Internal Medicine: 703.330.8809
Surgery & Behavior Medicine: 703.361.0710

8614 Centreville Road, Manassas, VA 20110

The Dos and Don’ts for Traveling with Your Pet

Vacation time has arrived.  Many of us will bring the family pet(s) with us.  Here are some helpful tips for traveling with your pets.

  • Our pets like to be comfortable for the trip. They need the comforts of home to make sure the trip goes as smoothly as possible.  These include their blanket or bed, food and water bowls, and toys.
  • If your pet is not fond of traveling, there are medications your veterinarian can recommend or prescribe to make the experience a good one.
  • Safety in the car is important.  Pets can be injured in a moving vehicle. Whether we stop suddenly or an unfortunate accident occurs, we need to ensure that our pets are safe when they travel. If you are traveling with a small pet such as a dog or cat—a hard carrier or crate is the best option.  These can be seat belted in for security. Here are some crates for car travel: or
  • If your pet is large enough to ride in the seat beside you, then a safety belt is recommended. These enable your pet to be belted into the car safely. Here are some ideas for pet safety belts:
  • If you are flying with your pet—keep in mind that flying can be stressful for them.  Be sure to have your pet examined by your veterinarian prior to flying to give them a clean bill of health. Also,  make sure that your pet is the appropriate weight and in the correct carrier/carry-on for the specific airline on which you are traveling.  We only recommend flying with your pet if it is absolutely necessary.

Water Fun for You and Your Dog

Water activities are part of summer. Whether it’s fun at the beach, swimming in the pool, or adventures on a boat—your dog can enjoy these with you.  Please follow these safety tips to ensure a wonderful summer for you and your dog.

  • Not Every Dog is a Good Swimmer and Not Every Dog Can Swim—just because your dog enjoys the water, does not mean he/she can swim well. If you are planning a fun day on the boat, make sure that everyone, including your dog, has a life vest on for safety. You can find pet life vests almost anywhere. Here are a few options: and
  • Do Not Force Your Dog into the Water—water can be scary. Forcing your dog into the water can cause them to panic and drown. Fear can also set in and leave a permanent scar. The water can be fun, and making your dog comfortable with it is the best way to approach it. Use treats or their favorite toy as positive reinforcement around the water.
  • Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Water?  Yes.  While we love playing in the water with our dogs, we need to remember that they can experience too much water. While your dog is enjoying his/her swim and jumping in after a toy, each time they do this they are also taking water into their mouth.  Water intoxication can be scary and life threatening. Symptoms of water intoxication include:
    • Bloating
    • Lethargy
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Loss of Coordination
    • Urinary Incontinence
    • Difficulty Breathing
    • Seizures

If your dog experiences any of these symptoms you should take them to the vet immediately.

Summer is a time for water fun. Please remember to enjoy the water safely with your pets.

Summer Hazards for Our Four-Legged Friends

Summer brings some hazards for our beloved pets.

Warm weather brings out the bugs. Ticks love our furry pets and unfortunately many of them carry serious diseases.

  • Lyme disease causes fever, lethargy, joint pain/swelling, loss of appetite, and, in extreme cases, kidney disease.
  • Ehrlichiosis causes fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, joint and muscle pain/swelling, enlarged spleen and lymph nodes, and abnormal bleeding.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever causes fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, edema in limbs/face, depression, and joint and muscle pain/swelling.

You can get a safe tick preventative from your veterinarian.   Always check your pets for ticks—especially around their ears, paws, and abdomen.

One tiny flea can lead to an infestation both on your pets and in your home. Fleas can cause anemia in our pets and leave them with nasty bites. With people, fleas can transmit diseases such as cat scratch fever (bartonella) and the bubonic plague. Your veterinarian can recommend a safe flea preventative for your pets. There are many options available including collars, topicals, and oral preventatives.

Infected mosquitos can infect our pets with Heartworm Disease. The treatment for this in dogs is extremely painful for them and quite pricy. Unfortunately, for our feline family members no treatment is available.  Talk with your veterinarian about heartworm prevention.  In our area it is important to give it monthly year round since we can have such mild winters. Before starting a heartworm preventative, please visit your veterinarian for a heartworm test.

Heat Stroke
Make sure that your pets have areas to cool down and plenty of water to stay hydrated. It is very easy for our furry friends to overheat. Some signs of heat stroke include:

  • Excessive Panting
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Restlessness

Heat stroke can be fatal.  If your pet experiences any of these symptoms, please take them to a veterinary hospital immediately.

Poisonous Plants
Many plants and flowers are not safe for our pets to eat.  Here is a list of plants/flowers that you should keep away from your pet:

Our pets can experience seasonal allergy symptoms just as we do.  Symptoms include:

  • Runny Eyes/Nose
  • Sneezing
  • Reverse Sneezing
  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Swelling of the Face

Your pet may also develop ear or skin infections. Your veterinarian can recommend some allergy relief medications that are safe for your pet to take.

