How 5 Minutes A Day Can Condition Your Pet To Love Nail Trims

Train your pet to like getting their nails trimmed

Most of the time it is a struggle! We do this crazy dance around the room seeking to restrain pets with a gentle control that lets us safely trim their nails. They hate having their nails trimmed! We have to hold the foot still in order to trim the nails properly, but dogs (and Cats!) inevitably flee from a stranger touching their feet.

We can take our time and counter condition pets to standing for and even enjoying having their nails trimmed. Counter Conditioning is a behavior modification term that means to condition an animal to something that the opposite of their natural way. This is where you will see us use a considerate approach to the nail trimming and use lots of rewards and praise to make the pet feel good about the nail trim. Also we try to decrease the visual and auditory stimulation by covering the sounds of the nail trimmer with our talking and hiding the doctor and the nail trimmers from the patient the best that we can. But, is it their natural way to hate having their nails trimmed? Were they born this way? NO. In actuality, we “conditioned” them to hate the nail trim. If we conditioned them this way in the first place, we should not complain about the long process of “counter conditioning.”

dog nail trimmingA much easier way would be to condition our pets to enjoy nail trimming in the first place. This is done on a daily basis for the first several weeks that you have your pet. Gently touching the feet and tapping the nails with the nail trimmers, giving lots of praise and reward when the nail trimmers come out. The key is to go at their own pace, stopping and slowing progress at the first sign of fear, anxiety or stress. Remember, we are trying to make them love the nail trimmers, we are not trying the get the nails trimmed—that will come in time.

Think of something we often do unconsciously; we condition them to love the food dish. When we pick up the food dish each day to fill it with their favorite, what do they do? They come running, jumping for joy. They love this inanimate object that is their food dish. We have conditioned them to think the dish “is” food they love it so much. If we put some thought and planning into it, we could make them love other inanimate objects such as the nail trimmers. In this video, I talk to Shane Gentry of Sally Said So Dog Training and he demonstrates how 5 minutes a day for a few weeks can lead to a lifelong stress free relationship with your pet.

Now think about these ideas: Can you make her love the toothbrush? Ear cleaner? Eye drops? Her crate? The car?

Click here for other grooming tips!

Don’t feed your pets people food this holiday season!

Family Vet’s Dr. Jeff Smith recently did a segment on WSLS10 about what foods to avoid giving your furry friend, especially this holiday season. Check it out here:



Alphie is a very shy, sweet personality and is precious beyond words to his owner.  He is a thin dog and only middle aged – to young to be walking with such a significant limp.  It seemed that one of his rear legs or something in his rear end was painful.

He had visited at least one other veterinarian in Danville, Virginia and diagnosed with a possible cruciate ligament rupture.  The vet was unable work with him because he was to “mean,” and Alphie was sent to see a specialist in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The specialist was unable to examine Alphie, but was confident that it was not a cruciate ligament rupture that was causing the problem.  Alphie was treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to no avail.  He was still very painful and his owner had to be very careful not to hurt him when picking him up, or walking him.

When Alphie came to Mount Hermon Family Vet, he was wary of animal hospitals and kept himself curled up under the chair, protected behind his owner’s legs.  Dr. Smith came in the room, introduced himself and took Alphie’s medical record and went to the corner of the room and sat on the floor!

This seemed a little strange at first, but as Dr. Smith and the owner talked about the chain of events that brought Alphie to this visit, Dr. Smith would throw little dog treats along the floor just close enough for Alphie to reach from the safety of his hiding space.  Alphie liked the treats and would venture out from under the chair to reach the treats that didn’t quite make it to him and over the next 10 minutes, he was taking the treats from Dr. Smith hand.  Dr. Smith started the pet Alphie and they made friends that day.

Dr. Smith notice that Alphie had a hump in the middle of his back and was walking very stiffly.  With some gently and careful manipulation, Dr. Smith was able to get a blood sample from Alphie and take an X-ray of his spine.

It turns out that Alphie had a serious case of discospondylitis.  He had an infection in his spine that was causing the pain in his lower back that radiated down his legs.  Alphie went on to a consultation with a veterinary neurologist and was on long term antibiotics.

