Understanding Feline Leukemia

If you’re a cat owner a diagnosis of feline leukemia virus (FeLV) would likely devastate you.

This is a disease that’s second only to trauma in the death of cats.  But the prevalence has decreased over the last 25 years because more reliable testing exists, as well as a vaccine that’s about 85% effective.

A feline leukemia diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence.  To understand why, you first need to understand the illness.

What is FeLV?

FeLV is a disease that suppresses a cat’s immune system putting them at risk for other infections and illnesses.  Those secondary conditions can be fatal.  And feline leukemia is the most common cause of cancer in cats.

This virus only affects cats… dogs, people and other animals are safe.  The disease is passed from one cat to another through bodily fluids like blood, saliva, urine and feces. Grooming and fighting are the most likely means of transmission.

But once the virus leaves your cat’s body, it doesn’t live long.  Only a few hours.  And 70% of cats that come in contact with FeLV resist the infection or fight it off with no symptoms.

Kittens can contract feline leukemia in utero or through an infected mother’s milk.  And younger cats between 1 and 6 years of age are at the greatest risk of getting it.  As cats age, their resistance to the virus seems to improve.

This condition affects all breeds of cats and males are more likely than females to get FeLV.

The troubling thing about the spread of this disease is that a cat can carry and transmit it to another cat without showing signs of infection.

Indoor cats have little risk of acquiring FeLV.  But if you’re bringing a new cat into the house, test kitty first. Multi-cat households are at greater risk especially if the cats share water/food bowls and litter boxes.

What are the signs of feline leukemia?

A cat can test positive for FeLV but have no symptoms at all while they’re fighting it off.  But a cat that is symptomatic may show signs similar to so many other illnesses, like:

Diarrhea

Difficulty breathing

Wobbling

Mouth/gum inflammation

Pale gums

Skin and/or ear infections

Skin abscesses

Whites of eyes are yellow

Enlarged lymph nodes

Bladder or respiratory infections

Weight loss

Loss of appetite

Poor coat condition

Weakness

Lethargy

Fever

Inflammation of the nose, cornea or surrounding eye tissue

If you notice any of these signs, see your vet.  Quick intervention is essential to maintaining your cat’s health.

How is this condition diagnosed?

Your vet will do a full exam along with history and blood work.  Two blood tests are used to diagnose the disease.

The ELISA blood test identifies FeLV proteins in the blood.  This is a sensitive test able to detect the virus early on. A cat that’s positive with this test while it’s trying to clear the virus may test negative in a few months.

Your vet will use the IFA blood test to confirm a positive ELISA test.  This test detects virus in the white blood cells indicating the cat is in the later stages of infection.  Cats that test positive with this test are unlikely to clear the virus and the prognosis is poor.

Your vet may also suggest a bone marrow biopsy to find out if the infection has affected the bone marrow… also a later stage scenario.

What’s the treatment?

If your cat has feline leukemia, their quality of life can be good.  Although no cure exists, regular check ups and preventive care to head off any secondary infections can keep your cat feeling well for many years.

Your vet will probably recommend twice-yearly exams, regular lab tests and parasite control to identify problems early and prevent complications.

When secondary infections arise, early intervention is the best course of action.

Certain symptoms like diarrhea, kidney disease or muscle loss may require a diet change.

Keep your FeLV-positive cat indoors and away from other cats.  If they aren’t already, neuter them too.

What’s the prognosis?

If the disease impacts the bone marrow or results in cancer, the prognosis is not good.

But many cats that test positive in the early stages can fight it off.  Kittens are more likely to have a harder time than an adult cat once the disease takes hold.  But preventing and managing secondary infections can prolong your cat’s life.

Can you prevent feline leukemia?

The best prevention is keeping your cat indoors and away from infected (or potentially infected) cats.

There is a vaccine, but it’s not 100% effective.  It is still wise though to vaccinate your cat if they are at high-risk. Shelter cats, outdoor cats and cats that spend time at a cattery should get the vaccine but only if they test negative for the disease.

Test any kittens over 8 weeks of age before bringing them into a home with other cats.  And if your cat is FeLV-positive, don’t bring another cat into your home even if it’s vaccinated.  Not only will you be exposing that cat to the disease, it also may cause undo stress on the sick cat.

Although this disease is awful, in some instances you can manage the condition in a way that enables your cat to be happy and live a full life.

Does your cat have feline leukemia?  How has the disease progressed?  Share your experience at the top of the page.

 

Why Dogs Eat Poop

Have you ever had a dog that ate poop?  Two of my dogs found poop to be quite a delicacy.  It’s a repulsive problem.

