Category: Cats

Ear (aural) Hematoma

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On occasion we are presented with a pet that has a swollen ear. The swelling is due to blood vessels that have ruptured inside the ear flap, between the inside and outside layer of cartilage. This causes the ear to fill up with bloody fluid and after a period of time the blood in the ear clots and there is a firm swelling. If left untreated the ear will be painful and will eventually scar down, similar in appearance to a cauliflower ear in a prized fighter that has spent a lifetime in the boxing ring.

Symptoms

The symptoms of an aural hematoma are obvious. Depending on the severity of the problem there will be swelling, which is sometimes extensive. Almost every pet will either be holding the head to one side or either shaking and pawing at the affected side.

This cat has a moderate sized hematoma.

Cause

 

Pets that paw at their ears or shake their heads vigorously, especially those with large ears, can cause a hematoma. This pawing and shaking can be due to irritants around the face and ears, or irritants in the external ear canals like infections or foreign bodies (foxtails). Food allergy is a common cause of inflamed ears, causing your pet to shake its head excessively and burst blood vessels.

 

Medical Treatment

 

In some cases we can alleviate the hematoma by removing the fluid and injecting cortisone into the ear.

This dog is having fluid drained from its ear.

Your pet will also go home with oral medication to be used for 10 days. This treatment is usually repeated in one week, although some cases are healed after the first week of therapy. Pets that don’t heal after the second treatment need surgical correction.

The initial cause of the hematoma, often times an ear infection or food allergy, will be treated simultaneously.

 

Surgical Treatment

 

We keep a close tab on important physiologic parameters for all of our surgeries. Monitors like this give us an early warning of an impending problem.

Surgery-Monitor

 

It is advantageous in most cases to use medical therapy first because there is no need for general anesthesia, there is minimal discomfort to your pet, and the cost is less than surgical correction. Surgical treatment is used in those situations in which the problem is not corrected with medical therapy.

Some hematomas are too large or involved to attempt medical treatment initially. Another reason we might perform surgical correction before attempting medical correction occurs when your pet is being anesthetized for another problem simultaneously, for example, dental disease.

The following section has pictures of an actual hematoma surgery, and includes pictures of blood and ear incisions. If you would like to pass this section up click here.

The first step in the surgical procedure is draining of the fluid in the ear. An incision is made with a scalpel blade and the bloody fluid is drained.


Since most hematomas have been present for many days prior to presentation, there are blood clots in the ear. These clots are removed with a hemostat.


When all of the blood and clots are removed the ear is ready for suturing. You can readily visualize the 2 layers of cartilage in this view.


The 2 layers of cartilage are sutured together to prevent the bloody swelling from returning. The incision is left partially open to facilitate further drainage of fluid. We also bandage the ear to the top of the head in some cases. The bandage and sutures are removed in 7-10 days. Healing progresses rapidly and the ear returns to normal in no time.

 

For well over the 15 years this  surgery is done in our hospital with the laser. Using the laser has substantial advantages over the method described above. It is highly recommended that this surgery is done with the laser, particularly because it will dramatically minimize pain during the healing process.


Once your pet has a hematoma it is possible for it to recur. You should check your pets ears daily for any recurrence, treat the initiating cause, and clean them frequently.

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Ear Infection

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A common problem in dogs and cats is ear infections. A consistent cause of recurring ear infections is an underlying allergy called atopy. Another name for atopy is allergic dermatitis. Food allergies are also a cause of this recurring ear infection. Some pets have both as the cause.

There are many different causes and numerous treatment regimens to effect a cure. Since the causes tend to be multifactorial we need to address all of them for a successful outcome. Dogs tend to have more of a problem with ear infections as compared to cats.

Hygiene is of major importance both in curing the problem and prevention of recurrence. Ear infections can easily become chronic in nature, so proper therapy early in the course of the disease is important, along with long term commitment to keeping the ears clean.

Long term problems with the external ear can progress to problems with middle (otitis media) and inner (otitis interna) ears. This can cause substantial pain, equilibrium problems, and even hearing loss.

Anatomy

Dogs and cats ears differ from human ears in several significant ways. The main difference is the shape and length of the ear canal. It is longer in animals and has a downward and then inward direction. Alaso, their ears are more sensitive than ours. Cleaning them requires more effort than in people.

This picture shows normal dog and cat ear canal anatomy. The arrows show the downward and inward path of the external ear canal. The tip of the arrow to the left is pointing to the ear drum. When you clean the ears you will gently be pulling up on the external ear to straighten this canal out and allow deeper penetration of medication.

A normal dog ear has glands lining it they contain cilia to remove normal debris. This self cleaning mechanism works well for a healthy ear, not so well for an inflamed and infected ear. Cleaning this debris out of the ear canal is imperative for the bodies normal cleaning mechanism to work.

Symptoms

Pets commonly give their owners a clue that their ears are bothering them. Most pets will either have discharge, odor, or will be shaking their head. Sometimes the ear flap will become extremely swollen-this is called an aural hematoma. Pets that have a foreign body in their ear like a fox tail will be shaking their head extensively and frequently paw at the effected ear.

Causes

Ear disease is caused by many different and predisposing factors, some of them working in combination:

  • Anatomy – deep ear canals and long floppy ears are predisposing causes because they set up a warm and moist environment that bacteria and fungi thrive in.
  • Breed – Some breeds like Cocker Spaniels are commonly effected because of allergies, long floppy ears, and inbreeding.
  • Allergy – In addition to causing itchy skin and hair loss in general, allergies can also cause ear problems. Food allergy and atopy are common causes.
  • Low Thyroid – On occasion low thyroid hormone can cause ear problems.
  • Parasites – Ear mites are also a cause of ear disease, especially in cats. Also chiggers and sometimes ticks.
  • Drug reactions – Any drug can cause a reaction that inflames the ear, including some cleaning agents.
  • Hygiene – Debris and excess hair in the ear canal can cause an infection.
  • Auto immune system diseases
  • Tumors
  • Sugar Diabetes
  • Cushing’s Disease
  • Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency (FIV) viruses.
  • Canine Distemper
  • Bacteria – Staph, Strep, Proteus, E. coli, and especially Pseudomonas.
  • Excessive cleaning
  • Yeast – Candida and Malazzezia.
  • Foreign bodies – debris, hair, foxtails (plant awns).Since there are many causes to ear disease an accurate diagnosis is essential to relieving the problem. Several diagnostic tests are routinely used:

Diagnosis

A routine physical exam is used on every pet that is presented with ear problems because ear infections can be a sign that there are problems elsewhere in the body. This exam is an essential part of the Diagnostic Process, and might include routine blood work.

Ear swabs are used to obtain a sample of discharge for microscopic analysis

Microscopic analysis of the discharge helps us determine if your pet’s problem is bacterial or fungal related. This analysis is performed in our office by taking some of the discharge from the ear canal, staining it blue with a special stain, and observing how many bacteria or fungi are noted.

A culture of the discharge from the ear is sometimes used as an aid to determine what bacteria or fungus is causing the problem. Since many organisms are usually grown in a culture, and some of them are normal inhabitants, this test is not always advantageous. This picture shows a culture that grew out 3 different bacteria that are common to find in the ear canal. Organism #2 (Pseudomonas) is resistant (R) to all the antibiotics that are commonly tested.

The otoscope is an important tool that allows us to visualize the anatomy of the external ear canal, including the ear drum. It is also used to retrieve foreign bodies, usually foxtails, from the ear canal, and to check for tumors. Ear infections are painful, and some pets need to be sedated before they let us examine their ears.

 

Checking for proper thyroid level is an important test in every dog that has recurring problems, especially in Golden Retrievers. This is a report from a pet that has a low thyroid level.

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In addition to these tests, allergy tests are utilized when they are suspected as the cause of the problem. A blood sample is taken that tests for allergies to food, commonly found material inside of your house, and plant like materials found throughout our area in the outdoors. Your doctor will let you know if this test is needed.

Treatment

Each ear infection requires specific treatment depending on the results of the physical exam and diagnostic tests. If there are underlying problems your doctor will prescribe medication to prevent them. In the overwhelming majority of cases medical care is all that is needed. Surgical correction of an ear infection is usually used only after medical care has been unable to control the problem.

If your pet has recurring ear problems we need to control the allergy that is likely causing this. If it is atopy, there are many things we can do to either prevent exposure to the allergen causing the problem. Food allergy is a common cause of recurring ear infection, so a trial of Hill’s Z/D or D/D will be indicated. Our Allergic Dermatitis page has all the details.

For the majority of ear infections proper cleaning and routine topical medication will correct the problem. Learning how to clean your pet’s ears is crucial. Once you have an ear infection under control, which takes 3-7 days in most cases, your goal should be to clean your pet’s ears once or twice each week in order to prevent recurrence. Infections that continually recur are very painful and substantially decrease your pet’s quality of life.

In many mild cases we are able to clean the ears in our office without sedation. After we perform the initial cleaning in our office your job at home will be much easier. You will need to clean them at home to effect a cure and prevent recurrence. You do not clean them if our doctor is using Osurnia. Our nurses will demonstrate exactly how to do this with your pet. To learn the technique click here.

For pet’s with ears that painful to clean we will anesthetize them and thoroughly, yet gently, flush the debris out and instill medication. This is a huge start in your hygiene protocol at home.

Your doctor will routinely prescribe two medications. The first is used to gently clean the ear canal and remove debris and infection. The second medication is a combination preparation that kills either bacteria, fungi, or parasites. These medications usually contain an anti-inflammatory preparation to soothe the ear also. Occasionally your doctor will prescribe oral medication to clear up the infection and to decrease the inflammation in the ear canal.

We have many medications available to us that are very convenient at treating ear infections for dogs where daily cleaning and medicating is a problem. One of them is called Osurnia.

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Once we clean the ears we place this medication in the ear using the premeasured single-dose tube.  It contains three ingredients that are beneficial to clear up the infection, both bacterial and fungal,  and also sooth the ear. That is all you have to do for one week. In one week we recheck the ear to make sure the infection is getting under control, then we place another tube of medication in the ear. If your pet has no underlying problems as described above the infection is usually cleared up, and you don’t need to clean and medicate the ears daily. The ears are not cleaned again until 45 days have passed.

Many dogs have hair inside of the ear canal. If your dog is not having any ear problems this hair is left alone. If this hair is causing a problem it is removed to facilitate cleaning and to let air circulate into the ear canal. This should be done routinely, which for most dogs is at least once monthly. These ears are typical of a pet that needs the hair removed from its ears and a thorough cleaning. Sometimes just removing the hair from the ear canals completely corrects any problem, so please keep them hair free at all times.

These are the same ears after one of our nurses has cleaned them. It is obvious from the picture that this pet will feel much better from this treatment. It is a common sense approach and does not require any medication.

In some pets the ears are so inflamed that its painful to clean the ears. In these severe cases we use sedation and flushing. A warm cleansing solution is used to remove debris and infection from deep within the ear canal by flushing action only. These ears are painful and we need to go gently so as not to cause more pain and damage to an already severely inflamed ear canal.

This ear has had recurring infections for so long that it is no longer possible to clean the external ear canal. The canal is swollen shut, infected and very painful. The only adequate remedy in this case is surgical correction to completely remove the ear canal. It is extensive surgery and requires a surgeon with specialized training and expertise. The goal of long term ear care is to never let the disease progress to this point.

Here is another dog with the same problem as it is prepped just prior to surgery

 

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Hip Dysplasia

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Hip dysplasia is a congenital disease that affects mostly large breed dogs, although any breed can get it, and even cats can have a problem with their hip sockets.

Hip dysplasia is a laxity in the socked of the hip joint where the head of the femur fits into the pelvis. It causes weakness and lameness to the rear quarters, and eventually leads to painful arthritis. This arthritis goes by several names; degenerative joint disease, arthrosis, osteoarthritis.

This disease is so prevalent, and so debilitating, that a special veterinary organization called The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) was organized to minimize the problem in the breeding pool of dogs. It occurs rarely in cats, primarily the Maine coon, and usually in females.


Cause

Many factors work together to cause this disease, which is a combination of a dog genetically inclined to get this disease interacting with environmental factors that bring about the symptoms. These environmental factors excess calcium in the diet of puppy food for large breed dogs, along with obesity, high protein and calorie diets, and a lack of or too much exercise. The breeding of dogs that already have hip dysplasia is one of the primary reasons the disease is still present. A dog that has hip dysplasia in one socket is prone to having a problem with the ligaments of the knee in the other leg (anterior cruciate rupture).

Pathophysiology

During the degenerative process the cartilage that lines the hip joint, called hyaline cartilage, is damaged. The damage results from the abnormal forces on the cartilage from the deformed hip socket. Small fractures can occur in the cartilage also. Eventually an enzyme is released that degrades the joint further and decrease the synthesis of an important joint protectant called proteoglycans. The cartilage becomes thinner and stiffer, further compromising its ability to handle the stresses of daily movement and weight bearing.As the problem progresses more enzymes are released, which now affect the precursors to proteoglycans, molecules called glycosaminoglycans and hyaluronate. Lubrication is negligible, inflammation occurs, and the joint fluid can no longer nourish the hyaline cartilage. This viscious cycle continues until pain occurs. The body attempts to reduce this pain by stabilizing the hip joint. New bone is deposited at the joint, both inside and out, along with some of the ligaments and muscle attachments to the area. This causes thickening and a decrease in the range of motion. This is the actual arthritis noted on a radiograph, which will not go away, and will continue to progress.

 

Breed Predispositions

Many dogs can develop hip dysplasia. Dogs that were commonly affected years ago, like German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers, still get the disease but not as commonly as before.

