Ask the Pet Expert: Dr. Shelly Pancoast of Ocean State Veterinary Specialists

The experienced and knowledgable local veterinarian shares the secret to keeping man's best friend happy and healthy.

New to pet ownership? Dr. Shelly Pancoast, an emergency clinician at Ocean State Veterinary Specialists and president of the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association, answers all your questions on how to keep Fido happy and healthy.

What should I consider when choosing a veterinarian?

Unfortunately, there is a bit of a crisis in veterinary medicine now, with an extreme shortage of both veterinarians and veterinary technicians. This means that many veterinarians are booking out months ahead for wellness visits. My best advice for new puppy and kitten owners would be to call around to local vets and to see who is accepting new patients and book their next available appointment.


How often does my pet need regular checkups?

Young, healthy dogs and cats need yearly checkups, and as they get older, they should be examined by a veterinarian every six months, so that illnesses can be caught as early as possible when they are potentially easier to treat. 


Do I need pet insurance?

Absolutely, particularly if you’re adopting a young, healthy pet. As an ER veterinarian, I can say emphatically that pet insurance that covers accidents and illness is the most important thing you can do for your pet. In the best-case scenario, you’ll never need to use it, but in the worst-case scenario it could save your pet’s life. I would recommend a plan that covers at least $5,000 per year in case of accident or illness, and $10,000 or an unlimited yearly maximum is ideal.


Will high-end pet food make a difference in my animal’s health?

Definitely not. In fact, the opposite is likely true! In 2018, the FDA came out with a report because some of these grain-free diets, particularly the more expensive ones, were being linked to a fatal form of heart disease not previously seen outside of a few specific dog breeds. I exclusively recommend foods made by reputable companies with a long history of producing nutritionally balanced food and a commitment to advancing the science that keeps our pets healthy.


My dog got into some chocolate. What do I do?

The toxic component in chocolate is a compound similar to caffeine, and depending on the dose can cause vomiting, agitation, a rapid irregular heart rate and in very large doses, seizures and death. The toxin is most concentrated in semisweet, bakers and dark chocolate and cocoa powder. If your dog is smaller or has eaten one of the more dangerous types of chocolate, a call to your vet or the ASPCA Pet Poison Helpline can help you sort out what the risk is and whether your dog needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian. 


Are there any other common foods or plants that can pose a danger to my pet?

Marijuana toxicity in dogs has been increasing exponentially in the last few years. We suspect that most dogs are being exposed from discarded “roaches” that they pick up on walks, but we do also see dogs that are getting into their owner’s edibles. The signs tend to be pretty unique and include vomiting (typically just once), followed by wobbliness, dribbling urine, tremors and flinching, drowsiness or in higher dose ingestions, an almost comatose state. Luckily, most cases of marijuana toxicity improve without any treatment, though high dose ingestion may require a short hospital stay.