Help your pet have a safe, healthy, comfortable summer!

Keeping Your Pet Cool During Hot Summer Days

Summer is here and with it comes the heat!  Our pets love playing outside and soaking up the sun.  Here are some tips to keep our four-legged friends cool.

Water is a necessity when our pets are outside.  Also, we can provide them with frozen snacks to keep them cool and hydrated including:

  • Frozen Banana Bites
  • Berries and Ice
  • Frozen Carrots
  • Chicken Pops (made with frozen baby food)

Here are some great recipes to try:

You can purchase effective cooling items.  Puppy paws ice cream is a favorite. This is a yummy treat every pet can enjoy outside in the heat. In addition to cooling treats, these products can keep your pets cool:

  • Cooling Vest
  • Cooling Mat
  • Cooling Collar
  • Baby Pool/Sprinkler

Help your pet beat the heat this summer!

Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia Receives Six Top Veterinarian 2017 Awards

The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia is honored that six of our doctors were chosen as Top Veterinarian 2017 by the readers of Northern Virginia Magazine.  Dr. Ethan Morris DVM and Dr. Richard Bradley DVM, DACVS were voted as Top Veterinarian 2017 in Surgery.  Dr. Anne Chiapella DVM, DACVIM; Dr. Nichole Birnbaum DVM, DACVIM; and Dr. Todd Deppe DVM, DACVIM were chosen as Top Veterinarian 2017 in Internal Medicine.  Dr. Amy Pike DVM, DACVB was voted Top Veterinarian 2017 in Behavior Medicine.  Thank you to those who voted for us.  We look forward to providing exceptional care for your four-legged family members.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia believes it is essential to provide your pets with the best diagnostic tools available. In 2012 we installed a state-of-the-art MRI suite with the Vet-MR Grande which is a top-of-the-line MRI machine. Our staff members have been specially trained to operate the MRI for maximum diagnostic benefits.

Though most scans can be read on site, we have retained an off-site radiologist to interpret scans as needed. Having a top-quality MRI in house enables us to provide our clients with the convenience of obtaining accurate diagnostic readings without having to travel to a separate location. MRI can be used to scan almost all parts of the body including:

  • Brain
  • Spinal Cord including Neck, Chest, and Lower Back
  • Shoulder, Stifle, Elbow, and Metacarpal/Metatarsal Joints
  • Pelvis
  • Soft Tissue


The MRI is commonly used to diagnose the following conditions:

  • Herniated Intervertebral Discs Causing Spinal Cord Impingement
  • Neoplasia/Tumors
  • Swelling/Trauma
  • Infection
  • Congenital Abnormalities


Before receiving general anesthesia for the procedure, all patients have a thorough physical exam and bloodwork.  During the MRI scan the patient is monitored closely by a licensed technician while another technician runs the scan.  One of the many benefits of having MRI in house is that any surgery or procedure that needs to be done post scan can be done immediately.

Although some scans require off-site radiologist interpretations—depending on the level of severity, results can be provided in less than an hour.

Whether your pet is in the MRI suite or having a post-scan procedure done, you can be assured your pet is receiving the highest level of care, pain management, and kindness and compassion. Our patients rest comfortably and wake up from anesthesia in a warm and calm environment.

We look forward to addressing your pet’s diagnostic needs!


You Can Save Money with Specialized Care

We understand that financial costs play a significant role in many decisions.  The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia is dedicated to providing your dogs and cats with top-quality care without the high prices.  Our prices are less than those of other veterinary referral hospitals throughout Northern Virginia.  How do we do it?

  • We do not automatically transfer our patients to our Emergency Division for care.  Sending all overnight patients to the ICU is a common practice in many referral hospitals.  Often this practice results in unnecessary extra charges; does not allow healthy patients to recover from routine procedures in a quiet environment; and overburdens the ICU staff when critical patients do arrive.  Only our critical patients are transferred to our Emergency Division for overnight care.  Otherwise your pet will recover in the same area of the facility where you dropped them off where they will receive the personalized care they need provided by our highly trained overnight staff.
  • Other referral and emergency hospitals spend money which they must recover on discretionary activities like local pet expos and parades.  We choose to limit our spending to what is specifically required to maintain the highest level of care for our patients.  We rely on our highly trained staff, state-of-the-art equipment, leading-edge techniques and procedures, proven results, and long-standing relationships with local referring veterinarians to maintain our reputation as the provider of the best quality yet most affordable specialized care for dogs and cats in Northern Virginia.
  • Our four divisions—Emergency, Internal Medicine, Surgery, and Behavior Medicine—coordinate and work closely together so we are able to source the highest quality materials from large-scale vendors at better prices as we purchase larger volumes of products to supply all four divisions.  We pass this savings on to our clients.
  • We do not add extra charges for things your pet does not need.  We provide itemized invoices so you can see exactly what your pet received while in our care.  While general estimates can be provided over the phone, more exact estimates are provided after a thorough examination.

