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VP of Medical Services & Chief of Staff Mark Verdino

Dr. Verdino joined our medical team as Senior Staff Veterinarian and his passion, and commitment to improving animal health and welfare has been evident from the start. In 2011, Dr. Verdino assumed the role of Chief of Veterinary Staff. In this role he has focused on expanding the capabilities and scope of medical care at the Alex Lewyt Veterinary Medical Center.

Dr. Verdino holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Fairfield University, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from New York University, and earned his VMD from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Prior to joining NSALA, he worked in private practice at both Caring Hands Animal Hospital and Old Dominion Animal Health Center in Virginia. During that time, he worked closely with the Animal Welfare League of Arlington on medical cases.

Prior to achieving his veterinary degree, Dr. Verdino worked in investment management for the Goldman Sachs Group. Ultimately, his love of animals drove him to pursue a career in veterinary medicine and animal welfare.

Browse the latest Pet Health Q&As:

What is the vaccine protocol for dogs?
Q:

Can you please tell me which vaccinations a dog needs throughout his lifetime? Which vaccinations are mandatory and which are optional?

A:

The core vaccine protocol for dogs includes the Distemper combination vaccine (Distemper, Adenovirus Type-2, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza), Bordetella (kennel cough), and Rabies. As a puppy, the distemper combination shot is given in a series every 3-4 weeks until 4 months of age. Then this shot is boostered yearly thereafter. Bordetella is given at 8-12 weeks of age and boostered every 6 months to 1 year based on the pet’s exposure risk. Rabies is given at 4 months of age, boostered 1 year later and then boostered every 3 years thereafter.

There are some optional vaccines that should also be considered. Leptospirosis is a bacterial organism transmitted through urine and standing water. It is endemic in this region of the country, and therefore, it is recommended that all dogs be vaccinated. We routinely vaccinate all puppies at North Shore Animal League America for Leptospirosis. Two shots are given during the puppy series and then it is boostered annually thereafter. Canine Influenza and Borrelia Burgdorferi (Lyme disease) vaccines are offered and evaluated on a case-by-case basis.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Mark Verdino
Are yearly vaccinations necessary?
Q:

Do dogs need yearly vaccinations their entire lives? What are the most important shots that can not be missed?

A:

In general, yes. The rabies vaccine is required by law, but can be administered every three years if given on time, and if a vaccine labeled for three years is used. Any dog with exposure to wildlife (raccoons, opossums, etc) or rats, mice, roaches should be vaccinated for leptospirosis because that is contagious to people. The vaccine for leptospirosis is only labeled for one year.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Mark Verdino
Why Is My Puppy Coughing?
Q:

I recently adopted a 12-week-old female puppy.  This is the first puppy we have owned and are very excited to be pet owners!  Over the last 2 days, it seems as though something is stuck in our puppy's throat!  It sounds like a cough but we are not sure.  She sneezes often and sometimes we think we took in a goose!  Well, it sounds that way anyway.  What should we do?  Is there anything over the counter we can give our pet?  Why is she coughing?  Please help. 

A:

It's great that you have adopted a puppy!  Being first time pet owners is an exciting yet challenging time.  It is important to get down the basics of pet care and nutrition in your quest to giving your dog the best life.  It seems as though the most likely cause for coughing in a young, not yet fully vaccinated dog is some sort of infectious cause. 

The most common thing we see in these puppies is kennel cough.  Kennel cough is an infectious bronchitis, which can cause a harsh sounding cough and lethargy.  Occasionally, these upper respiratory infections can progress to a lower respiratory infection or pneumonia.  Kennel cough is very contagious.  The bacteria can be transmitted through nasal and oral secretions and also picked up if the animal sneezes or coughs. 

It can be common for the agent responsible for kennel cough to be accompanied by a virus as well.  This is why it can be a challenge to treat since your pet has to "ride out" the viral aspect of the upper respiratory infection.  It is very important that you take your pet to a vet for an exam.  We can check to make sure your pet's temperature is normal and ensure that the appetite has not diminished.  We may decide to place your pet on an antibiotic and antitussive (anti-cough medication). 

It is best that you refrain from giving any medication without the advice of a licensed veterinarian.  Some medications that humans take can be potentially toxic to dogs and cats.  Vaccinating your pet for kennel cough is important once your dog has recovered from the infection.  It is likely that in the future this will lessen the severity of another infection.  Good luck with your new pet!


Submitted by Concerned first time dog owners
Answered by Mark Verdino
Are Heartworm Pills Always Necessary?
Q:

Why do I have to give my dog heartworm pills? He never sees other dogs.

