Spring brings warm weather, flowers, and allergies, and it's not just us humans who can be affected. Dogs and cats can have allergies to pollen, grasses, trees, food ingredients, and even to pet dander. So what can we do to help?
How to treat allergies:
Unfortunately, allergies aren't usually curable. They can be managed, but your itchy pet will likely need some help every time they get exposed to their trigger.
First step - reduce exposure
Is cure ever possible?
Certain pets can actually be cured of their allergies through a process called allergy immunotherapy. Skin testing is the most accurate way to find out what triggers your pet's allergies. Blood testing is becoming more accurate every year. Once the allergens are known, injections are prepared with increasing amounts of those triggers to gradually desensitize your pet. The process takes about a year.
Pets with food sensitivities (about a quarter of all allergic pets) can usually be controlled by limiting what they eat and avoiding the trigger food once we find out what it is. While not actually cured, these pets get to be comfortable without medications most of the time.
2. Can pets spread Covid? Maybe.
In laboratory settings, certain animals have spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus to others of the same species housed together. Cats, ferrets, and hamsters infected with the virus should be considered contagious to other cats, ferrets, and hamsters. Dogs do not seem to spread the virus to other dogs.
Most importantly, pets do NOT seem to be able to spread the virus back to people. No pet to person transmission has been documented at this time.
3. What should pet owners do?
Thankfully, you can protect your pet the same way you are protecting everyone else in your family. Follow CDC guidelines by wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, and continuing to social distance to decrease your risk of catching Covid-19.
Testing pets for Covid is only available with approval from the State Veterinarian or through university research studies. If someone in your household has Covid and your pet is showing respiratory signs, please call us.
If you have Covid:
If your pet tests positive for Covid:
No one likes coming home to find a mess - whether that's an object torn to shreds, furniture damaged, or pee or poop to clean up. But chances are, your dog (or, very rarely, cat) isn't actually out to get you. He or she is more likely to be scared or nervous, and the mess is the symptom of that anxiety.
It's normal for pets to be unhappy when their owners leave. But most pets can settle down to nap while their owners are away.
So what is separation anxiety? Separation anxiety is a medical condition where your dog experiences distress when left alone. These pets may cause harm to themselves or their environment in their need to escape or their drive to comfort themselves.
Signs of separation anxiety include:
What triggers separation anxiety?
Any change in routine can trigger anxious behavior. This can include absence of a family member, like a new work or school schedule or a trip. The absence doesn't have to be long, and some pets will start to show anxious behaviors before the person even leaves. Moving is another stressful even that can trigger anxious behavior. Puppies can show anxiety when separated from their littermates, and senior dogs can develop anxiety in their old age.
How do you treat separation anxiety?
The first thing to do is consult your veterinarian. Your pet may have a medical condition that is causing the behavior change, and treating the problem may fix the behavior. Some examples include pets who are uncomfortable from arthritis, drinking, urinating, and panting more than usual because of Cushing's disease, or are hyperactive or aggressive from an overactive thyroid (cats).
Once medical issues are ruled out, training starts. Many pets will also benefit from calming supplements and/or medications to allow their anxiety to subside enough that learning can occur.
The first step in training is to provide your pet with proper exercise. A bored pet is more likely to get into trouble. A tired pet is more likely to rest until you come home. Make sure to stimulate your pet's mind as well as body with new games and activities.
Now, start training your pet to "settle". This is a command that you train, just like "sit" or "stay". It means your pet goes to a designated spot like a bed or a crate and relaxes in place. At first, your pet will settle for a very short time. Gradually increase the length of time and the distance you move away before releasing your pet from the command. Use treats and positive reinforcement to keep teaching this command stress-free. Be patient! Once you can leave the room for a short time and return without your pet moving from their settle, you are ready to leave the house for a short time. When you come home, great your pet with the release word and a calm demeanor.
Severely affected pets need additional help beyond training.
Solliquin or Zylkene are calming supplements that decrease the fight-or-flight response and allow learning to occur. Some pets will also respond well to hemp-based supplements - but be careful to avoid any THC, which is extremely toxic to dogs and cats.