Shockingly, 16% of dogs eat their poop regularly, according to a study done at the University of California at Davis.  And it’s a common reason for re-homing or euthanizing a dog.  That’s sad!

What would cause a dog to develop this disgusting habit?

Well, in puppies coprophagia (poop eating) is instinctual.  In older dogs, it’s a health or behavior issue.

A normal puppy will often eat their poop because they’ve learned this behavior from Mom.  To keep her den clean and to protect her babies from predators, Mom eats the poop to get rid of the scent.

A puppy will follow Mom’s lead and learn to eat poop but they’ll usually outgrow the habit.

Sometimes though, the taste of poop can become normal for a puppy because they taste and smell it on their mom’s mouth.  She may regurgitate food that’s mixed with the poop she’s eaten.

Mom also licks the pups tush to stimulate pooping in the first three weeks, which also leaves fecal matter in her mouth.

The puppy becomes used to the scent of poop on Mom’s breath and the taste of poop when the feces mixes with regurgitated food.

This normalization can make breaking the poop eating habit difficult.

While exploring the world, eating poop is normal for a puppy.  But if they are eating a well-balanced healthy diet, they should stop doing this.

Why wouldn’t a puppy outgrow poop eating and why would an older dog suddenly start?

Sometimes poop eating in puppies continues long after it should stop because they think food should be poop flavored from their days with Mom.

But they may also continue to do this for health or behavioral reasons.  In addition, an older dog may suddenly start scavenging for poop.

If your adult dog is eating poop and they’re showing other symptoms like weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea or behavioral changes, this could be the sign of a health issue.  Talk to your vet.

Here are the main causes of coprophagia.

Poor digestion – Feeding a diet that’s low in digestible nutrients may cause the food to come out the way it went in.  To your dog, that tastes good.  A problem with the digestive system may also cause the food to come out undigested.

Diseases of the intestinal tract, liver and brain, parasites, malabsorption syndromes, diabetes, Cushing’s, thyroid disease –  Your vet can rule these out.

Drugs – Some medications like steroids can cause your dog to eat poop.

Boredom –  If you leave your dog alone for hours, they may play with and eat their stool.

Stress – A dog that’s crated for long periods or a dog that’s re-homed may eat poop because they are under stress.  Any stressful situation can bring this habit on.

Hunger – Is your dog getting enough to eat during the day?  If they aren’t, anything that seems edible will do as far as your dog is concerned.  If you aren’t sure how much to feed, ask your vet.

A dog can also be hungry if they’re harboring a parasite that’s leaching nutrients from their system.  Your dog will look to supplement their diet any way they can.

Attention Seeking – If you’ve freaked when you’ve seen your dog eat poop, they’ve learned they can get you to react when they do.  Even if they’re getting negative attention, they may continue to eat poop to get a rise out of you.

Alternatively, a dog may eat their poop to get rid of the evidence if you’ve yelled at them for having an accident.

Restrictive confinement – Puppy mill dogs crated all day may eat poop.  In addition, these dogs may lack food, which encourages poop eating.

I rescued a greyhound that was a poop eater.  Long hours crated at the track was probably the cause.

Isolation –  Dogs locked in a basement or garage away from their people may eat poop.

Associating poop with food –  This can happen if you feed your dog too close to where they do their business.

Living with a sick or elderly dog –  A healthy dog may eat the sick dog’s poop to protect the pack from predators… instinct.

If you live in a multi-dog home and one of the dog’s eats the poop of another, it could be a sign that the pooper is sick and not sufficiently digesting their food.  To the poop eater, eating their housemates poop is like scoring another meal.

And finally, some dogs just like to eat poop.

How can you stop this behavior?

From my experience I can tell you it’s difficult to end this behavior if a health problem isn’t the cause.

Start by feeding a high–quality digestible food like HusseThis will ensure your dog’s body is using the protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in their food and not pooping them out.

Assess your dog’s level of exercise, playtime and the attention you give them.  Dogs need those things.  If they’re not getting what they need from you, they’ll let you know.  And they may do that by eating their poop.

You can try additives in the food.  These stool-eating deterrents never worked for my dogs.  And studies show they work in only 2% of cases.  Some say meat tenderizer added to the food makes the poop unpleasant as a snack.

The best advice is to be diligent about picking up your dog’s poop as soon as they go.  And always walk your dog on a leash so they can’t eat another dog’s poop.

There haven’t been many studies of coprophagia even though it’s a common habit.  But the little research that’s been done revealed things about a dog’s preferences.