A:

Most canine infectious diseases are the result of direct contact between a healthy dog and an either infected dog or the bodily fluids/excrement of an infected dog. Things that people can usually see. This is not the case with heartworm. Heartworm is one that involves an intermediate host, and it’s one that often times goes unnoticed. It’s a mosquito.

The heartworm life cycle is essentially an infected dog that is bitten by a mosquito that takes an immature, larval heartworm and then bites your dog. After a variable amount of time, about six months, the larval heartworm then develops into an adult in the heart and lungs. The fortunate thing is that heartworm can easily be prevented. A simple blood test is used to make sure your dog doesn’t have it already, since putting a dog that has it on preventative can lead to complications.

Once it’s determined that your dog doesn’t have heartworm, a very safe medication, given at monthly intervals is prescribed to kill those larval heartworms before they mature into adults in the heart and lungs. Heartworm preventative should be given minimally during the warm weather months, April through November. Advances in the medication now also treat and prevent the infestation of other parasites such as intestinal worms and external parasites. So many people use the preventative all year round. So, the fact that your dog doesn’t see other dogs doesn’t matter. He doesn’t need to, not with those pesky little mosquitoes around.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Mark Verdino
Our New Puppy Only Wants Human Food
Q:

Dear Vet,

I adopted a puppy two days ago from our local shelter. The shelter sent home a sample of food for us to use, but it only lasted for a couple of days. We gave the puppy some of our dinner food since we were out of dog food. Today we bought some puppy food, but the puppy won’t eat it and only wants our food. Also, he has some diarrhea now. Do you think that could be from the food? I hope we didn’t do anything wrong. Please help.

Hungry Puppy Owner

A:

Dear Hungry Puppy Owner,

I applaud you for adopting a puppy from your local shelter! There are probably a few things going on with your puppy here. Sometimes a change in diet, even if it’s from one good dog food to another, can cause diarrhea. A lot of the food that we humans eat has more fat than is normally in dog food, so this might contribute to the diarrhea as well. It is always best to steer away from human food for animals, because high fat diets can case serious if not fatal diseases in dogs such as pancreatitis. As you have seen, once a puppy has a taste of human food, they expect to have a seat at the family dinner table.

You can discourage begging at the table by feeding your puppy a quality pet food in another room while you enjoy your own meal. Never feed a puppy scraps or bites from the table while you are dining. If the puppy’s diarrhea persists for more than 12 hours, it should be examined by a veterinarian. Many things can cause diarrhea in puppies in addition to dietary indiscretion, including viruses, parasites, bacteria, and inflammatory conditions. Good luck with your new puppy!


Submitted by Hungry Puppy Owner
Answered by Mark Verdino
How Can I Stop My Puppy From Poop Eating?
Q:

Dear Vet,

Our new puppy started eating his poop! Does this mean that he has a vitamin deficiency? Should we give him vitamins or supplement his food in some way? It’s really gross and his breath smells horrible!!!

Disgusted in Delaware

A:

Dear Disgusted,

Unfortunately, this is a common problem among many puppies. If your puppy is on a quality well balanced pet food, there should be no need for vitamin supplementation. Eating feces, or coprophagia, is an instinctive behavior of animals to help disguise their presence from predators.

Now that many of our pets live with us in our homes, this behavior is unnecessary and unappealing. However, it is in the dog’s wiring, and is an instinctive habit that we have to help the animal to break. There are products on the market to sprinkle on a dog’s food. As the product undergoes enzymatic changes in the gastrointestinal tract, it changes the "flavor" of the feces that is excreted. Ideally, this distasteful flavor will deter the dog from eating its excrement. You need to use the product for a few days consistently to alter the behavior.

Sometimes dogs will continue to eat feces despite using the products described. If this is the case, it is important to pick up feces immediately before the dog has a chance to eat it. Although this is a bit labor intensive for the owner, several days of diligent cleaning will hopefully break the habit of coprophagia.


Submitted by Disgusted in Delaware
Answered by Mark Verdino
Can I Walk My Puppy Before It's Vaccinated?
Q:

Do I have to wait until my puppy gets its rabies vaccine before I take it out for a walk?

A:

This is a question that is posed to veterinarians on a daily basis. The answer is simple- Yes (and no).

It’s a common misconception that the reason we say this is to protect the puppy from rabies. There is some truth to that, but the real reason is we want to protect it from other diseases that it will much more likely be exposed to. Young puppies are given a DA2PL-Cpv vaccine at regular intervals (usually every three weeks).