Anti-depressants like fluoxetine or clomipramine are also very helpful to get the process started for some pets. Start with an appointment with your veterinarian to get your pet the help they need.
When is a mosquito bite more than just an itchy annoyance for your dog, cat, or ferret? When that mosquito is carrying a parasite called heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis). Found in all 50 states but most prevalent in the South and Midwest, heartworms are transmitted from one pet to the next by a mosquito.
Heartworms start as tiny microfilaria that can only be seen under a microscope. Over the next 6 months they lodge in the vessels of the heart and lungs and grow to be over a foot long. Adult heartworms can live in your pet for up to 7 years, and create thousands of baby heartworms that will be transmitted to other pets through new mosquitoes.
Heartworm disease is the syndrome caused by these worms living inside your pet. At the beginning, your dog will not show any signs of illness. Early signs of illness can include decreased activity, decreased appetite, weight loss, and/or mild cough. Over time, the heartworms can cause heart failure, kidney failure, or sudden death. Cats and ferrets can get severe disease from just a couple worms, and unfortunately there is no treatment for heartworm in these pets.
Dogs can be treated for heartworms with a medication called immiticide. This kills the adult heartworms and then your dog's immune system will gradually break down the worms. Treating heartworm is a very time-consuming and expensive process. It must be done gradually, because the dead worms can cause potentially fatal clots. Your dog is absolutely NOT allowed to run during the months of treatment because exercise can dislodge a worm and cause sudden death. In order to decrease this risk, we start with a month of an antibiotic to weaken the worms prior to the immiticide and steroids to decrease the inflammation in the lungs following the American Heartworm Society Guidelines.
So, that's all the bad news. What's the good news?
The good news is that heartworm disease is completely preventable. There are many preventive medications available that stop the baby heartworms from developing into adult disease-causing worms. Adding in mosquito repellent provides another layer of protection.
COVID-19 has swept the globe and changed our lives.
The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 originated in a wild animal market in China in December 2019 and has rapidly traversed the globe, causing over 2 million human illnesses to date. Many countries have implemented stay-at-home orders to distance us from each other to slow the transmission and save lives. For some pets, this is the best time of their lives. They have you home all day and are getting all the extra attention and playtime they've always wanted. For others, they are overwhelmed and desperately in need of their mid-day naps. They sense our anxiety but can't understand the cause. So first, take a moment to pause and observe your pets' behavior. If you see signs of stress - lack of appetite, pacing, panting, destructive behaviors, change to play, loss of training - follow these tips to soothe your pet.
Can pets get COVID-19?
Research is ongoing, but at this time there is no evidence that our pets can get seriously ill from this coronavirus. The virus that causes Covid-19 can infect cats and ferrets, but this is only happening rarely. The tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York displayed mild respiratory signs after their exposure from an asymptomatic person who had contact with them. Researchers have also shown that cats can spread the virus to other cats, but at this time there is no evidence that a cat can give the virus to a person. So there is no reason to isolate yourself from your cat or ferret during this pandemic. (Update 5/7/20 - there are a couple dogs who have also tested positive for Covid-19 and displayed mild respiratory signs. So far the dogs do not seem to be contagious to other dogs, nor are they able to spread it back to a person.)
If you are well, continue to interact with your pets just as you normally would, practicing good hygiene and handwashing.
If you are ill with Covid-19, it is prudent to ask another person to take over care of your pet. This is mostly because your pet can act as a vector to carry the virus to another person. If you have a service animal or are the sole caretaker, avoid kissing or hugging your pet while you are ill. Wash your hands before and after feeding or interacting with your pet and wear a facemask to limit the spread of virus particles when you cough.
More information can be found at these sites:
Covid-19 FAQs for pet owners from the AVMA
For human health:
The State of Ohio's coronavirus page
The Center for Disease Control Covid-19 page
The novel coronavirus outbreak has many people worried for their health and the health of their families and pets. Concerned owners in China have even started putting face masks on their cats when outdoors to minimize the risk of exposure. Should you be worried about your pet? In a word, no.
