In my previous posts, I have given some information relevant to pet owners. My intention has been to give information that pet owners would find useful, and interesting. I hope that this post will be as informative as the previous posts, possibly even more so. I’m going to tackle the sensitive subject of the cost of pet ownership. I recently read an article from CNBC. This article makes reference to a report from the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. This report says that an astounding 98% of people underestimate the lifetime cost of pet ownership. As a collective whole, veterinary clinic team members recognize the financial constraints of pet owners. In order to combat this problem, we need to be prepared.
New Pet care– spay/neuter, puppy vaccines, microchip
Routine care– annual physical exams, annual vaccinations, heartworm preventative, flea and tick preventative, heartworm testing, and diagnostic monitoring profiles
Sick pet care– vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, mild musculoskeletal injuries
Emergency pet care– foreign body surgery, severe GI disease, hit by a car, toxin ingestion, laceration repair, bloat (GDV), anemia (low blood volume),
Orthopedic concerns– ACL tear (Knee injury), fracture, neck/back injury, hip dysplasia
Chronic health concerns– diabetes, hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, renal failure, heart failure, arthritis, ears
Allergies– deserving of a category to themselves! This may involve medications, diet changes, and frequent medications for skin infections.
— to name just a FEW!
Certainly not all pets will develop all of these diseases, but when an emergency or a chronic illness arises, it’s good to be prepared.
The report from People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals also states that 93% of people said the decision to own a pet made them happier! We know you love your pet. We don’t really like talking about money, and we certainly don’t like asking for it. As members of a veterinary care staff, we consider ourselves a team, and we want to include you in the team. You, as the owner, caregiver, and all around pet parent are the most important member of the team, and we don’t want to leave you behind. We care about each member of the family, both two legged and four legged!
Blastomycosis. Chances are, you’ve never heard of it.
If you have heard of it, you know this little yeast organism is a foe that should not be underestimated!
Blastomycosis, commonly called Blasto, is a fungal organism that is found in the soil in the east-central USA. Like most fungi, it likes cool, moist, dark conditions.
People and Pets are susceptible to Blasto. Dogs are most commonly affected, as they are the most likely to have noses down in the dirt. However, people can pick up Blasto as well! Fungal organisms are inhaled, and convert to the yeast form at body temperatures. Blasto is NOT directly contagious between pets, or between pets and people.
This organism has some favorite locations in the body.
— Pulmonary: when the lungs are affected, the organism causes multiple lesions throughout the lungs. Cough, fever, difficulty breathing, and lethargy are the most common complaints. A severely affected patient will likely need hospitalization, treatment is long, and the prognosis is guarded.
— Lymph nodes: Like pulmonary blasto, this is a severe infection requiring an extended treatment period. Usually blasto has affected another area of the body, not just the lymph nodes.
— Eyes: one or both eyes can be affected. Initially, we notice inflammation and a low intraocular pressure, but the inflammation quickly progresses to glaucoma (or high pressure). In many cases, the affected eye loses vision. In some cases, the eye must be removed to bring comfort to the patient.
— Bone: this creative organism is well adapted to cause painful lesions in the bone. It can look like bone cancer, so it is important to distinguish between the two.
— Skin: any non-healing wounds, draining tracts, or unexplained wounds should be suspect for blastomycosis.
Blasto has a very wide variety of clinical signs. Coughing, fever, lethargy, inappetence, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and collapse can all be signs. Enlargement of lymph nodes, squinting/pain in the eyes, oozing skin wounds and lameness may also be noted in some patients. When in doubt, have your pet examined by a veterinarian.
Most commonly Blasto is most commonly diagnosed by looking for a specific byproduct of the organism (antigen) in the urine. This test is run by an outside lab. Blasto can also be seen in needle aspirates of wounds and lesions on the skin in some cases. X-rays should be used as a tool to evaluate lungs for lesions typical of blasto.
