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The average domestic cat should ideally weigh approximately 8 to 10 pounds. However, more than 50% of household cats in the US are obese or overweight. The feline obesity epidemic is a major concern among veterinarians today, and should be to anyone with a feline companion. As little as 2 pounds of excess body weight can put cats at an up to 3 times increased risk for development of Type II diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, joint injuries, urinary tract disease, and overall lower immune system function. Obese cats have a significantly shorter lifespan when compared to cats at an optimum weight.
Why are so many household cats obese?
Our feline companions enjoy a life of leisure with all of their daily necessities provided by humans and have evolved to take advantage of a sedentary lifestyle. However, domestic cats are only a few generations from their wild counterparts with whom they share many genetic, physical, and behavioral components. Feeding behavior is highly similar to wild cats that consume 10 – 20 small meals throughout the day and night while spending many hours actively hunting. Domestic cats fed ad libitum (“free choice”) also consume frequent small meals throughout the day, but need only to take a few steps to the food bowl to obtain them. Instinctive hunting behaviors remain but are exhibited as playing, stalking and bouts of “friskiness,” and rarely last longer than an hour each day.
Spaying/Neutering is a common and highly recommended procedure that is integral to population control and significantly reduces behavioral problems in household cats. However, spayed and neutered cats have significantly lower (24-33%) daily energy requirements due to a decrease in their basal metabolic rate. But since their appetite is frequently unaffected it results in consumption of excess calories which are converted to fat. Male cats appear to be at a higher risk for obesity subsequent to castration when compared to spayed female cats.
Lastly, most commercial cat foods are formulated to be highly palatable because, let’s face it, you’re going to buy more of the food your cats like! Fat has long been known to be the best way to enhance palatability, and is added to many commercial diets for this purpose.
The evolution of the human-animal bond with our cats is wrought with good intentions. We provide our companions with all the luxuries they need, including an unlimited supply of their favorite foods. We’ve done everything in our power to make our cats as happy as they make us, with one unintended consequence: a predisposition to obesity.
Goals of Feline Weight Loss and Healthy Weight Management
Healthy weight maintenance is the first step in safeguarding your cat’s health. Together with advice from your veterinarian, follow these steps to design an individualized plan for your cat.
Step 1. Determine the ideal body weight for your cat
Do this with the help of your veterinarian. This chart shows how your veterinarian calculates your cat’s body condition score (BCS) on a scale of 1 (too thin) to 5 (obese).
Hills Pet Food has a website with a helpful guide to assess if your cat is overweight:
Step 2: Dietary Management
Your veterinarian can help you to determine the optimum diet for your cat’s needs and determine how many kilocalories (kcal) per day to feed to maintain an ideal body weight.
Cats should never be put on a diet without veterinary supervision
Many cats are finicky, but if a cat does not eat for 2 consecutive days it can develop life-threatening hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome)
Feed frequent small meals throughout the day. If this is not possible, feed a minimum of 2 meals per day.
Rechecks are critical!
Ideally your cat should be weighed once a month to assess if your weight loss plan is working.
How long will it take?
Healthy weight loss in cats should not exceed 1 – 2% of their body weight per week. Most cats will achieve their ideal weight within 6 – 8 months.
Step 3: Exercise
Exercise is not natural for cats like it is in dogs. Cats do not have any instinctive desire to exercise because they spend most of their day actively hunting for food in the wild. Therefore, it is up to you to make sure your cat gets at least 15-20 minutes of exercise each day. This can easily be accomplished using toys, laser pointers, and various other forms of environmental enrichment.
Treat balls are a great way to give your cat mental and physical stimulation.
Step 4: Understand how to maintain the ideal body weight
Involve everyone in the household
Keep your cat active with playtimes and stimulation
Regular veterinary examinations and re-checks
Consult with your veterinarian as needed with any questions or concerns about your cat’s health.
Cori Blair DVM
Here at Ocean County Veterinary Hospital Group (OCVH) we find that one of the most frustrating problems for rabbit and guinea pig owners is when a seemingly healthy pet develops an abscess – a pocket of infection and pus. Underlying dental disease is the most common reason these abscesses form. An abnormal tooth or malformation of the mouth will frequently lead to abscesses. Rabbit and guinea pig teeth continue to grow throughout the animal’s entire life, so it is important that they always have hay available. Chewing hay helps keep their teeth properly ground down. Unfortunately, genetics also plays a role, so even with a proper diet, acquired dental disease and abscesses are not always preventable.
