LBAH Informational Articles

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD is an inflammatory condition of the stomach, small intestines, or large intestines (the gastrointestinal (GI) tract).  It tends to be chronic in nature.  It is one of the most common conditions of the gastrointestinal tract diagnosed in pets, especially in cats. Despite its prevalence, it is one of the least understood conditions, especially regarding cause. Some pets respond well to treatment, others do not.

Some cases of IBD involve the liver and pancreas. In this case there are 3 diseases occurring, and we refer to it as Triaditis. This is more difficult to treat than IBD alone.

The usual symptoms of IBD are poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.  In the cat more often they are vomiting, in the dog they oftentimes have diarrhea. These symptoms appear in many other diseases, so you cannot assume your pet has IBD from symptoms alone. To learn the process of how we make a diagnosis of a disease when the symptoms are the same as so many other diseases, we have a methodical and detailed approach. It is called the Diagnostic Process.

We discuss the importance of worms (internal parasites) many times in this page in regards to IBD. With the modern medications we have, including flea products that contain medication to kill worms, it behooves you to treat your pets for worms monthly. Not only will it help prevent IBD from appearing at some time in your pet’s life, it will protect you and your children. Our Internal Parasites page has the scoop on all of this.

Graphic photos of surgeries are on this page. 

Anatomy and Physiology of the Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract

When your pet eats, food from the stomach passes into the small intestine, which is composed of three different sections called the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum.

The majority of nutrient (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) digestion occurs within the small intestines.  The inner lining of the intestines is called the mucosa, and that’s where all the action occurs when it comes to absorbing nutrients. The mucosa has a large surface area because there are microscopic folds called villa.


This is the lining of the small intestines. The villa are microscopic, so you cannot see them without a microscope.

There are many different types of specialized cells in the lining of the mucosa. Some of these cells specialize in aiding digestion, some are for absorption of these nutrients into the bloodstream, and some are part of the immunes system and defend the body from foreign invaders.


These are the small intestines during a routine abdominal surgery. Notice the extensive blood supply, necessary to get those nutrients from the lining of the intestines into the bloodstream and off to all of the cells in the body- amazing!


This is what the ingesta looks like as it passes through the small intestines

The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes into the small intestines as the food passes through the duodenum. These enzymes are crucial for digestion of fats, carbohydrates, and protein. As the food continues down the small intestines the enzymes from the pancreas continue their breakdown of nutrients, which are then absorbed by the mucosa of the jejunum and ileum and make it into the bloodstream.


This is the pancreas, a small but mighty organ. Our surgeon is holding the duodenum, showing the pancreas in the center:  D- Duodenun   P-pancreas


Close view of the architecture on the outside of the pancreas

The gall bladder secretes bile into the duodenum to help in digesting fats. When the liver is a part of IBD the bile can build up in the liver and cause a problem. This is a part of the Triaditis that complicates IBD.

The large intestine is composed of the cecum (our appendix), colon, rectum, and anus.  Water, electrolytes (sodium and potassium), sugars, and vitamins are the main nutrients absorbed by the large intestine. Some vitamins are produced in the large intestine also. Nutrients that were not broken down or absorbed well enough within the small intestine are further digested in the large intestine due to microbial fermentation. The large numbers of these good bacteria that are present in the intestines are crucial to normal health.

The human cecum (appendix) has atrophied to the point that it is no longer needed. Our diet does not have the fiber of our ancestors, so this organ is not needed for normal digestion, which is why it can be removed if appendicitis occurs. As a fun anatomical comparison, the cecum of a rabbit is enormous in relation to the rest of its body. That is because it is a hind-gut fermenter, and contains large numbers of bacteria to help digest food that is high in fiber. Our rabbit GI stasis page has radiographs of the cecum along with actual pictures to give you an idea of just how large it is.


Allergens cause inflammation of the mucosa, leading to the symptoms associated with IBD. The allergens that cause this inflammation can be anything, with food (especially protein) as the main culprit.

Intesinte-normal lumen

The size of the lumen thorough with the food passes and intestinal wall thickness of a normal small intestine


You can easily see the smaller lumen and thickened intestinal wall in this pet with IBD

Inflammation of the pancreas is known as pancreatitis. In pancreatitis, the digestive enzymes that would normally be secreted into the duodenum to digest food are now leaking out of the pancreas into the abdomen, causing tremendous inflammation and pain to surrounding organs. Pancreatitis is a serious disease, and usually requires hospitalization, intravenous fluids, and medication. It can be hard to diagnose in cats because they usually become quiet and sit as if content, when in reality they are in pain and this is how they handle pain. A clue is the fact that are not eating well.

Inflammation of the liver in some cases may be associated with IBD, permitting an infection to creep up the bile duct and into the liver. There are many different sources to this infection, ascending from the GI tract or urinary tract.

The pancreas, liver, and intestines are closely associated, and when one has a problem it causes inflammation in one of the other ones. When all three have a problem it is called Triaditis. As you can see, it all gets quite complicated.


IBD is one of those conditions where the exact cause might never be identified. The most common causes are dietary allergies, infections, and environmental stress.

Dietary allergies are involved with sensitivity to protein in the diet. Sometimes, an inability to absorb nutrients, called a malabsorption syndrome, is involved. Some pets generate an excessive amount of a specific white blood cell called an eosinophil (eosinophil gastroenteritis) in the lining of the GI tract.

Other dietary causes might include artificial coloring, preservatives, and food additives. Differentiation between the above-mentioned causes is difficult, especially since many IBD cases are associated with several concurrent factors.

It is suspected that puppies with a large amount of internal parasites (worms) are setting the stage for IBD later in life. This is another good reason to have your pet checked for internal parasites at least yearly, and wormed frequently when young.

Pancreatitis is highly associated with pets that are overweight, particularly spayed female dogs. Fatty meals are important components of the clinical history for cases involving pancreatitis. As a result, we tend to see this cause of pancreatitis around the holidays when people are celebrating with turkey (and gravy) and other similar foods that their pets’ eat also.

Inflammation of the pancreas can spread to the liver  due to its proximity.  This can inflame the gall bladder, causing bile to backup into the liver. This can lead to Triaditis mentioned earlier.

Inflammation of the liver and biliary system, known as cholangiohepatitis, is most commonly associated with a bacterial infection.  In cases of Triaditis, it is unknown as to whether the liver is the first organ affected, resulting in secondary inflammation of the pancreas and gastrointestinal tract, or if it is the other way around.  It has been hypothesized that bacterial infections may be the initiating cause of cholangiohepatitis, with IBD and pancreatitis following thereafter.

Dietary Induced

Proteins and grains in the food contribute to dietary intolerance. Intolerance occurs when there is an abrupt change in the diet, resulting in an inability for the gastrointestinal tract mucosa and associated cells to adapt accordingly.  When this happens foods are often not digested or absorbed properly.

Maldigestion is a separate condition of the gastrointestinal tract that generally occurs secondary to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. The endocrine pancreas secretes insulin to regulate the blood glucose level. The exocrine pancreas secretes the digestive enzymes needed to digest food in the intestines. If the pancreas is not secreting enzymes into the small intestines as the food passes, the nutrients will not be broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream. This leads to weight loss and diarrhea, even in a pet that is eating.

Malabsorption is secondary to numerous disease processes such as food allergies and/or intolerance, protein losing diseases of the gastrointestinal mucosal layer, intestinal parasites, antibiotic responsive disease, cancer, IBD, and immune-mediated disease. The exocrine pancreas is secreting the proper digestive enzymes in this cause. It is an inflammation of the inner lining of the intestines (the mucosa) that prevents absorption of the nutrients into the bloodstream.

Intestinal parasites (worms)

There are numerous intestinal parasites known to cause the same symptoms as IBD. They include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms (dogs only), cryptosporidia (protozoa), toxoplasma (protozoa; cats only), coccidia, and giardia.

Some intestinal parasites are known to affect humans as well (zoonotic potential), including roundworms (organ and eye involvement), hookworms (skin involvement), giardia (gastrointestinal disorders), coccidia (gastrointestinal disorders especially in immune suppressed individuals), toxoplasma (congenital defects in babies), and cryptosporidia (gastrointestinal disorders).

A fecal examination is often one of the first steps when diagnostics are being evaluated in a pet with a gastrointestinal disease. Our intestinal parasites page has detailed information on these parasites (worms).

