is all about the different types and lifestyles of Felis catus: our friend, the domestic cat. So, let’s jump right in.

An indoor pet cat, let’s call her Maddie, watches the outside world through her favorite window. Not only does she watch neighbors, birds, and chipmunks go about their day, but other domestic cats as well!

These unowned outdoor cats are also known as “community cats,” and this term refers to any member of the Felis catus species that roam freely throughout the community, with or without human interaction/socialization. One of these community felines, a friendly intact male stray named Viktor, will soon make his way into a permanent indoor home. The other cat commonly seen coming and going (mostly at night) is called Freddy but is not interested in any human interaction, period.

Our first question is, “What terms can we use to describe the different lifestyles of Maddie, Viktor and Feral Freddy, who are all considered domestic cats?”

• Pet: Can be strictly indoor, outdoor or both. They, like Maddie, are well socialized and familiar with people.

• Stray: Abandoned outdoor cat, like Viktor, who has had human interaction/socialization at some point in their life or are young enough to be socialized and introduced into a household.

• Feral: Wild cats, like our friend Freddy, are part of the environment. They are not socialized with humans and are not interested in living in a household among humans.

“How can we tell the difference between these cats?” is our second question.

Focusing on stray (Viktor) vs. feral (Freddy), the following tips will help differentiate between the two. Please keep in mind, all cats are individual and may not follow our human criteria!

Appearance: As a stray, Viktor’s appearance is dirty and messy. They’re not accustomed to living outside. A feral cat, like Freddy, has a clean, well-kept hair coat because they adapted to living outside.

Schedule: You may see strays in your neighborhoods during the daytime, nighttime, or all hours. A feral cat will mostly make their rounds at night, including dawn and dusk.

Sociability with humans, including responsiveness and cage behavior: A stray may approach people or living areas (porches/cars), tolerate being touched with time, respond to household sounds such as opening a food can or treat bag, and eat with humans near. These cats may have a collar and are vocal when responding to human interaction. They may hiss or growl to show anxiety, and when put into a cage/confinement. They also may come to the front of the cage, rub on it, act friendly and relax over time.

A feral cat cannot be approached or touched and will hide. These cats also will not show any familiarity with or will ignore, household sounds. They are silent around humans and will only eat once humans are gone if food is available. If put into a cage or confinement, they will get as far back as possible and may lash out with aggression. They may also climb and bang around if startled, threatened or cornered. These cats will remain tense and unsocial.

When in a stressful situation, a stray like Viktor MAY act like a feral cat, so please keep a safe distance when interacting with any community cat!

Sociability with other cats: Strays are most likely to live alone and be seen independently, while feral cats may be accustomed to living in a feral cat colony.

Lastly, here is some information to help you help our domestic cat friends who are strays or feral like Viktor or Freddy.

If you’re thinking about helping to spay/neuter strays or feral cats, a TNR (trap, neuter, and release) program may be available through local public (mobile) spay/neuter clinics.

When you see feral cats in your neighborhoods, leave them be. They are wild and have adapted to the environment. If you run across a friendly stray who was introduced to humans before becoming feral, there may be a chance for adoption.

Please consult with your local community office about “community cats” to receive specific information and ordinances.

Education is the best tool for helping all cats included in the domestic cat species! Additional resources and information are available through:

Amanda Melnyk, AS, CVT, ’09 JC Alumni, is a full-time CVT Instructor at Johnson College’s veterinary nursing program as well as a clinical rotation instructor at the Animal Care Center on campus. She has been a part of the veterinary field for 14 years.

Nose to Tail: Clean Teeth, Healthy Pets

By Kimberly Konopka, BS, AS, CVT, ESMT, Program Director of the Veterinary Nursing Program at Johnson College

Originally published in the February 25, 2022 edition of the Valley Advantage.

We brush our teeth, floss, and gargle mouthwash every day to keep our teeth and mouth healthy. What about your pets’ dental care? Is it as essential to their overall health as it is ours? Those are the types of questions we recently received and will try to answer.

“My veterinarian said that my pet needs a dental exam. Is this true?”

The simple answer is YES! Our pets’ mouths are very similar to our own and need attention as well. Food particles and bacteria cause a film to form known as plaque, which then hardens to form tartar.

This is that hard yellow- to brown-colored build-up you may notice on teeth, especially the back molars. Not only is it unsightly, but without proper attention, it may lead to other health concerns.

The bacteria can also invade the gums, causing pain and inflammation known as gingivitis, leading to periodontal disease and tooth loss. There is evidence that dental disease is associated with cardiopulmonary diseases such as endocarditis, inflammation of the liver and kidney disease. This stems from the bacteria entering the bloodstream and traveling to these vital organs. A procedure called dental prophylaxis,

done by a veterinary professional, assists in helping to keep all these issues at bay.

“My pet is only 5 years old. Can I wait until he/she is older to talk to my Vet about dental health?”

Don’t wait! Issues can start in a very young pet, and it’s not uncommon for them to arise at the age of 4-5 years. How do you know if your pet needs a dental exam? During their annual wellness exam, the veterinarian may notice an issue on the visual exam and recommend scheduling the procedure.