There are some other ways for abscesses to occur in rabbits and guinea pigs. Trauma is a frequent underlying cause. This can be anything from a fall to a sharp piece of a cage abrading or puncturing the feet or body. And abscesses can occur anywhere in the body if the infection enters the blood stream and lymphatic system. Untreated, these lesions will many times be fatal.
Recently, a little guinea pig named Jack came to visit us at OCVH.. Jack, a 10-month old male, presented for two swellings under his chin. Upon examination, we found that the swellings were actually abscessed lymph nodes. We immediately took him to surgery to lance and drain the infected lesions. He recovered well and was placed on oral antibiotics to help fight the infection. With many guinea pigs and rabbits this relatively minor procedure alone is enough to cure the problem. Unfortunately, recurrence is not uncommon due to the huge load of bacteria in the system and other complicating factors.
Jack did happen to have a recurrence of the swellings about 2 weeks later. This time we needed to perform a more complex procedure to remove Jack’s lymph nodes “en bloc”- which means to completely cut out all of the infected lymph node intact. The surgical sites were packed with a blend of antibiotics and other natural ingredients to promote healing. Jack continued to take antibiotics and his owners were instructed how to flush the areas to keep them clean and promote healing. Jack did very well following this procedure, but unfortunately recurrence is still possible.
Early detection is the key to a successful outcome for these types of cases. By recognizing abscesses early we can remove small pockets of infection before they spread or become more invasive. It gives us the best chance at avoiding recurrence and reducing the pet’s discomfort. For this reason regular visits with your guinea pig and rabbit companions are highly recommended. During the examination, we can get a clear view of your pet’s teeth and oral cavity, as well as palpate for the presence of any abscesses that may be cropping up. We can also trim or file overgrown teeth before they cause pain or abscesses to form.
So remember, lots of hay, careful observation and rapid intervention whenever you suspect a problem.
Thanks for entrusting us with the care of your rabbit and guinea pig family members!
As veterinarians, we are frequently asked by clients about using over-the-counter human medications to manage their pet’s pain and discomfort. Unfortunately, the answer is almost always, “No, it is just not safe.” Many common human anti-inflammatory medications can cause serious gastrointestinal ulceration, bleeding, and even kidney failure. Aspirin, Ibuprofen and Naproxen are currently the most frequent medications requiring hospitalization of pets as result of well-intentioned pet owners not realizing how dangerous these drugs can be.
ASPIRIN (acetylsalicylic acid)
Aspirin is probably the most common human medication that we are asked about, and that owners go ahead and administer to their pets without consulting us first. Aspirin inhibits an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which is involved in the production of inflammatory chemicals called prostaglandins. Unfortunately there are lots of different cyclooxygenase enzymes that perform different functions in the body, and aspirin affects them all. Although administering aspirin to your dog (attempting to treat arthritis, for example) may result in mild pain relief, it is frequently associated with the following side effects:
Whether an aspirin is buffered or not makes no difference to the dog or cat. A study performed at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine published in 1999 compared the effects on the stomach and intestine between buffered aspirin and 2 veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, Rimadyl and Etogesic. Different dogs were given these three medications and then their stomachs and intestines were examined with an endoscope at certain intervals after administration. Of the dogs that received buffered aspirin, 100% experienced significant stomach and intestinal bleeding. Very few of the dogs that received the either of the two veterinary drugs sustained any bleeding, and when present it was mild compared to the aspirin group.
Aspirin was once believed to be an adequate OTC pain reliever for our canine companions, and so-called “dog aspirin” can still be found on the shelves at some pet stores. Unfortunately, it is not as effective in controlling pain as the veterinary approved drugs and certainly not as safe.
Cats are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of aspirin. Even small doses can cause fatal reactions.
