Grain-Free Diets and Heart Disease in Dogs – What’s the Link?



by Linda L.

In recent years, so-called “grain-free” pet foods have exploded in popularity as they have been promoted as more delicious, nutritious, and closer to the diet of Fido’s ancestors.  Many of these popular foods’ main ingredients are a novel protein – such as bison, rabbit, or kangaroo – with potatoes, peas, lentils or other legumes.  In July of 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine announced that it is investigating the potential link between a common type of heart disease, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), and certain “grain-free” pet foods.  The veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital want you to be informed about what this means (and doesn’t mean) for you and your dog.


What sparked the FDA’s investigation?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is typically seen in certain large breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Doberman Pinschers, as well as Cocker Spaniels. Evidence suggests that certain breeds are genetically susceptible to the disease.  The CVCA, a group of veterinary cardiologists in the eastern United States, alerted the FDA to atypical cases of DCM seen in a Shih Tzu, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, a Whippet, Miniature Schnauzers, and other mixed breeds.  According to the FDA, “early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicate that the impacted dogs consistently ate foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients in their primary source of nutrition for time periods ranging from months to years.  That’s why the FDA is conducting an investigation into this potential link.”


What is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that results in weakened contractions and poor pumping ability.  A progression of the disease results in the heart becoming enlarged and signs of congestive heart failure may develop.  Symptoms of DCM may include lower exercise tolerance, fatigue, excessive panting, difficulty breathing, coughing, and fainting, although early signs may be subclinical.


Is there a link between grain-free pet foods and dilated cardiomyopathy?

A link between these grain-free pet foods and DCM has not been confirmed and no recalls have been issued.  Although researchers have not ruled out other potential causes, the common factor among the dozens of reported cases of DCM in breeds that are not genetically susceptible to the disease was a diet heavy in legumes (e.g. beans, peas, lentils, peanuts) and potatoes – carbohydrates used to replace grains such as wheat, barley, oats, and rice.

In some of these uncharacteristic cases of DCM, low levels of taurine, an essential amino acid, have been noted.  Researchers speculate that legumes may interfere with the dog’s ability to make or absorb taurine.  However, taurine levels in other affected dogs have been normal, leaving researchers puzzled.  No definitive conclusions have yet been reached.


Aren’t grain-free foods better for my dog?

Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and researcher at Tufts University, says grain-free pet diets should be viewed with skepticism.  “Contrary to advertising and popular belief, there is no research to demonstrate that grain-free diets offer any health benefits over diets that contain grains,” Freeman recently told the New York Times.  Grains are an important source of protein and other nutrients in many meat-based pet foods, she continued. “Grains have not been linked to any health problems except in the very rare situation when a pet has an allergy to a specific grain.”


My dog is on a grain-free diet.  Should I switch my dog’s food?

We recognize that the decision about what food to feed your pet is a very personal one.  Given that there are no definitive conclusions yet regarding a potential link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy, and there are many other individual factors to consider (breed, health status, etc.), the doctors here at Family Pet Animal Hospital recommend that you seek the advice of your pet’s veterinarian to make an informed decision.


Family Pet Animal Hospital’s Position Statement Regarding Grain-Free Diets

  • Based upon recommendations from veterinary cardiologists at this time, if your pet appears healthy and is currently eating a grain-free diet from a pet store, consider changing your pet’s diet or supplementing your pet’s diet with taurine (ask your veterinarian how to do this).
  • If you do not wish to change your pet’s diet, consider testing taurine levels and/or a consult with a cardiologist to evaluate your pet’s heart.
  • If your pet has been prescribed a grain-free diet due to an illness, contact your veterinarian before considering any changes to your pet’s diet. Prescription, limited-ingredient diets have been used in veterinary medicine for decades without any negative side-effects and we do not recommend a change from these diets at this time.
  • Because the number of reported cases suggestive of a potential link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy is small and no definitive conclusions have yet been reached, many questions remain unanswerable at this time. We are confident that more details will become available in the near future and we will continue to be forthcoming with all new information.



