If you’ve been watching the news closely over the last year, you might have heard about an outbreak of dog flu over the past year. Wondering what’s up and how you can protect your furry friends? We’ve got you covered.
Canine influenza is caused by two different strains of the canine influenza virus (CIV); H3N8 and H3N2. The first strain, H3N8, started in 2004. It is theorized that it spread from horses into the racing dog population and from there into the broader pet population, causing sporadic outbreaks since then. The second, H3N2, started in 2015 in Chicago. It may have been brought into this country from an infected dog from Asia and it has spread to 24 states, including Alabama. Both strains are highly infectious and spread quickly from dog to dog through contaminated objects such as dog bowls and through the air via coughing, barking, or sneezing.
Canine influenza virus (CIV) is part of a larger complex of pathogens that cause coughing, sneezing, fever, and nasal discharge. These pathogens include Bordetella, distemper, parainfluenza, and CIV, among others. Dogs that are at the highest risk include dogs with a lowered immune status (such as puppies and older pets) and dogs that go into multiple pet environments (including boarding, grooming, dog parks, and dog shows). Unfortunately, since many of these pathogens are so highly infectious and can be transmitted through the air, even the biggest homebodies still have a risk of infection.
So what can you do to protect your pet? The best and easiest way to protect your dog is to vaccinate them against upper respiratory pathogens and be sure to keep these vaccinations current for best protection. We recommend bi-annual vaccinations for Bordetella for all dogs. In addition, we have started recommending a yearly vaccination against CIV to help protect your pet against influenza as well. In addition, regularly washing your dog’s food bowls and toys with soap and water can help minimize the risk of spread of flu.
As always, if you are concerned your pet may be exhibiting signs of influenza or another upper respiratory disease, please give us a call at (256) 881-2482 to schedule an appointment.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s time to talk about matters of the heart. Even though you know heartworm disease is bad and prevention is important, you may still have some questions about how transmission works and the best way to keep your pet protected.
The Life of a Heartworm
Heartworms start out as microfilaria swimming along inside the veins of an infected canine (or, possibly, some other species- more on that later). They then get picked up by a mosquito, where they develop into an infective stage. After that, when the mosquito bites another animal, those infective larvae get deposited on the skin and are transmitted to the new host through the mosquito bite. From there, it takes six months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. Once they are mature, they can produce microfilaria and start the cycle all over again.
An Ounce of Prevention
Heartworms have been identified in all fifty states. In addition to the domestic dog, wild foxes, coyotes, and wolves can all be hosts of heartworms. Since they are spread by mosquitos, we are understandably in a hotbed of disease in Alabama. The best way to keep your dog safe is through year round prevention, which comes in a variety of forms.
- Monthly pill. There are a variety of monthly pills that can be given to prevent heartworm disease. Many of these pills are combination products and also prevent fleas and intestinal parasites. These pills work by killing the early larval stages of the heart worm and must be given every 30 days to work effectively. Examples include Trifexis and Heartgard.
- Monthly topical. Topical preventives work similarly to the monthly pill in that they kill the early larval stages of the heartworm and must be given every 30 days. It is very important to be sure that these products are applied directly onto the skin of the dog; incomplete application can mean that not enough of the medication is absorbed to prevent heartworms. Examples include Revolution and Advantage Multi (not to be confused with Advantage II or Advantix, both of which are strictly flea and tick preventives).
- Six month injection. Proheart is an injection that can be given at your bi-annual exams to prevent heartworms for an entire six month period. The medication in Proheart is similar to that in monthly topical and oral products in that it kills early stage heartworm larvae. The active ingredient is packaged in microscopic beads which release over a six-month period. It has some efficacy against intestinal parasites but does not prevent fleas or ticks.
So your dog is on heartworm prevention. She’s protected. But why do we keep recommending they get tested every year? There are quite a few reasons!
- No heartworm prevention is 100% effective. Even if you remember to give your dog its prevention like clockwork every 30 days, there’s still a tiny risk they can get infected.
- Resistance. Resistance occurs when a certain prevention is no longer effective. The cases of resistance are relatively rare and seem to be confined to the Mississippi Delta area; however, they do occur.
- Breaks in prevention happen. You went on vacation. You had a baby! Something made you forget to give that pill. Or you own Wile E. Coyote…. you think he’s swallowed his pill, but come to find out he’s been cheeking them to hide under the couch. Somehow, your dog didn’t get prevention this month.
All of these things could be reasons for a dog that is on prevention to test positive for heartworms. In these cases, it is imperative to find the heartworms as early as possible, BEFORE they do irreversible damage.
A Pound of Cure
Heartworms can cause long-term damage to the heart, lungs, and other organs. Left untreated, they can prove fatal. If your dog tests positive for heartworms, there are things we can do. The first step is to make sure that your dog is healthy enough for treatment with blood work and radiographs (x-rays) of the chest. Next, we start them on heartworm prevention to help keep them from getting new heartworms, and medications to make the heartworms easier to kill. Later, we will give a series of injections to kill the adult heartworms. During this timeframe, it is imperative that your dog be restricted in his activity, since the primary danger during treatment is from emboli lodging in the lungs. The total time for heartworm treatment takes six months.
While our goal is to keep heartworms from ever causing disease in your pet, it’s also important to know the signs to look for. While some dogs may show no signs at all, a persistent cough, fatigue, and weight loss can all be symptoms of heartworm infection. If you notice any of these signs or if you need to get your pet back on prevention, give us a call at 256-881-2482.