IBUPROFEN (Advil, Motrin), NAPROXEN (Aleve, Naprosyn)
Available as a human pain-reliever in the US since 1974, Ibuprofen is one of the most common items found in the medicine cabinets across the country. Like aspirin, Ibuprofen and Naproxen are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that are non-selective inhibitor of cyclooxygenase. Both of these medications are even MORE toxic than aspirin to dogs, and incredibly toxic to cats. The side effects of ibuprofen and naproxen include:
Treatment for Ibuprofen / Naproxen ingestion depends on the dosage received, species, timing of the event, and other factors, but can include: inducing vomiting, administering a compound called activated charcoal to prevent continued absorption in the gastrointestinal tract, hospitalization and IV fluid diuresis, as well as supportive care for vomiting, stomach and intestinal ulceration, and decreased appetite. Without prompt veterinary care, administration of Ibuprofen to your dog or cat could result in death.
It is so difficult to see our beloved pets in pain, and it is human nature to want to relieve them of any discomfort. The veterinary industry has seen tremendous advancements in different treatment modalities to combat pain control over the past 5-10 years and not all involve medications. (Ask us about K-Laser therapy). We have been able to greatly improve the quality of life of our patients. If you feel that your pet is in pain, please call one of our veterinarians to discuss the many treatment options or schedule an examination. Please always consult us before administering any human medications, or animal medications not previously prescribed specifically for your pet!
Billy Danowitz DVM
As the daylight gets shorter and our homes get cooler, a natural process begins in many captive snake, lizard, turtle and tortoise species. In winter months, some reptiles undergo “brumation”, which is similar to a hibernation period. Many reptiles will go weeks without interest in eating and some go into a trance that can be alarming to owners.
This phenomenon occurs because reptiles are “cold blooded”, or more accurately, “ectothermic “. They rely on heat sources in the environment to warm them, in order to perform their bodily functions. A COLD reptile has DECREASED: metabolism, immune function and ability to digest food. As a defensive mechanism, in the cooler months, reptiles take cover and empty their bellies for a long, cold, winter of dormancy. Brumation is also necessary for reproduction in some species, which is the most common reason for people to purposefully hibernate their reptiles.
How can I tell if this is happening to my pet?
• Decreased appetite
• Less activity and hunting drive
• Hiding on the cool side of the enclosure • Excessive sleeping • Change in color (darker due to cold temperature) • Mild weight loss
How long can this go on?
Some snakes require a 3-4 month brumation period without food for reproduction. Reptiles can become anorexic for amazing lengths of time, but that does not mean it is healthy.
How can you know your pet isn’t sick?
• Please don’t hesitate to come in for an exam!
There are certain indicators of underlying disease that may only be apparent to the trained eye.
• Bring in a fresh stool sample. Reptiles get parasites too! They can even get them from their prey; crickets carry pinworms, yuck!
• Bloodwork and/or X-rays may be needed to further evaluate the health of your pet.
• Monitor for other signs of illness:
Does your reptile look thin? Is he dull in color? Does he have poor sheds? Does he have diarrhea?
How can I prevent this? It seems scary.
It’s time to work on your pet’s environment.
1. Buy light timers. Provide 12-14 hours of light a day, all year.
2. Turn up the heat! Even if the lamps are on, the air in your home is cooler. You may want to buy another heat lamp or get the next higher watt bulb. Remember, you need thermometers to know the temperature on both sides of the tank!
3. Reduce ambient lighting. Those tricky instincts seem to pick up lighting in windows nearby too!
4. Don’t skimp on the grub! Make sure you feed your reptiles regularly.
Sometimes, even if we try our hardest, reptiles will still slow down in the winter. If this happens, even if your reptile brumates, don’t panic.
Don’t be tempted to wake up your reptile and feed them! Partially digested food can cause many problems if it sits in a cold reptile for too long.
Instead, modify the light and heat in the tank until your scaley friend wakes up and wants to eat.
If you’re worried your reptile doesn’t have enough fat reserves for prolonged anorexia, see a veterinarian! Actually, it’s more dangerous to have an anorexic overweight reptile, due to a liver disease called, hepatic lipidosis.
Don’t forget there are other healthy insects for insectivores!
Butterworms, reptiworms, dubia roaches, silkworms, hornworms/pinkies (only for larger reptiles) And yes, you can buy insects online.
What else to expect for wintering reptiles:
• Poor shedding. You will need to increase humidity and remember regular baths. Don’t ignore retained shed, that’s how you can lose a finger!
• UVB bulbs need to be changed every 6 months, even if they still work! That’s especially important in the winter, when our pets don’t get the chance to sunbathe.