Commissioner, Office of the. “FDA In Brief – FDA In Brief: FDA Investigates Cases of Canine Heart Disease Potentially Linked to Diet.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, 12 July 2018,

“Researchers Getting Closer to Understanding Dietary Taurine and Heart Disease in Dogs.” Morris Animal Foundation, 17 Sept. 2017,

Hoffman, Jan. “Possible Link Between Grain-Free Dog Food and Heart Disease, F.D.A. Says.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 July 2018,

Freeman, Lisa M. “A Broken Heart: Risk of Heart Disease in Boutique or Grain-Free Diets and Exotic Ingredients.” Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School, 4 June 2018,



August 15th is “Check the Chip Day!”


by Linda L.

Do you know your pet’s microchip number?  When is the last time you updated your registration information – address, phone numbers, or other contact information?  Is it accurate?

On Monday, August 15th, stop by Family Pet Animal Hospital and we’ll scan your pet for his/her microchip, look up your pet’s microchip number in the American Animal Hospital Assocation’s (AAHA’s) universal microchip lookup tool, and tell you when you last updated your information!

Microchips greatly increase the chance of getting your pet back if he/she is lost or stolen… but a microchip only works if its registration information is accurate. The doctors and staff at Family Pet Animal Hospital are reminding all pet owners in Chicago that August 15th is National Check the Chip Day, when pet owners are encouraged to check and update the contact information registered with their pet’s microchip.  Even if your contact information hasn’t changed, it’s a good idea to double-check that your correct information is included in the microchip registry.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) established “Check the Chip Day” in an effort to ensure more happy endings for lost or stolen pets.  This year, with support from HomeAgain, there’s a video reinforcing the importance of registering pet microchips and keeping that information up to date.



Checking a chip’s registration information is easy, and can mean the difference between heartbreak and a happy family reunion if you ever get separated from your pet.  And if you don’t yet have your pet microchipped, there’s no better time than now. Microchips help reunite families! Call us to talk about the benefits of microchipping and schedule an appointment for your pet.

Hope to see you on the 15th! To learn more about microchips, call us or visit the AVMA’s website at


Related resources:

Microchipping at Family Pet Animal Hospital

FAQs about microchipping from the American Veterinary Medical Association

Hot Weather Safety Tips for Your Dog


by Linda L.

Chicago is set for a heat wave this weekend!  The veterinarians and staff here at Family Pet Animal Hospital would like to remind you how to keep your dogs safe in the extreme heat.

Provide water and shade

Do your best to keep your furry family members of out the direct sun by providing access to shade, although if the temperature and humidity are high enough, shade might not be enough.  Allow your pets to cool off indoors with air conditioning when possible.

Pets can become dehydrated quickly in the heat so be sure to provide plenty of fresh, cool drinking water.

Never leave your pet in a parked car in the heat


Our pets are family, so it’s tempting to bring them with us on car rides when we’re out on the town.  Sadly, many people believe that cracking the car windows is enough to moderate the temperature inside the car.  They are wrong!  According to the ASPCA website, when it’s 80 degrees outside, in less than 30 minutes, the inside of your car could be a staggering 114 degrees!

Dogs cannot cool themselves off as easily as people.  Once they overheat, they can suffer severe organ damage or die.  Don’t risk it!


Stay off the asphalt

Keep your pets off the asphalt, which can get dangerously hot during the summer.  Not only can they burn their delicate paw pads, but because your dog’s body is so low to the ground, he/she is in danger of overheating quickly when walking over hot surfaces.

Limit exercise in the heat

While our pets may love the outdoors, some of them simply do not know how to self regulate their activities to stay safe and healthy.  Be your pet’s advocate!  Keep walks and outdoor activity minimal during peak daytime temperatures, choosing instead to walk your dog during early morning or evening hours when temperatures are lower.

Watch for signs of heat stroke

Knowing how to detect signs of heat stroke could mean the difference between life and death for your furry family member.  Breeds with flat faces (such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Persian cats, etc.), as well as pets who are overweight, elderly, and those that have heart or lung disease are particularly susceptible to overheating easily.


