Tick Time

August 16, 2012

It is tick season on the East Coast. I had one of the little critters delivered to me in a sandwich bag just the other day. The owner had pulled it off her dog and brought it to me to identify, because she was worried the tick might make her dog sick. She did the right thing, but there are other options too.

Diseases ticks carry
Pet owners worry about ticks partly because they are yucky to find on your pet, but more importantly they carry diseases affecting both you and your dog. Most dog owners are aware of Lyme disease, which is transmitted by teeny, tiny deer ticks. In dogs, Lyme disease affects the joints and causes inflammation and lameness. The American dog tick carries the organism causing Rocky Mountain spotted fever. This disease, with a misleading name, occurs most commonly east of the Rocky Mountains. The American dog tick transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever to both humans and dogs. The brown dog tick carries the organism causing canine babesiosis, a blood parasite of dogs. The bacterial infections, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis, have multiple different tick vectors that feed on and transmit the bacteria to both humans and dogs.

Tick resources
If you pull a tick off your pet, you may be able to identify it yourself using online resources. Since I live in New York State, I choose the Cornell University website, Tick Biology for the Homeowner, as my go-to website.

This website also includes guidelines for safe tick removal. In addition to universities, state and municipal departments of health may host websites with tick information for your area.

Tick tips

  1. Prevent tick-borne disease in your dog by preventing tick bites. See your veterinarian for one of the top spot flea and tick preventatives. Your veterinarian might also prescribe tick collars especially designed to kill Lyme disease-carrying ticks.
  2. One of my friends who lives in Lyme disease country had her yard professionally sprayed with an organic product containing a strong concentration of rosemary and garlic oil. There was not a tick to be found anywhere and she said her yard smelled really nice after the application.
  3. Worried about your health following a tick bite? Here is an interesting article on human babesiosis, an emerging disease in humans.

Heartworm Prevention

March 24, 2011

Are heartworms becoming resistant to preventive medications?

This week marks the first day of spring and for many dogs and cats, spring means a trip to the veterinarian’s office for a heartworm test and renewal of a prescription for heartworm prevention.

To help me address the timely topic of “heartworm disease,” I invited a recognized expert, Dr. Clarke Atkins, to provide some insight.

Q: Do dogs really need an annual test — and should dog owners stop giving the preventative medication when winter comes?

A: Year-around preventive and yearly testing are solidly recommended by the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) and the American Heartworm Society for these important reasons:

  1. Heartworm infections are actually greater than 10 years ago, making annual testing critical for your dog.
  2. Year-around preventive provides a safety net of prevention for your dog.
  3. Current heartworm preventives provide protection against other year round pests.
  4. Starting and stopping preventive administration has the potential to lead to lapses in preventive therapy.
  5. People in the metro New York area — those who either vacation at or have homes in “heartworm-endemic areas” — may be at risk year round.
  6. Financial savings are modest and very small compared to the cost of treating a heartworm infection.

Q: Some dog owners are worried about overmedicating their dogs and give the heartworm medication every other month. Do you advise this protocol?

A: The practice of every other month administration of preventive is frankly a terrible idea. Lapses of greater than 45 days between treatments can result in heartworm infection.

Q: Are cats susceptible to heartworms and should they be on preventative medications like dogs?

A: Cats are susceptible to heartworm infection, although less so than dogs, and there is no practical and safe treatment for this life-threatening disease in cats. In any region in which heartworm preventive is used in dogs, cats absolutely should be on heartworm preventive, even if they are housed indoors. Interestingly, in a study we carried out several years ago, the exposure rate to heartworms in cats in NYC was 5% and on Long Island was 9%.

Q: I’ve heard heartworms are becoming resistant to medication. What should a dog owner do?

A: In certain areas of the southern U.S. — specifically Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi — there are concerns with increasing reports of “lack of effectiveness” from medications, and there is some evidence to suggest that some heartworm preventives are not perfect against all strains of heartworm.

Pet owners should talk with their veterinarian if they have any concerns in this regard. However, the most important thing is that all pets receive heartworm preventive medications.

My thanks to Dr. Clarke Atkins, Diplomate, ACVIM (Internal Medicine and Cardiology) and the Jane Lewis Seaks Distinguished Professor at North Carolina State University, for his time and response to important questions about heartworm disease.