Alphie fully recovered from the disease and lives happily now without any side effects!

Dr. Smith has a special interest in animal behavior and recognized the shyness and fear in Alphie immediately and knew that he would have to develop a trust with Alphie before trying to examine Alphie or run any tests.  Animals experience emotional stress as well as physical pain and recognizing that made a big difference in Alphie’s life.

Too Many Cats!

A Danville man was having trouble with stray cats accumulating around his house, it was hard to determine when the problem started, but it was definitely beginning to get out of hand.  He had about 9 cats and springtime breeding season was approaching.

He came to see us at The Family Vet and Dr. Smith was eager to help.  The man realized that living outside was not a good life for the cats as several had been killed in car accidents already.

We determined that 2 things were important, first, we had to stop the breeding and second, we had to find homes for all the cats.  Dr. Smith agreed to spay or neuter the cats at a reduced cost and the man was better able to find homes for the cats having just been spayed and vaccinated for rabies.

Six female cats will have an average litter of five kittens twice yearly.  If we had waited another year, the cat population would have grown exponentially!

Iris Is About 12 Years Old

Iris is about 12 years old, her cataracts have rendered her completely blind, and her eyes have a beautiful pearlescent shine that mirrors her personality.  She was found in Pittsylvanina County wandering in the middle of the road.

We will never know what her life was like before she was found, but Iris’ story is one that speaks to the core of who we are and what we do.  The woman who found Iris is a true animal lover and knew immediately that no one cared for her and it was unlikely that she would ever be adopted.  She also knew that she had to give Iris a chance at a better life for the days ahead.

Iris is a poodle mix and was matted and dirty with twigs and leaves woven into her hair.  One of our dedicated associates stayed after work the day Iris came in to shear the mats and bathe her.  You could see the life come back into Iris almost immediately.

We worked with the Danville Area Humane Society to look for her owner and then find her a home.  The Humane Society found her a foster home and paid for her spay.  Iris had a mammary tumor remove and extensive dental work to clear the horrible infection in her mouth.  Iris is diabetic had to be is now regulated on insulin.  She has gain weight and energy in short time she has been in her new home.  She has found a permanent home out of state and live a much deserved pampered life.  Iris has an appointment with the veterinary ophthalmologist to have her cataracts evaluated for removal.

Iris’ story is a metaphor for who we are.  A helpless animal is rescued by a selfless good Samaritan and a community of people come together to alleviate suffering in a very specific way.  Seeing the goodness in people, seeing Iris happy, seeing people work together, and knowing that you made a difference is very gratifying.




World Rabies Day is September 28, 2015, and Rabies Awareness Week is September 28 – October 3. This is a good time to remind everyone how important it is to keep your pet’s rabies vaccination up to date.

Rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the nervous system of almost all mammals. It does not infect birds, reptiles or amphibians. It is spread by contact with an infected animal’s saliva through a bite wound or a break in the skin. Common carriers of the virus include skunks, raccoons, foxes, and bats. A rabid animal can be infectious with the virus up to 20 days, potentially infecting other animals and spreading the virus.

Symptoms in infected animals usually appear within 2-24 weeks. There are three different forms of the disease that rabid animals will take. One form is that the animal becomes nervous, anxious and has a fever. Another form is when the animal becomes depressed and hides, often called the “dumb” form. The most common form, the “furious” form, is when the animal displays aggression, seizures, frenzied behavior, and foaming at the mouth. Death usually occurs within 2-7 days after symptoms appear.

There is no cure for rabies. The test that verifies the presence of the virus is done postmortem by testing brain tissue. The best protection for you and your pets is to make sure all of your pets, including cats, are kept current on their rabies vaccinations.

If you have any questions or concerns about a possible rabid animal, please contact your local animal control office or your veterinarian. Report any human bite wounds to your local health department and animal control authorities. They will inform you what you should do for yourself and your pet. Please keep all of your pets current on their rabies vaccinations!