According to the OFA some of the breeds with the highest prevalence are:

Bulldog Pug Otterhund Clumber Spaniel
Neapolitan Mastiff St. Bernard Boykin Spaniel Sussex Spaniel
American Bulldog Newfoundland American Staffordshire Terrier Bloodhound
Bullmastiff Chesapeake Bay Retriever Golden Retriever Gordon Setter
Rottweiler Chow Chow Old English Sheepdog Kuvasz
Norweigan Elkhound Giant Schnauzer German Shepherd Bernese Mountain Dog
English Setter Black and Tan Coonhound Shih Tzu Staffordshire Terrier
Welsh Corgi Beagle Briard Brittany
Bouvier des flandres Welsh Springer Spaniel Curly Coated Retriever Polish Lowland Sheepdog
Portugese Water Dog English Springer Spaniel Pudel Pointer Irish Water Spaniel

Diagnosis

Hip Dysplasia is diagnosed based on a history of weakness or lameness to the rear legs, especially after exercise or when first getting up after resting. Some young dogs will bunny hop when running, and might lie down on their stomachs with their legs stretched behind them. It is possible to palpate joint laxity on some dogs that are anesthetized (we call this the Ortolani sign). Sometimes we will feel grinding, called crepitus, in the hip joint as we move the leg around the socket.

Many variables affect the degree of lameness. They include age of onset, caloric intake, degree of exercise, and weather. To further add to the complication, pets with terrible looking hips on radiographs might act as if nothing is wrong, while others with barely discernible changes on their radiographs might be severely lame.

Radiography

Radiography (X-ray) is the definitive way this disease is diagnosed. It is not perfect though, since a dog can be hip dysplasia free on the radiograph (phenotype), but can be genetically predisposed to the disease (genotype). These dogs have the potential to be carriers of the disease, yet show no symptoms themselves.

In order to make a diagnosis, the pelvis must be aligned, and the legs extended. This can only be done when a dog or cat is under sedation. We take two views of the pelvis:

  1. VD (ventro-dorsal)- In this view your dog is on its back when we take the radiograph of the pelvis
  2. 2.Lateral- In this view your dog is on its side

Your dog needs to be mature to be able to diagnose hip dysplasia accurately. If it is too young the growth plates are not fully formed.

Pup-growth-plates-hip-radiograph-pelviis-vd

These are the pelvic radiographs of a 3 month old pup

Pelvis-growth-plates-dog-canine-VD

At 6 months of age you can still see the growth plates, and it is still too early to make a diagnosis

Normal-hipsweb

The pelvis radiographs of a mature dog with normal hips

Pelvis-lateral-radiograph-xray-dog-hip-dysplasia

You need to look at the pelvis in two views to make a proper diagnosis- this is the lateral view 

These are the x-rays of a dog with a normal pelvis. The diagram below explains why these hips are normal. 

On the right side of this normal pelvis we have outlined 2 important anatomical features. The “U” shaped appearance of the neck (outlined in white), and the full rounded appearance of the head (outlined in black), are normal. They indicate a full socket with a tight fit and no signs of secondary changes due to instability of the ball and socket joint.

Here is a larger view of normal hips with digital radiography you can click on to see more detail

Canine-Hip-Dysplasia-pelvis-VD-Gereman-Shepherd

This dog has moderate changes that indicate it has hip dysplasia on both sides. The sockets are not as rounded as they should be, and the head of the femurs are slightly flattened. 

BadHipsarrowsweb

This dog has mild hip dysplasia radiographically. The arrows point to boney projections from the pelvis. This is painful secondary arthritis forming due to the instability of the hip socket.

This is a case of severe hip dysplasia. The arrows point to the thickened femoral neck on each side along with the secondary arthritis occurring on the left side. Notice how flat the sockets are and the lack of rounded appearance of the femoral head. This dog is probably in pain and has a difficult time walking in the rear quarters.

If left untreated the disease continues to progress, eventually causing a crippling lameness and severe pain. Correcting this problem at an early age might have prevented this.

SevereHipDysplasia

This is a another digital radiograph of even more advanced secondary arthritis in a dog with severe hip dysplasia

Dogs are not the only species that gets hip dysplasia. It can also occur in cats (Maine Coons are commonly affected), although not as common as in dogs.

The white arrows outline the large amount of stool in the colon of the above cat with feline hip dysplasia. It is painful for this cat to squat to have a bowel movement, as a result it gets severely constipated.

Other diseases that cause lameness or soreness in the rear legs can mimic hip dysplasia. These include rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament in the knee, panosteitis, and degenerative disease of the spinal cord called degenerative myelopathy, a disease that occurs in German ShepherdsIntravertebral disk disease (IVD) can also cause similar symptoms.

Medical Treatment

Medical therapy might help in some cases. It depends on the size of your dog, what its function will be in your household, age, and severity of the problem. You might need to try several treatments until you find the one what works. Many of these treatments need to be used in combination with other medical therapies. Please keep in mind that large breed dogs are stoic. Do to their propensity to please you, these dogs can see fine on the outside but are painful on the inside. Watching for subtle signs is important.

Medical therapy will not cure the problem, and in most cases painful arthritis will set in. Early surgical intervention is usually the best course of action. It is not uncommon to radiograph your dog’s pelvis when it is already under anesthesia for a spay (OVH or ovariohysterectomy) or neuter.

Environmental

Keeping your dog’s weight under control and providing controlled exercise are very beneficial. Going for short walks will give you an idea of your dog’s limits. Proper exercise will maintain muscle tone and keep the joints moving and more fluid. Provide a warm environment and a well padded bedding area are also of benefit. Additional warmth helps chronically infected joints. Hot water bottles are helpful. We don’t recommend electric heating pads because of serious burn potential.

Swimming in a pool if your dog is comfortable with it can be beneficial. Hydrotherapy in a tub supervised by a veterinary certified in rehabilitative medicine is also helpful.

Non-Drug

Acupuncture, Laser Therapy, and VNA are excellent treatment choices in many cases because they are effective without the use of drugs. Our  Alternative Medicine page has detailed information.

Gentle passive range of motion exercises might help. Use of the food J/D (joint diet) is also recommended. There is also a version of J/D called Metabolic and Mobility that decreases weight in obese dogs while also providing treatment for the arthritis. It contains extra amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which might help reduce joint inflammation. One of these foods should initially be tried on all dogs with hip dysplasia.

Drugs

Many drugs have been used to control the pain associated with the secondary arthritis that occurs with hip dysplasia. Some of these drugs are extremely effective, and can provide a dog with a high degree of relief from pain. They only mask symptoms though and do not cure the problem.

Buffered aspirin and ascriptin (aspirin with maalox) are readily available over the counter remedies. Tylenol should not be used in dogs because of its potential for side effects. Tylenol is NEVER used in cats because it can cause a serious disease called methemoglobinemia.

NSAID’s (Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) are highly effective prescription medications. The work by inhibiting the release of prostaglandins, leading to less inflammation in the joints. They should be given prior to any bout of exercise. Some dogs will vomit or have diarrhea on these medications. Giving the medication on a full stomach and using GI protectants like Pepcid AC can minimize this problem. Their  use in labradors should be carefully monitored for signs of liver problems. Any dog that is on these drugs long term should have a blood panel taken to monitor internal organ function, especially kidney and liver.

Nutraceuticals are popular arthritis treatments, primarily because they are thought of as more natural than drugs. Humanoids use them commonly. They provide the raw material that enhance they synthesis of glycosaminoglycan and hyaluronate. Controlled studies are lacking to determine their true effectiveness. Oral versions take at least one month to become effective. A great advantage is their lack of side effects. Oral versions include Cosequin, Synovicare, Glycoflex, arthramine, and MaxFlex. Injectable versions include adequan, a drug that has been used in veterinary medicine, especially in horses, for many years. Injectable versions achieve a more rapid response than oral medications.

An injection of a drug called Adequan is helpful in many cases. This is an FDA-approved disease modifying drug. It contains a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan that inhibits the enzymes in the joints that cause inflammation. It is given as an injection, up two twice per week, and stopped after 8 treatments.

We can’t predict which medications will work best in an individual case. Trying different ones, even using some of them in combination, can let you determine which is the best approach in your dog.

Surgical Treatment

Most cases of hip dysplasia, especially in younger dogs, are treated surgically. One of the surgical specialists we consult with will make the determination of which procedure is the most appropriate. Three main types of surgery are performed.

This area contains graphic pictures of actual surgical procedures performed at the hospital. It may not be suitable for some children (and some adults also!).

1. Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO) or Excision Arthroplasty

In this procedure the head (or ball) of the femur is removed. The remaining part of the femur forms a false joint with the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the area. Even though this false joint is not as good as a real joint, there is a significant reduction in pain. almost any sized dog can have this procedure even though it is much more effective in smaller dogs. Obese dogs and those with significant loss of muscle do not do as well. Compared to the other types of surgery this one is much more basic, yet many pets that have this surgery return to almost normal function.

This are the hips of Mickey, a very active australian Shepherd. He has hip dysplasia on both sides. FHO surgery will be performed on his right hip.

After the skin incision is made the muscles are separated to give visualization of the femoral head. It is gently rotated and brought up as far as possible.

A special air powered drill is used to cut the neck of the femur at just the right angle.

The angle in the cut of the femoral neck is apparent. also present on the head of this femur is a piece of the round ligament, one of the structures that anchors the head of the femur into the socket.

An opening remains where the head of the femur used to reside. The remaining bone will form a false joint, and return this pet to almost 100% function.

The muscles that were separated and cut are now carefully sutured. These muscles are necessary for normal movement of the false joint that will soon form.

This is what remains after the surgery. Mickey healed rapidly after the surgery and is running around as fast as before, according to his worried mom.

We also do the FHO procedure when there is a fracture at the neck of the femur. This link has detailed pictures of the surgery.

2. Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO)

This surgery is used in large breed dogs no older than 10 months of age. Candidates for this surgery can only have mild hip dysplasia and no signs of secondary arthritis. During the procedure the pelvis is cut and rotated slightly so that the head of the femur has a tighter fit into the socket. Since the pelvis is being cut it needs to be stabilized with bone plates.

The pelvis is cut in 3 locations. The locations of these cuts allows the proper rotation of the hips.

This is the final result after a TPO surgery. These two plates are angled to provide the proper pelvic rotation.

Click on this radiograph for a larger view of a TPO surgery

tpo

3. Total Hip Replacement (THR)

In this procedure the neck and head of the femur are replaced with stainless steel or titanium implants. This is a highly specialized procedure performed only by select veterinarians. It is used in young dogs that have achieved most of their skeletal growth and in adult dogs that weigh at least 40 pounds. It can be used in dogs that already have secondary arthritis, unlike the TPO. It has a high success rate but has to be performed carefully because if post operative complications occur they can be difficult to control.

This is the end result of the surgery. These implants now make up the ball and socket joint, and will remain fully functional for many years.

An additional treatment modality that has yielded great success in treating hip dysplasia is called VNA. It is a non-invasive and non-painful way to stimulate the nervous system to help the hip dysplasia syndrome.

Prevention

This is achieved by neutering pets that have the disease. Dogs can be screened for this problem by taking radiographs of their hips at 2 years of age. If they are certified free of hip dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation of america (OFA), there is much less of a chance they will sire offspring with the problem. It is best to purchase large breed dogs only if their parents are OFA certified to be hip dysplasia free.

No guarantee can be given when breeding hip dysplasia free dogs radiographically that their offspring will not deveop the disease. A dog can be hip dysplasia free on a radiograph, yet still carry the genetic predisposition to this disease that will be transmitted to its offspring.

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Spleen Disease (Hemangiosarcoma, Hematoma)

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It is not uncommon for us to encounter problems with the spleen. Sometimes it just enlarges without any major problems, sometimes it twists on itself, sometimes it causes internal bleeding, and oftentimes it becomes cancerous. This page will emphasize cancer of the spleen, called hemangiosarcoma..

In breeds that have a high incidence of splenic tumor we recommend yearly exams starting at 5 years of age,  with radiographs and ultrasounds to catch this problem early before complications and spread, since the prognosis is poor in most cancerous spleens because they have already spread by the time of diagnosis.

Unfortunately, some pets, especially large breed dogs, will not show any symptoms until the spleen is huge. This occurred with a Labrador Retriever that was presented to us with the owner telling us “he just wasn’t doing right”.  He was eating good, was not vomiting, had no diarrhea, and was not coughing. This owner was astute and brought him in for an exam just in case.

A thorough exam and blood panel revealed no problems, so a radiograph was taken. This radiograph revealed a large abdominal mass. This could have been coming from the liver, spleen, intestines, kidneys, pancreas, or mesenteric lymph nodes. An ultrasound revealed it was from the spleen. The next day we removed an 8 pound rupturing spleen! You can see pictures of the surgery to remove this large mass in the surgery section later in this page, along with pictures of a dog with an even larger spleen!

Graphic surgical photos are on this page, especially of surgery which tends to be bloody.

Nomenclature

We will use some medical terms regarding the spleen:

  • Extra medullary hematopoeisis- The making of red blood cells outside of the bone marrow
  • Reticuloendothelial system- in regards to the spleen, it is the system that recycles red blood cells
  • Anemia- a low amount of red blood cells or hemoglobin
  • Thrombocytopenia- a decrease in thrombocytes, which are an important part of the clotting factors when there is bleeding.
  • Hemoabdomen- free blood in the abdomen
  • Splenomegaly- enlargement of the spleen as a result of any cause
  • Splenectomy- removal of the spleen
  • Hypersplenism- an enlarged spleen that is normal and not causing any problem

Spleen Anatomy

The spleen is an elongated and relatively flat organ that resides in the abdomen of mammals along the outer edge of the stomach. It has a tremendous blood supply that is closely attached to the blood supply supporting the stomach. It is the largest filter of blood in the body.