There are also signs that your pet may show before the vet visit, which may include:

Pain: Gingivitis and dental disease cause inflammation which is painful. Unfortunately, your pets cannot verbally express that they’re in pain, and often low levels of pain go unnoticed, or your pet becomes accustomed to it over time. If the pain becomes significant enough, your pet may stop eating. You may also notice a difference or reduction in your pet’s level of play or interaction. If the mouth hurts, it makes sense that they may not want to play fetch or tug.

Halitosis, or bad breath: As dental disease progresses, you may notice halitosis. It may become so overpowering that it can be detected from several feet away!

Loss of teeth: When the bacteria invade below the gum line, it can eat away at the support structure of the tooth. This abscess may form along the root of the tooth as well. When the support structures become weak enough, the tooth will become loose and potentially fall out.

“What should I expect to occur for a dental prophylactic procedure?”

It’s far more detailed than one may think. Unfortunately, your pet is unlike a human in this respect and not willing to sit back and open wide. There are several steps involved in the process.

Pre-anesthetic blood work: Your pet will need to go under general anesthesia to have a proper dental cleaning and evaluation of the oral cavity.

Pre-dental radiographs: Like their human counterpart, your pet will have dental radiographs to fully evaluate above and below the gum line giving the veterinarian a better image of the teeth, support structures and overall health of the mouth.

Ultrasonic scaling: This is performed utilizing the same equipment your dentist uses and helps remove the plaque and tartar on the tooth surface above the gum line.

Subgingival hand scaling: Plaque and tarter that lies below the gum line is removed utilizing special hand scaling instruments, the same procedure as you would receive at the dentist.

Extractions, if necessary: This procedure can be as simple as touching a loose tooth, so it pops out, or advanced enough that it requires drills, cutting wheels, flaps and sutures. Some of those teeth have three roots.

Polishing: Veterinary polishing paste is bubblegum flavored, too. A sleeping pet doesn’t care if it’s not beef-flavored. This step serves a purpose other than making the teeth look good. The polish is slightly abrasive, making the tooth have a very smooth surface removing microscopic divots where the bacteria can cling onto, which starts the entire process over again.

Recovery: Once complete, your pet will be moved to a recovery location and closely monitored until discharge. Your veterinary staff will inform you of post-anesthesia/post dental care.

At-home dental care is easy to do and doesn’t require much time or many products. All you need to get started are pet toothpaste, which is necessary because human toothpaste is toxic to pets, and a pet toothbrush. You’re ready to go!

Nose to Tail: Keeping pets safe in winter weather

By Dr. Meg Varner-Soden, Johnson College’s Veterinary Nursing Instructor

Originally published in the January 28, 2022 edition of the Valley Advantage.

We’re starting 2022 with a new pets column to help keep your pets healthy and safe. This month, Johnson College’s Dr. Meg Varner-Soden, DVM, talks about some winter hazards that can harm your pets and what we need to do when they’re exposed to them. Let’s get started.

Ice melts

These products are typically made of salt, like potassium chloride or calcium chloride. Their purpose is to lower the freezing point of water to reduce ice formation on sidewalks and provide more traction.

Our dogs and outdoor cats are at risk of developing irritation of the paw pads, or the webbing of the skin between them, when coming into prolonged contact with these salts. They are also at risk of ingesting them — for example, licking their feet upon coming indoors, eating snow in the yard where ice melt was sprinkled, or mischievously getting into a bag of it when not securely stored.

Ingestion of small volumes can trigger gastrointestinal distress such as vomiting and diarrhea. If your pet were to eat a more substantial amount, problems like mouth ulceration or changes in the body’s electrolytes might occur. Severe derangements of the body’s sodium levels may lead to tremors or seizures.

To help minimize paw issues:

• Wipe their paws immediately upon coming back into the house.

• Teach your dog to tolerate booties on their feet for use during walks.

• Apply paw wax or balm before outings.

You can look specifically for “pet-friendly” ice melt products that are typically safer, or consider using kitty litter or sand. Please note that these products may be safer but all still carry some risk of tummy issues if ingested. Also, remember that you can control what is used on your premises but not necessarily everywhere else you and Fido will roam.


This active toxic ingredient is a sweet-tasting alcohol derivative called ethylene glycol. The most common source of this is radiator coolant, but other liquids that may contain it include motor oil, brake fluid, de-icing windshield wiper fluid, wood stains, paints and solvents.

It can also hide in-home solar units, portable basketball post bases and even snow globes. Some people add antifreeze solutions in seasonally used toilet bowls (such as in cabins) to prevent them from freezing over the winter and forget about it until the warmer months. This can be especially dangerous to dogs and cats who drink from toilets!

Pet owners need to be extremely vigilant in how their antifreeze products are used and stored. Only a few tablespoons, or less if the animal is small, may be a fatal dose. When ingested, ethylene glycol quickly leads to life-threatening acute kidney failure that may be fatal by 72 hours post-exposure.