The current outbreak is caused by a novel coronavirus named Sars-CoV-2, that causes a disease known as COVID-19. As of February 18, the World Health Organization reports it has infected over 73,000 people and caused almost 1900 deaths. That's a lot of people, but let's put it in perspective: the CDC estimates that there have been at least 26,000,000 (yes, million) cases of influenza since October 2019 and at least 14,000 deaths this season here in the United States alone. Companion animals like cats and dogs don't become ill from COVID-19, but it is conceivable that they could carry the virus from one person to another. So a person infected with COVID-19 should minimize contact with their pets to protect other people in the household.
The best protection against viruses is to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your nose and mouth, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers after touching public objects (like doorknobs). Stay home if you are ill, and if you are coughing or sneezing in public cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow to minimize the spray.
But what about other coronaviruses?
Dog Coronavirus Infections:
Cat Coronavirus Infection:
What is a hairball?
Cats are self-grooming creatures, so they ingest hair on a daily basis as part of their normal routine. They may also groom their friends and ingest hair from housemates. Have you ever noticed how rough your cat's tongue is? Those tiny papillae point backwards and help the cat catch loose hair and untangle knots. They also prevent the cat from spitting out most of this hair, so instead they move hair towards the back of the mouth to be swallowed. Most of this hair will pass through the GI tract uneventfully and be passed in the stool. Sometimes the hair accumulates in the stomach or esophagus, leading to a hairball. When enough hair is trapped in the stomach it will often trigger the urge to vomit. Bringing up a hairball is usually an active process for most cats. They may make noise, hack, retch, or cough before bringing up the hair. A healthy hairball can be anywhere from 1-5 inches long, and is usually tube shaped from coming up the esophagus. The fluid around the hairball can range from clear to yellow to green to brown and still be normal. It will depend on how recently your cat ate and drank.
How many hairballs are normal?
Healthy cats can bring up a hairball on a weekly basis. Some will do so much less frequently (or never), and some cats will increase their hairballs during their twice yearly major shedding cycles. Cats who are distressed by their hairballs, vomit repeatedly, or bring up hairballs more than once a week should see the veterinarian.
Thankfully, there are several things you can do to make your cat's hairballs less frequent.
- Brush your cat. Less loose hair = less hair ingested = less hair to vomit up. Long-haired cats afflicted by hairballs will benefit from being shaved.
- Feed a hairball-specific diet. Science Diet Hairball Control, Purina Proplan Hairball Management, and Royal Canin Hairball Care cat foods all use proprietary fiber blends to catch the hair and pull it through the GI tract so it can be passed in the stool rather than vomited back up.
- Use a hairball remedy. Laxatone by Vetroquinol is a tasty gel that comes in tuna and maple flavors. It acts as a lubricant that coats the hair and allows it to pass through the GI tract
Sneezing can produce clear spray or thick snot. In general, clear spray sneezes are often viral or allergic in origin, while thicker green or yellow snot can mean bacterial or fungal infection. The nasal discharge can be present on both sides (bilateral), or just from one nostril (unilateral). Unilateral nasal discharge usually means something is structurally wrong, like an abscessed tooth or a foreign object stuck in the nasal passage. It always warrants a trip to the vet.
- Viral upper respiratory infection - this is the most common cause of acute (rapid onset, short term signs), especially in shelters, boarding facilities, and outdoor cats. Herpes and calici viruses are the most common causes and are both highly contagious. Nasal discharge is bilateral, can be clear or white, there is often eye involvement, and it can be accompanied by fever. Signs will usually clear in 7-10 days, but cats can become chronic carriers and spread the virus to other cats.
- Bacterial infection - bacterial infections are often secondary to another cause (like a foreign body or mass), but can also occur on their own. Chlamydophila, mycoplasma, and bordetella can all cause nasal infections. They usually show up with thick green/yellow discharge from both nostrils.