It has an outer capsule composed of smooth muscle and elastic fibers. The internal part of the spleen (called the parenchyma) has white pulp and red pulp. The white pulp is lymphatic tissue and the red pulp is part of the venous blood system. In between these pulps is elastic tissue that can fill up as needed.

A normal spleen in a cat

A normal spleen in a  small dog

A normal spleen in a medium sized dog

A swollen spleen in a medium sized dog

The blood supply to the spleen is closely adjoined to the stomach. You can see the dark vertical blood vessels in this photo as they enter fat between the stomach and a very enlarged and dark spleen in a semi-circle at the far right.

Physiology

The spleen has many functions. The four primary ones are:

  • Storage of cells
  • Production of red blood cells
  • Filtration of the bloodstream
  • Production of cells for the immune system

Iron that has been recycled from old red blood cells is stored in the spleen where it awaits transport to the bone marrow.

Fortunately, the body can get by without a spleen in most cases, so if there is a serious problem, and all other factors are equal, we will remove it. We tend to remove only spleens that are cancerous, rupturing, or have a torsion.

Diseases

Splenomegaly

Splenomegaly is a generalized term that simply means enlargement of the spleen. In some species, like ferrets, an enlarged spleen can be normal, and is called hypersplenism. A spleen can be enlarged diffusely or it might  have nodules in certain areas.

There are many causes for an enlarged spleen. The most common and important are listed in more detail below. Some of the more uncommon ones are due to infectious agents (erlichiosis, babesia, hemobartonella), FIP, medications, and immune mediated diseases.

This spleen has splenomegaly in addition to numerous nodules

Splenic Torsion

In this problem the spleen twists on itself, compromising the blood supply. When the spleen twists the blood keeps on pumping into it by the arterial system, but this same blood is not able to leave through the venous system, and the spleen becomes grossly engorged.

It can occur on its own, after excessive exercise, or due to trauma. It can occur in conjunction with Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), also known as bloat. We tend to see this torsion, along with GDV, in large and deep chested breeds.

If the torsion is chronic, there might be no symptoms at all, or there might be:

    • poor appetite (anorexia)
    • weight loss
    • discolored urine
    • vomiting- might be intermittent
    • weakness
    • weight loss.
    • collapse
    • death

Examination of a pet with splenic torsion might reveal:

    • pale mucous membranes (gums)
    • rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
    • painful abdomen
    • a large mass in the abdomen upon palpation
    • fever
    • dehydration
    • jaundice (icterus)

Icterus, also known as jaundice, is a yellow discoloration

icterusgums

A blood panel might reveal:

    • anemia
    • low platelets (thrombocytopenia)
    • elevated white blood cells (leukocytosis),
    • elevated liver enzyme tests,
    • hemoglobin in the urine (hemoglobinuria)

This disease is diagnosed by imaging tests when the above symptoms are present. A radiograph might reveal a mass in the abdomen with the spleen abnormally located. Ultrasound can confirm the problem and give us an idea of its severity.

A splenic torsion is considered an emergency, so the treatment of choice is surgical removal after a pet has been stabilized by treating for shock. On the deep chested breeds we might even tack the stomach to the abdomen to help prevent potential GDV in the future.

Splenic Cancer

Some splenic masses that are cancerous are classified as benign, meaning they do not generally spread (metastasize), and only take up extra space within the abdomen. Even though they do not spread, sometimes this extra space they take up can interfere with other organs.

Some benign cancerous masses include lipoma (fatty tumors), hemagioma (associated with vasculature), and plasmacytosis (infiltration of plasma cells throughout the splenic nodule or tissue in general). Unfortunately, when a spleen has cancer it commonly is the malignant version and not this benign version.

 The most common malignant tumor in the spleen is the hemangiosarcoma (HSA). It is also called malignant hemangioendothelioma). The cause is not known. It can spread to many different organs, making it highly malignant:

      • heart
      • lungs
      • muscle
      • skin
      • bones
      • abdomen
      • diaphragm
      • brain
      • kidney

HSA can also cause complications, such as disruption of the coagulation cascade which causes a mixture of abnormal clot formation as well as inability to control internal bleeding (known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, DIC).

Symptoms of HSA vary, and range from mild to severe. In extreme cases sudden blood loss can lead to sudden death.

These large nodules on this spleen are a malignant cancer called hemangiosarcoma

Another common type of malignant splenic cancer is lymphosarcoma, a type of cancer that can have a primary tumor in any other organ (i.e. lung, gastrointestinal tract, liver). Lymphosarcoma is one of the more common tumor types observed in the spleen of cats. Sometimes the tumor within the spleen is not even the primary tumor, but rather a single nodule or multiple nodules due to metastasis from a distant primary tumor.

Hematoma

Hematomas are one of the most common causes of an enlarged spleen in dogs, representing over 50% of splenomegaly cases. This type of splenic mass is basically an accumulation of pooled blood within the splenic tissue; many stop growing and are then resorbed after a period of time, but others grow exponentially and eventually rupture. A ruptured hematoma originating from the spleen is an emergency, and often the pet experiences an acute collapsing episode followed by a significant loss of blood into the abdomen (hemoabdomen). You can see the surgery of a dog with an 8 pound hematoma later in this page

Other causes

Congestions of the spleen can occur from iatrogenic causes, which are those associated with administration of certain drugs (i.e. anesthetic agents or tranquilizers). Congestion can also occur due to increased blood pressure within the vasculature of the liver (known as portal hypertension), which can occur secondary to congestive heat failure among others.  The spleen can over-react to particular conditions, resulting in a disease process known as hyperplastic, or reactive, splenomegaly. A spleen can become reactive when there is excessive stimulation of the immune system from conditions such as immune-mediated disease, bacterial infections, tick-borne diseases, and many more.

This spleen has a laceration

Diagnosis

Signalment

Dogs, cats, and ferrets can get splenic diseases, although it is much more of a problem in dogs. Splenomegaly itself can occur in most any age due to the numerous causes of the condition. For instance, if the cause of splenic enlargement is infectious, then the pet may be quite young. However, if the enlargement is cancerous, the pet tends to be middle aged (average 10 years in dogs). Due to the wide range of causes, there is no known gender predilection (males tend to be affected equally as often as females). Certain disease processes tend to be over-represented by specific breeds:

Splenic torsion tends to occur in large breed, deep-chested dogs:

Splenic tumors like HSA tend to occur in several breeds. It can be some common in some breeds that we  recommend physical exams, blood work, abdominal radiographs, and especially abdominal ultrasounds, yearly in these dogs as they reach 5 years of age:

    • German Shepherds
    • Golden Retrievers
    • Portugese Water Dogs
    • Boxers
    • English setters
    • English pointers
    • Great Danes
    • Skye Terriers
    • Bernese Mountain Dogs

History

In many cases, a patient with splenic disease has very little or no specific clinical signs. Observations made by owners at home might include non-specific indicators of illness:

    • lethargy
    • inappetence
    • weight loss
    • diarrhea
    • vomiting
    • collapse
    • discolored urine
    • abdominal distention

Physical Exam

Upon palpation of the abdomen, significant abnormalities of the spleen can usually be detected, especially when a large mass is present within the cranial aspect of the abdomen (toward the chest). However, a mass or enlarged organ in the cranial abdomen cannot always be differentiated from a mass or enlargement of the liver. In some cases, decreased pallor (pale gums) can be a sign of anemia or shock, which in combination with an abdominal mass can indicate a ruptured splenic mass or torsion. We confirm this with an ultrasound before surgery.

If the gums are pale, certain diseases of the spleen may lead to free blood in the abdomen, which can sometimes but not always be detected by palpation of a fluid wave. Other generalized signs might include weakness, fever, dehydration, poor pulses, increased heart rate (tachycardia), increased bleeding at site of blood draw (due to coagulopathy), and/or increased size of peripheral lymph nodes.

Diagnostic Tests

Some diagnostic tests which provide significant information include radiographs, blood work, ultrasonography, evaluation of the cells (cytology) through a fine-needle aspirate sample, and surgical exploration.

Radiography

The arrow points to what a spleen looks like on a radiograph. It is enlarged, although a lobe of the liver can easily overlap the spleen and make the spleen look enlarged. So in this case, technically its called hepatosplenomegaly.

Here is a dog with an enlarged spleen. Can you see it?

Splenectomy -SpleenRadSplenectomy -SpleenRadSplenectomy-LateralRad

The red circle delineates the enlarged spleen.

L.I. – Large Intestine

Pr- Prostate

Splenectomy -SpleenRad Splenectomy-SpleenRadCircle

Blood Panel

Blood work (clinical chemistry and complete blood counts) is a crucial component for detection of compromised organ function. Splenic involvement might reveal anemia (decreased red blood cells), thrombocytopenia (decreased platelets for clotting), leukopenia (decreased white blood cells) and reticulocytosis (increased immature red blood cells to indicate that the body is trying to compensate for the loss of mature red blood cells).

This is a blood panel that might be seen with splenic disease, although many other diseases can also cause this type of blood panel. The primary problem in this blood panel is anemia.

Fluid Analysis

If abdominal fluid is present we can remove it and analyze it. This is called abdominocentesis. There is no guarantee this will make a diagnosis since many cancers, including HSA, might not be found in this fluid.

Ultrasonography

Ultrasonography has revolutionized diagnosis in animals, and prevented many unnecessary exploratory surgeries (called celiotomies or laparotomies), while at the same time alerted us to the fact that we need to do immediate surgery. Keep in mind, our patients do not talk to us, and  an enlarging tumor in the abdomen in one of us humanoids would be uncomfortable, and cause us to seek medical care long before we see a dog or cat with a tumor growing in the abdomen.

Ultrasonography of the abdomen is an important modality for diagnosis of splenic disease because of its sensitivity to changes of organ size, shape, location, and even texture. An ultrasonographic examination in combination with radiographs provides a comprehensive understanding of which organs are involved and often helps to narrow the possibilities down to a select few differentials.

We use ultrasound to confirm our suspicions of a splenic tumor based on the breed, history, exam findings, and blood panels and radiographs. Ultrasound confirms the diagnosis, lets us know if the spleen is already rupturing, tells us the size of the spleen, and if there are any other internal organ problems. A critical component of the ultrasonographic exam in HSA is echocardiography (evaluation of the heart). A key site of metastasis associated with hemangiosarcoma is the right atrium. HSA that has spread to the right atrium of the heart is a serious sign, and the prognosis is not good. This is important information if we are thinking of surgical removal of the spleen.

The lines demarcate the margins of this spleen

Do you see the spleen in this picture without the demarcation?

A typical ultrasound report on a dog with a cancerous spleen

This ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram) shows spread of the tumor to the right atrium, which is a poor prognosis

RV- Right ventricle

RA- Right atrium

Cytology

Aspiration of the cells in an organ for cytological exam by a pathologist is an important part of most abdominal ultrasounds. It helps prevent an exploratory surgery, and can lead to a diagnosis in many cases. Cytologic evaluation of splenic problems is not always indicated and can sometimes be contraindicated depending on certain disease processes. Certain cancers of the spleen as well as hematomas may result in significant blood loss if stuck with a needle due their fragile nature. Even though the ultrasound guides the biopsy location, if the disease process only involves a small portion of the splenic tissue, or is sporadically located throughout, then a small needle-sized sample may not obtain the affected tissue at all.

ECG (Electrocardiogram)

This tests the electrical activity of the heart. I some HSA’s there will be an arrhythmia

Definitive Diagnosis

Histopathology is the analysis of the spleen after it is removed. This gives us our final diagnosis.

Histopathology

Treatment

Surgery is a common treatment for splenic disease. This is called a splenectomy. If there is trauma or a problem in only a small part of the spleen, we might do a partial splenectomy since we always want to preserve as much function of the spleen as possible. This partial splenectomy is not common.

We do the surgery to remove the tumor, and if malignant add chemotherapy to help prevent spread after we do the surgery. Prior to surgery we do an ultrasound of the heart as already mentioned, and also take chest radiographs to check for spread of a tumor. We also perform a clotting panel since blood loss is common in this surgery and we do not want post operative bleeding.

Unfortunately, survival time for dogs and cats with surgery alonge HSA is only 1-3 months, with most dogs dying due to spread of the HSA to other organs, causing these organs to malfunction. This emphasizes the need for an early diagnosis in the breeds prone to this cancer.

Dogs that have surgery to remove the spleen, and that are also treated with chemotherapy, might survive up to 9 months. This depends on whether the tumor has spread, and again emphasizes the need for an early diagnosis. Dogs and cats have less side effects than people on chemotherapy, and their quality of life is high if this therapy is instituted immediately after surgery.

Dogs that are diagnosed at a young age, have had the HSA rupture prior to surgery, have evidence of spread to other organs when the splenectomy is performed, or have a more aggressive grade of tumor, do not tend to live 9 months after surgery.

The primary chemotherapy drug for HSA is Adriamycin (doxorubicin). It will slow the disease process, but it will not cure your pet of this disease. The doctors at the Veterinary Cancer Group in Tustin institute this therapy.

If a pet is anemic, or we anticipate significant blood loss during surgery, we will give a blood transfusion prior to surgery or during the procedure. Post operatively if a pet is not doing well we will give a blood transfusion also.

After doing a cross match to ensure compatibility we obtain whole blood for the transfusion

Splenectomy

A splenectomy is performed to treat and sometimes cure this problem. It is sometimes done as an emergency procedure if the spleen has ruptured and there is significant internal bleeding.