Treatment takes a LONG time. The core of treatment is through use of strong anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory medications. Each individual patient will be treated differently based on the body system that is affected by the organism.
Itchy skin caused by allergies is one of the most common reasons for dogs to visit the vet! Allergies are very common, and very frustrating.
Sure! A little itching can be absolutely normal. However, if your dog itches so much he injures himself, itches constantly, keeps you and himself up at night, or has a strong response to you touching neck/back and/or chest, the itch probably isn’t normal! In many cases, itchy skin is a result of allergies.
Flea bite dermatitis can quickly get out of hand. Fleas alone are enough to make a dog itch. A dog with flea allergy dermatitis will quickly get inflamed, angry skin. In addition, a dog with either a seasonal or food allergy can have the itch exacerbated by concurrent fleas! This is the simplest allergy to rule out. Even if your dog does not have an active flea problem, routine flea prevention should be used to prevent the pet from being infested with fleas.
A food allergy is usually a result of an allergic reaction to the protein source. Usually this is beef or chicken. Most dogs will manifest a food allergy with repetitive ear infections, itchy skin, and repetitive skin infections. Food allergies can be extremely difficult to diagnose, as the only way of definitively diagnosing a food allergy is with a strict diet trial. A diet trial is executed by strictly limiting a dog to either a novel protein source (such as Kangaroo, bison, rabbit, etc.) or to a hydrolyzed diet. Beware! Many over the counter diets are not truly limited ingredient, and contain small amounts of other proteins such as chicken meal. The most reliable diets are prescription diets. A hydrolyzed diet can only be obtained with a prescription. The proteins in these diets are broken down so small that the body can use them for energy, without the protein eliciting an immune response. One challenge of a diet trial is to prevent dogs from eating treats, flavored medications, supplements, dental chews, table scraps, garbage etc. during the 8 weeks of the diet trial. Once a food allergy is diagnosed, the dog is usually restricted to a limited ingredient or hydrolyzed diet long term.
Arguably the most difficult to diagnose, these dogs have allergic response to things in the environment such as pollen, sap, dust, dust mites, grass, and a variety of other things. Although these allergies may initially start as seasonal itchiness, very frequently it becomes a year round problem. The definitive diagnosis is obtained by allergy testing. This is commonly done by intradermal allergy testing, which is usually done by a dermatologist. Alternatively, response to therapy, and failure to respond to a diet trial can help to diagnose a seasonal allergy.
There are other reasons for itchy skin. Demodex mites live deep in hair follicles in low numbers in all dogs. When present in high numbers, the skin is extremely itchy with open lesions, discomfort, and increased likelihood of infection. Sarcoptic mites live on superficial skin. These mites are more itchy than demodectic mites, and can be contagious between pets and people. Some immune mediated skin conditions can also cause itch. These are diagnosed by skin biopsy.
The first thing that must be done is to treat secondary skin infections and ear infections appropriately. Treatment can then be tailored to the individual patient’s needs.
Repetitive trauma to the skin from itching can lead to secondary skin infections, hot spots, hair loss, odor, and frustration on the part of pet and owner! Yeast infections of the skin can be secondary to allergies, or can be a reason for itching themselves. The picture on the left is a picture of yeast organisms. “Itch” is a threshold. This means that itching perpetuates itself. Itching leads to more itching. It also compounds on itself, so a dog with a well controlled food allergy may be exacerbated by picking up fleas.
Allergies are one of the most common diagnoses of companion canines. Frustration comes from the difficulty of making a concrete diagnosis, as well as the nature of treating a chronic disease. Allergies cannot be cured, but with patience can be successfully managed.
In most cases “kennel cough” is a blanket term for an infectious upper respiratory tract infection. In reality, upper respiratory tract infections can be caused by a variety of viruses or bacteria, and often are a combination of pathogens. We call this “Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease” or “Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis”. Here are some of the trouble makers!