- Allergies - environmental allergies can cause sneezing in cats just like in people. Molds, pollen, and dust mites are the common triggers. Nasal discharge is usually bilateral, clear, and watery. Anti-histamines like chlorpheniramine can help relieve symptoms.
- Fungal infection - less common in Ohio than in the Southwest, cryptococcus infections can cause severe destruction and remodeling of the sinus, leading to facial asymmetry. Affected cats will have thick and sometimes bloody nasal discharge, and often only one nostril is affected.
- Foreign object - cats can inhale grass awns, seeds, or bits of plant material. Acute onset severe sneezing, pawing at the face, and unilateral nasal discharge are signs that something could be stuck.
- Dental disease - tooth root abscesses can breach the nasal cavity and lead to nasal discharge and sometimes bloody noses. This is usually unilateral, and the discharge is usually thick and green/yellow.
- Polyps - polyps are benigns growths that can cause severe nasal discharge from secondary infections. Discharge is usually unilateral and thick green/yellow. Young cats are the most commonly affected. The polyps can grow toward the ear as well. They will often cause congested breathing sounds.
- Cancer - older cats can develop cancer within the sinuses or nasal turbinates that leads to nasal discharge and facial asymmetry. Usually the discharge is unilateral, and it can sometimes be bloody.
- Idiopathic - there are some cats with chronic (long-standing) disease for whom no cause can be found. It is possible that early episodes of viral or bacterial infection remodeled the nasal turbinates or sinuses and predispose these cats to inflammation throughout their lives. While they can rarely be cured, signs can usually be managed to the point that these cats are comfortable and living well.
- Any sneezing cat with a decreased appetite needs to see the veterinarian. Cats are very sensitive to smell, and many will not eat if they can't smell their food. A thick snotty nose definitely impairs ability to smell, so these cats need help quick. Offering smelly canned foods and tuna can perk up an appetite, and hanging out in a steamy bathroom or near a humidifier can also help loosen nasal secretions.
- Fever is another reason to see the veterinarian. If your cat has decreased energy or is running a fever (most accurately measured rectally by your veterinarian), veterinary care is needed.
- Lethargy or trouble breathing - if the congestion impacts your cat's ability to play and exercise or if your cat ever appears to be in distress, seek veterinary care immedicately.
- Unilateral (one-sided) nasal discharge or bloody nose - since this often means there's a foreign object or structural reason behind the sneezing, seek veterinary care quickly.
- Thick green/yellow snot, or any sneezing that lasts more than a couple weeks
- Acute sneezing with clear discharge and a happy cat - if your cat sneezes but is playful, alert, and has good appetite, it's usually safe to monitor at home for a week or so. Viral upper respiratory infections will run their course and you should see improvement after 7 days.
- Mild seasonal sneezing with clear spray - sneezing that recurs each year during a specific season may be allergic in nature. As long as your cat is otherwise acting fine you can try antihistamines at home as needed (talk to your vet about dosages). Stop all smoking within the home, scented air fresheners, and candles, and install an air purifier to decrease inhaled allergens. This will minimize their discomfort.
If in doubt, call us! While sneezing can be a normal sporadic part of a cat's life, any chronic sneezing or ill cats should be evaluated and treated.
Who needs what?
Vaccinations prevent infectious diseases. We carefully select vaccines that are safe, painless, and effective to provide your dog and cat with the best protection with the least risk of side effects. Vaccinations are divided into two categories by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP): core and noncore. Core vaccinations are for every pet. Noncore vaccinations are selected based on what diseases are present in your area and your pet's individual risk factors and lifestyle.
Core Vaccines for Dogs
Core Vaccines for Cats
Noncore Vaccines for Dogs
Noncore Vaccines for Cats
Social dogs should be protected against kennel cough and dog flu. That includes dogs who go to day care, dog parks, grooming, or boarding facilities. It also includes dogs who may come into contact with friends on neighborhood walks. We've had 2 outbreaks of flu here in Cincinnati, and several boarding facilities even had to close temporarily to stop the spread. Both flu and kennel cough are airborne. They are spread by sneezing and nasal discharge.