Pre-anesthetic preparation is important in every surgery we perform, no matter how routine, because surgery is not an area to cut corners.  Once a pet is anesthetized, prepared for surgery, and had its monitoring equipment hooked up and reading accurately, the surgery can begin.

This is a sterile abdominal surgery, and our surgeons scrubs with a special antiseptic soap prior to gowning and gloving

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While our patient is being anesthetized our surgeon is already in our surgical suite setting up instruments. Our surgeon is ready to start before our patient is at a proper plane of anesthesia. Once the anesthetist gives the green light the surgery starts immediately. We want our surgeon waiting for his patient, not the other way around.  All of this is to minimize anesthetic time.

OVH-rabbit-3

OVH-rabbit-2

We keep a close tab on important physiologic parameters for all of our surgeries. Monitors like this give us an early warning of an impending problem.

This machine monitors:

Temperature

Heart Rate

Heart rhythm

Oxygen saturation

Carbon dioxide level

Respiratory rate

Surgery-Monitor

In addition to our monitoring equipment our anesthetist stays “hands on” in monitoring important physiologic parameters. In addition to our monitoring equipment our anesthetist stays “hands on” in monitoring important physiologic parameters. Our anesthetist is using a special stethoscope (esophageal), that is passed down the esophagus and lays right over the heart. This gives us a clear sound of the heart and how it is beating.

Rabbit-femurfx-9

To minimize anesthetic time we routinely have 2 doctors working as a team performing the splenectomy.  They work together as a well orchestrated team.Our patient is under anesthesia and our surgeons are completing the draping process while our anesthetist is adjusting the surgical lights.

By working together early in the surgery we minimize anesthetic time.

For a pet that might already be anemic it is important to minimize blood loss during surgery. Special care is taken on entering the abdomen to minimize loss. There is minimal bleeding at this point as our surgeon gently dissects the sub Q (subcutaneous) tissue just under the skin.

As the surgery progresses we sometimes encounter significant bleeding from blood vessels in the sub Q fat and from muscles that are cut. All of them are clamped or cauterized before proceeding further. For a pet that might already be anemic this added blood loss is important to control, and it is stopped immediately.

When all bleeders are under control (called hemostasis) we enter the abdomen. We make our incision at a specific spot in the abdominal muscles called the linea alba. It is at this spot that there are minimal blood vessels. The linea also has strong tendinous attachments to the muscle, so when we sew it back together these tendons attachments have more holding ability than the abdominal muscles alone. This will prevent a hernia.

Our first view of the spleen once we have entered the abdomen. It is the round and reddish structure at the top of the abdominal opening and just to the left of our surgeon’s finger.

A spleen that is not healthy is friable and can easily rupture when handled. Our surgeon has to gently coax it out to prevent  this from happening.

Once it is finally exteriorized the problem is obvious. At this point we do not know if it is cancerous or not. We do know it is in the process of rupturing and glad we are getting it out now.

Now that we have it ready for removal we have to ligate its blood supply. As you remember from your surgical anatomy above the blood vessels to the spleen are closely related stomach. It is important to ligate the blood supply very close to the spleen so as not to compromise the blood supply to the stomach, leading to serious consequences.

This blood supply can be surrounded by fat. We have to isolate segments before we ligate.

In the center of this picture you can see one blood vessel that is already ligated. On the right our surgeon is in the process of ligating another blood vessel.

We have completed 3 ligations at this point, with many more to go.

Our surgeons work simultaneously, each starting at a different end of the spleen, so they can complete this tedious part of the surgery sooner. Its all about secure ligation of these blood vessels and minimal anesthetic time.

As part of the natural healing process there is a tissue in the abdomen called omentum. It is like a net, and surrounds an organ that might be diseased. For example, a ruptured intestine that is leaking intestinal fluid (extremely irritating to the abdomen and will cause a peritonitis), will have this net surround the intestine to wall off the leak.

In the case of this rupturing spleen the omentum covered the spleen to help prevent further blood loss. These are clots on the omentum from that. At this point in time during the surgery we cannot determine for sure if these are clots or spread of tumor. The report from the pathologist will tell us for sure. It turns out that this time they are clots.

When the spleen is completely removed we complete our exploratory surgery by checking the other internal organs, especially the liver. Once this check is complete we suture the muscle layer (the linea alba) closed. Again, we work as a team, with each surgeon (they are both lefties) suturing the linea until they meet in the center.

Once we have finished suturing our patient, who is already on a pain patch (Duragesic or Fentanyl patch- which is removed in 3 days), is given an additional pain injection and carefully monitored post-operatively. As part of the monitoring we perform a simple blood panel to make sure there was no problem with blood loss during surgery. If the blood loss is significant we will give a blood transfusion with the blood we have already set aside specifically for this patient.

Post operatively we take radiographs of the chest and perform and ultrasound every 2 months for cases of HSA looking for distant and local metastasis.

Occasionally we come across a spleen that is so large it is hard to believe it can get this big. The following spleen was over 8 pounds, removed for a 65 pound labrador named Jake.  Dr. P and Dr. R had to do this one together. Removing it was like delivering a baby!

The size was obvious as soon as we entered the abdomen. At this point in time we were not sure if it was a boy or a girl! Dr. P is coaxing it out of the abdomen at the beginning of the surgery, being very careful not to rupture it.

We had to be very gentle  because it was quite delicate(friable) and already rupturing

Ligating the blood vessels to the spleen was more difficult than usual because of the size, scar tissue, and omental tissue that covered the rupturing spleen

It turns out that this was a hematoma and the dog did fine for several more years. Lucky this spleen did not rupture before the surgery.  Most likely, with a hematoma this large, death would have ensued rapidly.

We also took out a spleen with a large hematoma on this dog named Colt that weighed 14 pounds

ColtJenn

You can learn all the details of this case, and see his surgery, by following this spleen hematoma link. Its a case study and very informative, with lots of cool pictures.

Ancillary Treatment

After surgery we will consult with the oncologists at the Veterinary Cancer Group for further treatment

Post Surgical Treatment

Prognosis

A successful outcome from surgery depends on what disease process is present and how long it has been present.

Splenic Hematoma- good

Splenic Torsion- good

Hemangiosarcoma – guarded to poor.

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Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

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Many cats are living longer lives, and unfortunately, are acquiring diseases that were not commonly seen in the recent past. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is one of these diseases. The increase in blood pressure affects many organs, particularly the liver, eyes, kidneys, and heart. Hypertension hastens the progress of these diseases and substantially predisposes your cat to blindness.We have only recently been measuring blood pressures in dogs and cats, so our database is not as complete as in humanoids. We are at the beginning stages of understanding if an elevated blood pressure is the result of a disease, a cause of a disease, or has no bearing on a disease.

High blood pressure can be primary, where the cause is unknown. In most animals though, it is secondary to some other disease.

We have a short Quicktime video on the use of our doppler blood pressure monitor. It will take a few minutes to download-you need Quicktime from www.apple.com to view it.

The are two main factors that determine blood pressure.

Cardiac output

It is the amount of blood pumped by the heart in a specific period of time. The determinants of cardiac ouptut are the heart rate (measured in beats per minute) and the stroke volume (the amount of blood in ml ejected with each beat of the heart).

Vascular resistance

This is how constricted or dilated the artery is as the blood is flowing through it. A dilated artery has a larger diameter, so less blood pressure needs to be generated by the heart for blood to flow through this dilated vessel. Arteries constantly constrict and dilate, all depending on the needs of the body overall and the specific organ they are supplying blood to. For example, the arteries to your muscles dilate when you exercise. This allows the muscles to receive extra nutrients and oxygen. When you are done exercising they start constricting and blood is diverted to other areas of the body where it might now be needed. Maybe now you are eating a meal and the digestive system needs the added blood flow.

As it turns out, is is cardiac output X vascular resistance that determines the blood pressure. If you get scared, adrenaline secretion will increase the heart rate and your blood pressure will rise due to the increased cardiac output. If you become dehydrated, the stroke volume might decrease due to a lack of fluid, and your blood pressure will decrease due to a decreased cardiac output. Older pets tend to have arteries that are not as elastic as when they were younger, the animal world version of arteriosclerosis. These blood vessels stay constricted more than dilated. This increases the vascular resistance, resulting in increased blood pressure.

Normal regulation of the blood pressure involves a complicated set of metabolic processes. Many body systems are involved, including the nervous system, the renal system, the cardiovascular system, and the endocrine system. It is a highly refined system that can make minute changes in rapid response to changing physiologic needs.

In a nut shell, the kidneys secrete a hormone called renin. This can be in response to a decreased blood flow to the kidneys, stimulation of the nervous system, secretion of hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine), or low sodium levels. Renin will activate the conversion of angoitensin I to angiotensin II in the lungs. Angiotensin II will constrict the blood vessels (increased vascular resistance) and stimulate the secretion of aldosterone. Aldosterone will increase water retention by its effects on sodium. Constriction of blood vessels (increased vascular resistance) and increased water retention (increased stroke volume) lead to an increased blood pressure. Pretty easy huh?

Pathophysiology

Abnormally high blood pressure causes blood vessel damage, particularly in the eye, kidney, heart and brain. These damaged blood vessels will bleed, cause clots, fluid buildup, and tissue death. The mechanism for this is complex.

Hypertension also places excessive strain on the cardiac (heart) muscle. The heart has to pump against more pressure (vascular resistance), causing further deterioration. As it progresses the heart enlarges and a murmur might be heard with the stethoscope.

Symptoms

There are no specific set of symptoms of high blood pressure. That’s why its called the silent killer in people. What might appear are the symptoms of the disease that is causing the high blood pressure in the first place.

The primary symptom in cats some owners notice is a sudden onset of blindness, as evidenced by dilated pupils and bumping into objects. Cats that were apparently fine just a day or two earlier are now completely blind. Prior to the onset of blindness an owner might notice other symptoms. These might include weight loss, excess drinking and urinating, vomiting, change in appetite (up or down) and fast heart rate. Monitoring some of these parameters ahead of time is possible to look for subtle signs of diseases. This is explained in our In Home Exam section and our Wellness section. 

Ollie is exhibiting all the classic signs of blindness. Both pupils are dilated and stay that way, even when a light is shined on them. In addition, his left eye shows signs of potential hemorrhage.

Cause

Feline hypertension is almost always secondary to other problems, namely hyperthyroidism and kidney failure. The majority of cats with these two diseases will eventually develop hypertension. Any cat that has been diagnosed with one or both of these diseases should be monitored for hypertension every 3-6 months.

Kidney Failure

Every beat of the heart sends a significant amount of blood to the kidneys. As cats age the kidneys do not function properly, and through complex mechanisms mentioned in the physiology section, the blood pressure will elevate.

Hyperthyroidism

The increased level of thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in the blood stream causes the heart to increase its output of blood, leading to a racing heart and an increase in blood pressure.

Diagnosis

As in people, hypertension is a silent disease. You don’t feel ill, and there are no obvious symptoms until it is too late. Fortunately, we have sophisticated medical equipment that will help us make this diagnosis.

Signalment

Found in cats and dogs. There is no breed predilection, but tends to occur more in males and older animals.

History

Older cats that have racing and pounding heart rates, along with blindness, give an indication of hypertension. Hypertension is suspected in cats that have been diagnosed with kidney or heart disease in addition to hyperthyroidism.

Physical Exam

In most cases there are no obvious physical abnormalities. Blood samples that are easily obtained, or pulsate in the syringe when obtained, are another indirect indication of hypertension. The pupils might be dilated, the thryoid gland might be enlarged, the kidneys might feel abnormal, and there could be blood in the urine (hematuria) or nose bleed (epistaxis).

An examination of the retina by an specialist will sometimes give an indication of hypertension. There might be areas of hemorrhage or even detachment of the retina. Every blind cat should be seen by an ophthalmologist to check for hypertension, along with other causes of blindness like FeLVFIP, fungal infections, and Toxoplasmosis.

Diagnostic Tests

An important tool in the diagnosis of hypertension is a blood pressure monitor. Cat arteries are very small, and the usual method to detect hypertension in people is not accurate in cats. A special blood pressure unit called a Doppler can be used. Its basis in principle is the Doppler effect (obviously). The Doppler effect is the change in frequency of a sound wave as it comes towards you then moves away from you. The best analogy of the Doppler effect is the sound a speeding race car makes as it comes towards you, then passes away from you. In the case of a Doppler blood pressure unit, it is the movement of red blood cells through the artery that is being measured. During the frequency change that occurs during this red blood cell flow the reflected sound wave goes from the ultrasonic to the audible range.

Taking a blood pressure reading on a cat is more difficult than in a person. Their arteries are very small, and of course, cats are covered with hair. Also, cats are easily stressed, which can lead to a false reading. We will routinely take several readings, discard the lowest and highest, and average the rest. Sometimes we find a cat with consistent readings each time, so not as many readings are needed. A cat with a systolic pressure over 170-180 mm Hg is considered hypertensive. In dogs we consider over 180 mm Hg to be high. Sight hounds, overweight, and older animals tend to have higher numbers. These are not hard and fast numbers, just a guideline for each individual case. In many cases of high readings we repeat the blood pressure readings later to check for consistency in the readings.

We prefer owners stay with their cat in one of our quiet exams rooms. After clipping the fur on the bottom of the rear foot (we also use the front foot and tail) we set up our equipment. We take our first pressure reading when everything is calm and all equipment is set up. Our new doppler unit has the added advantage of having head phones so that the sound of the beating artery is not disturbing to your cat.

This is an overall view of our equipment. The transducer is under our nurse’s hand at the bottom, the blue pressure-wrap is lightly around the ankle, and the pressure gauge is on the top.

