Doc Talk: Dr. Kenton Rexford

July 5, 2017
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Dr. Kenton Rexford
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A rendering of the new PVSEC South building in Washington.

PVSEC – which stands for Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center – has long been the go-to emergency and animal hospital in the North Hills. Its Camp Horne Road location opened in 2008. Now, local pet owners will have a closer animal hospital (in addition to University Veterinary Specialists in Peters Township) when PVSEC South opens Aug. 14 on Route 19 near Meadowlands. The 13,000 square-foot facility will have surgery, internal medicine and emergency services, as well as part-time ophthalmology and cardiology services. “The hope of course is that it will grow over time and we will be able to offer even more expanded services,” says Dr. Kenton Rexford, an emergency room doctor with Veterinary Emergency Clinic (PVSEC’s predecessor) since 1998.

We spoke with Dr. Rexford about pet emergencies – the most common, how to avoid them and what to do in the event of one. And while we hope you don’t have to visit, Dr. Rexford will be spending the majority of his time at PVSEC South during its initial months.

How many animals would you say that you see in a typical shift and how long is that shift?

Our doctors work 12-hour shifts. There are multiple doctors on duty during every shift and each doctor probably sees about 12 emergencies per shift. We see about 18,000 emergencies a year, so that works out to about 50 per day.

If a pet has an emergency, what is the best protocol to follow in order to get them to PVSEC or another emergency room?

If you are already familiar with the facility, you can pretty much just put them in the car and go. If someone were uncertain of where to go, they can either search online or call their vet. The regular vets will recommend the facilities that they prefer, and even when they are closed, they’ll have it on their answering machine.

What are the most common emergencies that come in?

Gastrointestinal problems, trauma, respiratory disease, cardiac disease, urinary tract problems and poisonings.

Macaque in the trees
A rendering of the new PVSEC South building in Washington.

Any tips on how to avoid situations that could lead to a visit?

I have a whole hour long talk on that! Keep your dog on a leash or in a fenced area. Keep your cat indoors. Don’t allow your pets access to any of the following: the garbage can, pet medications or human medications, don’t allow them free access to human food. For example, don’t leave the candy out at Christmas, or leave your purse on the ground. Sugar-free gum is poisonous to dogs. Keep your pet away from grapes and raisins, whish are toxic to dogs. Ethylene glycol, which is antifreeze, is toxic to every mammal. People should be conscientious of if they are using any sort of mouse or rat poison, groundhog bait or grub bait – these things are all potentially toxic to our pets. Alcoholic beverages – they don’t metabolize them the way we do, so they can be very bad for them. Recreational drugs, in addition to prescription drugs can be detrimental. And then some types of plants, for example, lilies are toxic to cats.

Make sure to schedule regular vet visits; annual checkups are important. Obviously, allow them free access to water, try and maintain a consistent feeding schedule. Be conscious of the weather – they can get in trouble when it’s hot and humid, and they can also get in trouble when it’s extremely cold. When you have either human or animal guests in your home, it’s up to you to try to regulate what they’re doing. In other words, Uncle Jim wants to feed the dog under the table or Aunt Sally thinks that her dog will be perfectly fine interacting with your cat. The other thing is that these parks where people are allowed to take their dogs – they’re great. But at the same time, you have to be conscientious – it’s a good place to get bitten.

It’s not possible to completely avoid the emergency room – things are going to happen. My own pets have been in here from time to time.

It seems like pet ownership today is not like it was even 20 years ago. Meaning, people seem willing to do and spend a lot more on their pets and for their pets. Have you noticed that shift in the course of your career and if so, what do you attribute it to?

I suppose a sociologist would be a better person to ask, but I think, especially in the United States of America and other highly developed countries, animals, for the most part, have changed from having a utilitarian role in our lives – like the guard dog, the barn cat, the horse, the cow, the goat that you basically had as necessitates. Now, pets are essentially a luxury item, if you will. Very few people have to have an animal, but many people want to have an animal. And now the reason we have animals is for companionship, so when an animal that’s a utility to you has an injury, you make an economic calculation about that animal – and I’m speaking very, very generally. But when you look at an animal that you consider a companion, the math goes out the window for most people. It becomes more of ‘What am I capable of doing for this animal, what I can I do, how can I give them the best care possible within reason,’ versus ‘What’s this cow worth to me?’

PVSEC South is located at 1535 Washington Road, Washington. For more information, visit



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