Interestingly, dogs will rarely eat soft poop or diarrhea.  They like their stool snacks firm.  Most dogs that eat poop want it to be fresh… 1 to 2 days old.  Females are most likely to eat poop and intact males are least likely.

And 85% of poop eaters prefer eating another dog’s poop to their own.

Even if your dog doesn’t eat dog poop, most dogs love cat and horse poop.  So prevent access to this delicacy if you own a cat or your dog is around horses.

Although coprophagia is a difficult behavior to change, you can avoid the problem by cleaning up after your dog and controlling them on a leash when you are away from home.  Much better alternatives to giving your pet up, or worse yet, euthanizing them.

Does your dog eat its poop?  How do you handle the problem?  Share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

Cannabis And Dogs

With all the talk about medical marijuana, do you wonder if it might help your aging or infirm dog?

I do.  After all, if marijuana has medicinal benefits for humans, why wouldn’t it be beneficial for our pets?

In my quest to find the answer to that question, I’ve gained clarity.  But I’ve also learned cannabis is a slippery slope.  Here’s why.

Just like in humans, marijuana can relieve many unpleasant medical conditions and symptoms.

But because it’s not legal in many states, and the federal government doesn’t recognize marijuana as legal in any state, little research on dogs (or humans) has been done.

Veterinarians won’t recommend it for fear of losing their licenses.  And you can’t get a medical marijuana card for a dog.

But cannabis, the plant marijuana comes from, can be helpful in relieving some debilitating health conditions.  And if you decide cannabis is right for your dog, ways exist to get it.  We’ll discuss those in a minute.

How can cannabis help your dog?

Marijuana can relieve symptoms of cancer, seizures, stress, anxiety, arthritis, back pain, nausea and other gastrointestinal issues.

There is much anecdotal evidence of improved quality of life in once-suffering pets.  But no scientific research to back it up.

And as long as it’s considered a controlled substance by the federal government, research on cannabis will remain stalled.

How does cannabis work?

Here’s a little lesson in marijuana, one byproduct of the cannabis plant.  Cannabis contains over 400 known natural compounds and at least 60 plant-based cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are like messengers that travel to receptor sites in the endocannabinoid system, which all vertebrates have.  This bodily system regulates many physiological and cognitive processes including appetite, pain sensation, and mood and is the system of the body most affected by cannabis.

In marijuana, the two cannabinoids produced in greatest abundance are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Of all the cannabinoids found in cannabis, only THC will make you high. CBD provides the medicinal component and THC the psychoactive component.  Any cannabis product you would give your dog would contain a low dose of THC, not enough to get them high.

In fact, many products for dogs get their CBD from industrial hemp, a product with many purposes.  Hemp, like marijuana, comes from the cannabis plant but does not have psychoactive properties.

Cannabis grown for industrial hemp has a very low THC content, only around .3%.  The THC content of cannabis grown for marijuana can be 6 to 7%, sometimes up to 20%.

The two cannabinoids used together are what make medical marijuana most effective.  So a small amount of THC is necessary.

The receptors the cannabinoids bind to determine the effects of cannabis.   There are two main cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2.  In dogs, CB1 exists in the brain, salivary glands, and hair follicles.

CB2 is in the skin, immune system, nervous system, and some organs.  As in humans, it’s important to give your dog the right cannabinoids to achieve the desired effect.

And correct dosing is critical!  Your dog will not get high if the dose is correct.

Although death from marijuana in dogs is rare if it’s used correctly, an overdose can be life threatening.

The biggest risk of an overdose in dogs is them getting into your stash.  Most dog deaths related to marijuana overdose occurred when the dog ate edibles infused with pot that contained large amounts of chocolate, raisins or coffee.  All toxic for dogs.

Consuming large amounts of marijuana, however, can be fatal.  The signs of an overdose are lethargy, dilated pupils, balance problems, drooling, muscle twitching, vomiting, involuntary urination and even unconsciousness.  Get to the vet if you suspect your dog got into your pot.

How much cannabis should I give my dog and how do I get it?

Determining the correct dose is one of the greatest challenges because there is no research to tell us the right dose.

Weight doesn’t determine dosage.  The efficiency of the endocannabinoid system affects dosage.  Your vet must observe your dog to assess that.

If you decide to give your dog medical marijuana, you must find a vet who has experience using it for treatment.  Many holistic vets do.  They can suggest reputable manufacturers and correct dosing.  But they will not dispense it.  And they are not able to give you a medical marijuana card for your pet.

Dogs are usually given a topical oil or an edible—a food item made with marijuana or infused with cannabis oil—which you can buy at a dispensary.

If you live in a state where marijuana is legal you can get it easily.  If you live in a state where only medical marijuana is legal and you have a medical marijuana card, you can go to a reliable dispensary and find products made for dogs.