This is the hi-tech part of the unit. It is a doppler transducer that allows us to detect the faint arterial blood flow to the foot

We usually inflate the pressure to over 200 or until the artery sound can no longer be heard. The pressure is slowly released until the artery sound can be heard again- this is the systolic pressure. Measurement of the diastolic pressure is not accurate by this method.

The use of the head phones is a big aid in maintaining a stress free environment. When we have obtained an adequate number of readings we can take the headphones off and allow you to listen to the artery sound with the external speaker.

Low blood pressure can be of significance in animals. Usually this is encountered during anesthesia. Our Doppler unit allows us to monitor the blood pressure during anesthesia and make corrections as needed. We also encounter low blood pressure during shock, trauma, bleeding, and from certain medications.

 

Treatment

Underlying treatment of the disease that is causing the hypertension is sometimes all that is needed to prevent hypertension. Use of K/D food, with its decreased salt (sodium chloride) might be beneficial, but this is unproven. If hypertension still persists after treating the primary problem then we sometimes will use specific medication to lower the blood pressure:

Heart Drugs

ACE inhibitors like Enalapril or Lotensin (prevent conversion of angiotensin to angiotensin II, thus decreasing stroke volume and vascular resistance)

Beta-adrenergic blockers like Propranalol or atenolol (decrease the heart rate)

Calcium channel blockers like Norvasc (decrease vascular resistance)

Diuretics

Lasix or aldactone (decrease the stroke volume)

Vasodilators

Hydralazine (decrease vascular resistance)
Blind cats need to be placed on a drug called Norvasc to rapidly lower the blood pressure. There is a chance of regaining sight with the use of this drug, especially if utilized as soon as blindness is noted. Cats that are on this drug should have their kidney tests monitored 2 weeks after starting Norvasc, then every 3 months.

The best treatment for hypertension and its associated blindness is prevention. Any cat over 8 years of age, or diagnosed with kidney disease, diabetes mellitus or hyperthyroidism, should be monitored periodically for hypertension. This will allow diagnosis of the problem before it causes blindness.

Monitoring

All pets with hypertension should have their blood pressure checked every 3 months. In addition, blood panels, thyroid tests, urinalysis, and eye exams should be performed every 3-6 months.

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Rabies

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Rabies is a viral disease of warm blooded animals (you won’t see Rabies in birds and reptiles) that occurs world wide, with significant human health significance due to its fatal nature. Various outbreaks have occurred in the United States in the last decade. Adequate vaccination of dogs and cats is the primary line of defense in preventing outbreaks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the veterinary community, produce reports detailing the incidence of rabies in specific areas of the country. Thousands of animal rabies cases are reported every year, with the actual number of cases being much higher. The majority of rabies cases in animals in the U.S. occur along the East coast, with pockets of rabies in various other states.

Approximately 500 cases of human rabies are reported yearly, with the actual number again being probably much higher. Discrepancies in diagnosis and reporting make actual numbers hard to come by. Several countries are free of rabies, and institute extreme quarantine measures to prevent spread.

We have never seen a case of rabies in our hospital, a testimony to the effectiveness of the rabies vaccine.

Cause

Rabies is caused by an RNA virus belonging to the order Mononegavirales. All warm-blooded animals, including humans, are susceptible. Raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes, account for 90% of the cases in the U.S., with raccoons making up the majority, followed by skunks, bats, and foxes. Forty years ago it was the domestic animals that accounted for the majority of the cases. More cats get rabies than dogs.

Transmission

When a wild animal is bitten by a rabid animal the virus enters the bloodstream, eventually spreading to the spinal cord and brain. It remains there for up to 3 months, during which time the affected animal has no symptoms of rabies. When the virus passes to the salivary glands the animal shows symptoms, and will usually die within 7 days. It is during this time that it can infect another wild animal, a human, or a dog or cat.

The main animals that infect humans are dogs, cats, cattle and horses, because they are exposed to these animals much more than wildlife. In addition to bite wounds, the virus can rarely be transmitted through the mucous membranes, as an aerosol, and through cornea transplants.

Symptoms

Clinical signs of rabies are quite variable, with a change in behavior being one of them more consistent findings. This behavior change can be as subtle as apprehension, or as extreme as biting in a normally friendly dog. Dogs might chew at the site they were bitten when they became infected, and can even maim themselves.

As the disease progresses dogs may show increased irritability, viciousness, excitability, and eating unusual objects (pica) like wood. These dogs may hide in dark or quiet places, and will bite when provoked. Central nervous system signs like seizures will exhibit, and there may be paralysis prior to death.

A phase of the disease causes paralysis of the muscles in the throat. This leads to excessive drooling and choking sounds due to an inability to swallow, and is the sign most people think of when describing rabies. It is also common for people to think their dog has something stuck in its throat, and cause themselves to be exposed to virus laden saliva when attempting to removed the suspected foreign body.

Diagnosis

The disease is suspected in dogs that show neurological signs consistent with rabies, and may or may not have been bitten by another animal. Since these signs are so variable rabies needs to be considered in any dog showing behavioral changes. Blood samples are not helpful in the diagnosis. The only way to confirm a diagnosis of rabies in animals is to have the brain examined. A test called Fluorescent Antibody (FA) is performed on the brain cells of a dead animal.

In humans tests for the virus are performed on saliva, serum, spinal fluid and skin biopsies. In some cases the test checks for antibodies to the rabies virus, in other cases it looks for the virus itself.

Treatment

Animals that have rabies are not treated because they can shed the virus in their saliva for extended periods.

Prevention

The vaccination of dogs by a licensed veterinarian is the most effective means to control rabies. Every state has specific laws regarding vaccines. They are usually given to dogs at 4-6 months of age, repeated one year later, then every 3 years. In order to get a dog license, a certificate of vaccination by a veterinarian licensed in that state must be presented. Rabies vaccine is given to animals only under the supervision of a veterinarian licensed in that state. Cats are also given rabies vaccines.

In humans a pre-exposure vaccine is given to high risk groups, usually veterinarians, animal handlers, and laboratory workers. By giving this vaccine prior to any exposure to rabies, a person that eventually gets exposed to the rabies virus will need less post-exposure treatment, and will partially protect people that were exposed to rabies without realizing it. approximately 18,000 people per year received this pre-exposure vaccine, while 40,000 people per year receive the vaccine after they have been exposed.

Public Health Significance

Rabies has extreme human health significance due to the fatal nature of this disease. Symptoms include fever, headache, anxiety, confusion, hypersalivation, paralysis, and ultimately even death. In the early 1900’s more than 100 people died annually from rabies in the U.S. That number is down to 1-2 per year, because of vaccination of domestic animals and post exposure treatment. Most people in the U.S. die from rabies because they were not aware they were exposed to the virus, and never sought treatment. Post exposure treatment in humans has to be instituted before any symptoms appear for it to be effective in preventing death.

Most humans are infected by a dog bite, therefore aggressive wound cleansing can be of help. Tens of thousand of people are given rabies shots after being bitten, this therapy has proven to be highly effective. High risk groups (people that work extensively with sick animals like veterinary hospital personnel) can receive vaccines prior to exposure. animals that have bitten people must be quarantined for 5-10 days, depending on local laws, to observe for any signs of disease. Animals that have bitten someone are not euthanized unless they have successfully passed their quarantine period or their brain is scheduled for an examination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an extensive section on rabies if you would like more information.

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Ringworm

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An occasional cause of skin conditions in pets is caused by Ringworm. The scientific name for this disease is Dermatophytosis. It is caused by a fungus not a worm, and the lesion is not always in the shape of a ring. Since fungi are everywhere in our environment, it is difficult to determine which pets will develop the problem. The fungus that causes Ringworm can be cultured from the hair coats of normal dogs and cats. These pets might be carriers of the disease to other pets along with people. We tend to see the problem more in young animals.

People will sometimes pick up a case of Ringworm from their pet, but just because a pet has Ringworm does not necessarily mean that the people that interact with that pet will develop the problem. A dog or cat can transmit Ringworm to a person without showing any symptoms at all.

Cause

There are 3 specific fungi of significance in this disease.

  • Microsporum canis

The source of this species of Ringworm is almost always a cat.

  • Microsporum gypseum

This species of Ringworm is usually from dogs and cats that dig into contaminated soil.

  • Trichophyton mentagrophytes

This species infects dogs and cats when they are exposed to rodents or the burrows they live in.

In cats, almost all cases of Ringworm are caused by Microsporum canis. In dogs the majority of cases are caused by Microsporum canis. Which of these 3 main dermatophytes causes the Ringworm in dogs depends on geographic location.

Symptoms

The skin lesions that appear with Ringworm are variable, and do not necessarily form a ring. There will be hair loss, usually in small patches at first. as time goes on the patches may disappear or appear at other locations on the skin. There might be scratching due to itchiness. If the hair loss occurs on the face or feet there is a chance it is due to digging habits or exposure to rodents.

This patch is typical of the lesion seen in Ringworm. A diagnosis of this disease can not be made based just on the appearance of this lesion because other skin conditions (Demodex for example) can show similar lesions.

Diagnosis

There are several different ways to diagnose Ringworm. All require some type of test because it is impossible to make the diagnosis just by looking at the skin. This concept holds true for all skin conditions; making a diagnosis of a skin disease requires all of the aspects of the diagnostic process.

If a person in a household has been positively identified with Ringworm by their physician it is possible they obtained it from their pet, even if their pet has no symptoms of the disease. This is especially important in multiple cat households. We will culture these pets using the culture technique we describe below, but in this case, we might run a new toothbrush over the hair coat to obtain a sample for culture.

One of the simplest ways to diagnose Ringworm is with the Woods lamp, which is an ultraviolet lamp, also know as a black light. 50% of the Microsporum canis species will fluoresce when the Woods lamp is placed near the area of hair loss.

The lamp emits a purple/blue glow from the tube, and when there is fluorescence on the skin, it has a greenish appearance. Other material on the skin (dander, medication, etc.) can also fluoresce, so interpretation is important.

Since only 50% of a certain species of Ringworm fluoresces under the glow of the Woods lamp, a culture is used to verify the diagnosis:

The first step in the culture process is to gently remove hair follicles in the area of the lesion

These hairs are cultured in a special media that inhibits bacterial growth and enhances fungal growth. This culture can be sent to our outside lab or done in house. Since a fungus is a slow growing organism it can take up to several weeks to determine if there is growth or not.

The positive culture on the right, from our in house lab, demonstrates two findings that are needed for a positive diagnosis. The first is the cottonish fungal growth, and the second is the reddish color of the culture media. This color change must occur at the same time the fungal growth appears.

The culture media prior to the start of the test. Positive fungal growth after 10 days of incubation at room temperature.

Treatment

Topical shampoo therapy is used in almost every case, especially in longer haired pets. It is common to clip some or all of the hair in some pets to make it more effective. These baths will also remove infected hairs that can be the source of an infection to people or other animals.

Specific anti fungal cremes are also used when a pet is infected in an area that already has sparse hair growth, or there are small, discrete lesions.

Oral anti fungal medications are also used in select cases. They have the potential to cause side effects, so their use is confined to specific situations.

In some pets the disease may resolve by itself.

Prevention

Since fungi are everywhere it is almost impossible to prevent exposure. Pets that chase rodents, especially into burrows, might be at an increased risk.

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Allergic Dermatitis

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Allergies are a common cause of skin conditions in dogs and cats, along with other species. This type of allergy goes by several names; the most common are atopy, allergic skin disease, or allergic inhalant dermatitis (AID).

The main difference between us and pets is that allergies in pets tend to cause skin conditions, as opposed to the  runny eyes, runny noses, and sneezing we encounter in people. Symptoms typically include scratching and itching, although many other skin conditions can cause itching. Medically, this itching is called pruritus.

Allergies can be hard to control and are chronic in nature. This causes significant frustration for pet owners and discomfort for pets. A correct diagnosis, along with proper therapy instituted early in the course of the disease, will minimize this frustration. Many pet stores and groomers will give advice on a “food” to feed to cure your pet’s skin condition. It is irresponsible for them to be giving any advice of this nature due to the numerous causes of skin conditions, let alone the complexity of this disease, and also the fact they have not examined your pet and do not have any important physical information about your pet. We have a short page on Nutrition Advice that addresses this issue of people giving medical advice when they have no business doing so.

This page summarizes and generalizes the complex problem know as allergic skin disease. It is detailed, and will take a few minutes of your undivided attention to help in understanding this problem.

In the beginning of this page we will give you the background of their causes and how we diagnosis them. We will take about treatment towards the end.

Pathophysiology of Allergies

When the immune system encounters an allergen that has the potential to cause disease (ex. parvo virus) it produces antibodies called IgG (immunoglobulin G, previously known as gammaglobulin) and IgM (immunoglobulin M). For the first 7-14 days of infection the virus spreads throughout the body because not enough antibodies are produced to stop them. Within 7-14 days enough antibodies are made to neutralize the virus, and the pet eventually recovers from the disease, all other things being equal.

As time goes on, the now sensitized immune system is ready to produce large amounts of antibodies rapidly the next time it encounters this virus. The rapid antibody response neutralizes the virus immediately, instead of taking the 7-14 days that occurs the first time it encountered the virus. This is called the anamnestic response, and is why a pet that recovers from parvo virus does not get the disease again.

A different scenario presents itself when the immune system encounters an allergen that is not necessarily pathogenic (ex.- a pollen particle). A different part of the immune system kicks into high gear when these non pathogenic allergens invade the body.

When a pollen particle enters the body for the first time (through the skin or respiratory passage) it stimulates the body to produce antibodies also, this time they are called IgE (immunoglobulin E). This IgE antibody attaches to the allergen in order to neutralize it, just like IgG would do to a parvo virus. This process, called sensitization, occurs in the first season a pet encounters a specific allergen in its area. Without this sensitization there is no allergy. This type of allergy is the most common type, and is called atopy or atopic dermatitis.