Cancer – Lymphosarcoma (Lymphoma)

In cats, lymphosarcoma is the most common type of cancer known to affect the gastrointestinal tract. This is not easy to diagnose, since the changes present in IBD are very similar to those in Lymphosarcoma when the pathologist analyzes them under the microscope.

Depending on the type of lymphoma (small, medium or large cell lymphoma), tissue samples must be sent in for further diagnostics in order to definitively differentiate between early cancer and IBD. Proper treatment depends upon a proper diagnosis.


These severely thickened intestines are from cancer.

We have a page that shows an exploratory surgery on a cat with intestinal cancer.

Bacterial infection

Although there are no definitive infectious agents that consistently result in IBD, some organisms such as Giardia, Salmonella, Clostridium, and Campylobacter could be a cause. Some of the “good” bacteria, those that are necessary for life, can become imbalanced and cause the symptoms seen in IBD.


Any medication can disrupt the lining of the intestines. The most common one is antibiotics, since they disrupt the normal GI bacteria (referred to sometimes as flora).

Other causes

Toxicities (plants, chemicals), hyperthyroidism, FIP, FeLV, FIV .



Both dogs and cats are commonly affected by IBD, although it is much more of a problem in cats. IBD can occur at most any age due to the numerous causes of the condition; however, it is usually observed in pets over the age of two .

Triaditis is more commonly diagnosed in middle to older aged cats.  If it is associated with a food allergy, they tend to be young adults to middle aged. Males and females get IBD in equal frequencies.

Addison’s disease, which is common in Standard Poodles, can cause symptoms similar to IBD.


Sometimes pets are affected by IBD for many years while appearing apparently healthy in all other aspects. Typical symptoms are  lethargy, poor appetite (anorexia), weight loss, diarrhea and vomiting.

Depending on the inciting cause, the clinical signs may occur intermittently over a long period of time (i.e. dietary allergy) or abruptly and progressively (immune-mediated, infectious, dietary allergy, cancer). If Triaditis is present clinical signs may range from lethargy and decreased appetite to severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and icterus (jaundice) due to liver compromise).


This pet has severe icterus (also known as jaundice)

Cats can have variable symptoms compared to dog. Cats that have pancreatitis might sit quietly and appear to have no problems. In reality, these cats are painful, which is why they sit like this.

Physical Exam

In both dogs and cats, palpation of the abdomen might reveal painful and thickened bowel loops. This is not a consistent sign, and just because bowel loops are thickened, does not mean there is a problem. Pain may also be associated with palpation of the pancreas or liver in cases of Triaditis. Lymph nodes deep within the abdomen may be enlarged and palpable as well as painful. Excessive intestinal sounds (called borborygmus ) might be heard on auscultation of the abdomen. In more chronic cases, other subtle signs may be present such as a dull hair coat, mild to moderate dehydration, fever, and overall poor body condition. None of these are consistent findings, and cannot be relied upon for a diagnosis of IBD.


These lymph nodes, call the sub lumbar, are enlarged on this dog. They are the whitish circles within the red circle. They are due to cancer, but they cannot be palpated.

Diagnostic Tests

Complete blood count, biochemistry panel, and urinalysis, are a starting point for diagnosis. Certain blood values might suggest IBD if in combination with clinical signs. Even “normal values” are clinically diagnostic, as they help to rule out another disease that can cause the same symptoms as IBD.

Some pets will have a chronic anemia (low red blood cells). Sometimes the white blood cells will be elevated, in other cases the protein will be low. There might also be a low cobalamin level.   Cholangiohepatitis (inflammation of the liver) in cats, when Triaditis is present, may be further suspected if bilirubin (hyprebilirubinemia) or liver enzymes are increased.


The blood panel is very thorough and checks many different organs and systems. This is a few of the many tests, the elevated liver tests are circled, and could be a sign of Triaditis in this case.

Fecal examination is an important and inexpensive test to rule out internal parasites (worms). We sometimes give worm medication (called anthelmintics) to pets with a negative fecal if they have and GI symptoms. This is because a pet can have internal parasites that do not show up on a fecal exam. Our intestinal parasites page has much more information explaining this.

Scarlet Ojeda 38765 Gall Bladder Surgery Linda Larsen

A fecal exam, checking for internal parasites (worms) is important in every pet with any signs of illness. In this exam, we are checking for eggs (ova) of the parasite.

Abdominal radiographs are often normal in cases of IBD, but are a necessary tool to rule out other causes of similar clinical signs. Survey abdominal radiographs are also indicated prior to ultrasound  as well.


This dog had chronic diarrhea.  Nobody took a radiograph prior to treatment. The cause was not IBD, it was the pennies stuck in the rectum.

IBDRadiograph-thickened intestines

This cat has IBD, as evidenced in this case by the thickened small intestines at the arrow. This can also be a normal finding, and it can also be a sign of intestinal cancer. The more common ones in a car are lymphoma, adenocarcinoma, and mast cell.

Prior to the common use of ultrasonography, barium contrast studies were performed in order to reveal disruptions of the mucosal surface along the gastrointestinal tract.  We are looking for filling defects and ulcers of the mucosa and thickening. Barium has lost some of its significance since ultrasonography tends to be much more sensitive. One very nice “side effect” of giving barium to a pet that might be vomiting is its soothing affect on the lining of the intestines (mucosa) to stop the vomiting.

TLI type tests- serum fPLI (pancreatitis), fasting serum TLI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency), fasting serum cobalamin and folate (small intestinal function and bacterial overgrowth). These are specialized tests and take several days for the results to come back.

Endoscopy is a useful tool since we can observe the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum for ulcers, lesions, and foreign bodies, that might not show up on a radiograph. Biopsy samples can be taken, although they are not full thickness, and only take the lining of the small intestines. This can lead to a missed diagnosis.

The most accurate way to diagnose IBD is to perform an exploratory surgery and take full thickness intestinal biopsy samples. The samples are analyzed by a pathologist to help differentiate IBD from intestinal cancer. Sometimes  the pathologist cannot tell the difference due to the similar histopathology of the tissue because of the abundance of inflammatory cells. During surgery, samples of other important organs like the liver and lymph nodes can also be obtained. These samples are very informative, and are taken in many cases.


Surgery has the major advantage of being able to see and palpate the intestines, along with taking a complete (called full thickness) sample of the intestines. This surgeon is using a scalpel blade to take the sample.

These samples are analyzed by a histopathologist. The report might come back with several different terms describing the IBD in specific medical terms, depending on the cell type:

  • Lymphocytic-plasmacyltic (the most common one)
  • Eosinophilic
  • Granulomatous
  • Suppurative
  • Histiocytic

Ultrasonography of the abdomen is an invaluable diagnostic tool in diagnosing IBD. In the case of IBD it should be performed by a specialist in this area. It has revolutionized how we diagnose IBD, pancreatitis, and Triaditis. Prior to the advent of ultrasound, exploratory surgery was needed to make an accurate diagnosis, and that was only after biopsy samples were obtained. Ultrasound is dramatically less invasive and expensive compared to surgery, and the results are obtained immediately in many cases.


Ultrasound is rapid and painless, and the only invasive part is shaving your pet’s abdomen


This is a typical report of a pet with IBD

Ultrasound can be used to measure wall thickness of various segments of the intestinal tract, which yields supportive evidence in the face of clinical signs. However, it cannot be used to differentiate between IBD and other disease processes that result in significant inflammation of the intestinal wall (i.e. lymphoma). This is where surgery has an advantage since full thickness biopsy samples can be taken for analysis


This is what the small intestines look like during ultrasound while they are being measure for size


This is what the pancreas looks like, also being measured


All of the abdominal organs are assessed during an ultrasound. This is what an enlarged lymph node looks like.

Fine needle aspirate samples may be obtained with the guidance of ultrasonography.  Sometimes this test is diagnostic, sometimes it is not. Even though it is not a perfect test, we sometimes recommend it due to the simplicity in obtaining it.

A hypoallergenic diet trial may be issued for cases of highly suspected dietary allergies or intolerance. In such cases, some pets respond when the diet is altered and no further diagnostics are necessary. You must feed this food, and only this food, to see if this works. Sometimes results are immediate, other times it might take several months to know for sure.