The Companion Animal Parasite Council tracks parasitic diseases in dogs and cats–including heartworms. The map below is courtesy of CAPC:

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This blog may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog from WebMD.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit http://www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Bedbugs and Pets

November 1, 2010

A few weekends ago, I was volunteering at The AMC’s “Ask the Vet” booth during AKC’s Meet the Breeds show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. A pet owner came to the booth with questions about bedbugs and pets. I know there is a nationwide epidemic of bedbugs, but in veterinary school parasitology, I remember learning bedbugs are a nuisance to humans not animals. I decided to do some reading and here is what I found.

First, a bit about bedbug biology. They belong to the family Cimicidae and are flightless, so they crawl to their host. Like most parasites, bedbugs are very specific in their choice of host. And fortunately for your pet, bedbugs prefer people over pets. The blood of humans, dogs and cats is different and bedbugs have evolved to feast on human blood. Bedbugs climb on their host only to feed and spend the rest of the time in mattresses, furniture and crevices. As nocturnal creatures, they feed at night, attacking their sleeping host, hence their colloquial name bedbug. For more information on bedbug biology from entomologists (bug experts), go to http://www.oasas.state.ny.us/AdMed/FYI/bedbugs.cfm.

Bedbugs live in environments, not on pets or people, and can easily be confused with other household bugs. If your pet has critters crawling in its fur, black specks deposited on its blanket and is scratching up a storm, most likely your pet has fleas, not bedbugs. This time of year when the weather gets cold, fleas are looking to move indoors and you might be more likely to see them in your house. 

If you do discover bedbugs, there are a few things you can do to decrease the number of bedbugs in your home. Wash bedding in hot, soapy water and dry them in a hot dryer (>120 degrees F). Vacuuming thoroughly and discarding the bag after each vacuuming session will help decrease bedbugs in the environment. Ultimately, most people need a professional exterminator to clear the bedbugs from their home. For more information on eradicating bedbugs from your home, go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/vector/bed-bug-guide.pdf.

If you use the services of a professional exterminator, follow his directions explicitly. Keep in mind, insecticides are common causes of toxicity in pets. Insecticides used in the treatment of environmental bedbugs are generally safe for pets if used properly. 

If your pet has previously experienced reactions to flea and tick preventatives, check with your veterinarian to determine if the product your exterminator recommended is safe for your pet.

This blog and many others may be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog from WebMD.
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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Diatomaceous Earth for Pest Prevention

October 4, 2010

In the past month, The Animal Medical Center has received several inquiries about the use of diatomaceous earth (DE) as a flea preventative. I knew DE was used in swimming pool and fish tank filters, in cat litter and in laboratory studies but I hadn’t heard of using it against fleas. I found some interesting information to share with you.

Diatomaceous earth is composed of the fossilized silica skeletons of a unicellular organism known as a diatom. Diatomaceous earth crumbles easily and has the texture of pumice. Many websites recommending natural and organic medications suggest a host of medical uses for DE. Although DE is GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA and some forms of DE are considered food grade, there are no FDA approved DE compounds for the treatment of diseases or for parasite control.  

Food and Drug Administration approval of a medication assures the consumer and the prescribing veterinarian that the product meets certain safety and efficacy standards.  In the case of flea and tick preventative medications, FDA approval means the medications are tested for safety in both dogs and cats if the medication is approved for use in both species. The manufacturer also has to prove to the FDA that the medication works against the parasite(s) the label says it kills or prevents. Without FDA approval, I don’t have enough information on the dosage, efficacy or safety of a medication to know how much to give, if the product works, or if it will hurt my patient.

Pet owners wishing to avoid chemical flea control don’t have very effective options. Keeping the pet inside and away from other animals will decrease exposure, but in apartment buildings the little critters can travel between apartments in the hallway carpet. Daily vacuuming of your apartment and disposing of the bag will help to decrease the numbers of fleas and eggs in the environment. Finally, using a flea comb daily will decrease fleas and eggs on your pet.
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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Labor Day is No Picnic for Your Pet

August 31, 2010

To celebrate or, more accurately, say a fond farewell to the end of summer, there will be millions of backyard barbecues over Labor Day weekend. Since our pets are members of the family, we want them to participate in this end of summer ritual, but picnics pose some dangers for the family pet.

If you are the host family for the backyard barbecue, make sure your pets are safely corralled inside the house. Some cats will want to hide under the bed when the guests begin to arrive, but curious cats may try to join the party and could slip outside unnoticed. Make sure all pets have collars with ID tags and microchips before the party starts.