Only give your dog a product formulated for them.

Dogs are more sensitive to cannabinoids than humans.  They need a much smaller dose.  There is a concern in the veterinary community people will use their own experience with medical marijuana as a guide and will give their pets too much.

If you live in a state where medical marijuana is not legal, you may still be able to buy hemp products.  These products still offer the benefits of CBD.

As with any medication or supplement, I can’t stress enough the need to seek the advice of a veterinarian before you give your dog cannabis.

Marijuana instead of medicine?

Marijuana should not replace any medicine your vet recommends.  You can use it in conjunction with traditional treatments, or when other treatments have failed.

It is not a cure-all.  But marijuana does not seem to have the life-threatening side effects of many traditional medicines.  It doesn’t cause organ damage, stomach distress or sedation.

When considering medical marijuana for your dog, be realistic about its capabilities.  But if it can improve your dog’s quality of life, marijuana may be worth a try.

Do you use marijuana to treat a medical condition in your dog?  Share your experience at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gastrointestinal Obstructions… They Can Happen Before You Know It

It started with a little throw-up on Monday morning.  By Thursday afternoon, my 1-year-old Golden had a 10-inch incision in her abdomen.

Let me explain. Last Sunday in a moment of inattention, my mischievous little girl Shea ate a 2-inch hole in my living room carpet.

Although this was out of the ordinary, even for her, I wasn’t overly concerned.  She eats a lot of junk, i.e. sticks, tree pods, assorted leaves and other yard debris.  Since I’ve had her, she’s never gotten sick from these antics.

In fact, she’d never even thrown-up in the 10 months we’ve had her.  This seemed different.

By Monday, I knew something was up.  She got sick 4 or 5 times during the day.  But her typical voracious appetite continued, and she was her usual ebullient self.

A change in behavior and appetite are indicators of something serious.  And I saw none of that.

That night she got sick, and the next day she threw up after she ate.  Now her behavior started to change.  She seemed unhappy.  This was Tuesday.

We went to the vet. X-rays showed some gas in her stomach but nothing concerning.  The doc felt she irritated her stomach when she ate the carpet.  “Feed her chicken and rice and call if she doesn’t improve.”

She didn’t improve. By the next afternoon, she seemed worse.  She stopped eating, and she was lethargic… for her.

Back to the vet we went.  The vet would run a barium series, which would detect an obstruction if she had one.

A barium series is a series of x-rays taken over 4 to 8 hours while your dog drinks barium.  The barium appears white on the x-rays.  As it moves through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the vet can see its progress.  If the barium is unable to pass, there’s an obstruction.

Shea wasn’t at the hospital 10 minutes when I got a call that the first x-ray looked a lot different from yesterday.  They hadn’t given her the barium yet, but it was clear there was an obstruction.  The x-ray showed a pronounced build-up of gasses in her GI tract.  She needed surgery.

When all was said and done, she had three obstructions.  The carpet wasn’t the only problem.  A tough string from the carpet backing connected two of the obstructions.  The lower obstruction was trying to pass but the string connecting the two obstructions held it in place.

Here are the contents of Shea’s stomach.   The problematic string is in the center of the photo.

IMG_3188

The vet told me that string could have perforated the intestines and potentially killed her. Thankfully we caught it in time. And she’s doing fine.

Let me share with you some important information about gastrointestinal obstructions.  An obstruction is an emergency that can lead to death if not handled quickly.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is a gastrointestinal obstruction?

A GI obstruction is a blockage in the stomach or intestines that prevents solids or liquids from passing through the GI tract.

It’s a fairly common condition because dogs don’t care what they eat.  Particularly young dogs that are at greatest risk.

Obstructions can happen to cats too.

What are the signs of an obstruction?

Vomiting

Lack of appetite

Weakness

Diarrhea

Weight loss

Dehydration

Bloating

Your dog may not suffer from all of these.  My dog didn’t have diarrhea.  But she also didn’t poop for 4 days.

What causes an obstruction?

Foreign objects like the carpeting Shea ate are not the cause of all obstructions.

A tumor, inflammation of the GI tract, a hernia, intussusception, pyloric stenosis and mesenteric torsion can all cause an obstruction.

Intussusception is when a section of the small intestine slides into the adjoining section. Intestinal parasites can cause intussusception.

Pyloric stenosis is when the opening between the stomach and small intestine narrows.

Mesenteric torsion is a twisting of the intestines around the connective membrane between the intestines and abdominal wall.

How is an obstruction diagnosed?