This can be a risk if the diet trial is attempted before numerous other disease processes are not first ruled out, especially cancer and internal organ diseases like Feline Hyperthyroidism.  This delay in diagnosis can affect outcome. If clinical signs do not improve or resolve within the first two weeks of the diet trial, then further diagnostic work-up is indicated.


Depending on the severity of disease at presentation, treatment must first begin with stabilizing the pet. What we do to stabilize depends on the severity and duration of symptoms.


Stabilization generally includes intravenous  fluids to correct dehydration, correct electrolyte imbalance, and improve kidney function. If the protein level is low we might use a fluid called Hetastarch.

Pets that are not eating are assist fed a special diet called A/D to maintain appropriate caloric intake and to prevent further disruption of internal organ function and get the GI tract back to normal. Probiotics to help stimulate the normal bacterial flora might be beneficial.

Vomiting pets are continued on fluids to maintain normal hydration, and given a specific medication called Cerenia (maropitant) to stop the vomiting. This drug has been a tremendous help in alleviating vomiting in pets due to many different causes. We use it for IBD, put also for other GI problems like parvo virus and pancreatitis without IBD. Cerenia works on the emetic (vomiting) center of the brain.


We use the injectable version in the hospital, and send home an oral version if needed


Dietary intervention is considered a mainstay for many gastrointestinal cases because a large proportion of cats and dogs with gastrointestinal disease are associated with food-sensitivity. We need to get these pets eating again for the intestines to return to normal function. Dogs and cats with pancreatitis, which is painful and causes severe illness,  do well initially with a low fat diet in the early stages to get them stronger and get the intestines used to digesting food again.  I/D (Intestinal Diet) has been used by our doctors for well over 35 years, and is the gold standard for pets with GI problems. After the pet is stable we look for a long term food.


I/D comes in many variations, and our doctors will tell you which one is appropriate for your pet’s specific problem

 It is the protein component of the food causing the problem. Hill’s has solved this problem by making a food with a hydrolyzed protein that does not cause a reaction. It is unconditionally guaranteed, and is worth using in every case because it works often, and you can get your money back if it does not work. This is a complete diet and can be fed for the rest of your pet’s life. It is very rewarding when a dog or cat with the signs of IBD improves on only food and does not need medication.


The best food we have found overall for dogs and cats with food allergy is called Z/D

Novel proteins are not manipulated protein sources (as compared to hydrolyzed proteins like Z/D), but are simply new proteins that the pet has never ingested before. These foods might contain:

  • Potato
  • Duck
  • Sweet potato
  • Venison
  • Salmon

Many dogs and cats immune systems have not been exposed to venison, duck, or rabbit. Due to the fact that it takes long-term exposure to a protein before the immune system will react against it, then these novel protein diets are often attempted when the protein source is suspected to be the cause of IBD.  If pancreatitis is present (in Triaditis cases), a low-fat diet is critical during the first stages of medical therapy prior to initiating a diet trial.

Vitamin supplementation is a critical component of treatment for some individual pets whose IBD stems from a deficiency in cobalamin (vitamin B12), specifically in cats.  Pets that are sick enough to have a low cobalamin level are generally in need of more than just vitamin supplementation, requiring a combination of other medications and dietary alterations.


Steroids (corticosteroids) are used in many cases in order to decrease the inflammation. The most common ones include prednisolone or prednisone. Budesonide, is a weaker steroid, that is also used. If the root of IBD or Triaditis is due to an immune-mediated process, then more potent immune system suppressants than steroids are required, such as cyclosporine, chlorambucil, or azathioprine.

Antibiotic therapy is used when Triaditis is present.  Antibiotics should be chosen based on bacterial culture and susceptibility (usually of the urine to check for an U.T.I.) results, especially in cases of Triaditis. A very common antibiotic used for pets with IBD is metronidazole, also known as Flagyl.

When the liver is involved (Triaditis) we might also use Actigall (ursodiol) or Denamarin (s-adenosyl methionine)


IBD can be painful, and it is important to keep the pet as comfortable as possible during an acute episode of IBD or severe case of Triaditis. Prednisone and Flagyl decrease inflammation, which helps minimze pain. Specific pain medications are also used.


The prognosis depends on many factors. This disease is usually not cured, unless there is a food allergy and we find the right diet for your pet. Most cases are controlled with diet and medication. IBD and it’s associated diseases tend to be a long term problem that is usually managed successfully. You increase your chance of success by giving medication consistently and bringing your pet to us for exams and diagnostic tests to look for changes that require a change in treatment.

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A  Caesarean Section (abbreviated as C-Section) is derived from the latin word “caedare”, which means to cut. It is believed that Julius Caesar was the first to be born this way when his mother died during childbirth. Most scholars of ancient history believe this was done long before Julius Caesar was born. Either way, the name sticks.

Our patient is a female dog that was able to deliver 2 pups normally. When we examined her and palpated her abdomen we could feel another puppy. She is exhausted, and has what is called uterine inertia. Her uterus does not have the strength to deliver the last pup.

Her 3rd one was stubborn though and did not want to come out, so we had to go in and convince him the time had come to meet his siblings. We routinely perform a spay (OVH) on these dogs after we remove the pup.

Graphic photos of an actual surgery are on this page. 

Radiograph-pregnant dog lateral

We took a radiograph to confirm the size of the pup and look for any problems

Pup-nursing help

The two that were born naturally had one last meal from their mother before we brought her into surgery

Pups-sleeping in carrier

After their meal they were cozied up with blankets and a hot water bottle (at the bottom of the photo) since they cannot regulate their temperature at this stage


We know they were content because they fell asleep. Now we could concentrate on their mother and the remaining pup

It was time for the C-section. After we gave the mother a thorough pre-anesthetic exam, and administered intravenous fluids, she was ready for surgery. In this procedure we move fast, real fast, so the remaining pup is not depressed by the anesthesia we give the mother for the C-section. While the surgeons are scrubbing in and preparing their instruments we are preparing the mother for surgery.


After she was clipped Joel brought her in to start the anesthesia


She is getting sleepy as we administer her anesthetic. As soon as she is out we move her into surgery. Her abdomen has alreadly been clipped, and a local anesthetic has been infused into her abdomen where we will make our incision. This allows us to give her less general anesthetic and not depress the remaining puppy.


While our patient is being anesthetized our surgeons are scrubbing up


As soon as the surgeon’s are gloved and gowned they go right into the surgery suite to get the instruments ready. We do not want our patient waiting for the surgeons, we want the surgeons waiting for the patient.


Our patient is immediately hooked up to our anesthetic machine when brought into the surgery suite. When stable we can start the surgery.


Dr. Wood, our first surgeon, wastes no time draping our patient for the procedure once our anesthetist confirms our patient is stable


At this point, our 2nd surgeon, Dr. ridgeway, is scrubbing in and will be in the surgery suite in a few seconds

Doctor-surgery team

We don’t technically need 2 surgeons for this procedure. We do it because we can get the puppy out of the uterus faster this way, which is of utmost importance to us for a pup that has been in the uterus longer than it should be and could be struggling.

Pup- in uterus

This is what the pup looks like in the uterus


A quick incision in the uterus, taking care not to cut the puppy

Uterus-pup out

Out he (it’s a boy!) comes covered in a protective membrane

Pup-umbilicus clamp

Once we remove the membrane the first thing we do is clamp and cut his umbilical cord


We immediately suction out any fluid from his mouth so he can get some air into his lungs

Pup-nurse suction

Then it’s a quick hand-off to our nurses who are eagerly waiting for him with a warm towel and more suctioning

Over several minutes we gently suction out mucous from the nose and mouth

After we are sure the breathing passages are clear we stimulate him to breathe by gently rubbing him


His mom is still in surgery, so we give him a quick meal until he can nurse. Nursing is important because the milk the mother produces contains antibodies he needs to prevent common diseases like Distemper. He cannot produce these antibodies just yet.


While our doctors are finishing the surgery our nursings staff goes to work making sure these puppies are fed and kept warm until the mother is fully recovered and able to nurse all of them


The nursing instinct is strong and the puppies greedily suck down the milk

Nurse assist feeeding puppy


After nice meal all 3 of them take a well deserved nap


We let the mother recover completely before we let the pups nurse. She is exhausted from trying to get this last puppy out and needs some time to rest.


Once mom was out of surgery and stable our surgeons could not resist, and had to hold the puppies

This was Dr. Wood’s first C-section, and she did a wonderful job! Next time she has to do one in the middle of the night she won’t need to call Dr. P or Dr. R to help her!