Clinical signs that an animal may show during toxicosis include depression, disorientation and drunken behavior. Also look for excessive drooling, vomiting, increased drinking and urination, and possibly seizures and coma. A correct and prompt diagnosis is essential, and antidote treatment must be started within three hours for cats and eight hours for dogs, so get to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Those with families should realize that this can also be a toxin to curious young children.


Most of our beloved companions are acclimated to the indoors with us. Chances are, if you are cold and need to bundle up, so do they. Your pet can become hypothermic if too much time is spent outdoors, unprotected during frigid weather.

Dogs and cats have a higher average body temperature than humans do. Neglectful exposure to the elements is such a concern that a Pennsylvania law known as Libre’s Law was signed by Governor Tom Wolf in 2017, outlawing the tethering of pets out of doors for more than 30 minutes during freezing weather, meaning under 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prolonged low body temperature wreaks havoc in the body in many ways, ranging from harming the heart and blood vessels to debilitating the immune system and the brain. Frostbite is a possibility. Clinical signs of hypothermia include shivering, lethargy, disorientation and incoordination, rigid muscles and decreased heart and respiratory rates.

These issues can progress to a state of shock, brain impairment, coma and death. The best treatment for this condition is prevention. Careful external rewarming is needed to counteract this situation, and prompt veterinary attention may be necessary in the more severe cases.

Johnson College Receives $7,500 Grant from the Robert H. Spitz Foundation

Johnson College has been awarded a $7,500 grant from the Robert H. Spitz Foundation, managed by the Scranton Area Community Foundation. This grant will support the College’s Animal Care Clinic and pet owners in our community.  

Johnson College will purchase medical equipment that will help enhance the safety and comfort of patients receiving surgical care. The grant will give Johnson College Veterinary Nursing Program students valuable clinical experience preparing them to enter into the workforce or advance their careers.  

As many people struggle to feed their families every week, family pets, while loved dearly, are not always updated on vaccines and spay/neuter procedures until finances are available. This grant will help these families take proper care of and responsibility for their pets by providing up to 20 reduced-cost spay/neuter surgeries for qualifying low-income families. The grant will also provide low-cost rabies vaccines.

Johnson College’s Veterinary Nursing Program prepares students to join an animal care team as entry-level technicians. Their tasks can include collecting samples, performing lab tests, taking radiographs, preparing the surgical suite, assisting in surgery, monitoring anesthesia, and providing general nursing care to patients. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredits the program. Students become Certified Veterinary Technicians upon passing the Veterinary Technician National Exam.  

“Through this grant, we are excited to give low-income pet-owning families peace of mind that their pet is cared for without incurring financial hardships,” said Dr. Katie Leonard, President & CEO of Johnson College. “Equipment purchased will help our Veterinary Nursing Program students with the hands-on training they need to pass their national exams and enter the workforce.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Johnson College has been awarded a $7,500 grant from the Robert H. Spitz Foundation, managed by the Scranton Area Community Foundation. This grant will support the College’s Animal Care Clinic and pet owners in our community. Pictured left to right: Dr. Katie Leonard, President & CEO, Johnson College, Karen Baker, Sr. Director of College Advancement, Johnson College, Cathy Fitzpatrick, Grants and Scholarships Manager, The Scranton Area Community Foundation, and Jack Nogi, Trustee, Robert H. Spitz Foundation.

Johnson College Renames Veterinary Technology Associate Program to Veterinary Nursing

Johnson College has renamed its two-year Veterinary Technology Associate in Science Degree Program to Veterinary Nursing. Johnson College joins a movement within the Veterinary Science industry, being the 11th college and university to rename its Veterinary Technology program.

This name change more accurately describes the nature of the program and better aligns it with the skills needed in the Veterinary Science field.

Veterinary Nursing will continue to be a two-year associate degree program preparing students to take the Veterinary Technician National Exam. In addition, students earn the credentials required to become entry-level Veterinary technicians. Last year, 100% of this program’s graduates who took the VTNE passed. Currently, the College has a three-year Veterinary Technician National Exam average pass rate of 94%.

“We are incredibly excited about this change and look forward to watching our graduates succeed in the Veterinary Technology industry,” said Bill Burke, M.S., Johnson College’s Vice President of Student and Academic Affairs. “Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this industry has a 16% Growth potential through 2029.”

As technicians, graduates collect samples, perform lab tests, take radiographs, prepare the surgical suite, assist in surgery, monitor anesthesia, and provide general nursing care to patients. Second-year students in the program will still be required to complete clinical rotations in the on-campus Animal Care Center.

For more information about Johnson College’s Veterinary Nursing program visit or contact the Johnson College Enrollment team at 570-702-8556 or

Johnson College provides real-world, hands-on learning in a caring environment and prepares graduates to enter into or advance their careers. Johnson College degrees become essential careers. Johnson College was founded in 1912 and is the region’s premier technical college, offering 15 associate degree and 3 academic certificate programs. A low student-to-teacher ratio supports an emphasis on hands-on instruction. Located in Scranton on a 44-acre campus, the College is an accredited, private, non-profit, co-educational institution with a strong tradition of working with regional businesses and industries to ensure a skilled and qualified workforce. For additional information on Johnson College, please call 1-800-2-WE-WORK, email, or visit