The vet diagnosed Shea’s obstruction by x-ray but he would have used a barium series if necessary.

Some vets will do an ultrasound or endoscopy.  Endoscopy is a tube inserted down your dog’s throat with a tiny camera at the end.  This allows your vet to see into the GI tract but doesn’t always enable the doc to identify multiple obstructions.

Are there treatment alternatives?

Not many. In the early stages, your vet may hydrate and take a wait and see approach.  Some obstructions pass on their own.

The risk is tissue damage and perforation.  We were fortunate Shea had neither.  But if she did, they might have needed to remove some of her intestines.  Or worse yet that string could have torn through her intestine causing the contents to leak out.  This can cause sepsis and ultimately death.

And because your vet may not know if the object is sharp or long, like Shea’s string, the risk is serious.

After surgery, your dog will need to stay inactive until your vet removes the staples, about 12 to 14 days. That will be harder on you than them if your dog is high-energy like my Shea.  After the first day, she was ready to go… despite the 50 or so staples in her stomach.

You also must monitor vomiting and hydration.  Shea did not continue to throw up once we got her home.  Had she, we would have had to return to the vet for IV hydration.

Your dog will be eating only soft bland food until those staples are out.  Nothing hard in the GI tract, including treats. That’s difficult.

How do you stop this from happening?

Good luck. That’s my great challenge with Shea.  Certainly, she will never be out of her crate without a watchful eye following her in the house until she’s done with this puppy stuff.  But she is a dog, and she needs freedom to run in the yard.

I will follow her around for a while telling her to “leave it” but realistically I know I have little control over what she ingests outside.

My vet told me he has rock-eating dogs that come back every few months for surgery.  That’s heartbreaking.

I think I’ll call my trainer once those staples come out.

Has your dog ever had an obstruction?  What did they eat?  Share your comments at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parasites and Puppies

There are few things in life more thrilling than bringing home a new puppy.  We plan.  We buy toys, treats, the perfect food and a crate.  We charge the battery on our phone to take endless photos.

But we don’t think about the parasites this little ball of fur might have feasting on it when it comes into our home.  We assume our new baby is perfect in every way… and healthy.

But more often than not a puppy will come home with a parasite.

A 2013 study of 56 healthy puppies done by Husse showed just how common parasites are. Two-thirds of the puppies tested positive for coccidiosis, half were positive for roundworm, and a third were positive for giardia.

These precious babies have undeveloped immune systems.  Their bodies can’t fight off a parasite like an adult dog can.  In fact, a recent puppy of mine came home with two parasites; giardia and fleas.

“What is a parasite?” you may be wondering.  It’s an organism that lives in or on another organism (the host), getting its nutrients from the host.  They can make your dog’s life miserable and some can even be deadly.  Not to mention contagious to people.

The best way to curtail your puppy’s suffering, and yours, is to be proactive in tackling these parasites.  Get your puppy checked out by your vet—be sure to line one of those up before puppy comes home—the first week they’re home.

Some parasites will cause symptoms right away.  Some will not.  Your vet will know what to test for even if your pup is showing no symptoms.

Here are the ones most likely to affect a puppy.  I won’t delve into great detail about the ones I’ve already written posts on but I’ll link to those posts for more info.

Intestinal worms

These are common in puppies.  Most professional breeders will de-worm the litter before they go home, as will rescue organizations.

Roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm and whipworm are the most common intestinal worms affecting puppies.  Mom’s pass the worms to their babies in utero or when nursing.

You can get these worms too.  And in the case of roundworm, they can be dangerous.  Especially in children who can go blind if infected by them.  Be sure you and your children wash your hands after playing with the puppy.

In dogs, intestinal worms may cause diarrhea, vomiting, pale gums, a swollen belly or a dry coat.

If your vet suspects worms, they’ll ask for a fecal sample.  Your vet will prescribe de-worming medications if the test comes back positive.

Heartworm

This is one of the most dangerous parasites your dog can contract.  Heartworm is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito with heartworm larvae in its blood.

Heartworm settles in the heart as opposed to the digestive tract.  This worm can cause heart failure and death.

The problem is that it takes 6 months from the time of infection for symptoms to show, at which point it’s usually too late to treat the condition.

Because heartworm is a silent killer initially, you want to prevent this parasite from the getgo.  Prevention should start when your pup is 8 weeks old.  Talk to your vet about the alternatives.

When symptoms begin to show, they’re serious.  Your dog may be lethargic, have a cough, difficulty breathing, a swollen belly, and changes in heart rhythm.  These may lead to collapse or death.

In mild-to-moderate cases, there is medication to kill heartworm but it can take 6 months or longer to be certain your puppy no longer has worms.