Good luck and Happy Holidays! from Dr. Christine Boss and everyone at Ocean County Veterinary Hospital.
It is hard to believe, but summer is already over, and the holidays are right around the corner. Of course, with Halloween and other holidays soon to follow, baking and gift giving season has begun. As one of the most beloved desserts and snack foods in the world, chocolate is sure to abound in every household. But this treat, delicious as it may be, can be extremely harmful to our adored pets. Even though it is a well -known fact for some of us, we may still sneak an Oreo or two to our dogs and cats and maybe even some Hershey’s chocolate. How can they be denied the satisfaction of such tasty treat? While there are not always toxic effects associated with the ingestion of very small amounts of chocolate, a tasty treat could turn into a real Halloween nightmare!
What part of chocolate makes it harmful for some animals?
Many dogs have indiscriminate eating behaviors. (I’m sure many of you have a dog that has eaten a sock or two in the past!) Because of this common trait, chocolate toxicity generally occurs more frequently in dogs than in cats. The chemical that causes all of the problems in dogs is called methylxanthine. Some types and brands of chocolate contain more of this chemical than others. For example, baker’s chocolate has extremely high amounts and is very dangerous compared to most inexpensive candy bars. In animals, this chemical causes extreme stimulation of the nervous system, increased urination and dangerous effects on the heart. It can cause arrhythmias, or disturbances to the normal rate and rhythm of the heart that may be life threatening. The increased stimulation of the nervous system puts dogs at risk for seizures.
What are the signs of chocolate toxicity in dogs?
If you suspect that your dog has ingested any chocolate, it is recommended that you contact a veterinarian for further advice. Signs of chocolate toxicity include vomiting, hyperactivity, restlessness, high heart rate, and high respiratory rate. Some dogs may even develop pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas, several days after ingestion of chocolate, even if they have undergone treatment. Clinical signs of pancreatitis include abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Depending on the severity of the reaction, dogs with pancreatitis may require hospitalization because it too can be life threatening.
How is chocolate ingestion and toxicity treated?
It depends on what signs your dog is showing and how much chocolate your dog consumed. Methylxanthine is specifically found in cocoa so generally speaking, the higher percent cocoa in the chocolate, the higher concentration of methylxanthine it contains. If your dog is brought to see a veterinarian within a short period of time of the ingestion, the doctor may elect to induce vomiting in your pet. Depending on the circumstances, treatment can range from monitoring your pet at home to having your pet hospitalized in the ICU and on IV fluids and medications. While hospitalized, your pet’s heart rhythm can be monitored for life threatening arrhythmias and for seizure activity. If there is any question that your pet consumed chocolate, please contact your veterinarian right away.
How do I prevent chocolate toxicity?
Of course, the first preventative step is to lock away the chocolate-containing candy! Due to their great sense of smell, dogs can sniff out tasty treats, making them susceptible to ingestion and toxicity so be sure it is well out of reach or in a cabinet that can’t be opened easily.
Other household products do contain methylxanthine and may cause the same serious reactions in your pets. These include: diet pills, fatigue reduction pills, tea leaves, coffee products, and colas. If in doubt call your veterinarian!
In addition, please keep in mind that some “sugar free” chocolates and candies do have another chemical compound called xylitol, which is EXTREMELY toxic to pets. Xylitol is most commonly found in sugar-free products and leads to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Xylitol is quickly absorbed once ingested and can cause signs within an hour or sooner. Pets that have ingested the chemical typically require hospitalization.
We at OCVH, FVH, and NPVH are always available to help you with any concerns you may have with regard to your pet’s health. Never hesitate to contact us with your questions!
Jessica Moreira DVM
Medial Patellar Luxation (MPL) in Dogs
“Trick knees”, more properly termed medial patellar luxations, are a relatively common finding on physical examinations here at OCVH and in most veterinary practices of small breed dogs. In many cases, it is an incidental finding during a routine exam, while in other cases it is found when a dog comes in for sudden limping. When found on routine physical exam, veterinarians will mention it as a finding but may not go into much detail since it is not usually a cause for concern. But since it is so common, here is some additional information about the condition and what, if anything should be done about it.
What is it?