Know these signs of heat stroke:

  • Excessive, prolonged panting or difficulty breathing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Dark red and/or tacky tongue/gums
  • Staggering and lack of coordination, lethargy, or even collapse
  • Increased and/or irregular heartbeat
  • Rectal temperature above 104 degrees F
  • Vomiting and diarrhea


As soon as you recognize signs of heat stroke in your pet, you should begin a cooling method.  Soak towels in lukewarm water and wrap your pet in the towels.  Although it may seem counterintuitive, we do not recommend using cold water!  Cooling your pet too rapidly could be detrimental to your pet and actually inhibit quicker dissipation of heat from your pet’s body.  You may also use fans on your dampened pet to encourage heat loss by convection.

Once you’ve started the process of cooling down your pet, call your pet’s veterinarian immediately for further instructions.  Pets affected by heat stroke may require hospitalization, intravenous fluid therapy, administration of oxygen, and other supportive care.

Dangerous medical conditions can occur after heat stroke including kidney failure, liver failure, heart abnormalities, abnormal clotting of blood, cerebral edema, among others.  These conditions may occur hours or days after the incident and your pet will need to be very closely monitored.  Early recognition and aggressive treatment of heat stroke are critical for you pet’s well-being.



Rats, Your Dog, Your Family, and Leptospirosis

by Linda L.


There are many reasons to brag about this amazing city that we call home – the food, the museums, that skyline, those beaches, the sports teams (OK…at least some of them), the layout (YAY grid system), our diversity, and our culture.  With all Chicago has going for it, we also hold the unfortunate title of being America’s rattiest city. That’s right.  Last fall, Orkin bestowed this title on Chicago for the third time running.

If this is old news, why are we talking about it?  As the weather has warmed up, chances are you and your two-legged and four-legged family members are spending more time outside. Those rats (and other rodents and mammals) will also be out and about enjoying the various bounties the city has to offer them.  We wanted to remind you of one of the dangers for your pets AND the two-legged members of your family in this rattiest city in America – leptospirosis.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic (can be spread from animals to humans) disease that is caused by infection with the Leptospira bacteria.

Why are we talking about leptospirosis and rats?

Instances of leptospirosis in dogs have been on the rise, as have the complaints about rats in Chicago.  Leptospirosis is typically contracted by drinking or absorbing, through mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth, or cuts/abrasions in the skin), water that has been contaminated by the urine of infected animals.  Infected wildlife, most notably rats in urban areas like Chicago, urinate in/near puddles, lakes, streams, or other areas with standing water and help spread the bacteria.

Common risk factors for leptospirosis:

  • Exposure to or drinking contaminated water from rivers, lakes or streams
  • Roaming on rural properties (exposure to infected wildlife, farm animals, or water sources)
  • Exposure to wild or farm animal species, even if in the backyard
  • Contact with rodents or other infected dogs, such as in urban areas, dog parks, or multi-dog facilities

Can people get leptospirosis?

According to the CDC website, cases of leptospirosis in children are on the rise in urban areas, although potential reasons for the trend were not listed.  The AVMA website states, “Most cases of human leptospirosis result from recreational activities involving water.  Infection resulting from contact with an infected pet is much less common, but it is possible.”

Can cats get leptospirosis?

According to the AVMA, dogs are most commonly affected.  “Leptospirosis in cats is rare and appears to be mild, although very little is known about the disease in this species.”

What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?

The signs and symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs can vary greatly based on the specific strain of bacteria as well as how the dog’s immune system reacts to the infections.  Some dogs may be asymptomatic while others will develop severe, life-threatening illness.

Signs of leptospirosis can vary and be similar to those of other illnesses.  We advise you to seek veterinary care for your dog if you observe the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Muscle tenderness and/or reluctance to move
  • Increased thirst
  • Changes in frequency or amount of urination


As with dogs, signs and symptoms of leptospirosis in humans can vary widely, but are often flu like – high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.  Symptoms usually appear 1-2 weeks after exposure.  In the majority of human cases of leptospirosis, there are minimal to no symptoms.  However, severe cases can lead to meningitis or encephalitis, as well as Weil’s disease (kidney and liver failure, pulmonary hemorrhage).  It is important to seek treatment in cases in pets or people, as recovery will be greatly prolonged without it.