Single-cell protozoa

Last week’s post covered one of these nasty parasites, giardia.

Another common single-cell protozoa is coccidia.  It’s extremely contagious to other dogs and can cause severe illness.

A puppy will get coccidia from exposure to mom’s poop if she’s shedding infective cysts.  These cysts are like the cysts formed by giardia.

This parasite is one that primarily affects puppies 6 months or younger because the immune system of an older dog is able to fight off the effects.  As a puppy ages, it develops an immunity to coccidia.

An older dog may carry the parasite but won’t likely get sick.

A puppy with coccidiosis, the condition caused by coccidia, may have mild to severe bloody or mucousy diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and dehydration.  If not treated, a young pup can die.

The treatment for coccidiosis is 1 to 3 weeks on a sulfa drug, depending on the severity.  The meds don’t kill the organisms.  They inhibit their reproduction. As a result, the treatment can take a while to get rid of this parasite.  Over time, the puppy’s immune system develops which ultimately removes the organisms from the body.

Your vet may also suggest a highly digestible low residue food like Husse Valp to help manage symptoms.

To prevent coccidiosis, insect and rodent control on your property is critical.  Cockroaches and flies can carry coccidia from one place to another on their bodies.

Mice and other rodents can ingest coccidia.  If your dog kills and eats one of these critters with coccidia, they’ll get infected.

Fleas and ticks

Unlike the other parasites, these show on your dog’s skin.  Fleas live in their fur.  They bite their host and live off their blood.  This can be very uncomfortable for your puppy.

Many pups are allergic to flea saliva making the itching even more intense.  Excessive scratching can lead to raw, scabby and swollen skin.  And if the scratching continues too long… skin infections.  Fleas can also transmit tapeworm.

Ticks feed off the blood of dogs too, and depending how many ticks are on your dog, the blood loss can be severe.  Even resulting in anemia.  A severe tick infestation can make your puppy very sick.

Ticks also carry serious diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

If you see your puppy scratching a lot, pay attention.  You may see the fleas on their belly.  And you may feel a tick if you move your hands over your puppy’s body.  They often latch on between toes, on the ears, or in the armpits.

Many flea and tick treatments exist, from topical oils to chewable tablets.  Talk to your vet about the best treatment for your puppy.  And remember, you may need to treat your home too.

Skin mites

These too are external parasites that burrow into the skin.  But they aren’t visible to the naked eye.  They often occur in the ears.

Mites can cause skin irritation, rashes, red scaliness, hair loss, and what looks like dandruff.

The sarcoptes scabiei mite causes mange also known as canine scabies.  And mange is very contagious to other dogs and to humans.  In humans, you know this parasite as scabies.

Topical gels, benzoyl peroxide shampoo, and anti-parasitic applications are used in combination to treat mites.

Tell your vet if you notice anything unusual about your puppy.  A good vet will talk to you about these puppy parasites and check for any appearance of them at your first visit.

Parasites are not only unpleasant for your dog, they are often contagious to humans.  And a case of scabies sure isn’t the way you want to remember those early days with your puppy.  So be proactive.  Treat a problem.  And enjoy that fleeting puppyhood.

Have you had a puppy with a parasite?  Share your experience in the comment section above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giardia… What Do You Know About This Nasty Parasite?

My niece rescued a puppy recently.  This poor little thing has suffered from two bouts of giardiasis in the short time she’s had her.  My niece’s puppy got me thinking about my experiences with dogs and giardia.  And wow!  Is it unpleasant!

Giardiasis is an illness you probably haven’t heard of unless either you or your dog has experienced it.  That’s right… people can get it too.  In fact, it’s the most common intestinal parasite in humans.

What is it?

In dogs, giardiasis can be completely repulsive or it can go absolutely unnoticed.  It’s an illness caused by a single-celled parasite called giardia that infects the gastrointestinal tract.

Giardia is not a worm, bacteria or virus.  It’s a parasite.

This parasite can cause diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and lethargy.  But some dogs show no symptoms at all.

There are 7 different types of giardia that affect dogs, cats and humans.  They’re labeled A through G.  Dogs usually get C and D, but can get A and B which are the strains humans get.  Cats are usually infected with F.

When people get “travelers diarrhea”, it’s caused by giardia.  They’ve likely consumed water contaminated by the parasite. This is not uncommon in some countries.

Giardia goes through two phases.  The first is the fragile form when it’s growing and feeding on the gut.  Then it matures, and it’s encapsulated in microscopic cysts (sacs) that come out in your dog’s poop.  These cysts are very hardy and can survive for several months in the right environment—water and dampness.