It’s Dental Health Month and we are celebrating by focusing on your pet’s oral health this month. Wondering what all the fuss is about? It’s more than just a cosmetic issue – poor oral health can lead to abscesses, loose or painful teeth, even heart, liver, or kidney damage! So how do you keep your pet’s smile pearly white and her body healthy?
Bi-annual exams are important to catch a variety of health issues early. Our wellness exams always include a thorough examination of the mouth. In addition, what you do at home on a daily basis can make a big difference.
Just like in humans, brushing teeth daily is the gold standard for oral health. You don’t want to use human toothpastes, for the same reason you don’t use them with small children- swallowing large amounts of fluoride every day isn’t good for anyone (and if you can teach your dog to spit reliably on command, we want a video!). We offer enzymatic toothbrush and toothpaste kits at McCurdy Animal Hospital. Here are a few pointers on how to start brushing:
- Start early! Even though your puppy has baby teeth that will fall out soon, it’s important to start brushing their teeth daily when they are young so they accept it as part of their daily routine.
- Start small. As you can imagine, most pets don’t appreciate having a big toothbrush put in their mouths the first day, and if they already have a little bit of gum disease, it can also be painful. For the first week, just start offering a little bit of toothpaste as a treat (they come in yummy flavors, like chicken), then work up to using your finger with the toothpaste on it in your pet’s mouth. From there you can step up to a finger toothbrush (a little rubber scrubber you put on your index finger) and finally to a regular toothbrush. Take each step slow and steady, offering praise when your pet does well.
For those that can’t handle brushing, there are other products available, including a dental diet designed to prevent tartar buildup and a liquid that can be added to drinking water. Please feel free to call us for a dental consult to go over what is best for your pet’s needs.
If there’s noticeable tartar, the next step is a professional dental cleaning. Unfortunately, even the calmest pup won’t lie back and say “aaah,” so dental cleanings are performed under general anesthesia. Before we perform this procedure, we will make sure they are healthy enough for anesthesia with a thorough physical exam and blood work. The dental cleaning itself includes scaling and polishing all of the surfaces of the teeth, as well as dental radiographs and a thorough oral exam to identify any teeth that may need further care. Late that afternoon, your pet goes home with healthy teeth and gums and a bag of dental goodies to keep that mouth looking great!
While the idea of anesthesia may make you nervous, delaying or abstaining from dental cleanings can have drastic implications on your pet’s overall health. Abscesses can form along the gum line, causing infection which, if left unattended, can enter the blood stream. This can lead to cardiac, liver, or kidney damage or worse!
Signs of potential oral health problems include bad breath, difficulty chewing, or bleeding from the gums. If you notice these or anything else, please give us a call at (256) 881-2482 to schedule an appointment.
Welcome to McCurdy Animal Hospital’s new blog! As always, our goal is to provide outstanding veterinary care for your pet. Knowledge is power, and we want to spread ours to help you in making educated health care choices for your pet. If you have any suggestions for a topic you’d like us to cover, please email Dr. Shelby Agnew at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d also be happy to answer any additional questions during our normal business hours. With that, onto our first topic of the year, a timely one for January with New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and eat better still going strong – pet obesity.
New studies show that 54% of our pets in the U.S. are overweight or obese. You read that right – OVER HALF of American dogs and cats have excess weight, which means they are at an increased risk for arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and breathing problems. With such troubling statistics, what’s a dog to do?
Body Condition Score
The first step is to determine if your dog or cat is indeed, overweight. Since pets come in all shapes and sizes, we use body condition scores (BCS) to help us determine whether Fluffy is carrying a few extra pounds. The best way to do this is with a doctor during an appointment for a weight and nutritional consult, but the basics are as follows:
- Feel the ribs. While you shouldn’t be able to see the ribs, you should be able to feel them easily without having to push too deeply.
- Find that waist. Both dogs and cats should have a slight “hourglass” appearance when viewed from above, with a narrowing between the chest and hips.
- Tuck it up. Pets should also have something called an “abdominal tuck.” This means that when viewed from the side, their tummy should go up a bit from the chest instead of hanging down.
Just like humans, pets can have hormonal abnormalities that increase their risk of obesity. We screen for these abnormalities with yearly blood work during our preventive care appointments. However, if you’ve noticed that your pet’s weight has made a sudden change (up OR down), go ahead and make an appointment; sudden weight changes can be a sign of a serious disease.
Once we’ve determined that your pet is overweight and otherwise healthy, it’s time to start losing those pounds before they start causing serious problems. Once again, just like humans, diet and exercise are the mainstays of good health. Although there is no “one size fits all” for diets, the basics remain the same.
The first and most important steps is to take all people food and treats out of your pet’s diet. That means no table scraps, no bits of cheese, and no licking the plate after you finish dinner. What you perceive as “just a bite” can be the equivalent of 2 or 3 extra cheeseburgers! The same goes for treats, many of which are high in fat and calories. If you have questions about a particular favorite, just give us a call.
Many dogs can lose weight with some simple lifestyle changes, but some require changing to a prescription or low calorie food. Before embarking on a diet change, give us a call to discuss the best food for your pet.
The good thing here is that exercise recommendations for dogs by and large match those for humans – 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, the same as is recommended by the American Heart Society. So get those tennis shoes out and start walking! In addition to the weight loss, exercise can help strengthen muscles and help decrease arthritis pain.
Unfortunately, it’s the rare cat that walks well on a leash and overweight cats can be less interested in moving about. Encouraging exercise in your feline friend has to be a little more creative! Start with short play times of 5-10 minutes, 3 or 4 times throughout the day, using lasers, feather toys, or balls to keep your kitty on the move. In addition, feeding small meals throughout the day, especially feeding on top of a cat tree, can help increase your cat’s exercise AND wellbeing!