Without diagnostic testing, we rarely know exactly which agent or combination of agents is the cause of the cough. Infection is usually treated with antibiotics and supportive care. In some cases, secondary pneumonia can be a complicating factor.
A more alarming cause of upper respiratory tract infection is Canine Influenza (CIV). There are two strains:
Influenza causes signs of upper respiratory tract infection. It generally has a high morbidity (highly contagious). Fever, lethargy, and mucoid ocular and nasal discharge are more common with influenza than other upper respiratory tract infections. The outbreaks are more severe as dogs have no natural immunity to the virus. Veterinarians around the country have made CIV a part of their vaccine protocol. Ever wonder where the “H” and the “N” come from? Influenza viruses are named for the Neuraminidase and Hemagglutin proteins expressed on the virus surface. The expression of these proteins allows the virus strains to be distinguished. The image above is a drawing of an influenza virus.
Although we can’t protect dogs from all upper respiratory tract infections, vaccinating against bordetella/parainfluenza, and against canine influenza can lessen the severity of clinical signs for some of the most common pathogens. Vaccination is recommended for all dogs who are in close contact with other dogs through boarding, grooming, day care, or dog classes.
Coughing is NEVER something to brush under the rug. More sinister causes of coughing in dogs can include pneumonia, heart disease, cancer, and severe fungal infections. The image on the right shows lungs affected by Blastomycosis, a fungal infection common in our area.
Even if you suspect your dog has a simple upper respiratory tract infection, a veterinarian should do a full physical exam, and appropriate treatment should be implemented. Ignoring a cough is never a good idea.
There are a lot of misconceptions about heartworm disease. As mosquito season approaches, it’s time to clear the air.
Pets contract heartworm disease when bitten by a mosquito carrying the immature heartworm larvae. The immature heartworms are injected into the bloodstream. When they reach maturity, the worms live in the pet’s heart. Left untreated, heartworm disease can lead to heart failure and even death. Some pets who are treated for severe disease may survive treatment, but suffer long term cardiac disease as a result of infection. Cats can get heartworm disease too! Cats contract the disease less commonly. However, cats tend to be at higher risk of death from heartworm disease than their canine counterparts. Furthermore, the infection is harder for veterinarians to diagnose, as some cats will not test positive for heartworm disease despite having mature worms in the heart.
It is not directly contagious, but any dogs in the immediate vicinity of a heartworm positive dog are at increased risk for infection because the mosquitos in that region are at an increased risk of carrying the immature heartworms.
We screen for heartworm disease using a blood test. When run in the clinic it generally takes about 10 minutes, and only requires 3 drops of blood. If this test is positive, a slide of the blood is made to look for immature heartworms in the blood stream. Most owners do not know their dog has heartworm disease until the dog is showing the complications of heart failure (coughing, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance). It is important to note that it takes SIX MONTHS for a dog to test positive for heartworm disease after being exposed. This is one reason why preventative is so important, and why veterinarians recommend heartworm testing yearly. A dog should have a negative heartworm test before starting preventative, so March is a GREAT time to get started!
Unfortunately this is not a disease that is cured with a few pills. Positive pets are evaluated, their disease is staged, and a treatment plan is formulated for each individual. The treatment involves a series of intramuscular injections and/or monthly heartworm medication. Any secondary effects of the disease (such as congestive heart failure) must also be managed.
Monthly administration of an oral or topical preventative is very successful at preventing infection with heartworm disease. It is important to note that preventative works retroactively. The preventative kills the microfilaria that are already in the bloodstream BEFORE they can reach the heart. This is why monthly administration is so important, and why administering preventative year round is the best way to protect your pet!
This is something that is best discussed with your veterinarian, as each pet may have different requirements. Preventatives are generally administered once monthly, and come in several different forms. Remember that flea and tick preventatives are generally NOT heartworm preventatives, and most heartworm preventatives are prescription only. It is NOT acceptable to use canine products on cats. This can be very dangerous for the cat.