The patella is the fancy name for the knee cap. It is attached to the tendon of the quadriceps muscle in the front of the thigh and sits in a groove of the femur (thigh bone). The function of the patella is to act like a pulley and to facilitate the bending actions (flexing and extending) of the knee. The term “patellar luxation” means that the knee cap has slipped out of its normal position within the groove of the femur, most often toward opposite leg (medially). Sometimes it may slip toward the outward direction, which would be called lateral patellar luxation, but this is much less common. While patellar luxation can be seen in any breed, smaller breed dogs are much more prone to it. About 50% of affected dogs have the abnormality in both knees.
What causes it?
Medial patellar luxation (MPL) is most often due to a congenital (inherited) abnormality and is usually present from a young age. The groove in which it resides may be too shallow or an abnormal rotation of the shin bone may cause the attachment of the tendon to be more to the side. In either case, the patella is tends to pop out of place with normal motion of the leg. Trauma or injury can also cause luxation but this is relatively rare.
In most cases, there is no obvious sign to the owner that a pet has this condition. Some owners will note that the pet will occasionally hop or skip on one leg when running and then return to normal without ever acting painful, indicating that the patella has shifted out of groove but then popped back into place. Some dogs may become lame during exercise if the patella shifts and does not return to normal position, causing discomfort and inflammation. Long term effects of frequent displacements can lead to arthritis in some pets and may make them more prone to injury of ligaments in the knee.
Types of Luxation
Patellar luxation is graded on a scale of 1 to 4, with higher numbers indicating more severe luxation.
–Grade I – Patella can be manually moved out of groove during examination but immediately returns to normal position. These dogs are unlikely to show lameness.
–Grade II – Patella is able to be easily manipulated out of place but does not return to correct location once pressure removed. These cases are more likely to show mild signs of lameness.
–Grade III – Patella is always luxated, can be slipped back into place but immediately re-luxates. These dogs show more persistent lameness.
–Grade IV – Patella always out of groove and cannot be put back in place. These dogs will have significant lameness and cannot straighten knee. They may have bow-legged appearance.
MPL can be easily diagnosed on routine orthopedic examination. Radiographs or other imaging modalities may be needed to determine the extent of abnormalities (structural deformities, depth of femoral groove, etc).
Those pets with Grade I or II luxation that rarely or never show any clinical signs are unlikely to need surgical treatment. For those with Grade II or greater that show more persistent lameness, surgery can help to correct the underlying abnormalities. If both legs are equally affected, most surgeons recommend correcting one leg at a time and allowing time for the first to heal prior to correcting the second (at least 8 weeks). The exception to this may be a dog that is still growing as correcting one at a time may lead to conformation changes if the bones are still growing.
Trochlear Modification – this surgical correction is meant for those small breed dogs with a shallow groove. The goal is to deepen the groove by removing some of the bone below the cartilage, then replacing the cartilage to keep the smooth surface.
Tibial Tuberosity Transposition – this is a more complicated surgery which is meant to change the alignment of where the patellar tendon attaches to the top of the tibia (shin bone) to prevent the patella from being pulled to the side. The tibial tuberosity (crest where the ligament attaches) is removed and pinned in a different location to adjust the pull on the patella. In some severe cases, the entire bone must be cut and realigned.
Post- operative care
In simple cases of trochlear modification, 3-4 weeks of rest is sufficient for recovery. With more complicated surgery, a longer period of confinement, possibly up to 8 weeks or more, may be recommended. Some of these dogs also benefit from physical therapy.
Need More Information?
If you suspect your dog may have patellar luxation or another orthopedic problem please contact one of our veterinarians or schedule an examination.
Jenna Koenigstein DVM
Well, we may be squeamish discussing your pet’s bowel movements but it is a very important part of keeping them healthy and keeping the people they live with healthy too. Not all pets carrying parasites appear sick. They may have perfectly normal bowel movements and yet they can be harboring parasites that will continue to reproduce and eventually affect them by causing gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and / or poor hair coats. The parasites can cause inflammation or blood loss and use the nutrients your pet would normally benefit from for themselves. Some of the common parasites pets carry are zoonotic, meaning they can be spread to the people they live with.