The DA2PL-Cpv vaccine contains distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, leptospirosis and parvovirus. When a puppy is very young, it gets some protection from these diseases directly from its mother. At this age the immune system is considered to be immature, incompetent if you will. As they get older this immunity starts to wane. At the same time their own ability to mount an immune response starts to develop. By giving them a vaccine at six to eight weeks of age, the immune system will make some antibodies to fight off these diseases. Some, but not enough. By giving it another vaccine, a "booster," the amount of antibodies produced will be much greater.

This is what is termed an anamnestic response. Each vaccine makes more antibodies in an almost geometrical progression, not a simple additive one. So that by the time the pup reaches sixteen weeks of age, and has received multiple "boosters" the amount of antibodies produced are enough to protect it from the devastating and potentially fatal consequences of these diseases.

It is also at sixteen weeks that most pups are given their rabies vaccine. Since the final DA2PL-Cpv booster is often given along with the rabies vaccine, many people assume it’s the rabies that we are worried about, it’s not, it’s the others.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Mark Verdino
Protect Your Cat from Fleas
Q:

Why is it important to protect my cat against fleas?

A:

Fleas are annoying insects whose bite causes uncomfortable itchy wounds. Some cats are actually allergic to flea saliva, and even one tiny bite can make an allergic cat break out in a nasty rash. If you notice crusty bumps on the top of your cat’s head, back or hindquarters, it is very likely that she has been bitten by a flea and is experiencing a type of allergic reaction.

Cats have very sensitive livers, and may have life-threatening reactions, such as seizures, to over-the-counter or discount flea products. Never give a flea product meant to go on the skin by mouth. Never use a flea product labeled for dogs on a cat, and always check with your veterinarian before giving any flea product to your cat.

Fleas can carry bacteria in their feces that cause a human infection called Cat Scratch Fever when a human is bitten or scratched by an affected cat. When the cat scratches at a flea bite or attempts to remove the flea by grooming, the bacteria become lodged under their claws or in their mouth. The symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease are usually mild, and include swollen lymph nodes especially around the area of the wound, fever, headache, fatigue, joint pain, and skin rashes. These usually resolve without treatment but can last for months. More serious complications including spleen enlargement and heart problems can cause life-threatening problems, particularly in people with weak immune systems. Most cats that carry the bacteria causing Cat Scratch Fever seem completely healthy. Kittens are much more likely to transmit the disease because they are so playful, and inadvertently pass the bacteria to humans.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Mark Verdino
My Cat Has Bad Breath
Q:

My cat has bad breath. Is there anything I can do about this?

A:

It is natural for a cat’s breath to reflect their diet to some extent. They do not rinse with a mouthwash every day, so some odor is to be expected. Very bad breath, called halitosis, is a problem that should be investigated by your veterinarian. Halitosis can be caused by a number of heath issues, most commonly gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) or more serious problems like kidney disease, liver disease or diabetes.

Gingivitis is caused by a build-up of odor-producing bacteria in your cat’s mouth. In addition to being generally unpleasant, it can cause mouth infections, tooth loss, and, in rare instances, life-threatening problems such as sepsis (bacteria colonization of blood) and endocarditis (infection in the inner layer of tissue surrounding the heart).

Indications that a veterinary check-up is in order, include severe halitosis, pawing at the mouth, suddenly jumping back from food after initially starting to eat, drooling, and markedly red gums.

Being proactive with your cat’s dental care can actually prolong her life. Regular check ups to check for underlying medical problems are necessary once a year for adult cats and twice a year for senior cats over 10 years old. Many cats tolerate daily brushing using a toothbrush and toothpaste especially formulated for cats.

At some time in your cat’s life, your veterinarian may determine that your cat needs to have her teeth professionally cleaned. This is a procedure that is done under general anesthesia where the teeth are scaled and polished. Any rotten teeth are removed – don’t worry, your cat will get along just fine without them! Many cats with no teeth at all eat exclusively dry food diets. Generally, your cat will spend one day in the hospital for her dental procedure. If she has to have multiple teeth extracted or spent a long time under anesthesia, your vet may keep her overnight on fluids and pain medications. Your cat will then be discharged on oral antibiotics for you to give at home.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Mark Verdino
Our Cat is An Escapee
Q:

Dear Vet,

My husband and I have a 3-year-old female cat at home.  She is a sweet cat but she constantly tries to exit our house!!  She only goes missing for a couple hours at a time and likes to lay around on our porch when she is done exploring.  Is this ok?  We feel she needs to explore the wild and be a normal cat.   