How is leptospirosis diagnosed?

In order to reach a diagnosis, the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital will consider various factors – your dog’s vaccination status, information from your pet’s history, likelihood of exposure, clinical symptoms, physical exam findings, along with routine and specialized laboratory tests.

Routine tests, including a complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry, may reveal typical clinical symptoms of leptospirosis infection – an elevation in a pet’s white blood cell count and/or changes in liver enzymes, thrombocytes, and kidney values (BUN and creatinine).  Because there are many diseases in dogs that will have identical clinical symptoms to those seen in cases of leptospirosis, you pet’s veterinarian may run more specialized tests such as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or microscopic agglutination test (MAT), although each has its limitations.

The leptospirosis PCR test can detect the presence of Leptospira in your pet’s blood and/or urine, can be an effective diagnostic test during the early stages of infection and before antibiotics have been started, but under certain circumstances, can give false positives or negatives.  A “MAT” or microscopic agglutination test can detect the presence of antibodies against Leptospira in a dog’s blood but also has its limitations.  The time frame required to obtain results of the MAT test is longer than that of a PCR test and a follow-up test may be necessary confirm infection.  Additionally, if the pet received antibiotics recently or was previously vaccinated for leptospirosis, the MAT results can be inconclusive.

Due to the limitations of these specialized tests based on each individual pet’s circumstances and history, the zoonotic nature of the disease, and the fact that infection can be life threatening, our veterinarians will begin treatment for the patient if leptospirosis is suspected but not definitively confirmed via testing.  Delaying treatment could be highly detrimental to your pet’s health.

Treatment and prevention of leptospirosis

Treatment for leptospirosis generally involves hospitalization, antibiotics, and supportive care.  If treated early and aggressively, chances for recovery are good.  However, there is a risk of permanent kidney or liver damage.  If treatment is delayed or not sought, the disease can be fatal.

Vaccination is the best protection for your dog against leptospirosis.  There are 10 serovars (strains) of Leptospira and the current vaccine used by the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital protects against four serovars (the most coverage available).  V accinating your dog does not guarantee s/he will not contract leptospirosis, however it is the best defense available.  The veterinarians at Family Pet highly recommend vaccinating your dog against this serious and potentially deadly disease.

Due to the zoonotic potential and high mortality rate of leptospirosis, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) strongly recommends leptospirosis vaccination for all dogs.

Because leptospirosis can be transmitted to humans, you must take precautions to protect yourself, your family, and the community if your dog is infected:

  • Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for treatment of your dog.
  • Avoid contact with your dog’s urine. If you have to clean up your dog’s urine in your home, wear gloves and clean the area with a household disinfectant.
  • Encourage your dog to urinate away from standing water or areas where other people or animals will have access.
  • Wash your hands after handling your dog.


At Family Pet Animal Hospital, we dedicate our lives to the health and well-being of our patients.  It is our passion to help our patients live long, healthy, and happy lives.  Additionally, it is our responsibility to educate our clients about the risk factors that affect pets in the Chicago area.  Please contact us for more information about leptospirosis, the available vaccine, or to schedule an appointment.

Additional resources:

Spike in Leptospirosis Cases in Chicago (October 2016)

Leptospirosis and DHPP Vaccinations



N/A.  “Leptospirosis.”  AVMA. American Veterinary Medical Association.  n.d.  Web.  6 Jun 2018.

N/A.  “Chicago Tops Orkin Top 50 Rattiest Cities List for Third Time.” Orkin. Orkin, LLC, 16 Oct 2017. Web. 6 Jun 2018.

Wooten, Sarah J. “Not Your Grandpa’s Canine Leptospirosis Cases.”  Dvm360.  UBM,  19 Jan 2017.  Web.  6 Jun 2018.

N/A.  “Leptospirosis.” Centers for Disease control and Prevention.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.  Web.  6 Jun 2018

Introducing Our Newest Associate Veterinarian – Kristin Kuntz, DVM

Dr. Kuntz pictured with her cat, Alfie.