What can be in the poop? The common parasites OCVH veterinarians look for are:
-Giardia (a single-celled organism, not a worm)
-Coccidia (a single-celled organism, not a worm)
But, if you don’t see any worms his stool is fine, right? Wrong. Most parasites are diagnosed by finding their eggs in the stool sample after it has been mixed with a special liquid, spun down in a centrifuge and then examined under a microscope. (Illustrated left to right are Hookworm, Whipworm and Roundworm eggs.)
Occasionally, a worm load will be high enough that a puppy or kitten may actually vomit some worms up and then it is easy to see them at home. Or, in the case of the Tapeworm, segments of the worm may look like grains of rice stuck near the rectum/tail or where the animal has been resting. Sometimes these segments may appear like wiggling maggots on a freshly deposited bowel movement.
How do pets get parasites? Most of them can be caught by ingesting infected feces from another animal or being in contact with contaminated water, grass and soil that contain parasite eggs or larvae. Hookworms and Roundworms can also be transmitted from nursing dog or cat moms to their babies. Hunting and eating prey can also spread parasites from wild animals to our pets.
Some pets have higher risks than others, but even pampered pets can come in contact with parasites at the dog park, in the backyard or meeting someone on a walk and doing the usual dog greeting of examining each other’s hind ends! Special mention here to the Tapeworm which is unique. It is not spread by the above methods, but rather when your pet ingests an infected flea while grooming itself.
What should I do so this doesn’t happen in my house? Puppies and kittens should be dewormed for Hookworms and Roundworms starting at 2 weeks of age and then every 2 weeks until they reach an age to start monthly preventatives.
At least once a year bring a fresh stool sample to the office so it can be tested for the parasites above. The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends stool testing 1-2 times a year for adult pets and 2-4 times for pets less than a year old. Use monthly dewormers. These are included in the monthly Heartworm pill your pet takes. Heartgard Plus prevents Roundworms and Hookworms. Trifexis Heartworm and Fleas medication treats those same worms and also prevents Whipworms. Revolution is a topical once a month Heartworm medication that will also prevent Roundworms and Hookworms too (both dogs and cats). Use monthly flea prevention (Vectra, Frontline, Trifexis, Comfortis, Revolution) to avoid Tapeworms. Regularly and frequently clean up of feces in the litterbox or backyard. Don’t let dogs drink from standing water sources or eat grass during walks.
How do I protect the people in my house? What can I catch? Following the recommendations above is a big step towards reducing the parasite exposure of your pet and your home. Normal hygiene, like handwashing and not allowing pets to lick our mouth area or share food items, is also very helpful. Who is at the greatest risk for getting parasites? The little people in the house. The ones who don’t wash their hands unless told and who frequently put fingers in their mouths. The ones who may walk barefoot in the backyard. (Hookworms can crawl through our skin when they are in larval or baby worm stage.) Another risk factor for children are uncovered sandboxes that outdoor cats may use as a litterbox.
The parasites that are zoonotic are Hookworms, Roundworms and some Giardia. Signs can be hard to recognize until late in the game and by then can cause severe health problems.
Your biggest defenses against these parasites is making sure your pet takes monthly preventatives, has regular stool sample checks and by keeping your environment clear of feces and sandboxes in your yard covered. For more information go to CAPCVET.ORG or ask one of our doctors.
Lorri Mitchell DVM
In our area of New Jersey ticks are a concern, both for humans as well as animals. Of the many diseases that ticks carry, several are transmissible to both species. Although very small and seemingly fragile, ticks are actually tremendously hardy parasites, capable of surviving through a wide range of climate conditions. This is one of the reasons that OCVH, FVH & NPVH advocate treating our pets with a flea/tick preventative all year round in our area.
To learn about the tick life cycle, please click here:
Of all the diseases that ticks can transmit to dogs, four are most prevalent: Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. We have seen cases of all 4 of these conditions at OCVH and our family of practices over the past year, so they are present in our area!
Lyme Disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world. It is caused by microscopic bacteria called spirochetes, which ticks ingest when feeding on wildlife or other dogs that are infected with the spirochete. The tick then spreads the infection to another animal when it bites them looking for its next blood meal. The species of tick that transmits Lyme Disease is Ixodes Scapularis (Deer Tick).