Here in Cincinnati, we strongly recommend that all dogs be protected against leptospirosis because our local raccoon and opossum populations are carriers of the bacteria. The bacteria are hardy in moist conditions, so all it takes to get infected is for a raccoon to pee in your yard and your dog to sniff/lick the area. Then the bacteria multiply and cause damage to the liver and kidneys. Even more scary is that leptospirosis is contagious to people, so you are at risk if you come into contact with your sick pet's urine.
Lyme disease vaccination is not usually needed for dogs who stay in Cincinnati as long as they are on year-round tick prevention. That may change in the future, however, as our tick population becomes more infected with the bacteria and the risk for the disease increases. Dogs who are not protected against ticks or who travel to the northeast or northern midwest should be vaccinated.
Cats who go outside where they may come into contact with other cats should be protected against FelV (Feline leukemia virus). That virus is spread through saliva, so sharing a water dish, mutual grooming, or fighting can lead to virus transmission. The virus can lead to a supressed immune system and even the development of certain cancers like lymphoma.
Cats who live with an FIV-infected cat can receive the FIV vaccine. This virus is transmitted from cat to cat by biting. Only cats who are microchipped should receive this vaccine, because it will cause the cat to test positive for the disease on the screening tests used in most veterinary offices. So if your cat ever gets lost, he or she might be mistakenly diagnosed with the disease and considered sick and contagious. FIV causes immunosuppression, making your cat more susceptible to infections.
Chlamydophila, Bordetella, and FIP vaccinations are rarely needed for cats in the Cincinnati area.
- Ticks can be tiny. A nymph deer tick is the size of a poppyseed, and can easily hide in fur, hair, or under jewelry.
- Ticks are active. There are 5 common species of tick found in the Greater Cincinnati area. Each has a slightly different life cycle, so the end result is we have ticks out and about every month of the year (yes, even in January). But May is the "tickiest" month - that's when the most ticks are active.
- Ticks carry diseases. Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and cytauxzoonosis are just some of the nasty infections that ticks transmit to the animals they bite. Some of these diseases can have long term consequences even with treatment, so this is one area where an ounce of prevention is more than worth a pound of cure.
- It's easy to prevent ticks. First, create a tick-free zone in your yard. Ticks prefer moist environments, so they're less likely to venture to the middle of the lawn. Rake up leaves, cut back grasses and brush, and try to decrease wildlife traffic through your yard to keep tick numbers down.
- Then, protect your pet. There are a number of safe, effective products to keep your dogs and cats safe. They come as oral chews, topical products, and collars.
- For households with children, the oral products - Bravecto, Simparica, and Nexgard - are often the best choice since there's no need to separate the pet until the product dries.
- For outdoor cats, applying topical Bravecto once every 12 weeks can be the most practical.
- The Seresto collar is a great option for pets who wear collars all the time.
- Vectra 3D has the added advantage of repelling mosquitoes, so it makes a good adjunct to heartworm prevention.
- Frontline and Advantix are readily available in pet stores (be careful not to purchase Advantage, which lacks tick protection).
Gross - you just found a tick. First, take a deep breath and don't panic. Next, how to remove a tick: grab a pair of tweezers, firmly grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight out. This applies to ticks on people as well as pets. The goal is to get the tick's head and mouthparts out if possible. Do NOT pour alcohol on the tick or try to burn it - those techniques just make the tick regurgitate more into the wound and increase disease transmission. Do save the tick and send a photo of it to the folks at tickencounter.org for identification. They will let you know what the risks are for that particular species, and then you can decide whether to pay to have your tick tested for diseases.
Watch for illness - watch your pet closely for lethargy, fever, limping, swollen joints, bruising, or changes to thirst or urination. These are signs of several of the tick-transmitted infections like Lyme disease or Ehrlichiosis. Seek veterinary care quickly if your pet becomes ill.
Test for disease - make sure your veterinarian screens your dog every year for the most common tick diseases, even if you've been using prevention. This can usually be done with a few drops of blood right in the office. A positive result means your pet has been exposed to the organism, and further testing is needed to see if treatment is recommended.