We’re excited to introduce you to our newest associate veterinarian, Dr. Kristin Kuntz.  Dr. Kuntz graduated first in her class from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2016.  Prior to joining the Family Pet Animal Hospital team of veterinarians, she worked as a Small Animal Medicine and Surgery intern at a specialty hospital and practiced as an associate veterinarian at a general practice here in Chicago.

Dr. Kuntz will begin seeing patients at Family Pet Animal Hospital on June 4, 2018.  We can’t wait for you to meet her!

Find out more about Dr. Kristin Kuntz with our Q & A below.

What made you want to become a vet?

With an Anatomy and Physiology professor for a mother and a Food Scientist for a father, it was hard not to fall in love with science as a child. I have always been interested in Biology, and knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine from a young age. During college, my experiences working with a variety of animals led me to pick veterinary medicine. It has been rewarding to study the anatomy, physiology, and behaviors of so many different species!


How did you find yourself at Family Pet?

I had heard many wonderful things about Family Pet while working as a Small Animal Medicine and Surgery intern at a specialty hospital in Chicago, so I was thrilled when I was offered the opportunity to join their team.


Did you study anything besides veterinary medicine in school?

My undergraduate minor was in Psychology. I’ve always been fascinated by behavior, and now as a veterinarian, I am passionate about addressing common behavioral problems in pets, such as anxiety and aggression.


What are the most common questions you answer as a practicing veterinarian?

  • What brand of food should I feed my pet?
  • Why does my pet do (insert odd behavior here)?
  • What would you do if this was your pet?

What do you see as the greatest danger toward household pets?

Unrecognized pain. Animals are experts at hiding signs of pain from people, making it more challenging to detect when they’re uncomfortable. Fortunately, we have a lot of great tools—ranging from medications to acupuncture and chiropractic to massage and physical therapy—at our disposal to help maintain our pets’ quality of life for as long as possible!


What has been your most rewarding moment as a veterinarian?

Stabilizing a dog that had been hit by a car. Her owners were so worried about their beloved family member, and it was very rewarding to tell them that she was going to be okay!


What animal scares you more than any other?

Spiders and bees


If you weren’t a vet, what would you do?

I would follow in the footsteps of my mom and aunt and become an Anatomy and Physiology teacher! One of my favorite parts of being a veterinarian is sharing knowledge with pet owners, so I think this would translate well to a classroom setting.


What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Graduating as the valedictorian of my veterinary school class at the University of Illinois.


What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love traveling with my husband and family, reading books, playing tennis, and ice skating.


What is your favorite vacation spot?



What is your favorite comfort food?

Cupcakes! I’m grateful for the wide selection of cupcake bakeries in Chicago.


What is your biggest pet peeve?

When my adorable Persian cat, Alfie, pees on things he shouldn’t!


Who are your heroes?

My parents—they have always set a wonderful example for me and supported me in all my endeavors. My professional heroes are Temple Grandin and Jane Goodall.


Name 5 things that people might be surprised to know about you:

  • I was a competitive figure skater for over 12 years.
  • I didn’t fly on an airplane till I was 21 years old. Since then, I’ve traveled to over 15 countries around the world, including two medical service trips to Central America.
  • I carried out research projects studying the behavior of chimpanzees, zebras, and foxes at the Saint Louis Zoo in college.
  • I treated a variety of wildlife native to Illinois while volunteering with the U of I Wildlife Medical Clinic in vet school. My favorite patients were a Bald Eagle with a fractured wing and an Eastern Screech Owl with an eye injury. I was also a part of the Resident Bird of Prey program, where I worked on enrichment and training with raptors such as a Great Horned Owl and Red-Tailed Hawk.
  • I’m certified to practice medical acupuncture on dogs and cats!


Join Us for “Your Next Step is the Cure” or Donate to the Cause!


Family Pet Animal Hospital is a proud sponsor and participant of this year’s 9th annual “Your Next Step is the Cure” Chicago fun run, walk, or kite fly benefiting the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.  Please consider joining us or donating to help us reach our fundraising goal!

The “Your Next Step is the Cure” events raise much-needed funds for the patient services and clinical research projects of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation. This is a cause dear to our hearts as our beloved co-founder, Marla Minuskin, lost her battle with cancer in 2013. We will be there to celebrate her memory as well as to raise awareness and funds for this important cause.