Sincerely,
Escapee cat owners  

A:

Hi Escapee cat owners,

Sometimes it can be hard to keep a cat indoors that has been allowed to leave whenever it can.  There are many reasons why I recommend not allowing your pet to leave your home.  Besides the potential for your cat to be hurt (cars, other animals outside if you're in the country), there are also infectious diseases and parasites your cat can pick up if it comes into contact with another animal.  The most common disease which is spread outside is Feline Leukemia Virus and/or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV. 

FIV is primarily transmitted by bite wounds and cat fights.  Once infected, the cat is immune compromised.  While in a normal cat, infections and parasites can be easy to treat - an FIV+ cat can have difficulty clearing disease and can have life threatening effects.  FeLV or Feline Leukemia can be transmitted by oral and nasal secretions most commonly, but has also been known to be infectious via urine, feces and milk.  If a cat contracts Feline Leukemia, it can lead to cancer and blood diseases.  They can also have a compromised immune system and can get sick with other infections much more easily.

These 2 diseases are reason alone to keep your kitty inside and care is to be taken so that she does not escape.  Good luck with your cat!


Submitted by Escapee Cat Owners
Answered by Mark Verdino
How Do I Care for an Orphaned Kitten?
Q:

I just found an orphaned newborn kitten in my backyard. How do I take care of him?

A:

The ideal caregiver of an orphaned kitten is another nursing mother cat. A recent mom nursing a small litter will frequently accept orphaned kittens as her own. Try contacting local humane societies, shelters and veterinarians to see if anyone knows of an appropriate surrogate mom for the orphan. If one cannot be found, then caring for the baby is up to you.

Most pet stores and veterinary clinics stock commercially made kitten milk replacer as well as bottles that are just the right size for tiny kitten mouths. Only use a product specifically made for cats – cow’s milk will cause diarrhea and does not have all of the nutrients your kitten requires. Hold the baby in an upright position tilted back at an angle no more than 30 degrees to prevent aspiration. Sometimes it takes infant kittens a little time to get used to the feel of the bottle’s nipple instead of mom. You will need to be patient and do not open the hole of the nipple too much or the baby may get too much at once. When the baby is three weeks old, you can begin to offer the milk from a bowl, and then slowly introduce kitten food mixed with the milk.

Newborn kittens should nurse every 1-2 hours. Kittens are unable to pass urine or feces on their own, so after every feeding, the baby needs to be stimulated to excrete waste. You can do this by gently massaging the anal and urinary regions with a warm, moist gauze or cloth. Once the kitten is four weeks old, you can place them in a litter box after meals and they will soon be trained to go on their own.

It is very important to keep newborn kittens warm. A heating pad or hot water bottle wrapped in a towel can work well as long as the kitten is able to move away from the heat source at will.

Infant kittens are very fragile. Be sure to supervise any young children closely to avoid harming the infant. However, weeks 2 through 7 are very important in the socialization of a kitten to people, so gently handling the baby during this period will make him an excellent pet.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Mark Verdino
My Kitten Plays Too Rough..
Q:

I love playing with my new kitten, but sometimes he plays too rough. How can I enjoy the games without getting bitten or scratched?

A:

Playing is a normal behavior that allows kittens and young cats to develop social skills with other cats as well as improve coordination and hone problem-solving skills. Feline play involves mock aggression – stalking, chasing, pouncing, kicking, etc - so it is natural for kittens and young cats to engage in rough, active play. Problems can arise when a cat plays with a human companion instead of a feline buddy.

Here are some ways to enjoy playing with your kitten and not get hurt.

  • Do not encourage your kitten to swat at your hands or feet. Instead, direct the play behavior away from yourself by using a toy attached to a wand, or throwing your kitten’s favorite toy.
  • If your cat is a stalker, and wants to ambush your feet and ankles, carry toys with you and throw them to distract his attention away from you.
  • Help your kitten burn off excess energy by changing toys frequently and creating a complex, stimulating environment.
  • Consider adopting another young cat as a playmate. Be sure to choose a cat or kitten that is outgoing and has a similar energy level to your current cat.
  • Give your cat a "time out" as soon as the play becomes so rough you may be bitten or scratched. End the game by leaving the room. Do not attempt to move your cat while he is still overly stimulated from the game.
  • Avoid using gloves with toys dangling from them. This may encourage your cat to attack your hands even when not wearing the gloves.
  • Never punish your cat physically for rough play. This may cause him to become fearful of you, and convert rough play into true aggression.

With calmness, consistency, time and effort, you can teach your kitten to play with you in an appropriate manner. If you need help, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian for more advice.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Mark Verdino