Here is a C-Section we did many years ago:

One of the most rewarding surgeries we perform is a Cesarean Section. Usually it is performed on small breed dogs because their pelvic canals are just too small to handle the size of the pups for a natural birth. This is the story of Margarita, a Chihuahua that had 4 large pups in her tank.

The gestation length in most domestic dogs is 63-65 days. When Margarita first came to us one week before she was due we knew a C-Section would be needed from her size and her radiograph.

How many pups do you see in Margarita’s abdomen? The answer to this question will become apparent later on.

On the appointed day Margarita was brought to our hospital for a C-Section by Dr. Palazzolo. On a dog that is this small, and has this many large puppies in its uterus, preanesthetic preparation is important. This consisted of a preanesthetic blood paneland intravenous fluids prior to and during surgery.

We keep a close tab on important physiologic parameters for all of our surgeries. Monitors like this give us an early warning of an impending problem.


Once our surgeon has scrubbed up and is  in sterile gown, gloves, and mask, the surgery begins


Here she is on the surgery table. You can see the green tape covering her IV catheter and if you look closely you might be able to tell that her abdomen has already been shaved. She has also been given a local anesthetic where her incision will be. All of these things are done prior to any anesthesia. They will allow us to use less anesthesia for the actual procedure which is important to minimize any anesthesia that depresses the pups.

At this point things start moving fast. Margarita has been given an IV sedative to relax her, the final surgical prep has been applied, and a breathing tube (called an endotracheal tube) is in her windpipe giving her 100% oxygen. Once she is intubated we move fast, and in the next 5 minutes all of the pups will be out of her uterus. While her anesthesia is being monitored the rest of the team is preparing to receive the pups.

She is draped and a rapid incision is made in her skin. By giving her the local anesthetic earlier she does not feel the skin incision and we can keep the anesthetic level to a minimum.

The uterus is rapidly located and gently squeezed out of her incision. We make the incision in her abdomen just big enough to gently exteriorize the uterus because she will heal faster and nurse her pups better with a smaller incision. This is where the experience of our surgeon, Dr. Palazzolo, comes into play.

This is one horn of the uterus and contains 2 of the pups. The other horn of the uterus can be visualized running horizontally at the bottom of the picture.

A scissors is used to cut into the uterus. Special care is taken not to cut the pups,which could be moving in the uterus.

The first pup is gently removed with his umbilical cord still attached.

You can get a better idea of the amniotic sac that completely covers the pups.

The first things our nurses do upon receiving the pups is to rub them gently yet vigorously in a towel. This stimulates them to breathe. They also gently shake them to remove fluid from their lungs.

The nurses use a special bulb syringe to suction fluids from pups that aren’t eliminating fluid from shaking and rubbing.

Any pup that is still not breathing well at this point is giving a drop of respiratory stimulant on the top of its tongue.

Once our nurses feel the pup is breathing on its own they tie its umbilical cord.

After all 4 pups are stable they are put under a heat lamp since at this early stage in their lives they do not have a very strong ability to regulate their body temperature.

Meanwhile back in surgery Dr. P is checking the abdomen to make sure there is no bleeding prior to suturing the abdomen. In Margarita’s case she was also spayed.

Her muscle layer is carefully sewn back together. These sutures are critical to prevent a hernia from occurring, especially when pups vigorously nurse.

With her skin sutures complete Margarita is now taken off the anesthetic machine and a pain injection is given to her.

Our nurses take care of the feeding while Margarita rests and recuperates. We won’t let 4 hungry pups nurse until she is strong enough.

Here are our 4 little piggies all in a row sleeping after their ordeal and their first meal. Their tummies are full and they are keeping each other warm.

In a surgery like this there needs to be close coordination between the surgeon, anesthetist, and nursing staff. You can see how much time and attention our nurses put into doting over these puppies.

Time for a little shut eye, we had a big day!

This is one of those pups several months later with her proud mom! Can you guess which of the above 4 puppies this one is? (Hint-look at the white spot on the forehead).

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Geriatric Medicine

In the past, we may have accepted a declining quality of life for our aging pets as a fact of life beyond our control. Like humans, older dogs and cats are more likely to encounter health problems than younger pets. Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, pets are living longer than ever before. A 7 year old dog or cat is equivalent to a 50 year old person. Most humanoids are practicing preventive medicine at this age- routine physical exams, breast exams, prostate exams, blood pressure checkups, blood panels and dietary changes. Dogs and cats need similar preventive medicine at this age. Since they age approximately 7 years for every 1 year of human life, an 8 year old dog or cat is equivalent to a 56 year old person, and a 9 year old dog or cat is equivalent ot a 63 year old person. This rapid yearly increase in equivalent age emphasizes the fact that we need to pay close attention to all dogs and cats as they move beyond 7 years of life.

Just as older people experience a progressive decline in physical condition, so do senior pets. Studies indicate that 36% of senior dogs suffer from osteoarthritis, 18% show signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, and the number one diagnosed disease of dogs in all age groups is dental disease. Compared to humans, old age problems may progress up to 7 times faster in senior pets. Having your senior pet examined only once a year is like a senior person visiting the doctor only once every seven years. That is why, as your pet nears 7 years of age (5 years of age in Giant Breeds), preventive senior exams every 6 months can help assess your pet’s current health, provide a baseline for monitoring changes in the years ahead, and help detect health problems in the early stages, when diseases can be treated more effectively.

Senior Care is “geriatric” medicine for pets. Senior health care implies both preventive and therapeutic approaches to medicine, including nutrition, dental care, and exercise as well as therapy for diseases.

Age Chart

Relative age of Your Dog in “Human Years”
Age Dog’s size in pounds
years 0-20 21-50 51-90 90 +
5 36 37 40 42
6 40 42 45 49
7 44 47 50 56
8 48 51 55 64
9 52 56 61 71
10 56 60 66 78
11 60 65 72 86
12 64 69 77 93
13 68 74 82 101
14 72 78 88 108
15 76 83 93 115
16 80 87 99 123
17 84 92 104
18 88 96 109
19 92 101 115
20 96 105 120
= Senior
= Geriatric



Changes in behavior or appearance may be the first indication of a problem. However, these signs may not be apparent in the exam room during your veterinary visit. It is important for you to watch for subtle changes, especially in stoic older pets.

Signs of aging:

Difficulty climbing stairs

Difficulty jumping up

Increased stiffness or limping

Loss of housetraining

Increased thirst

Increased urination

Changes in activity level

Excessive panting

Circling/Repetitive movements

Confusion or disorientation

Excessive barking

Less interaction with family

Decreased responsiveness

Tremors or shaking

Skin and haircoat changes

Changes in sleeping patterns

Less enthusiastic greeting or behavior

Altered appetite

Weight change

Common Health Conditions of Senior Pets

Obesity- As their metabolism slows down it is easy to overfeed. This leads to arthritis, sugar diabetes, liver disease, and heart disease.

Dental– Inflammation of the teeth and gums may lead to pain, infection, tooth loss, bad breath, kidney and heart disease, and, as a result, decrease your pet’s life expectancy.

Hormone (endocrine)- cause a vast array of symptoms that are treatable and sometimes curable.

Cushing’s– Excess production of cortisol (cortisone) by the adrenal glands.

Diabetes (sugar) – Excess glucose in the bloodstream due to a lack of insulin

Hyperthyroid– Excess production of thyroid hormone

Hypothyroid– Inadequate amount of thyroid production

Kidney– Failure of this organ can lead to chemical imbalances, anemia, compromised immune function, and blood clotting defects as well as altered mental capacity. Kidney disease is a leading cause of death in geriatric cats.Chronic Urinary Tract Infections can easily occur without you being aware. These are painful, and can predispose your pet to bladder stones.

Liver– Failure can lead to serious disease with chemical imbalances, anemia, compromised immune function, and blood clotting defects as well as altered mental capacity.

Heart– Pets with heart disease can experience difficulty breathing, fatigue, exercise intolerance, and lethargy.

Cancer– Can occur in many different organs. Early detection may improve the prognosis. Many treatments are available and most have few side effects.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome– Similar to senility or Alzheimers in people.

Senior Exam

With frequent checkups, at least twice a year, we can screen for common senior diseases. By diagnosing and treating problems earlier, we may be able to slow the disease process and prevent pain and discomfort.