Several of your favorite veterinarians and staff members from Family Pet Animal Hospital will be there.  We invite you and your family to stop by our table and say “hello” come out to support the Family Pet team and other participants.  Better yet, register to run, jog, walk, or decorate and fly a kite yourself.

  • What:  “Your Next Step is the Cure” Chicago fun run/walk/fly
  • When:  Sunday, June 10, 2018 (8 am registration, 9 am run/walk/fly, 10 am celebration)
  • Where:  Lincoln Park near the zoo (North Stockton Drive and West LaSalle Drive).



Please consider donating to the Family Pet team’s fundraising efforts (click  picture below to go to our fundraising page).

Click to donate to the team's fundraising efforts
Click picture to donate


Or better yet, register to join us for this fun event for a worthy cause!  Bring your family and friends!  (Click picture below to go to the event website.)

Join us for the run/walk/fly
Click picture for more event info or to register


​Register for this event today and help us tell Lung Cancer to go fly a kite! Thank you and see you there!

Mel tells us in a heartfelt letter what Family Pet Animal Hospital and a slime mold have in common. Hear her out.



The moment we met her, we knew Mel was a unique and lovely human being and hired her quickly for our Client Care team.  Not only is she smart and incredibly capable, she’s an amazing creative writer as well.  We knew there would come a time that she would move on from Family Pet to pursue her creative writing dreams.  Alas, that sad moment for Family Pet has come, but “congratulations” are certainly in order for her.

We are extremely excited that Mel has landed two incredible opportunities. The first is a much sought after spot in the Clarion Workshop in San Diego, California for the summer – a rigorous 6-week workshop for writers of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and otherwise speculative stories.  Participants are required to write a story per week and receive feedback from participants of the workshop as well as from esteemed authors.  Come fall of 2018, Mel will begin earning her Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa as a fiction writer in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In addition to writing a collection of short stories as part of her graduate program, she’ll also be teaching literature to undergraduates.

We wanted to share with you her heartfelt and hilarious departure letter that she wrote to us.  Enjoy this talent.  We’re sure we will all see amazing things from her in the future.

Mel, pictured with Cole and Watson


Dear Family Pet,

As my last day (May 31st) approaches, I feel that it is high time for a gushing memo.

On the day in September 2016 that I received my first phone call from Linda—the obligatory screen to make sure I was not prone to arson—I had interviews scheduled with a donut shop and the reception arm of a hair salon. My goal that fall was to find a job that would allow me to continue writing my weird short stories in my off-time, and that wouldn’t sap my creative juices during the day. I was looking for something breezy, something low-pressure, something that wouldn’t demand a lot of critical thinking and emotional investment.

Well, as everyone here knows, I didn’t find that job.

What I found instead was a role that rapidly started to mean a lot to me. As I spent time as both a Client Care Coordinator and a Doctor’s Assistant, I was floored by the compassion, trust, and meticulousness displayed—indeed, necessitated—by every position in this hospital. Very few workplaces can boast that their employee base is also a community. But at Family Pet, that communal aspect is essential. Everything we do, from talking with clients to solving problems amongst ourselves, is contingent upon a shared pursuit of honesty and empathy. The hospital simply could not function as it does otherwise.

Honestly, Family Pet reminds me of a slime mold.

Please, hear me out. I know this memo is already way longer than is acceptable, but this needs to be said.

Slime molds can form when several cells join into a mass that functions as a single organism. Though it has no one governing brain, it is capable of “calculating” the most efficient route between itself and a piece of food. Scientists actually use slime molds to plan public transportation systems—when they place food over major cities on a map, they observe the routes that the slime molds take to get to the yum-yums, and can model railways accordingly.

Family Pet is like a gigantic, glorious slime mold. All of its employees work together to map the best route to a pet’s well-being. From the inside, it is a complex network of people performing a wide variety of tasks at any given moment. From the outside, it is a unified front, an institution whose devotion to its clients is as obvious as the smell of a soiled cat carrier.

I’m going to miss it!