Sophia P. Decker is a Licensed Veterinary Technician

Picture of a golden retriever dog

Senior Pet Awareness

by Sophia P. Decker, LVT

Is your pet a “senior citizen”?  If your pet is seven years or older, he is considered a mature or senior pet.  Some people are surprised by this fact.  Pets do age faster than we do, and as your pet ages, there are several medical conditions that can occur.  Common conditions that are seen in older pets include osteoarthritis, kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease, growths, cancer and hormonal disorders.  Frequent medical checkups and laboratory testing are recommended to catch any early signs of disease.    Senior lab tests include a complete blood count, a urinalysis, a general chemistry panel, a fecal check, and a thyroid test.  Most of these tests can be done in-house at your veterinarian’s office.

Golden retriever dog

When you take your senior pet to the veterinarian’s office for his next checkup, here is a list of items you should discuss with your veterinarian about your pet.

  • Easy accessibility to litter box, food, and bed for cats
  • Increased drinking, urination, and incontinence
  • Ability to climb stairs
  • Mobility and joint health
  • Nutrition and weight management
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Dental care
  • Cold/heat intolerance
  • Any growths or changes in growths
  • Changes in appetite

The following is a list of signs that indicate a problem with your senior pet.  If you notice any of these signs, make an appointment to have your pet seen by a veterinarian.  The sooner a problem can be diagnosed, the more treatment options you will have for your pet.  With advancements in nutrition, diagnostics, and treatment, our pets are living longer and healthier lives.

  • Significant and sustained increase in water consumption or urination
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Significant and sustained changes in appetite
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Difficulty passing stool/urine or blood in stool/urine
  • Diarrhea lasting more than three days
  • Changes in housetraining
  • Lameness
  • Noticeable change in vision
  • Foul mouth odor and inability to chew dry food
  • Hair loss
  • Excessive panting or breathing heavily at rest
  • Sudden collapse or weakness
  • Seizures
  • Persistent coughing or gagging
  • Increased size of abdomen
  • Increased amount of sleeping

Your pet’s senses gradually become less sharp as he ages.  You will probably notice subtle changes in sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell over time.  You may also notice cognitive and behavioral changes as well.  Keep your senior pet mentally and physically active as much as possible to keep his mind and senses sharp.  If you have any questions about your senior pet’s health, call or visit your veterinarian.  Older pets still have lots of love to give!


Danville VA Walking Trails For You and Your Dog

Danville VA Walking Trails For You and Your Dog

Fall is a wonderful time of year to take your dog for walks or hikes.  The temperature begins to drop, and the air is cool and crisp.  The green leaves of summer begin turning into fall’s beautiful colors of red, orange, and yellow.  There are many places available within an hour’s drive to take your dog for an adventurous walk or jog.  Before you head out on the trail, though, be sure your dog is current on vaccinations, especially rabies, and is wearing a collar or harness with an ID tag attached. And as a responsible dog owner, remember to bring your leash and poop bags!

There are several public areas to walk your dog right here in Halifax County.  The newest spot is the Tobacco Heritage Trail located at the old cotton mill in South Boston, VA.  It is a flat trail made of gravel and rock dust.  Walkers, runners, horseback riders and bicyclists use this 2.68 mile trail that goes from the cotton mill to the edge of the Berry Hill Plantation along the Dan River.  There are ½ mile markers and benches along the way plus a picnic shelter overlooking the bird observation area.  For more information or questions, please call Heather Susee at (434) 447-7101.

The Paul C. Edmunds Memorial Park is located on Dan River Church Road in South Boston, VA.  The park is open year round and includes a pond, picnic areas, the Serenity Garden, botanical gardens, and a disc golf course.  The Woodlands Trail is located near the botanical gardens, or you can walk the 3.1 mile cross country course that starts nears the corn silos.  If you want to see what the park has to offer, you can just meander around.  Visit for more information.

Danville VA Walking Trails For You and Your DogThere are two state parks located in Halifax County.  Staunton River Battlefield State Park is located in Clover, VA.  There are two trails available for walking your dog.  The trail from the Clover Visitor Center is 1 mile long, and has two observation towers for bird watching.  The trail from the Staunton River Bridge to Randolph is 0.8 mile long.  It has two pedestrian bridges built on the original stone railroad piers.  For more information, call (434) 454-4312, or visit

The other state park is Staunton River State Park located in Scottsburg, VA.  The main walking trail in the park is the River Bank Trail which is an 8.5 mile loop around the perimeter of the park.  It is a multi-use trail for walkers, runners, horseback riders, and mountain bikes.  The trail is mostly shaded with bridges, benches, and views of the river.  There are several other trails that branch off of the main trail that vary in distances.  There is a trail map available at the park or at  You can also call (434) 572-4623 for more information.