The next time a pet encounters these pollen particles (usually the next allergy season), the immune system produces large amounts of IgE antibodies rapidly because it has been sensitized to them from the previous season. Again, this is similar to what happens when the immune system makes IgG and IgM antibodies against parvo virus.

IgE, with attached allergens, circulates throughout the bloodstream to a type of cell called the mast cell. Mast cells contain many chemicals that can cause inflammation, the most important of which, in relation to allergies, is called histamine. When an IgE antibody (even IgG can be involved) with an attached allergen encounters a mast cell under the skin, it alters the membrane of the cell, and histamine leaks into the surrounding tissue. Histamine causes inflammation, noted as redness (erythema) and itching (pruritus) on the skin surface. The reaction that is seen on the skin surface is called a wheal or a hive. This causes your pet to lick, scratch, or bite at this area which now itches.

It is the mast cell, that releases histamine when it encounters an IgE antibody with a pollen particle attached, that is a major component of allergies. This is what occurs in atopy and is suspected to occur in food allergy. In flea allergies, it is an allergic reaction to the flea saliva that causes the immune system reaction.

Other immune mediators are impliacated in atopy. They include cytokines, neuropeptides, peptides, proteases, and leukotrienes. They can affect nerve fibers to the skin, causing itchiness.

As if that is not enough, there are other immune mediators called Interleukin 31 (IL-31) that are involved. It’s an understatement to say that the immune system is very complicated. Add the ever present skin bacteria to this equation and it is easy to see how this can become a frustrating problem.

Food allergies have a slightly different pathophysiolgy then atopy in some cases. In food allergies, the offending allergen (usually a protein) is absorbed through the lining of the small intestines and proceeds right into the bloodstream.  This causes a different immune system reaction. If the intestines are inflamed from some other disease process, for example IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) in cats, the normal barrier lining the intestines is compromised and more allergens can enter the bloodstream.

Types

There are 3 main types of allergies in relation to skin conditions. It is possible for a pet to have a combination of all 3 allergy types:

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

This is a very common cause of skin allergies, even if you do not see a flea on your pet. When a flea bites a dog or cat it is looking for a meal of blood in which to nourish itself. In order to suck this blood it inserts an anticoagulant into its saliva to prevent the blood from clotting while it sucks it through its small proboscis. It is the allergens in this saliva that cause an allergic reaction to occur.With the advent of new treatments that are convenient and very effective, this problem, while still important, has diminished in importance. The products we recommend are oral Nexgard, Comfortis or Trifexis in dogs and topical Revolution in cats. In addition to excellent flea control these products also prevent heartworms and internal parasites like Roundworms. Revolution in cats even controls mites. Our staff has detailed information to give you on these products along with others to help you make the right decision for your circumstances.Since we live in a flea infested area we recommend using these monthly flea products year round. They have the added advantage of worming your pet every month for Roundworms, Hookworms, and Whipworms.Fleas are a common cause of skin allergies in cats.

Atopy or Allergic Inhaled Dermatitis

Another common cause of skin allergy is atopy. It is a genetically determined predisposition to produce IgE antibodies when exposed to an allergen. Re-exposure to this same allergen in the future causes allergic skin disease (you learned the mechanism above). Depending on the study, it is estimated that between 3% and 15% of dogs have atopy.Common allergens that cause this reaction are ragweed, pollen, house dust, house dust mites, mold, animal dander, feathers inside the house. Outside its grasses, trees, and shrubs. The allergens can be inhaled, pass through the pads of the feet, and even possibly ingested. Since these compounds are in abundance everywhere, it is apparent that preventing exposure in the first place is difficult.If fleas are not a factor, atopy accounts for up to 90% of the allergies that cause allergic dermatitis.  A certain number of pets with atopy also have a food allergy concurrently, which compounds the diagnosis and treatment.

Food Allergy

The least common cause of skin allergies is food allergy, although pets stores and groomers are under the impression that this is the sole and most important cause of skin allergy, which is why they give amateur advice on what to feed. They are in the business of selling food, which is why they only see food as a solution to atopy, when it is the least common cause.  Our page on Nutrition Advice has much more information on this topic.

It is important to distinguish food intolerance from an actual food allergy. They are not the same, but many people giving amateur advice on this problem do not understand the difference.

In the vast majority of cases, food allergies are caused by an allergic reaction to proteins in food. The size of the protein particle is important. They have a molecular weight of between 18 and 70 kilidaltons (kD). In laymens terms, they are very, very tiny.

Heredity is a major predisposing factor in people, and probably so in animals.

Some of the more common food allergens in dogs and cats are:

horse meat eggs
beef fish
pork corn
lamb soy
chicken wheat
dairy products rawhide chews and dog biscuits/treats

In dogs, beef, dairy products, and wheat tend to cause most of the problems, with chicken, lamb, and soy following. In cats, beef, dairy products, and fish account for most of the food allergies. Premium dogs foods can contain these products, so just because you are feeding a higher quality or more expensive food doesn’t mean that food will not cause a food allergy.

Many pet stores are there to sell food, so they will tell you a certain type or brand of food will cure your pet’s skin (and other) conditions. The employees of these stores have no business giving their advice unless they are licensed nutritionists for animals, or are licensed veterinarians,  and have discussed with you the following points that are so important in making a diagnosis of any disease, including allergic dermatitis:

      • Your pet’s predisposition to certain diseases, including allergies
      • Your lifestyle and your pet’s lifestyle
      • The specific history of your pet’s skin condition- time of year, where they are itching, etc.
      • Results of a thorough physical exam checking all organs besides skin
      • Routine blood panel to assess the status of your pets internal organs along with protein levels, blood glucose, electrolytes, red blood cells, and white blood cells.
      • Your pet’s vaccine status
      • Diagnostic tests to eliminate internal (hormonal etc.) and external (mites for example) causes of skin conditions.
      • The efficacy of prior treatments
      • The effects a change in diet will have on other organs besides the skin

Most of the symptoms of food allergy involve inflammation and scratching of skin or ears, but might also include vomiting or diarrhea. These gastrointestinal symptoms tend to occur more in cats.

In those pets that truly have food allergy, a high percentage also have atopy at the same time. Cats might have more food allergies than dogs, although fleas are a common cause of skin allergy in cats.

Symptoms

The most consistent symptom in pets with allergic skin disease is excessive itching. The medical term for this is pruritus. High strung dogs might itch more than placid dogs. Chewing, biting, or licking, or rubbing the skin can all be manifestations of pruritus.

Dogs can chew so incessantly that they wear down their incisor teeth to the gumline

In dogs some of the more common areas for pruritus to occur are the face, feet, and armpit areas. As the problem progresses the whole body might be involved. Some pets will scratch excessively but not show any problems with their skin.

If your pet has an allergy to fleas you might find tiny blood spots where it has layed down. These are the result of flea dirt that has fallen off your pet and become wet. Since flea dirt is made up mostly of blood that the flea has sucked out of your pet and has passed through its digestive tract, they appear as small blood spots on the floor or table tops when wet.

Other symptoms can include:

The slight redness (erythema) to the face of this dog

The dark, stained areas on this poodle’s foot are due to excessive licking. The color change is due to the chronic saliva on the hair, and the changes it causes on the hair coat.

This dog’s skin is oily from chronic rubbing. This loss of hair is called alopecia.

This Golden Retriever has significant redness (erythema) on its ear flaps. Chronic ear inflammation or infections can be a sign of atopy or a food allergy.

The above pictures were all caused by atopy. They could have been caused by other diseases though, so you cannot make a diagnosis of a skin condition just by looking at them.

Cats get skin allergies also, although not as frequent as in dogs. They might exhibit the same or different symptoms. Different symptoms include tiny bumps throughout the body, ulcers on the lips, excoriation of the neck, and even patches of missing hair (alopecia) without any skin lesions. Ear problems related to allergies are rare in cats compared to dogs. Cats get a problem called psychogenic alopecia that can be similar in appearance to atopy.

It can be difficult to tell pruritus from normal feline grooming. Vomiting hair balls, hair in feces, and hair in your cat’s mouth when you brush its teeth (you are doing this aren’t you?) are all clues.

This cat has an allergy that caused it to irritate the skin above its eye by rubbing its face

This is a severe version of an ulcer on the lips. It is called the Eosinophilic Granuloma Complex, and sometimes known as rodent ulcer.

Diagnosis

Since the symptoms of allergic skin disease mimic those of other skin diseases, a thorough approach is needed to differentiate them. In every disease we encounter we follow the tenets of the “diagnostic process” to ensure that we make an accurate diagnosis, and that we do not overlook some of the diseases that are also encountered in conjunction with skin diseases.

It is too easy to jump to the conclusion as to what is causing your pet’s pruritus. Here is a list of  possible causes of scratching and itching in pets in random order:

  • Atopy
  • Drug reaction
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Food allergy
  • Lice
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Pyoderma
  • Contact Dermatitis
  • Viral infection
  • Fungal infection (Malassezia)
  • Mites
  • Seborrhea

Signalment

Typically, atopy occurs in mature dogs between 1- 3 years of age, although it can occur earlier (Shar pei’s can get it as early as 3 months). The condition rarely starts in dogs over 6 years of age. Most dogs get their first exposure to an allergen and develop sensitization in their first exposure to a pollen season.

Symptoms usually occur during their second season of exposure to the pollen allergen when the immune system has its exaggerated response to the allergen and produces high levels of IgE. Dogs that are highly allergic can show signs of atopy during their first season of exposure to pollen allergens. It depends on how long the pollen season lasts and how rapidly their body produces the IgE antibodies.Several canine breeds are prone to getting atopy. They include, but are not limited to:

Terriers Beagle
Retrievers Setters
Lhasa apso Miniature schnauzer
Shih Tzu Pug
Cocker spaniel Boxer
Dalmatian Shar Pei

History

Atopy, in it’s initial stage, tends to be a seasonal problem. This can be a help in differentiating it from food allergy, which would be a non-seasonal problem. Atopy tends to be a progressive disease with worse symptoms each allergy season. Many dogs will be more affected during a specific season. As time goes on dogs can have allergies year round. It is not a contagious disease, so other dogs, cats, and people in the same household do not usually have symptoms (unless of course it is another dog that is highly prone to allergies).

The progeny of atopic dogs are more prone to developing atopy than other dogs. Careful breeding therefore can help minimize the occurrence of this problem. Pets that have been treated with cortisone in the past, and did not improve, give us a clue that something else besides an allergic disease is involved. Food allergies in dogs and cats can start at any time in a pet’s life, even those on the same diet for a long period of time. Non-seasonal allergies bring food allergies to mind, along with vomiting or diarrhea, although these are not consistent findings. The skin lesions in food allergy are indistinguishable from atopy, but have a propensity to show only inflammation of the ears.

Feeding dog and cat foods that contain ingredients that pets are routinely allergic to might also clue us in to a food allergy. This includes the premium foods and those that contain lamb. Flea allergies are suspected whenever we are presented with a pet that has a skin condition, especially towards the back end,  and is not on routine flea control. This is true even for pets that never go outside. Other pets in the household that are itching might also indicate fleas in the environment. Flea allergies routinely cause hair loss at the lower back area (called the dorsal-lumbar area), which is not typical of atopy and food allergy.

Physical Exam

The physical exam of a dog with a skin condition is the same as any other sick pet. We examine the whole body for clues as to the cause of the skin condition. The distribution of the skin lesions gives us a clue as to the cause, but is not consistent in all skin conditions. Some of the more common exam findings are:

Pyoderma

This dog has licked so much it has maimed itself, and now has pyoderma, which is a skin infection, typically a Staph (usually staphylococcus pseudointermedius) infection

Conjunctivitis

This is an inflammation of the eyes. The green discharge in the corner of the eye is from fluorescein stain that was checking for a scratch on the cornea.

Lichenification and hyperpigmentation

Chronic licking and scratching can cause thickening and dark pigmentation of the skin. The white arrow points to mild hair loss, hyperpigmentation, and lichenification in a Yorkie.

Acute Moist Dermatitis

Commonly know as a hot spot, it is an area of skin that has been maimed from intense pruritus. Pyoderma is also present, and the skin is very painful. Hot spots occur rapidly and can encompass a large section of skin in a short time. Affected areas usually include the rump and the side of the face. Other common causes of hot spots include anal gland problems, ectoparasites like mange, grooming, and deep skin infections. Golden and Labrador retrievers, St. Bernards, Collies, and German shepherds are more prone than other breeds.

The serum that is exuded from the inflamed skin matts the hair and causes the problem to progress under the hair coat without anyone realizing how serious it is. These pets can be so painful that we need to sedate them prior to clipping the hair and cleaning the wound.

Hot spots can progress and cause serious skin conditions. What looks like a minor skin wound with matted hair can actually be a serious and painful infection.

Once the hair is shaved away the seriousness of the problem is apparent

Otitis externa

This is an infection of the outer ear canal. Sometimes this is the only symptom of allergy, especially food allergies. This ear is so severely infected that it is difficult to ascertain the normal anatomy. The ear canal is completely occluded, necessitating surgery to correct it. This dog is painful.

Pododermatitis

Infection of the feet can occur from chronic licking

Acral Lick Dermatitis

These are commonly known as lick granulomas. There are many causes, allergies being a primary one. Other causes include arthritis, skin tumors, inflamed nerves, fungal infections, ectoparasites, and psychological factors like boredom and stress. Once the licking starts the problem is difficult to control. In some cases we have found that the use of the laser has been a significant help. The most effective treatment is the use of antibiotics for many months.