Despite all the research into Lyme Disease in both human and veterinary medicine, there are many aspects of the disease that still remain a mystery. Dogs that are exposed to Lyme Disease can exhibit a variety of clinical signs, ranging from no signs at all to an irreparable kidney failure and death. The most common clinical signs are joint inflammation leading to lameness, fever, and lethargy or depression. Many dogs test positive for Lyme Disease and never develop clinical signs of the disease. Kidney disease secondary to Lyme Disease seems to be more prevalent in Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Burmese Mountain Dogs.
How is it diagnosed? There are several blood tests that can detect Lyme Disease. Our heartworm test, called an Accuplex, also screens for exposure to Lyme Disease as well as 2 other tick-borne diseases. Often if your dog is diagnosed with Lyme Disease the veterinarian may recommend a urine sample to make sure the kidneys are not affected, as well as, other more specific blood tests. Test results, in combination with any clinical signs that the dog has, is considered before initiating treatment. The treatment for Lyme Disease is a long course of an antibiotic, typically either doxycycline or amoxicillin.
In some patients it is impossible eradicate the organism from the body no matter what antibiotic is used. Therefore, even with appropriate treatment, the signs of disease may flare-up again in the future.
Ehrlichiosis is another bacterial organism transmitted to dogs through a tick bite. The Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus), the Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma) and the American Dog Tick (Dermacentor) have all been linked to the transmission of this disease.
Clinical signs associated with Ehrlichiosis vary greatly, but can include fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, enlarged lymph nodes, eye and nasal discharge, lethargy, difficulty breathing and swollen limbs. The disease can progress to the nervous system, causing muscle twitching and other neurologic problems. Long term, blood platelet levels (cells that assist with clotting) may drop to dangerously low level and become life-threatening without treatment. Diagnosis of Ehrlichiosis can be made with the Accuplex blood test, as well as other blood tests available at our laboratory. Doxycyline for at least 4 weeks is the treatment of choice for this serious disease.
Anasplamosis is another type of bacterial disease transmitted by ticks, including both the Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus) and the Deer Tick (Ixodes). In general, Anaplasmosis causes milder clinical signs when compared to Lyme Disease or Ehrlichiosis. Clinical signs can include: fever, depression, weakness, lameness, reluctance to move, loss of appetite, enlarged lymph nodes and enlarged spleen. Anaplasmosis can also lead to low platelet numbers, much like Ehrlichiosis. Diagnosis can be made with the Accuplex blood test. The treatment of choice for animals showing clinical disease is doxycycline, although often this disease is self-limiting and some animals never progress to the clinical state of needing treatment.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a potentially fatal disease of both dogs and humans due to an intracellular bacterium called Rickettsia. It is transmitted by the American Dog Tick (Dermacentor), the Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus) and the Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma). In humans, RMSF is often associated with a rash from the tick bite; however, in dogs a rash is much less common. Clinical signs of infected dogs include: fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, reluctance to move, stiffness or swelling of joints, enlarged lymph nodes and neurological signs. Destruction of platelets can lead to bleeding and severe inflammations of blood vessels. In some dogs the disease is self-limiting, while in others it can become a fatal condition. Diagnosis of RMSF is through a special blood test. The treatment of choice once again for this disease is doxycycline.
PROTECTION FROM TICKS AND THEIR DISEASES
So how can we protect our furry companions from these diseases? There are 2 main ways: vaccination and topical preventative. The only tick-borne disease that we have a vaccination for is Lyme Disease. The Lyme vaccine that is available, although not 100% effective in preventing the disease in all dogs does dramatically reduce the chances of infection and can minimize the seriousness of Lyme Disease in a large majority of the pets that receive the vaccine before they are bitten by ticks carrying the Lyme bacteria.
We recommend the Lyme vaccination for all dogs in our area.
Topical tick preventative has become a cornerstone in our efforts to prevent the spread of
these four diseases. Often these products are also designed to kill and / or prevent flea infestations as well. Although there are several products on the market that kill ticks, the product preferred by the veterinarians at OCVH, FVH & NPVH for dogs is Vectra 3D.
Vectra 3D, in addition to killing fleas and ticks, has the extra bonus of repelling the ticks, making it less likely that they even attach to the dog. Please see the video below:
Protect your canine companion from these diseases by having them vaccinated annually against Lyme Disease and protecting them year-round from tick and flea infestations by using Vectra 3D.
William Danowitz DVM