In addition to a complete physical examinationdiagnostic tests can help detect many diseases before your pet displays signs of a condition. Even if results are normal, the findings give you veterinarian a good baseline to identify and monitor changes in your pet’s health as the years progress.

You can do an in-home exam to help catch problems before they become entrenched.

Physical Examination We can check for physical signs of cancer, arthritis, heart and lung disease, dental disease, or cataracts.
Complete Blood Count
This test helps identify infections, anemia, and certain types of cancer as well as problems with bleeding and the immune system.
Serum Chemistry Profile This blood test can help identify diseases of the liver and kidney, and endocrine disorders such as Diabetes or Cushing’s.
Complete Urinalysis A urine sample can help test for kidney diseasediabetes, urinary tract infections, andbladder stones.
Fecal Exam A fecal sample can be checked for internal parasites and bacterial overgrowth.
Other Tests Depending on your pet’s overall health, we may recommend additional tests such asblood pressure measurementradiographselectrocardiography (ECG or EKG),ultrasound, thyroid (hyperthyroid or hypothyroid) or adrenal gland (Cushing’s or addison’s) testing, as well as liver, pancreas, and small intestine function tests.

Senior Nutritional Needs

Nutritional needs of pets change as they get older. Senior dogs should consume fewer calories due to decreased activity and reduced daily energy needs. This is very important because obesity increases the risk of serious diseases, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and musculoskeletal disorders in older dogs.

Pet foods, specifically for seniors, are now available with fewer calories, limited phosphorous, more protein, balanced fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to meet the specific nutritional needs of senior pets. These foods have optimum amounts of nutrition, and can help in the progression of common diseases like kidney disease.

We recommend G/D (Geriatric Diet) by Hill’s as a great general food for older pets. Those pets that we suspect as developing kidney disease need K/D (Kidney Diet), also by Hill’s.


1. Survey of Veterinarians, 1998. Sponsored by The Iams Company and Pfizer Animal Health.

Developed for Long Beach animal Hospital, by Glenna M Gobar DVM, MPVM, MS, courtesy of Pfizer animal Health; Sept 2001

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Skin Conditions

Some of the more common skin conditions we see in dogs and cats at the Long Beach Animal Hospital

Allergic Dermatitis
Cushings (Hyperadrenocorticism)
Lick Granuloma
Sarcoptic Mange (Scabies)

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Nomads of the Summer and the Golden Eagle Chicks

Master eagle falconer releasing his golden eagle with a beautiful blue sky

We went back to Mongolia in June of 2016 to continue the filming of our documentary called “The Twelfth Eagle”. The two main reasons we went back in the summer were to watch Ardak release his current eagle of 6 years for good, and watch him capture a new golden eagle chick to train.

Dr. P in front of  statues of the four Beatles in Ulan Bataar Mongolia

The capital, Ulan Bataar, at 70 degrees F in the summer is much better than -20 degrees F in the winter!

There were three of us this time- Dr. Kennedy, Dr. Palazzolo, and Mary. Mary was our assistant photographer, and her main job was backing up our video and pictures each day, flying the drone (nicknamed Quasi), and lugging all our camera equipment half way around the world.

Dr. P and his camera crew posing in the mountains of Mongolia

An early morning rise to get the right sun for photography

Just like on our winter trip, the eagle doesn’t care about our script, so filming is best described as seat-of-the-pants. When an unplanned video opportunity presented itself there was no time to grab a tripod, and I used the nearest available body.

Dr. P using his guide as a tripod to hold a telephoto lens still to film golden eagles

This is Bota (it means baby camel in Kazakh), our assistant guide and part time tripod

The Mongolian countryside was just as beautiful in the summer as in the winter. Those blue skies go on and on. For this summer trip we will be in the high mountains, when the rains bring green pastures and plentiful grass for livestock grazing.  We spent most of our time at between 7,000- 8,000 feet.

The lush green grasses of summertime in western Mongolia with beautiful snow capped mountains in the distance

Even though it is June, there is still plenty of snow in the mountains

Summertime on a dusty dirt road in the mountains of western Mongolia along a river

Here is the dirt road we took to Ardak’s summer home

Wintertime on a frozen road in the mountains of western Mongolia along a river

This is the same road in the winter, when the water in the river spilled over onto the road and froze

Instead of crossing frozen river-highways we crossed rapidly flowing streams.


You need to pay attention to where you are sitting when taking these photos if you don’t want to spend the rest of your day in wet jeans.

Horse jumping stream in the western Mongolian countryside

This is horse country, and you will see plenty of them driving to Ardak’s summer home

Running horse in the western Mongolian countryside

They belong to the nomads who ride them daily

Beautiful white horse galloping past us

Beautiful white horse galloping towards us

This horse will be in our documentary movie

After 4 days of travel from California we made it to Ardak’s summer home. We had not seen him or communicated with him for 4 months, so there was plenty of catching up to do regarding our documentary and his eagles.

Master eagle falconer with his golden eagle perched on his glove

Ardak, with eagle attached to his arm of course, was waiting for us upon arrival

Kazakh nomad of western Mongolia smoking a hand rolled cigarette

He celebrated our return by immediately lighting up!

Golden eagle perched on a master falconers glove showing her eagerness to go hunting

Even though the eagles do not hunt in the summer anywhere near as much as the winter, his eagle was keen to hunt

The lush grasses from the summer rains and almost constant sun gives the livestock plenty of food to fatten up for the brutal winter. It is in these high country valleys that the nomads spend their summer.

An early morning birds eye view of the area

Yak's grazing on the lush green grasses of the summer mountains in western Mongolia

The Yaks graze freely in the unlimited grasses

Nomad lady milking a Yak

With all that nutritious grass the Yaks and cows produce plenty of milk

With the abundance of milk they would make some of their winter food.

Nomad cheese called kurt drying in the sun

This is their cheese drying on a rack, the cheese called kurt that we ate during our winter trip

Dr. P holding a baby goat

I felt like I was on a farm with all the baby animals like this goat

We stayed in a Ger, the smaller cousin of a Yurt. There was plenty of room for the three of us, with camera equipment, a table for food, and stove for those cold mountain nights. Ardak, his family, Bek, and the cooks stayed in a Yurt, a bigger and more ornate version of a Ger. The Ger was warm and cozy, and once we got a few of the leaks plugged, we stayed nice and dry for the few days it rained.

A Ger with smoke coming out of its stovepipe

At this elevation the nights were nippy. A wood burning stove in our Ger kept us warm.


Playing cards around a table in the Ger

Many nights were spent playing cards. It is quite the challenge to teach cards to people that are not card players (and falling asleep after a very long day).

Our watch cat keeping a close eye on things

We even had our own watch cat on duty to protect us

Our cooks posing with us as we eat breakfast outside in the beautiful sun

Our day started early, and we had the same wonderful cooks as last time. It was so nice to eat breakfast outside with that scenery and sunshine.

Dr. P eating breakfast with a cat on his lap

The cat loved to join us for breakfast

The cat on the lap of our editor as she tries to do her work

As a matter of fact, that lazy cat loved to join us wherever we were

We climbed a steep hill to get mobile WiFi at Ardak’s summer home. No luck this time. When we went into town during a rainy day we did get it. It was slow going, but when it finally kicked in it worked well. We were even able to Facetime with the folks back home- amazing!

Dr. P and his 2 travel companions trying to get WiFi on top of a mountain in western Mongolia

No reception, was not worth the climb up

We brought a DJI Phantom 4 drone with us for our aerial video footage. This inexpensive and sophisticated piece of equipment has revolutionized documentary film making, allowing talented people the ability to make outstanding movies that are a fraction of the cost of the big guys. We want our documentary video to be professional, so we flew in a special drone pilot from Hollyweird.

Our young camera lady readying the drone for filming

 She rode in from the airport on her horse , and got right to work testing the drone (affectionately named Quasi).

Learning the drone's hovering ability

All systems were go, so it was time to film something

When Quasi was warmed up and we were acclimated to our new digs we went looking for the eagle nest and chicks. Watching Ardak obtain a new chick is the primary reason we came in June. Ardak knew of a nest with chicks, and had been watching the nest for several weeks prior to our arrival.

The stream on the mountain we walked up to find the eagle nest

We started our walk by following this stream

We followed the stream uphill for quite a while. We had to cross the stream to get to the area of the eagle nest. While crossing this stream with slippery rocks we had to keep a close eye on a few people in our party.