This small lick granuloma is on the front leg of a Golden Retriever

Fleas or flea dirt

Flea dirt is literally droppings from the flea after is has bitten a pet and the blood has passed through the flea’s digestive tract. It looks like pepper, and is easily visualized on a pet with a white hair coat.

This is an example of lots of flea dirt

Flea eggs are small white particles, similar in size to flea dirt, that fleas lay in a pet’s hair coat. They eventually drop off and contaminate the environment. A pet can have fleas, yet show no evidence of fleas, flea dirt, or flea eggs.

Flea allergy dermatitis typically does not cause hair loss around the face, eyes, and ears like in atopy, although this is not a hard and fast rule.

Diagnostic Tests

Diagnostic tests are important even if we strongly suspect an allergy. In some situations other skin diseases can occur simultaneously with the allergy. It is impossible to make a diagnosis in any skin condition just by looking at it. This is because there are many diseases that affect the skin, yet the skin has only a limited number of ways to exhibit signs of disease.For food allergies we want to completely remove the offending protein and see if the problem (skin disease or GI signs) completely resolves. At that point we again feed the offending protein and see if the problem recurs. This is called a trial elimination diet, and is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of food allergy.The diagnosis of food allergy is not complete until we cause the allergy again by feeding the original food. This is because there are many allergens in the environment that can cause pruritus after the food allergy is controlled. Also, it is easy to assume the food allergy is under control when your pet is on medication simultaneously.

Skin Scraping

It is important to do a skin scraping in many cases of allergy because the lesions of atopy commonly mimic those of other diseases. Ectoparasites like demodex or scabies can cause skin lesions and itching.

Fungal Tests

Ringworm can mimic allergy symptoms. Lesions from Ringworm tend not to be as pruritic as allergies.

Malassezia, another fungus, is commonly associated as a secondary problem when the skin is infected. Even though it is a normal part of an animals hair coat, it will add to the itching if other conditions are present. Common areas for Malassezia include the ears, lips, muzzle, between the toes, and the anal area. Indications that Malassezia is present include pruritus, erythema, and greasy skin with an offensive odor. These symptoms can occur with other diseases besides Malassezia.

Malassezia is diagnosed by the above symptoms and by looking for the organism under the microscope after swabbing the skin and placing the discharge on a microscope slide. Many pets respond to shampooing with specific antifungal shampoos twice weekly. These topicals will only work when the underlying allergy and its associated skin infection are under control. In some cases we use oral antifungal medications to control the problem.

Thyroid Test

Hypothyroidism can cause skin conditions, although dogs with only hypothyroidism are not terribly pruritic.

Fecal Exam

Hypersensitivity to internal parasites can cause symptoms similar to atopy. This is not a common situation.

Skin Biopsy

In some cases it is difficult to make a diagnosis. When we are presented with this situation we will biopsy several small pieces of infected skin and have them analyzed by a veterinarian that specializes in tissue analysis of the skin.

Here is a typical report from one of them. All of the big words mean that in this skin biopsy an allergy is most likely, but autoimmune disease cannot be ruled out for sure.


Allergy Testing

Allergy tests are performed in cases where we already have a diagnosis of allergy. The main purpose of allergy testing is to find exactly what your pet is allergic to, and also to set up a protocol for allergy injections. If giving allergy shots is not contemplated then this test is of less value, although it will let us know what allergens we want to avoid. Trying to avoid these allergens though is the hard part because they are in our houses and almost everywhere outside.

There are two main types of allergy tests that are performed. Neither one is perfect, and they can have false positives and false negatives. They are not accurate in diagnosis a food allergy.

Intradermal (skin) Test

Most of us are familiar with the first one. In this test, called the allergy skin test or intradermal test, small amounts of materials that routinely cause allergies in dogs are injected under the skin. The reaction, if any, is graded, and a determination is made as to whether or not a pet is allergic to that specific allergen.

This test is very subjective, and therefore prone to errors in interpretation, and therefore requires significant experience. Many different techniques are used.

Your pet must be off of oral cortisone medication for at least 1 month before testing. If injectable cortisone is given, the waiting time is longer. Your pet must not be on any tranquilizers at the time of testing and must be off of any antihistamine medication for 10 days.

Pets usually are given a sedative to calm them and to minimize the release of cortisone due to stress, which will affect the outcome. The hair on the side is clipped where there is no current dermatitis occurring. A tiny amount of histamine is injected first. If there is no reaction to histamine, the full test is postponed. A small amount of sterile saline is also injected as a control.

The areas where the allergen is injected are marked

Numerous allergens are injected into the skin and a reaction is noted at 15 minutes and again at 30 minutes. The reaction we are looking for is called a wheal. A positive test to a specific allergen occurs when the reaction is in between the saline and histamine tests in size.

In some cases the wheal is obvious, in others it is subtle, which is part of the interpretation process

RAST (in vitro test)

The second type of test that is performed is called the RAST test. RAST stands for radioallergosorbent test. Another in vitro test is called the ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbant assay) test. RAST tests for the levels of allergen specific IgE. In this test a blood sample is taken and submitted to a special lab for analysis.

The RAST test has advantages over the intradermal test. There is no clipping, sedating, and there is no potential to have an adverse reaction to an allergen injected into the skin. There is less of a chance that prior drug therapy (cortisone) will influence the outcome, and it can be used in patients that have dermatitis.

The primary disadvantage is the fact that false positives are more common when compared to the intradermal test

The RAST test is very thorough and checks for many different allergens in the home, outside, and in your pet’s food. Here is an example of one of their reports:

Here are 4 of the dozen household allergens they tested. This dog is borderline for orris root and human epithelial cells, and positive for jute/sissal and tobacco smoke.

These are a few of the food allergens tested in this sample. There was no allergy to venison, eggs, or milk, but this dog was allergic to soybean. This give us a rough idea of what food your pet might be allergic to, and can only be confirmed with the trial elimination diet.

This is a tiny sample of the numerous allergens found in the environment tested for on the same dog as above

Allergy tests can be unreliable at diagnosing food allergy. A better way to diagnose food allergies is using a technique called the elimination trial. By taking away a food that is suspected of causing the food allergy you can determine if the problem resolves. This might take up to several months to know for sure. To verify the diagnosis you need to feed the suspected food again to see if the skin condition returns. Commercial diets that contain rice, venison, fish, and potato are commonly used for the elimination trial. There is a food manufactured by Hills called Z/D that has been a big help in diagnosing and treating food allergies.

Routine Blood Panels

On occasion a specific type of white blood cell, called an eosinophil, is elevated in allergic conditions. Other conditions, notably worms, can also cause this elevation in eosinophils.

A routine blood panel can also give an indication of internal or hormonal problems that might show up as a skin condition. The most important of these are hypothyroidism and Cushing’s Disease.

This blood panel shows an elevated alkaline phosphatase level. This could be an indication of a hormonal problem called Cushing’s Disease.

Treatment

In the early years of atopy the pruritus is more easily controlled. As the problem progresses treatment is not as rewarding. Chronic changes to the skin can occur, especially lichenification and hyperpigmentation.

Treatment is aimed at all the factors that contribute to pruritus. For example, a pet that is normally not atopic might become so if exposed to fleas, or if it gets a pyoderma, or is allergic to a protein in its diet. This concept is called summation of effects, and might push the pet over what is called the pruritic threshold. By minimizing one of these components you might keep your pet under the pruritic threshold and minimize its skin or GI symptoms.

Food Allergy

Hypoallergenic means foods that your pet has never eaten, which technically, it cannot be allergic to. We recommend using these foods in some cases when we feel the pruritic threshold has been reached and any decrease in allergen load will put your put under this threshold. It might take up to 2 months to know if the food is working. You cannot feed any other foods or treats during this trial period, so plan on rewarding your pet with something else besides food.

There are 3 different diets to help:

    • Homemade
    • Commercial Novel Protein
    • Commercial Hydrolyzed Protein

Homemade diets can be beneficial, and have the advantage of controlling the protein and carbohydrates sources. It is important to pick a protein source your pet has never been exposed to. To be sure of this we sometimes need to resort to diets that contain some unusual ingredients.

Homemade diets have the substantial drawback of time, expense, guesswork, and being nutritionally incomplete. Some pets do not accept the food, and some of them develop diarrhea. For these reasons most pet owners do not use this treatment method.

Commercial Novel Protein Diets are a popular treatment for food allergies. Novel protein means your pet has never eaten this protein in the past.  For them to work, just like homemade diets, the protein source has to be a food your pet has never been exposed to, which can be difficult to determine. Traditionally they have contained fish, lamb, potato, or venison. Many pets react to several different proteins compounded the problem. Compared to homemade diets commercial diets have the advantage of being nutritionally complete and convenient. It is becoming more and more difficult to find a food that conatins a protein that is truly novel.

In many cases these foods work well to eliminate or decrease the food allergy. It takes up to 8 weeks to know if they are working, and your pet needs to be fed only these foods and nothing else, and be off all medications to decrease scratching. You might have to try different foods to find one that works for your pet. Unfortunately, its possible for some pets to eventually develop and allergy to one of the novel proteins in the food you are feeding.

Commercial Hydrolyzed Protein diets are the best option in most cases. The advent of these diets for food allergies has been a big step in eliminating the problem. Instead of trying to find a novel protein, these foods have literally decreased the size of the protein particle that gets absorbed in the intestines into the bloodstream. This reduced size is now too small to cause a food allergy, no matter what the protein source initially. These foods are nutritionally complete, convenient, and the ones we tend to recommend in most cases of food allergy. The brand we use most is Hill’s z/d. Hill’s was the first manufacturer to identify this solution and z/d is still the gold standard. This food is  unconditionally guaranteed and you will get your money back if you are not satisfied.

It is important that you do not have your pet on cortisone or antihistamines while trying to determine if your pet has a food allergy, since they will decrease the scratching and lead to an erroneous conclusion on the effect of the food. This causes a dilemma for those pets that have significant scratching, since they need immediate relief. In these cases we recommend using medication initially and starting your pet on a hypo-allergenic diet at the same time. If the itching is decreased after 1-2 months you can start weaning your pet off the medication to determine if the scratching is still diminished while on the hypo-allergenic diet also. In some cases we find the use of this food will allow us to use less medication to control the scratching.

Compliance is important, so make sure that everyone that even remotely feeds your pet knows about the diet change. If you give your pet food with medication, or treats, make sure it is not the original food that might have caused some allergy. Some pets need time to make the transition to a new food so be patient. Never let a cat go more than a few days without eating due to potential problem with the liver. Mix their new food in with their original food and make the transition over 7 days.

Avoidance

Obviously, if it is exposure to an allergen that causes the problem in the first place, then logic will dictate that we eliminate this exposure. In reality though, these allergens are everywhere. Minimizing exposure can be beneficial since it will decrease the allergen load, and hopefully keep your pet under the pruritic threshold.

Pets that are allergic to kapok, wool, cotton, feathers, animal dander, newspaper, and tobacco smoke all might benefit from limiting exposure. Limiting the number of houseplants could be helpful, and use synthetic material for your pets bedding. Pets allergic to house dust mites might do better kept out of bedrooms or placed outside more often.

Being outside though might expose them to more pollens. Grass is a common allergen causing skin allergy, so if possible, try to minimize exposure.  Keep the grass cut short, and keep pets out of the yard when cutting the grass. Rinse your pet’s feet and face off thoroughly after being exposed to grass can be beneficial in some cases.

Mold allergies might be helped by dusting and cleaning more thoroughly, especially house plants and bathroom carpets. Even think about replacing your carpets with wooden flooring. Keep your pet away from damp areas like basements (in California that’s easy since we don’t have many) and use humidifiers and air conditioners in humid weather. Rinse their filters frequently and clean with chlorine bleach. To truly filter most of the dust, mites, pollens, bacteria, and molds in your house you need to use a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. Upright vacuum cleaners return most of the dust back into the air, so use canister or cylindric type machines.

Routine and thorough washing, cleaning, and vacuuming of your household will keep mold, house dust, and house dust mites to a minimum. Keep your pet out of the house when doing thorough cleaning and vacuuming to minimize allergens that are stirred up by the cleaning. Put flea powder or a flea collar in the vacuum bag. Put plastic over bedding that might harbor house dust. Keep pets indoors at dusk and early morning during heavy pollen seasons.

Flea Control

Since we live in a flea endemic area year round, we cannot emphasize the importance of proper flea control in any pet that has a skin condition. Even pets that are 100% indoors are possible flea victims. This is especially important in cats, both indoor and outdoor cats.

The products available today are a significant improvement over flea control products in the recent past. They are economical, safe, effective, and very convenient. The product we recommend for dogs is Trifexis©. It prevents fleas, heart worms, and internal parasites, and is given orally instead of a topical gel.

The flea control product of choice for cats is called Revolution©. In addition to treating fleas, it treats heartwormear mites, and internal parasites (depending on the species).

Both of these products are used monthly. In some situations one of our doctors will have you use it more often. We also have detailed brochures on these products.

There are many  flea products that also can be used. Some are oral, some are topical, some are long lasting collars. Here are some of our recommendations:

Topical- Canine

Advantage Multi

Frontline Tritak

Vectra

         Oral- Canine

Comfortis

Nexgard

Sentinel

Trifexis

Bravecto

      Collar- Canine

Serestro

      Topical- Feline

Advantage II

Revolution

Vectra

       Oral- Feline

Comfortis

Bravecto

       Collar- Feline

Serestro

Medical Therapy

Every pet reacts differently to the medication used in atopy, so we might need to try different ones, at the lowest dose possible, to find the medication, or medications, that work best. Since treatment tends to be long term, so our goal is always to substatntially minimize the itching whilel using as little medication as possible. We use a multmodal approach, utilizing topicals, antibiotics, nutrition, and anti-inflammatories, to give the best possible outcome.