Thank you to everyone who helped me learn the ropes. I had never worked with animals before I came here, and you all took a chance on me despite that fact. I’ve learned so much, and I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had and the friendships that I’ve made. I will never forget this job, and it has helped me to grow in so many ways, in so many directions. Just like a slime mold.

— Mel


We are so grateful for all that she’s given of herself to Family Pet’s patients, clients, and staff during her time here at our practice.

Congratulations, Mel!  We wish you the very best (and we’ll miss you terribly)!


All your slimy, moldy friends at Family Pet Animal Hospital

Most Valuable Player of the Month for November 2017 – Monica Hernandez


Monica pictured with Sophie

Monica has been named Family Pet Animal Hospital’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the month for November 2017 by last month’s MVP, Armando Zizumbo.  Originally hailing from California where she worked as a Registered Veterinary Technician, Monica joined the Family Pet team in April of 2016.  Armando cited Monica’s kindness, multitasking abilities, and strong work ethic as reasons for naming Monica as MVP.  Even though we question her sanity moving from California to Chicago, we’re so glad she did.  We appreciate her patience, steadiness, and teamwork in the care of our patients.

Question and Answer with Monica

Do you have pets?  If so, tell us about him/her/them.

I have a cat named Sophie, she’s a tortoiseshell…and a handful, but the best!

What is your favorite thing about working at Family Pet?

I love working with the animals of course, but having such amazing coworkers that work as a team and pick each other up on bad days make it all worthwhile.

What is the moment at FPAH of which you are the most proud?

Not so much a moment but being a part of the Family Pet team makes me pretty proud.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Spend time with my husband, Isaac, exploring random parts of the city I’ve never been and baking which I don’t do often enough.

If you could communicate with our patients, what would you most want them to know?

I would want them to know that we are helping them and most importantly to not be afraid.

What is the funniest thing that’s happened at Family Pet?

Too many to name, but pretty much every day there’s a funny moment. 🙂

If you could be any animal, what would it be and why?

Tiger, because I love how elusive and majestic they are…or any large cat to be honest.

How would you spend one million dollars?

Buying a house and this is probably more than a million dollars but spend it on my family in any way they need.

Name three things on your bucket list.

Travel the world and experience how different cultures live their lives, Safari/camping trip in Africa, and visit every state in the US.

What would you choose for your last meal?

So this is a weird one and I always feel like the kid from the movie “Signs,” but definitely mashed potatoes with gravy and French toast…separate of course 😉

What is your favorite junk food?

Doughnuts and French fries



Congratulations, Monica!



Armando Zizumbo (October 2017)

Lauren Dempsey, D.V.M. (September 2017)

Amy Wrobel (August 2017)

Casandra Santos (July 2017)

Michelle Fernandez (June 2017)

Sandy Gerstung (May 2017)

Lilly Lam (April 2017)

Annika Hoffman, D.V.M. (March 2017)

Frank Fiacchino (February 2017)

Tony Tramultola (January 2017)

Emily Olvera (December 2016)

Janet Laz (November 2016)

Kate Van Eck (October 2016)

Jim Dinan (September 2016)

Katie Doan (August 2016)


Family Pet Animal Hospital’s mission, vision, and core values

Our Doctors

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Seasonal Safety: Thanksgiving Tips for Pet Owners



Turkey Day is right around the corner! Make sure your feast goes off without a hitch—and an emergency trip to the vet—with this guide.

The Food

This holiday is all about the food. Unfortunately, a sudden switch from kibble or canned food to a plate full of turkey and stuffing can wreak havoc on your pet’s digestive system, potentially leading to pancreatitis and gastroenteritis. More than just a tummy ache, these conditions can be very painful and even life-threatening to your pet.


This does not mean your pet has to be left out of the festivities completely, however. The key is to keep it simple and in moderation. Remember, dogs and cats cannot handle rich, fatty foods like butter, cream and other seasonings the way humans can. It’s best to stick to small portions of plain turkey, mashed potatoes and vegetables like carrots or green beans. Make sure the turkey is well cooked and don’t forget to remove the bones and skin.

Keep in mind that while a little Thanksgiving meal will not harm your pet, there are a few foods that must be avoided. These include onions, grapes, raisins and chocolate, all of which are toxic to animals.