How do dogs get it?

Dogs are infected when they consume anything with contaminated feces on it; another dog’s poop, a stick, a toy, grass, water.

When the dog swallows the cysts, they pass into the intestines and go through a transformation into a trophozoite, the growing feeding form.  They feed off the intestinal wall.  They reproduce by dividing and some become cysts. Those cysts eventually pass in the stool about 5 to 12 days from ingestion.

This is a parasite you’ll find any time of the year, anywhere in the U.S. and around the world.

What are the signs?

Some times a dog will be a carrier of giardia and will be asymptomatic, perhaps for many years. Then, without warning, after years of undiagnosed giardia your dog may have a sudden bout of bloody diarrhea.

But usually a dog with this parasite has symptoms.  Their diarrhea may be bloody, greasy, frothy, mucousy and very smelly.  They may have diarrhea continuously or intermittently.

Your dog may also vomit, seem lethargic and suddenly lose weight.

This parasite causes many gastrointestinal disturbances in dogs.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

If you suspect your dog has giardia, call your vet.  If left untreated, severe diarrhea can be fatal, especially in puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with health problems.

Your vet will need a fresh stool sample.  They’ll do one of two tests:  The fecal float test or the fecal ELISA test.  The float test checks for evidence of giardia cysts in the stool sample.  Whereas the ELISA test checks for giardia antigens in the dog’s body.

The float test isn’t very accurate.  An infected dog will shed cysts intermittently from their GI tract, making it possible to get a stool sample with no cysts in it.

As a result, false negatives are common with the float test.  Doing the fecal float test 3 times over the course of 5 days can improve the likelihood of detection though.

The ELISA test is more accurate but your vet will need to send the stool sample out to a lab.  It isn’t usually done in the office. So you’d have to wait for the results.

If your dog tests positive, your vet will prescribe one of two drugs, maybe both. Fenbendazole or metronidazole for 3 to 10 days is the usual treatment.  How long and which drug depends on your dog’s case.

Your vet may recommend a low-residue highly digestible diet like Husse to lessen the diarrhea during treatment.

Bathe your dog on the last day of treatment to remove any giardia that may be on their coat, especially around the hindquarters.  Start from your dog’s head and work towards their rear end.  After washing their behind, don’t touch the areas you’ve already cleaned.

Disinfect your dog’s bowls and toys in boiling water or the sanitize cycle in your dishwasher.

Steam clean upholstery and carpeting, and wash bedding on the sanitize cycle in your washing machine.

Disinfect hard surfaces with a bleach solution or a household cleaner made for disinfection.

Depending on the severity of your dog’s case and their overall health, they may need other tests, treatments, and follow-up.  But 2 to 4 weeks after your dog finishes treatment your vet will want to run another fecal test to be sure the giardia is gone.

If your dog has recurring giardia, consider whether the parasite is still living in their environment. If other dogs or cats live in the house, you may need to treat them as well.

Dirt and grass can harbor giardia for months.  Spray diluted bleach on the areas where they’ve pooped.  If you walk your dog in your neighborhood, take a spray bottle with you to spray the area after you’ve picked up their poop.

Are there serious risks?

Most healthy dogs recover from giardiasis with no complications.  But older sick dogs or dogs with compromised immune systems are at risk for complications including death.

In addition, people with compromised immune systems are at risk of getting giardia from a dog. You can’t be certain which strain your dog has.  They can have A or B.

So if someone in your home has cancer, AIDS, is very old or very young, they should take precautions. And use extreme caution when handling poop or giving the dog medicine.  Wash hands thoroughly after doing so.

Can it be prevented?

You can minimize your dog’s exposure to giardia by limiting their time at dog parks, kennels, doggy day care and the groomers.

Don’t let your dog drink from communal water bowls at the pet store, the dog park, or any other place in your community.

They should never drink from puddles, lakes, ponds or streams.  Feces from other animals may contaminate them.

Never let your dog eat another dog’s poop, or their own (that’s a topic for another day).

If you live in a place where giardia is in the drinking water, buy a filter meant specifically for getting rid of this parasite.  Or boil your water.  And always let the water cool before giving it to your dog to drink.

But despite your best efforts, your dog may get giardia.  It’s common in rescue dogs.  It’s common when dogs come from breeders with lots of other dogs.  It’s common when dogs are with other dogs regularly.

The best you can do is treat giardiasis proactively if it happens to your dog… and have a lot of paper towels and Nature’s Miracle on hand.

Has your dog had giardiasis?  What were their symptoms?  Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)…  6 Things To Know

The new year is underway!  Maybe you’re thinking about starting it off with a new pet.   A kitty perhaps.  If you will rescue this cat and don’t know their background, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is particularly important to understand.