Just a short distance away is Occoneechee State Park in Clarksville, VA.  It is located right on Buggs Island Lake just outside the town limits.  These dirt trails are multi-use for walkers, runners, horseback riders and bicyclists.  The longest trail is the Panhandle Trail which is 7.5 miles long.  There are several shorter trails throughout the park and campground areas.  Visits for more information.  You can also call (434) 374-2210.

If you want to take a short road trip with your dog, Danville and Lynchburg offer some nice trails.  On the way to Danville at Ringgold, VA, you will find the Richmond & Danville Rail-Trail.  The trail has the same concept as the Tobacco Heritage Trail because it was built on an old railroad bed.  The Ringgold Trail is a multi-use trail for walkers, runners, horseback riders, and bicyclists that is 5.5 miles long and is made with crushed stone.  Along the way, there is a tunnel and a long bridge overlooking a marsh area.  The most used trailhead is the old Ringgold Depot located on Ringgold Depot Road.  The trail ends at Kerns Church Road in Sutherlin, VA.

The City of Danville has the beautiful Riverwalk Trail and Angler’s Park trail system.  The Riverwalk is paved and runs alongside the Dan River offering nice views of the river.  It is a multi-use trail that has trailheads at Crossing at the Dan, Dan Daniel Memorial Park, and Angler’s Park.  It is a very popular trail that plays host to several 5K races during the year.  For more information, call (434) 799-5215, or visit

If you are looking for a little more adventure, Angler’s Park may be for you.  It is a system of single-track mountain bike trails throughout the woods at the park.  They are dirt trails that go over bridges, up and down hills, and over rocks and tree roots.  There is a trail map at the trailhead showing the various trails with their degree of difficulty and lengths.  These are fun trails if you truly want to be in the woods hiking.  Remember to yield to the mountain bikers on the trail.  For more information, call (434) 799-5215.

Two places in Lynchburg that are good walking areas for you and your dog are Blackwater Creek Bikeway and Peaksview Park.  Blackwater Creek is a beautiful paved walkway right through the middle of the City of Lynchburg.  Once you get on the trail, you will forget that you are in a city.  The full length of the bikeway is 3 miles, but there are several side trails as well.  It is well shaded with mile markers, and is a very popular trail for people to walk or jog with their dogs.  The Ed Page Trailhead located at 1720 Langhorne Road has a restroom facility and water bowls for your dog.  Call (434) 856-2489 or visit for more information.

Peaksview Park is one of many parks in the Lynchburg area.  It is located at 170 Ivy Creek Lane off of Highway 501 in the Boonsboro area.  Ivy Creek Greenway runs parallel to Ivy Creek in the center of the park.  The greenway is paved and is 1.7 miles long.  There are also mountain bike trails located in the Bill Foot Recreation Area within the park.  The Lynchburg Humane Society sponsors several fundraising events and walks in the park throughout the year.  For more information, visit, or call (434) 856-2489.

If you are looking for trails with spectacular views, you need to visit Peaks of Otter in Bedford, VA.  It is a bit of a drive, so you may want to make it a day trip.  Or make it a weekend trip since the lodge offers pet friendly rooms.  There is also a restaurant at the lodge.  There are five trails at the Peaks of Otter for you to choose from.  The most famous is Sharp Top Trail which is a 1.5 mile strenuous trail to the summit of the mountain.  Another choice is Flat Top Trail which is a 4.4 mile strenuous trail to the summit of Flat Top Mountain.  For an easy walk, take the 1 mile Abbott Lake Trail around Abbott Lake located at the base of Sharp Top Mountain.  At the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center, you can choose between the Harkening Hill Trail and the Johnson Farm Trail.   The Harkening Hill Trail is a 3.3 mile moderate trail, and the Johnson Farm Trail is a 2.1 mile moderate trail that leads to Johnson Farm. Peaks of Otter is located at 85554 Blue ridge Parkway.  Visit, or call 866-387-9905 for more information.