The Veterinary Referral Center of Northern Virginia Team believes it is our responsibility to provide your pets with exceptional care at the most affordable prices and we are committed to doing so.


The Dangers of Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar-free sweetener found in food, candy, gum, and in some medications.  It has become popular due to its sweet taste and low glycemic index.  Xylitol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hepatic necrosis (liver injury) in dogs.  Xylitol tricks a pet’s body into thinking it is receiving sugar which causes blood sugar production to decrease.  However, since there is no actual sugar in xylitol, the blood sugar can drop dangerously low and cause vomiting, weakness, depression, lethargy, seizures, coma, and even death.


Items containing xylitol include:

  • Sugar-free gum and candies
  • Weight loss products
  • Sugar-free peanut butter
  • Sugar-free pudding/gelatin
  • Mouthwash
  • Toothpaste
  • Prescription medications
  • Over the counter medications (especially those made for children)
  • Skin care products


The following treatment is recommended for ingestion of xylitol:

  • Induce vomiting
  • Hospitalization
  • Monitoring blood sugar levels
  • IV fluids
  • Liver protectant drugs
  • Dextrose supplementation
  • Blood work monitoring

If you suspect your dog has ingested Xylitol—it is critical to seek immediate veterinary care!


Obesity in Cats

All of us have known at least one overweight cat in our lives. While many of us think it is cute or normal for an indoor cat to be a little pudgy; unfortunately, it presents many serious risks to their health. More than 50% of all American cats are overweight or obese. Sadly, overweight cats have a decreased life span of two and a half years. Cats were designed to hunt and forage for every meal and calorie they consume. Our fortunate and well-loved cats don’t have to work quite as hard for their survival as their predecessors did. They consume their meals happily and enjoy a life of leisure.

The risks of obesity in cats are very real. Overweight cats have a higher incidence of Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems, liver disease, urinary tract complications, arthritis, and orthopedic issues. Further complications occur when these conditions are combined in an overweight cat.

You can check your cat’s weight by petting them. When you pet your cat—you should be able to feel their ribs but you not be able to see them. When you stand above your cat you should see a tuck at the waistline. If you are uncertain, ask your veterinary staff to help you evaluate their weight.

You can help your cat live a long and healthy life by cutting calories and switching to a weight-loss diet. Make your cat work for their food a bit by hiding small amounts around the house, using puzzle cube feeders, or tossing kibble for them to chase. It is not always easy to get a cat to exercise but laser pointers are a fun way to try.

It is the goal of every pet parent to keep our furry kids happy and healthy. Early weight loss can keep them with you even longer.

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV) or Bloat is an Emergency Condition

gastric-dilatation-volvulus-or-bloatGastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), commonly referred to as Bloat, is an emergency condition in dogs.   When a dog’s stomach dilates or becomes enlarged, it can twist. The stomach is not able to release any of the gas that builds up inside and this can cause a pet to become very ill in less than an hour. GDV is life threatening and will not resolve on its own. Immediate intervention is essential. GDV can also occur without the stomach twisting. The stomach twisting is called torsion. GDV with and without torsion has the same symptoms. Both types of GDV need to be treated right away.

Causes of GDV

  • Large, deep-chested dogs are at risk. Examples include Great Danes, German Shepherds, Weimaraners, St. Bernards, Rottweilers, and Standard Poodles.
  • Dogs are more at risk of developing GDV if they are running, jumping, and playing outside immediately after eating. Let your dog rest after eating a meal or play before a feeding.
  • Dogs who eat one or two large meals a day are at greater risk than dogs who eat multiple smaller meals a day.
  • Dogs who eat very quickly are more likely to develop GDV. Owner of dog breeds who are at risk can encourage slower eating by purchasing special food bowls that make it harder for their pet to eat too quickly. Please see the image included.
  • Drinking large amounts of water—usually after exercise—can increase a dog’s risk.


Signs of GDV

  • Distended abdomen
  • Non-productive vomiting/retching
  • Restlessness
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Hypersalivation (drooling more than usual)


Problems Associated with GDV

  • Loss of blood flow to/from the abdomen
  • Pressure on the diaphragm from the stomach being filled with gas which causes difficulty breathing
  • Rupture of stomach


GDV is easily diagnosed so if you suspect your dog has Bloat bring them to your emergency veterinarian immediately. If you have a dog that is at risk for GDV due to breed, activity, or eating patterns, talk to your veterinarian about a procedure called Gastropexy. Gastropexy, the internal tacking of the stomach to the abdominal wall, can be done during other procedures such as spays to prevent the stomach from twisting in the future.