Slipping on the slippery rocks as we crossed the stream

Even though there was one bruised butt, Quasi was not harmed in this fall, and thats all that matters, bruised ego not withstanding!

The steep walk to the eagle's nest

After we crossed the stream the walk became even steeper

There is still snow on the mountains in June

We crossed several snow banks, giving us an idea of how high we were and why we were huffing and puffing

Our drone pilot practicing her snow angels

We took a break on the way up because our drone pilot needed to practice her snow angels

A drone's eye view of the eagle nest

Ardak knew where the nest was, so we used Quasi to get a “birds eye view” of any chicks in the nest.

No chicks in the nest, just one egg that was not viable

All we saw was one egg and no chicks. This is not good news.

Our nomad guide climbing to get a better view of the nest

Ardak confirmed our finding by climbing up and looking for himself

Oops, no chicks. That’s a big problem! A large part of the reason we went in the summer was to watch Ardak take a chick from the nest as his new eagle to train for the next 6 years. He thinks the parents moved the chicks to some new nest in the mountains, and left this egg.  Didn’t know eagles could do that, so I am not sure we lost something in the translation.

A proud Kazakh nomad with his horse and golden eagle posing for us

Its time for plan B, whatever that is

While we were deciding what to do next we did some more filming of Ardak and the eagle he would soon release

A picture on the screen of the video camera while filming the nomad hunting with his eagle

We used the Canon C-100 Mark II video camera

We also used the Canon 1 DX Mark II still and video camera. This camera initially was used for still photography to freeze the eagle in flight.

The master eagle falconer releasing his eagle from his glove

The golden eagle just after release diving after a rabbit

The golden eagle just after release diving after a rabbit

The golden eagle just as it is landing

The golden eagle hovering over it's prey

With all the familiarity of constant time around the eagle, and Ardak’s casual approach due to his extensive experience with this eagle, it is easy to assume the eagle is just like a household pet. We had a vivid reminder that this is not the case. Bota was pulling a rabbit to train the eagle while we were filming. For some reason, hard to know why, and after numerous successful training runs, the eagle grabbed Bota and took her down.

The golden eagle grabbing the trainer by the leg

Fortunately the eagle did not hurt Bota. Ardak yelled at her to sit still as he raced towards her on his horse.

Master eagle falconer pulling the eagle off the trainer

He was there in no time and Bota was no worse for wear, just a bit shaken up like the rest of us

You can see the sequence in this video

Master eagle falconer mounted on his horse with eagle on his arm at sunrise

We got up real early and took a few sunrise photos

We warmed up Quasi and got some nice shots of Ardak working with the eagle while riding his horse. The eagle did great with the drone flying right next to it.

Drone following the master eagle falconer as he gallops with his eagle

Master eagle falconer galloping with his eagle on his arm

Master eagle falconer galloping with his eagle on his arm

Master eagle falconer galloping with his eagle on his arm

Master eagle falconer galloping with his eagle on his arm

There were many nomad families living in the mountain valley, so were invited to several “five finger ” feasts. This is their version of a backyard barbecue. We experienced this several times on our February trip. It was more enjoyable in the summer with the beautiful weather and with the nomads more relaxed.

Saying a prayer before slaughtering a sheep for a feast

They slaughtered one of their sheep for the feast. They conduct a special ceremony and prayer prior to the slaughter in honor of the sheep giving them sustenance.

The sheep is then prepared for a feast the following day for several families. As part of the feast they cook their version of pasta, which is like a big dumpling. While the dumpling is cooked the mutton is in a container below it being boiled.

Dumplings that look like plain Cinnabons for the mutton feast

A little cinnamon, and lots of butter, and they could have easily passed for Cinnabons!

Nomad ladies drinking milk and tea prior to the mutton feast

Before the feast everyone drinks a tea and milk combination and snacks on their hard cheese

Nomad children drinking milk and tea prior to the mutton feast

Even the kids drink the tea and milk


You never know who is going to crash a party when there is free food!


Before any food is eaten, another thank you is given. The eldest person present, who is the man with the red hat on the far left, is the first to cut a piece of mutton.


Once he takes the first piece everyone digs in


These ladies look much older than they are. This is due to the fact they are outside and exposed to abundant sunshine for almost all of their lives, making their skin age prematurely.


The kids are quite photogenic


We got them all to sit still long enough for this shot


A final toast to a good meal and a nice get-together

To help pass the time while Ardak looked for the eagle chicks at another nest he knew of, we had some fun with Ardak’s daughter and the young cooks. They work hard and are always behind the scenes, so it was nice to make them feel special.


We pretended Ardak’s daughter was a director, directing her dad on a script that will be in the documentary


She had no idea what this sign said or meant


She did enjoy bossing the cooks around for a few minutes though

With a little bit of coaxing she got the job done!


She was a tough taskmaster, and made us look at the video every night before we could go to bed


My mom made hats again


This time it was put on a 3 week old

While we were doing all this filming (and eating) Ardak’s son Alpus was searching an area of known eagle activity according to Ardak. Alpus rode his vintage Chinese motorcycle (it has no neutral gear, you need to keep the clutch in for neutral) around looking for it. It is a clunker for sure.


I took it for a short ride, and decided it was best not to go too far, so I parked it against the Ger and got away while I still could


I don’t know how he did it, but Alpus found a nest on this mountainside a few miles away from our Ger


The eagle nest is in the circle. Can you see it?


Our director loaded up the van and off we went with Quasi to see if there were any chicks before we climbed up the very steep slope to the nest


Conditions were windy so we didn’t dare get the drone too close to the cliff the nest was perched on


An adult eagle was present, so we assumed the chicks were there


This picture gives you perspective on the eagle nest circled on the right, and where we did most of our filming at the circle on the left 50 yards away

This mountain is longer, steeper and more precarious than is apparent on the above photo. We carried lots of camera equipment on the 30 minute hike to the top almost every afternoon once the nest was discovered.


While I trudged along…..


The guides would patiently wait for me at the top. They were mountain goats, and carried most of the heavy camera equipment.

We set up multiple cameras, and moved our locations several times to get the best vantage point based on cover and the changing afternoon light.


The C-100 Mark II video camera with 400mm lens, the 7D Mark II with 70-200 lens, a walkie talkie and swarvoski binoculars


At another vantage point we used the 400mm and 500mm lenses


The 500mm lens stable on a rock outcrop

Conditions we usually quite windy. This made filming problematic with our extreme telephoto lenses.

The adult eagle would watch us with interest, and then eventually fly away. This was our chance to approach the nest.

Golden eagle parent leaving the nest

We peeled our eyes with our binoculars while the adults were gone so we would not be at the nest when they returned.  Our guides have various and interesting ways to use the binoculars



Some liked the prone position


Bek held them vertical and used one eye only


Our ground crew 1/4 mile away was supposed to stay in touch with us and use the walkie talkies to give us an update on the eagles from their different vantage point.

Ardak kept calling them, and could not figure out why they did not answer?

We pulled out the binoculars and found out why- they were fast asleep!


In spite of our sleeping assistants we obtained some good shots and video of the chicks with our setup


Ardak went first to check on the chicks and determine which one was the female, the one he would eventually take


He demonstrated what he would do a few months later when the 3 week old chicks were old enough for him to take



Video of Ardak demonstrating how he will remove the chick

After Ardak went we all went there to see the chicks up close and personal


While some of us were at the nest the rest of us were scanning the skies for the return of the adults. We learned how to identify them from far away and we alerted those at the nest to get back in plenty of time.


Before they would land they would circle the nest many times to make sure it was safe


Here she is returning to the nest in slow motion

After we left Ardak and Bek went back to the nest several times to make sure everything was ok.


This is the smaller of the two chicks 2 months later


The chick has grown substantially over the last 2 months

Back at the fort Ardak prepares to release his eagle of 6 years now that he knows where he will obtain his new chick. He releases the eagle at this time in her life so she has many years to find a mate and produce offspring. Other nomads keep them longer. She is well trained and will survive well on her own.

He gives her a full meal before releasing her so she has a good start on her new life


Her release was very unceremonious. Ardak took her to the hillside and just let her go.


She took off like usual


 She flew away as he rode back to his Yurt


She landed on a rock and looked at him for a while, and then just flew away to her new life

Ardak has another adult eagle he will be using to hunt with and also to train the new chick. She will now get all of his attention and will become an accomplished hunter in a short time.