If you already own a cat, do you know about FIV?  Here are 6 things to be aware of.

1) What is FIV?

Feline immunodeficiency virus is like HIV in humans.  It attacks the immune system making a cat that has the virus vulnerable to other infections.

A cat that has FIV can appear normal for years.  But like HIV in humans, it progresses.  Eventually normal harmless bacteria found in the environment become a danger to an infected cat, making them seriously ill.  At that point, your cat will have feline AIDS.

Unlike HIV, humans can’t contract FIV.  It’s only transmitted cat to cat.

2) How does a cat get it?

A deep bite wound is the most common method of FIV transmission.  Aggressive, intact, male cats that roam and like to fight are most often infected.

Indoor cats are at minimal risk unless you bring an infected cat into your home and the cats fight. Casual contact between cats doesn’t seem to be an effective method of transmission.

Sometimes a mother can pass the virus to her babies in the birth canal, or through her infected milk.

Sexual contact is not a common method of spreading the disease either.

3) What are the signs?

When a feline is first infected there may be few noticeable symptoms.  Initially the lymph nodes carry the virus.  So you may notice the’re swollen.  And the cat may run a fever.

Because these initial symptoms are subtle, they often go unnoticed.

It can be years later before signs of immunodeficiency appear.  The cat’s health may deteriorate progressively.  Or the cat may experience periods of bad health and periods of good health.

Here’s what you may see:

Poor coat condition

Persistent fever with loss of appetite

Inflammation of gums and mouth

Abnormal appearance of the eyes

Wounds that don’t heal

Persistent diarrhea

Seizures

Behavior changes

Slow, progressive weight loss

Severe wasting (in later stages)

Change in urination habits

Several types of cancer are more common in cats with FIV as well.

4) How is it diagnosed?

Your vet will do blood work to diagnose feline immunodeficiency virus.  A blood test will detect FIV antibodies.

However, it takes 8 to 12 weeks for the antibodies to be detectable in the bloodstream.  So if your cat comes home with a deep bite wound, your vet will likely wait to test for this virus.

If you are adopting a kitten, having them tested before they’re 6 months old may not be useful. This is because kittens born to an infected mother will carry the antibodies from the mom until they’re 6 months old.  As a result, they’ll test positive even though they don’t have the virus.

And a cat that has been vaccinated against FIV will test positive even though they don’t have FIV. If you rescue a cat and don’t know their vaccination status, you might get a false positive on a blood test.

5) Can it be prevented?

It’s not likely your indoor cat will get FIV.  But if you’re concerned about an outdoor cat, keep them inside.

If your cat has FIV, keeping them in will protect other cats from getting the virus.  And it will minimize the risk to your cat of picking up other infections that will make them sick.

An infected cat is not likely to give an uninfected cat in your home the virus unless they are fighters.  Keep fighters apart.  And be sure to spay or neuter the infected cat to minimize the chances of passing FIV on.

Any adopted cat should be tested before bringing them into your home.  But remember if they’re younger than 6 months you may get a false positive.  Talk to your vet if you’re considering adopting a cat, especially if you have a kitty at home already.

If you bring a healthy cat into your home with an infected cat in it, that cat may expose the healthy cat to other serious infections.  Be sure to thoroughly clean the environment. Keep the sick cat’s food, water, litter boxes, toys and bedding away from the healthy cat.

Vaccinate against any other infectious diseases any new cat or kitten you bring into your home with an FIV cat in it.

Since I mentioned an FIV vaccine, you might think your cat should get it.  Although an FIV vaccine exists, it’s not effective and most vets don’t recommend it.

If your cat spends time in a cattery or another home with felines, be sure those cats don’t have FIV.

6) Is there a treatment?

There is no cure for FIV.  Therapy will consist of treating the infections.  Most cats with it can live normal lives for years.  But you must manage their health.

You can extend the asymptomatic period by feeding your cat a well-balanced nutritionally complete diet like Husse to keep their immune system functioning as long as possible.

Never feed a cat with FIV a raw diet.  Uncooked meats carry the risk of food-borne infection, a risk a healthy cat may handle but not one that’s immune compromised.

Your vet will want to see your cat every 6 months to maintain continued good health. But once an infected cat has had one or more severe infections, the outlook is not good.

Keep watch for any changes no matter how subtle and call the vet if you notice anything out of the ordinary.  Early intervention in managing infections is essential to maintaining your felines quality of life.

Does your cat have FIV?  How have you managed it?  Share your experience in the comment section at the top.