As you can see, there is no storage of trails and parks for you and your dog to enjoy this fall.  Be safe on the trails, and have fun walking or hiking with your dog!

Izzy Gets Spayed


What happens when your dog or cat gets spayed or neutered?

I think my cat’s in heat, when can I get her spayed?

What is a spay anyway?

I get these questions all the time. Let’s follow along with Izzy as she comes in for her surgery and we will see what happens throughout the process.

The proper medical term for a spay surgery is actually ovariohysterectomy, “ovario-“ meaning ovary, “hyster-“ meaning uterus and “-ectomy” meaning remove.  Yes!  We actually remove the uterus and the ovaries during the spay procedure.  This is a major abdominal surgery and in our animal hospital in Danville, Virginia, we follow the same types of procedures that take place with hysterectomies in human hospitals.

Izzy’s day starts early as she skips breakfast (sorry Izzy anesthesia sometimes can make patients nauseous), and arrives at Mount Hermon Animal Clinic by 9 am on the day of surgery.  Izzy and her parents meet with a Candace, a veterinary technician in a private exam room to go over the day’s plan and address any concerns.  Next we collect a small blood sample from Izzy and run a health screen to check for underlying problems that could interfere with her anesthesia or surgery.  Izzy’s safety is our number one priority.

Dr. Smith performs a complete physical exam from head to tail and reviews Izzy’s blood health screen before giving her the all clear for surgery.  Once that is done, we give Izzy an injection of medication to relieve anxiety and control pain.

Izzy goes to her private room where Candace makes her a comfortable bed; Izzy also has her own blanket with the smell of home to make her feel safe.  Keeping our patients comfortable is something we as animal lovers do instinctively, but it is also an important part of the surgical process.  We do everything that we can to relieve stress in our patients as stress hormone release and seriously affect blood pressure, complicate the management of anesthesia and even delay healing.

After about 30 minutes have passed, Izzy is feeling quiet relaxed, she doesn’t even seem to notice as Candace shaves and scrubs her front leg for the IV catheter.  With the IV catheter and fluids in place, we have the ability to control Izzy’s blood pressure and if necessary, administer emergency drugs.

Dr. Smith gives and IV infusion of propofol, and Izzy falls off to sleep.  She is completely anesthetized and is unaware of the endotracheal tube that is place in her windpipe before she is connected to anesthetic gasses.

Our team falls into a familiar routine, working quickly to minimize Izzy’s anesthesia time.  Andy connects her to a number of monitors and records her heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen level, temperature and  other vital parameters.  Candace clips and preps Izzy’s abdomen with surgical scrub.  Dr. Smith lubricates Izzy’s eyes and double checks Izzy’s pulse before going to the scrub sink to go through the surgeon’s ritual of triple scrubbing his hands and arms before surgery.

When Izzy’s abdomen has been adequately sanitized and prepared, she is moved from the prep table to the sterile surgery room where all staff are required to wear a cap and mask to prevent contamination.  Izzy is connected to all the monitors in the surgery room and Candace continues to closely supervise Izzy’s condition as Dr. Smith gowns, gloves and drapes Izzy’s abdomen.  Dr. Smith makes an incision and performs the ovariohysterectomy leaving just a small line of sutures less that an inch long in the middle of her belly.

Izzy is swaddled in heating pads and breathes from the oxygen machine for a few minutes as the anesthetic gasses clear from her body.  In just a short time, she is lifting her head bleary eyed, wondering where she is and Candace holds her until she is able to sit up on her own.  When she is ready, she goes back to her private room to rest.  Candace give’s Izzy’s parents a call and they are happy to hear that everything went well.  Izzy is still sleepy from the pain meds and is perfectly content to sleep away the night at the animal hospital.  Later that afternoon, Izzy is ready to go out to pee (don’t laugh IV fluids will do it to you).  The next morning, Izzy is ready to go home, she eats her breakfast and takes a pain tablet and acts like nothing has happened.