Here she is on the alert and keen to hunt

Everyone did a great job, so as a treat I brought out the chocolate covered almonds from Trader Joe’s I had been hiding until our last night. The nomads liked them, although I don’t think they quite understood when we tried to explain they were from Belgium.


The managers at Trader Joe’s back home got a kick out of this picture


After a final night of celebration with our chocolate almonds it was time to say good bye to these very hospitable and warm people. We will miss them, and hope to go back!


Ardak and Bek know their stuff and cannot do enough for you. I will be going back, probably in the summer, in the near future. You are welcome to join my group, even if you are not a photographer. You can contact me at if you are interested.

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Filming a Documentary Under Extreme Conditions


To say it was cold was an understatement. The early mornings, when the natural light was good for our photography, hovered around -20 F.  Thank goodness there was no wind and the sun was out to help warm us up.

Mornings were so cold that glasses were frosted and not usable


Ardak’s horse had some frost also



I dressed in 5 layers on top and 4 on the bottom. The boots I purchased in town worked great.


I filmed the full moon one evening, and it was just as cold as the morning



My breath at minus -20 F illuminated by my headlamp

While filming the moon my tripod froze to the lens base, and I had to bring it inside to thaw out so that I could take the lens off


Driving out to our filming spot each morning was just magical with the clear skies, snow, and beautiful mountains. The morning views made the cold more bearable.

The setting moon



The sunrise



It took lots of equipment and peeps to get just some of the footage we need for the movie. We are going back in June, when Ardak might release his current eagle forever, and obtain a new one. Will show those pictures when we return.

Setup prior to filming










How we obtained some of our video and photos








We used a GoPro for some of our video. Its light weight and small size allowed us to mount it where needed.

Sometimes we mounted it on Ardak’s horse


It took a little ingenuity and trial and error to get the GoPro to work when mounted on the eagle.


Click on the picture below to see the result of our efforts


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The Eagle in Action


Action shots of golden eagles do not come easily. They don’t feel obliged to follow the script for our movie most times, so filming them can be seat-of-the-pants. My experience with wildlife photography in general was a big help. The biggest help was Ardak, the master eagle falconer we stayed with. Without his significant help and cooperation, along with Bek and his assistant guide Jupar, we we not have obtained any pictures or footage for our movie.

Our two great assistants in action.


 Oops, wrong photo, sorry about that!

Bek up early, making sure all of our equipment was in the car and we were ready to find Ardak. That is the fox that Ardak killed one day prior to be used for filming and to train the eagle.


Bek helping put the GoPro on the eagle


Bek being the decoy to get our proper angle for filming. You can see the GoPro on the eagle’s back.


Bek helping get some shots when I was busy getting video footage


Jupar helping set up the tripod


Jupar helping with the eagle at the end of the day’s shoot



Bek and Jupar helping film an interview with Ardak in his house


 Once we identified the place to film by the angle of the sun (all pictures and video for the movie are with natural light) and Ardak’s input, he let the eagle loose.

Before it was released the eagle would chirp excitedly knowing it would be hunting



The following set of photos give you an idea of how the eagle approaches its prey. Enjoy!
















Slow motion video of Ardak releasing his eagle as it flies past us

We put a GoPro on the eagle’s back and obtained some great footage for the documentary


Flying into a rabbit

Soaring after a rabbit

None of this would have happened without the master eagle falconer named Ardak. Click on his picture below to learn more about him.


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Ardak- the Master Eagle Falconer


Ardak’s skills were taught by his father, a tradition that goes back thousands of years. The female eagle lives with him literally, and he takes it out almost every day. It is a major commitment of time for a nomad that has grazing livestock to attend to.

Our first view of his eagle when we first arrived and it was outside sunning


The neighbor has an eagle also, and they would both be outside at times


The eagle lives in the house with Ardak and his family. It sits there calmly with all the action of cooking and visitors going on around it




The eagle knows when it is time to eat though!


Ardak mixes rabbit meat with water before feeding


Eagle dinner time!


The eagle is a voracious eater

When we first arrived Ardak took his eagle out for us to calibrate our cameras for eagle filming later





We had a chance to get up close and personal




The eagle is used to hunt rabbits and fox. To be able to film it in the actual hunt for a rabbit is difficult due to the small size of the rabbit, the distance, and speeds involved. We did most of our photography with a rabbit and fox that were recently killed by Ardak for the pelts and meat like he does routinely. He saved them as training for the eagle, and we used them in our filming.

Ardak would ride off with the eagle in the morning to a place that most likely would have rabbits or foxes to hunt. We would leave early in the morning for good photography light. He went first on horseback, and we would drive ahead to set up our filming.

We would start early in the very cold morning since we were using natural light and the best light is when the sun is rising or just before setting


Off he would ride to our pre-arranged rendezvous point


We would go ahead and film him as he approached when possible




Ardak would climb to a good vantage point and scan for rabbits or foxes. He used some very old binoculars, but he had eagle eyes (excuse the pun), and nothing would escape his gaze.

When he first arrived to his vantage point he would wait for us


The eagle would be anxious to hunt


He would scan for several minutes at a time



When he found a rabbit he would shoot it and bring it back to feed and help train the eagle. I have no idea how he shot this rabbit using a very old 22 caliber rifle with iron sights.


Ardak was very cooperative, and would repeat any action so that we got the footage we needed. It gave us the opportunity to get some good still shots and some great footage of the eagle in flight.





Click on the photo below to see our page of the eagle in action


We filmed under some pretty challenging conditions. Click on the picture below to see what it was like.


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Mongolia 2016


Dr. Palazzolo and Dr. Kennedy  went to Mongolia in February of 2016, when it was bitterly cold, in order to watch a master falconer use his golden eagle to hunt foxes and rabbits. It was a preliminary trip for an indie movie we are making on the relationship between a Kazakh nomad and his golden eagle.

We stayed with a nomad (and his family, including eagle) named Ardak


We had a wonderful time with Ardak and his family, and can’t wait to go back!


We are going back in June of 2016 to continue filming (we are bringing a DJI Phantom 4 aerial drone this time). After the June trip we are going back again for the eagle festival in October.  When we return we will start editing the documentary.

Many nomads congregate in early October at the eagle festival to reinforce their unique bond, celebrate their culture, keep this tradition going, and put on a show for visitors


Dr. Kennedy went there in the fall of 2015 for preliminary work and to lay the groundwork for our video work in February of 2016. She made a connection with a great travel company called Back -to -Bek Travel ( run by a Kazakh named Bek that speaks fluent English and sets up tours. A trip to Mongolia with him is highly recommended, especially for the eagle festival in October.

Dr. Kennedy knows how to ride a horse, so Ardak let her ride along when they took the eagle out hunting


When I first mentioned to family and friend we were going to Mongolia the response was never lukewarm. Most people asked “are you crazy”?  A small percent said “I would love to go”!

When I called my mom and told her  I was going to Mongolia, and for her to start knitting hats for the kids we would encounter, she asked “are you crazy”?


Before we begin, let’s go over some anatomy and see where Mongolia is on the big map. It’s between Russia and China. There is no more Outer Mongolia. What used to be called Outer Mongolia is now just called Mongolia. Inner Mongolia is the part of China that is just below the Mongolian border.


We spent most of our time in far western Mongolia, which is the land of the semi-nomadic people called Kazakhs. Their possessions are few, and usually consists of their horses and livestock (and of course, their golden eagles).

We flew from South Korea to Ulaanbatar (large red circle on right), then flew to far western Mongolia, to a town called Olgi (smaller red circle on left). After spending the night in Olgi we drove 5 hours south to Altai, marked as X on the map below. It is here we stayed with Ardak and did our filming.


Bek will do anything to make your trip a success. In this short video he mentions this in regard to getting the footage we wanted for our documentary. It was taken during a birthday celebration for Dr. Kennedy as we were toasting to her health with vodka.

This fascinating trip is broken down into 4 areas. Click on the links below to learn much more, and decide if you want to visit some day.


Traveling to far western Mongolia



The master eagle falconers



The golden eagle in action



Filming a documentary under extreme conditions


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Logistics of Going to Mongolia

Wildlife documentaries are unscripted, and take hundreds of  hours filming to produce a 2 hour movie.  Golden eagles don’t tend to know their lines all that well, so patience is the most important piece of equipment to pack into your bags.