The Decorations

While home décor may not seem dangerous, some items can present a problem for our four-legged friends. Candles, in particular, should be kept out of reach of curious cats and dogs that can burn themselves or start a fire if the candle is knocked over.

Wires and batteries can also be hazardous. If chewed, wires can deliver a serious shock, while batteries can cause burns to the mouth and esophagus.


Other items, like decorative corn or pumpkins, may cause gastrointestinal upset or even a blockage if ingested.

The Clean-Up

Don’t think your pet is safe just because the food isn’t on the table anymore. One risk that is often overlooked is the disposal of food and wrappings when the big meal is over. It is safest to make sure all trash, including the turkey carcass, is securely tied up and out of reach. Remember that bones can break easily and sharp pieces can be swallowed, causing a blockage or tearing the intestines. All pieces of the carcass should be double-bagged and disposed of properly.

Food wrappings such as aluminum foil, wax paper and turkey strings should also be kept out of reach. Remember, when used to cook with, these items become just as irresistible to your pet as the food itself!

The Wind-Down

Make sure you give your pet a comfortable, quiet space to retreat to should the holiday activity be too much for him/her. Watch your pet for signs of stress, such as vocalizing, panting, pacing or trembling.


Everyone here at Family Pet Animal Hospital wishes you and yours a very happy and safe Thanksgiving!


Post courtesy of The Drake Center for Veterinary Care

Most Valuable Player of the Month for September 2017 – Dr. Lauren Dempsey

Dr. Lauren Dempsey has been named Family Pet Animal Hospital’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the month for September 2017 by last month’s MVP, Amy Wrobel.  Dr. Lauren joined the Family Pet team as an associate veterinarian in 2014.  Amy cited Dr. Lauren’s compassion, kindness, knowledge, and willingness to go above and beyond for patients, clients, and staff as reasons for naming Dr. Lauren as September’s MVP.  All of us at Family Pet enjoying working with Dr. Lauren and are so appreciative of her boundless patience and grace in making sure our patients and clients get what they need.

Question and Answer with Dr. Lauren

Do you have pets?  If so, tell us about him/her/them.

“I do! 2 cats- Sebastien and Cat Stevens and a dog named Sully. The cats love each other and are best friends. They like to gang up and boss Sully around the house.”

What is your favorite thing about working at Family Pet?

“Our wonderful patients and the owners that come in with them”

What is the moment at FPAH of which you are the most proud?

“It’s hard to pick one specific moment but every time a really sick animal gets better as a result of the staff at Family Pet and their owners working hard at home, I am extremely proud of the profession I’ve chosen and the hospital I get to practice at.”

What do you like to do in your free time?

“Try new restaurants and explore Chicago, garden, travel, watch college football.”

If you could communicate with our patients, what would you most want them to know?

“Don’t be too nervous or scared! We love our patients and want you to love coming into the vet for a visit.”

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

“Teleportation so I can travel the globe and visit loved ones who live far away in an instant.”

How would you spend one million dollars?

“Lots of vacations and traveling, purchase a small beach vacation home, eat out all the time.”

What is your biggest pet peeve?

“Littering- makes me mad just thinking about it.”

What would you choose for your last meal?

“Pot roast with potatoes and carrots with pecan pie for dessert.”

What’s your favorite activity to do with your pet(s)?

“With Sully the dog, it’s going on hikes and watching him run around off leash. I also love when both cats and Sully and I all end up snuggling on the couch and watching a movie.”



Congratulations, Dr. Lauren!

Stay tuned as Dr. Lauren will choose next month’s MVP…



Amy Wrobel (August 2017)

Casandra Santos (July 2017)

Michelle Fernandez (June 2017)

Sandy Gerstung (May 2017)

Lilly Lam (April 2017)

Annika Hoffman, D.V.M. (March 2017)

Frank Fiacchino (February 2017)

Tony Tramultola (January 2017)

Emily Olvera (December 2016)

Janet Laz (November 2016)

Kate Van Eck (October 2016)

Jim Dinan (September 2016)

Katie Doan (August 2016)


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