Dogs are more likely than cats to join the party, but party food should be off the menu for dogs. The picnic table laden with summer treats is a buffet of hazards for Fido. Barbecued chicken, ribs and steaks all contain bones which can be splintered and lodged somewhere in the esophagus or intestine. Stuck bones can be a holiday-wrecking emergency requiring endoscopy or surgery for removal. Trash can-raiding dogs will eat corncobs and peach pits — two other commonly stuck food items.

The dessert and drink tables are no safer. Chocolate, whether in cake or brownies, should not be on your dog’s menu as chocolate is toxic to dogs. Even the fruit tray can be a problem. Grapes and raisins both cause kidney failure in dogs. Why dogs are so sensitive and humans are resistant to the effects of these fruits is unknown. The sweet taste of fruity summer drinks left unattended on the lawn is attractive to dogs, but alcoholic beverages are a no-no. A few sips of an alcoholic beverage by a small pup can easily result in intoxication.

If you are picnicking at the beach or pool, be sure your dog can swim or have her wear a lifejacket. Watch out for cuts from sharp rocks and broken glass, or strong tides which could pull your dog out into the surf. Be sure to provide fresh water and a bowl — too much pond or salt water can cause stomach upset.

Whether you spend this weekend in your backyard, the beach or the woods, fleas and ticks will be there too. These pesky creatures are still active this time of year spreading disease causing organisms to both people and pets by their bites. Many dogs are allergic to flea bites and will have their weekend ruined by itching if bitten by a flea, so don’t forget this month’s dose of flea and tick preventative.

Have a fun and relaxing holiday weekend by keeping the pets and humans in your family safe and well.

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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Preventing Lyme Disease

July 12, 2010

If you live in the northern portion of the Mississippi River Valley or in the northeast as I do, June, July and August are peak months of incidence for Lyme disease in humans. These are the peak months for Lyme disease because the young Ixodes ticks (nymphs) carrying the Lyme disease organism (Borrelia burgdorferi) are most active in the late spring and summer.

Peak tick activity coincides with peak outdoor activity for both humans and pets, giving the young ticks an opportunity to attach and transmit the infection. In dogs, clinical signs of Lyme disease develop 2-5 months after a tick bite. Veterinarians can detect evidence of exposure to Lyme disease in the blood of cats, but cats seem to be more resistant to developing clinical signs of Lyme disease than are dogs.

Several different products are available to prevent tick infestation in dogs and cats. These days, the most common is a top spot solution applied between the shoulder blades of your dog or cat. Collars and sprays to prevent both ticks and fleas are also available. Ask your veterinarian which type of product will work best in your neighborhood and on your pet.

Annual vaccination is also an option for preventing Lyme disease in dogs. A vaccine is not available for preventing Lyme disease in cats. The Lyme vaccine is not considered a “core” vaccine and every dog does not require this vaccination. When you make your annual well dog visit to your veterinarian, put this vaccine on your list of topics to discuss.

Your backyard will be a source of ticks on your pet. Keep your dog and cat out of areas where the bushes and grass are not trimmed. Wooded areas should be off limits to dogs and cats in Lyme country. As pretty as deer are to watch in your backyard, they can serve as vehicles for tick transportation. Don’t attract deer by feeding them since they can bring ticks with them.

Should your dog or cat come home with a tick imbedded in its skin, removing the tick immediately will help stop transmission of the Lyme causing organism and only requires a tweezer. Grab the head of the tick as close to where it attaches to the skin and pull the entire head out of the skin. There is no need to use petroleum jelly, a match or a sharp object to remove a tick, and in fact these may cause more harm than good.

Preventing Lyme disease in your pet will have a positive impact on your health as well. Pets cannot give Lyme disease to their human or animal family members. They can, however, bring home ticks which can attach and transmit the Lyme disease-causing organism to your family or your other pets.

Not all ticks carry Lyme disease. If you want to identify the tick you just pulled from your cat or dog as one that carries Lyme disease or not, most state departments of health have a website for identification of the ticks commonly found in your state. I recommend this website to my New York pet owners: http://www.cals.cornell.edu/cals/entomology/extension/medent/tickbiofs.cfm

Keep in mind a tick bite does not equal Lyme disease. Only a small percentage of tick bitten pets will develop clinical signs of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is not the only tick borne illness of dogs and cats, others include babesiosis, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis. If your pet is acting sick, see your veterinarian and don’t forget to tell her about the tick bite.

For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


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