Before we left we worked on a script for the documentary in order to give us an idea of the video we needed. Dr. Kennedy has trained in this area at UCLA’s film school, and with the help of a professional editor, we had a framework on what we needed to film


By the time we came back from the February 2016 trip we threw half the script out the window and went to plan B. After we return with footage from the June, 2016 (woohoo, it will be warmer then) we will probably be at plan C.  When we finally get down to editing its probably plan D. Such is the life of a wildlife documentary.

We took lots of camera equipment and cold weather gear. The cameras and lenses consisted of the following Canon gear:

  • C-100 Mark II video camera
  • 1Dx still camera (will be bringing the 1 Dx Mark II also when we return in June)
  • 7D Mark II still camera
  • 5D Mark III still camera
  • Go Pro Hero
  • 50mm f/1.2 prime lens
  • 24-105mm f/4 zoom
  • 100mm f/2.8 macro
  • 135mm f/2 prime
  • 70-200mm f/4 zoom
  • 400mm DO f/4 prime
  • 500mm f/4 prime
  • 1.4X teleconverter
  • 2X teleconverter

In addition we had 3 tripods, lots of batteries, two computers, and several external hard drives. Now all we had to do was to figure out how to get all the camera gear, clothes, presents, (and cheerios) to fit into our bags.

My living room several days before our trip. The pictures speak for themselves.



We were able to stuff all of this into our 8 pieces of luggage.


The airport in Seoul, Korea is called Incheon. Like many Asian airports, it is large, busy, spotless, and beautiful. There are people in the restrooms that spend their day cleaning from one end to the other, back and forth.

On one signboard, for a 2 hour period of time, departures only, there were 150 flights from the main terminal. This gives you and idea of how busy these Asian airports are.


As we walked to our gate we passed a classic music concert in the airport


After a long layover at Incheon,  and another 4 hour flight, we landed at Chinggis Khaan International airport in Ulan Bataar. Notice how they spell what we could call Genghis Khan.

Its not quite the same thing as the airport in Seoul


The temp when we landed (yes, that is in F). Ulan Bataar is one of the coldest cities in the world.


We stayed at a hostel called the Golden Gobi. It is a meeting place from travelers all over the world. It cost $28 per night for two people. Most everything in Mongolia is inexpensive compared to other countries.

It came as a nice surprise that the Ritz-Carlton had a hotel in Ulan Bataar


The proprietors were friendly, it was clean, and most important, the heater worked


We decided to eat authentic Mongolian food our first night, so off we went in search of local eats. We bundled up and walked the streets until we found a restaurant that fit the bill for authenticity- Round Table Pizza!

After the long time it took to get here a little comfort food from back home seemed like a better idea than authentic


This is your first chance to practice your Mongolian


Just in case your Mongolian is a little rusty, here is your interpretation

After a glamorous night at the Ritz it was off to the airport again for our 4 hour flight west to Olgi in far western Mongolia. It was a turbo prop filled with people.

On this flight we had a chance to view the landscape that would be our home for over a week

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When you land at Olgi you get your bags while they are still outside

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As you can see by the size of this police station, Olgi is not one of the world’s larger cities


At Olgi we met Bek and his assistant Jupar, purchased some winter boots (for $60), and had lunch.  After lunch it was time to go over camera equipment with the guides. Dr. K would be spending her time with the GoPro, I would be splitting my time with the still cameras and the Canon C-100 Mark II video camera.  We needed the guides to  help take still shots to make sure we had all the camera angles we needed of the eagle while on Ardak’s horse and in flight.

Bek and Jupar were fast learners, and soon were able to put the equipment together and mount the gear on a tripod


Off we went to teach them how to use all this stuff we brought. First we started on static objects like people, then moving objects, then finally we used a surrogate eagle to simulate what they would be shooting at Ardak’s.

Japar and Bek, our two budding photographers, in their Nat Geo poses



An example of one of their shots on static subjects. You felt like you were in Russia with the way the people looked


We then moved to a moving object and they did great. Notice how bundled up the people need to be in this below zero weather.


Once they had their moving shot skills down pat we moved on to our practice eagle shots (they did not pay this guy enough to run around pretending  he was an eagle). I really only did it to keep warm, but I never told them that.


We took Bek, Jupar, and his family to dinner that night. This dinner was our first exposure to how cute and well behaved the children were in Mongolia. We found all the kids, including the kids of the nomads, to be well adjusted and happy.

These are Jupar’s kids. The little man in the middle did not stop staring at us and smiling .

The next day we drove 5 hours south to Altai where Ardak’s winter house was located and our home for the next week. It was Dr. P, Dr. K, Bek, Jupar, and Bek’s two nieces, who would be our cooks, for the next week.

We loaded up Bek’s magic bus with Jupar and the two cooks inside, along with our food and hay for Ardak’s lifestock


Bek, Dr. P, and Dr. K jumped into Bek’s Russian made Patriot SUV


Off we went through the beautiful Mongolian countryside. These low res pictures for the web do not do justice to the scenery. The sky was this blue throughout our trip.

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 We encountered groups of camels along the way. They  are all part of a herd that is owned by a nomad.

Do you know what two flavors camels come in?


We also encountered nomad families moving their meager belongings to the high country


Their calf was in the bed of this old Russian truck


Satellite dish on top


Grandpa and grandma were in the front seat


Along the way to Ardak’s we stopped at the house of a master falconer named Mana. Dr. K stayed with him in October of 2015, and she wanted to say hi to him and bring him gifts and pictures she took during that trip. We were guests for lunch.

The porch in front of Mana’s house


 Mana and his wife were great hosts and put out a big spread for us


Their grandkids were super cute



This was our first opportunity to see a golden eagle. This one was hanging out in the kitchen.


Mana’s son fired up the stove and the feast began



When the food came out Bek explained what we were eating.



Khurt is hard cheese


They mix cow and yak milk with their tea


Everyone joined in the feast and the stories started. Bek interpreted everything perfectly since his english is excellent (he learned a few new slang words from us), and he is intimately familiar with the nomads.



They were thrilled to see themselves in the pictures that Dr. K brought them


They appreciated the presents we brought them


And loved the hats my mom made for the children





They gave us presents in return



They even gave us eagle feathers. These feathers are illegal to bring back into the U. S.



After lunch we took some pictures with the eagles and hawks (the bird on the left is actually a buzzard).




We drove a few more hours, past a Mongolian army checkpoint, through the town of Altai, and finally to Ardak’s.

No pictures are allowed at military checkpoints, so don’t look at these


The town of Altai. We felt like we were in Siberia.


Rush hour traffic in Altai


When the Lakers are in town this is where they play


After 5 days of travel from the U.S. we finally  made it to Ardak’s. These nomads are master horsemen, and their lives revolve around their livestock. In the winter they set up a permanent home with an area for the livestock. In summer they move and go into the high country to let their cattle, yaks, goats, and sheep, graze.

Ardak’s saddle just outside his house


The livestock pen where the animals spend the night, protecting them from the elements and also the wolves



This is a yak. They can tolerate the extreme cold better than a cow, but produce less milk.


The cows are given blankets to help them get through the cold nights. To get the best of both worlds they breed the yaks and cows.


Ardak’s family welcomed us like old friends. The food never stopped, they could not do enough for us, and the kids were entertaining.

Our first encounter with Ardak


Ardak with his daughter


His daughter was our entertainment for the week with her nonstop curiosity about us





Ardak’s wife and Bek’s nieces started the cooking as soon as we got there, and kept us well fed at all times. We ate traditional food at times, ate the American fare that Bek brought for us, and nibbled on our own snacks brought from the U. S. (usually that meant Cheerios and dried mangoes).

The ladies cooked up dumplings made with lamb and cow meat





A typical breakfast was an omelette, bread, and of course, cheerios


A typical lunch was  fresh vegetable soup with some meat


The table at the room we stayed in was never devoid of food and drink


Dr. K had a birthday while there, so they made a special birthday cake. Can you guess the ingredients?


After they sang happy birthday we had a toast. The nomads are not drinkers, and only drink on special occasions. The heavy Russian influence in the area means we will be toasting with vodka.


All this time the Ardak’s eagle waited in the kitchen for her turn to eat. Click on her picture below and you will learn much about her and see just a few of our thousands of pictures and video of her hunting with Ardak for our documentary.


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