Cortisone

One of the mainstays of therapy for treating atopy is cortisone, commonly know as steroids. These steroids fit in the class of drugs called corticosteroids, which are not the same thing as anabolic steroids used by bodybuilders. Cortisone use is usually reserved for flare-ups, since long term use has the potential for causing side effects. Long term use of high doses of cortisone can lead to hair loss, thinning of the skin, liver problems, stomach problems, and muscle weakness. The overuse of cortisone can also cause iatrogenic Cushing’s disease.

Cortisone is a potent drug used in human and veterinary medicine literally thousands of times each day. Without this drug we would not be able to treat a large number of diseases. Cortisone has been abused by some people, leading to a bad name for this drug in some people’s minds. When used judiciously, and under a doctor’s supervision, it is one of the most important drugs we have. It is our first line of defense when a pet is scratching so severely it is maiming itself.

Cats are more resistant to the side effects of cortisone than dogs. Some cats are difficult to pill, so it is not uncommon to use an injectable version of cortisone that lasts for several  weeks to months. Older cats need to be checked for underlying problems like sugar diabetes and heart disease before instituting cortisone therapy. Cortisone will raise the blood sugar level, making it more difficult to control the problem. It can also cause the body to retain more sodium. This is only a problem in a cat that is in congestive heart failure.

Cortisone is usually given on an every other day basis and eventually decrease the dose even further as your pet improves. This minimizes side effects yet still gives an adequate amount of the drug to minimize scratching. In many cases we give an injection first to give your pet immediate relief from the scratching. We routinely use cortisone for 1-2 weeks to help get the scratching problem under control. Since cats are more tolerant to cortisone, and can be difficult to pill, it is not unusual to use the injectable version of cortisone in them.

While on cortisone you will notice that your pet drinks and urinates more than usual. It might also have an increased appetite and might show some behavioral changes. These symptoms will go away, in the meantime make sure your pet has access to fresh water at all times and can go outside to use the bathroom frequently.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines can be effective in treatment in some cases. They counteract the release of histamine (that’s why they are called antihistamines) from the mast cell, which as you know is the source of the itching. They are the mainstay of our long term medical treatment for skin allergies. Occasional side effects include drowsiness and dry mouth, both of which tend to resolve. In general, they are safe to use on a long term basis.

We will initiate an antihistamine trial to determine which one, if any, is most effective for your pet. We do a trial for up to 2 weeks to determine if one is effective or not. It is helpful not to have your pet on cortisone at the same time we are trying a new antihistamine, since we will not know if a decrease in pruritus is due the cortisone or the antihistamine. If we find one antihistamine that works well we stay with it on a long term basis. Eventually this might change, and if there is a significant flare up we will use cortisone to control the problem for several weeks. In the long run, even if antihistamine use has only minimal effects on decreasing pruritus, its use can help us decrease the use of cortisone.

Some of the common antihistamines we use are:

Benadryl A

Atarax

Tavist

Chlorphenaramine

Amitryptiline

Medications used to treat allergic dermatitis are used on a long term basis. We will refill medications as needed, and require a complete physical exam every 6 months to verify we are still treating the correct problem and to check for potential side effects to medication. A blood sample will be recommended periodically to verify the health of internal organs that might be affected by long term medication.

There is a combination antihistamine and cortisone called Temaril-P that has been use for decades. The two drugs in combination haven proven to be highly effective, and since each of these drugs is at a low dose side effects are rare.

Cortisone/Antihistamine Combination

A popular remedy we use commonly and successfully is called Temaril-P. The cortisone and antihistamine are in a low dose (trimeparizine -5 mg, prednisolone-2 mg), but when combined in the same medication have the effect of a larger dose. We get the best of both worlds in this case because the low amount of medication means less chance for side effects when used long term. This drug is also effective for pets that are coughing and vomiting.

Apoquel

Apoquel is a member of a class of drugs called Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitors. It is an immune mediating drug that suppressed cytokine function. Cytokines are implicated in the cause of itchiness (pruritus).

A very small amount of dogs had diarrhea, vomiting, and excess drinking, which went away eventually.

It should  not be used in dogs with history of cancer (neoplasia), demodectic mange, or that have severe immunoseppresion. Its simultaneous use with cortisone (prednisone) has not been evaluated.

Apoquel has proven to be highly effective, and has been the treatment of choice in many cases of atopy.

Cytopoint

This is an injectable version of Apoquel that has also proven highly effective in controlling atopy. An injection lasts up to 2 months.

Antibiotics

Some dogs scratch so severely they cause a secondary bacterial infection of the skin called pyoderma. The bacteria that commonly causes this is called Staphylococcus intermedius or pseudointermedius.This secondary bacterial infection intensifies the itching. These dogs need treatment with antibiotics for several weeks to several months. In addition, they need to be bathed with shampoo that will help the skin infection. Long term use of antihistamines are not effective if a skin infection (pyoderma) is allowed to persist.

If a hot spot is present it will be gently clipped and cleansed. Pets with hot spots must be put on antibiotics and usually short term cortisone to prevent the problem from progressing. Hot spots are very painful, and oftentimes require sedation if the wound is to be clipped and cleansed properly.

Antibiotics that work best for pyoderma include:

  • Cephalexin
  • Baytril
  • Clavamox

There is a new version of injectible antibiotic called Convenia that lasts for 2 weeks. This is especially useful in cats due to the difficulty in giving them a pill.

Antifungals

Secondary fungal infections can occur, especially when the feet are licked constantly. The most common one is called Malassezia. It is treated with topical antifungals in most cases.

Cyclosporines

An effective long term treatment for atopy relies on cyclosporines, the medication that prevents organ transplant rejections. It is called Atopica© 

 Your dog must weigh at least 4 pounds for it to be used. Its main advantage is the fact it works without any side effects on a long term basis that can be encountered in drugs like cortisone.

It has recently been approved for us in cats in a liquid form

Atopica is highly effective, and we recommend it as one of our important long-term treatments for atopy. It does not contain cortisone so we do not have the side effects associated with cortisone.

Initially it is given once daily for 30 days, and should be given one hour prior or two hours after a meal. If a response is achieved we will decrease the dose slowly, with the ultimate goal of giving it 3X per week. It becomes cost effective at this twice per week dosing, and it is warranted to try this medication if your pet is on chronic cortisone use or you want an effective treatment without cortisone.

Allergy Shots

If an allergy test is performed on your pet we will know what it is allergic to, and allergy shots can be custom designed for your pets specific allergy. Giving allergy shots is called hyposensitization or immunotherapy. Theoretically, hyposensitization stimulates the production of IgG, which subsequently attaches to the allergen, preventing IgE from attaching to this same allergen. If there is no IgE attached to the allergen, then the mast cells do not release histamine.

Even if you do not give the allergy shots, knowing what your pet is allergic to can be beneficial in some cases, assuming you can remove the offending allergen (see previous section on avoidance). We tend to rely on allergy shots when avoidance methods and medication are unsatisfactory in minimizing pruritus. The company that performs the RAST test also supplies us with the allergens to give the allergy shots.

Giving allergy shots can be a significant way to minimize your pets scratching, although just like in people, no guarantee can be given to the outcome. Estimates vary, but in general, you can expect some improvement 60% of the time. In some cases we will still keep your pet on an antihistamine or cortisone, or Atopica©, but at a reduced dose. A decision to undertake this treatment modality takes a commitment to a lifetime of giving these injections in most cases.

Giving the injection is very easy since it is a small amount with a tiny needle. We will teach you how to give them, and if need be, will give them for you. Initially, the injections are given every few days for several months. It takes at least several months to know if the injections are working, and up to a year for full effectiveness. Eventually, they are only given from once every few weeks to only a few times per year. Each pet’s response is different.

Allergens are made specifically for each pet. This dog is allergic to many things, so three vials are needed to treat its problem.

Room Purifier

If your pet is kept in a confined area, the use of a room purifier that filters out pollen particles can be of big help.

Food Supplements

Some allergic dogs and cats scratch less when supplemented with essential fatty acids.  Essential fatty acids tend to work best when combined with an antihistamine. The main ones we use are Derm Caps and EFA-Z. As with other therapeutic options, essential fatty acids will not work when the skin has pyoderma. It will take at least several weeks of supplementation to see any improvement. In some cases the need for inflammatory medication will be reduced when a pet is put on essential fatty acids supplementation.


Bathing

Bathing in cool water several times per week is beneficial. Do not use hot water because it can intensify the itching. Proper bathing will help remove allergens and eliminate dry skin, both factors that affect the pruritic threshold. Bathing your pet too often will dry its skin out and increase its itchiness.

We have many different shampoos that will help you- please ask one of our receptionists to show you. We have had best results with oatmeal shampoos and rinses, along with antihistamine shampoos and rinses. Use a mild shampoo once weekly to keep the hair coat clean without drying it out. For hot spots we use Oxydex shampoo. If we suspect a secondary fungal infection caused by Malassezia we will use an antifungal shampoo called chlorhexidine.

This is an allergic reaction to shampoo in the arm pit area of a 8 month old female pit bull named Pumpernickel. This illustrates the principal that many things can cause an allergic reaction, even treatments for allergies.

Topical Medications

There is a strong tendency on the part of pet owners to use topical medications for allergic skin disease. They are used, and are helpful, but should not be relied upon as the primary source of treatment. Topical medications we use usually have an antibiotic, an antihistamine, or cortisone as ingredients. We tend to use topical agents most often when presented with pets with hot spots. In these cases we use antibacterial creme in addition to antibiotics that are given orally.

Prognosis

Allergic Dermatitis is a chronic disease that is not cured, only controlled. It can be the cause of significant frustration, and will wax and wane in some cases. Understanding this disease will help you formulate a long term plan that suits your needs and minimize the chance of side effects when medications are used on a long term basis.

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Anesthesia

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One of the most important tools available to veterinarians to thoroughly and painlessly treat pets is the advent of modern day anesthetics. These anesthetic agents allow us to sedate and anesthetize a wide variety of animals with negligible chance of serious side effects.

The lack of significant complications from anesthesia is due to a combination of expertise, thorough pre-anesthetic testing, and state of the art anesthetic and monitoring equipment. We are equipped to anesthetize any pet from a finch that weighs 15 grams (it takes 454 grams to make up one pound), to pets that weigh several hundred pounds. We are also particularly proficient in anesthetizing senior pets and pets with medical problems like liver and kidney disease.

The goals of anesthesia are to minimize anxiety and eliminate pain. In addition, from the surgical point of view, anesthesia allows profound muscle relaxation. This is helpful in every surgery because the procedure will go quicker and incisions can be made smaller when the muscles are relaxed. In certain types of surgery like fracture repair, this muscle relaxation is crucial for success.

It is normal for you to have concern if your pet is about to undergo a procedure that requires anesthesia. Because of this fact, we invite you to be a part of our anesthetic team. Your primary responsibility is to let us know of your concern. You will have access to your doctor to discuss any of your concerns and to set up a custom protocol for your pet, taking its specific needs into consideration. Only when you are comfortable with the situation will we proceed any further. Also, to alleviate your concern on the day of actual anesthesia, we will call you immediately after your pet wakes up, if you so desire. Please leave a number where we can reach you on the day of surgery.

We have a short video on monitoring pets during anesthesia. You will need QuickTIme from www.apple.com to be able to view it.

Precautions

One of the best precautions we take to minimize the risk of anesthesia it to perform pre-anesthetic diagnostic tests. A pet can pass its pre anesthetic physical exam and still have significant internal problems, so it is important that we perform more than just a physical exam. This is because animals cannot tell us of their problems, have high pain thresholds in comparison to people, and have defensive mechanisms allowing them to hide symptoms. Pre-anesthetic diagnostic tests are designed to alert us to internal problems that are occurring without any symptoms.

Those pets that have infections (especially tooth infections) are put on antibiotics ahead of time. They make pets feel better, and help support internal organs.

Older pets or those with medical problems are given intravenous (IV) fluids prior to and during the anesthetic procedure. Giving fluids prior to the surgery greatly reduces anesthetic risk. This is particularly important in older pets and those with kidney or liver disease. Most pets that have significant dental disease will also be given IV fluids.


Injectable Anesthesia

Injectable anesthetics are used for many purposes. One of their primary uses is to sedate pets before giving the actual anesthesia (called pre-anesthetic). By sedating ahead of time we dramatically minimize anxiety, cause a smoother recovery, and minimize how much anesthetic we need to administer during the actual procedure. In addition, some injectable anesthetics minimize vomiting, a common problem when waking up from anesthetic.

Little Bit is receiving an intravenous injection of an anesthetic before his teeth cleaning. It is being given through an I.V. catheter in the cephalic vein of the forearm.

Injectable anesthetics are also used to give complete anesthesia for short periods of time. This is used for C-sections and minor surgical procedures. Injectable anesthetics are ideal to sedate a pet for radiographs (x-rays).

As new anesthetic agents evolve, the trend is towards using injectable anesthetics more and more for complete surgical anesthesia. They are very effective, very safe, and allow for rapid recovery from anesthesia. They also protect the environment because there are no anesthetic gases vented into the atmosphere.

The primary anesthetic in this category is called Propofol. It induces anesthesia rapidly, and pets wake up almost immediately.

Gas Anesthesia

The mainstay for general anesthesia is gas anesthesia because it is very safe and highly controllable. We use the safest and most effective gas anesthesia available, called Isoflurane. It is so safe it can be used in creatures as small as tiny birds.

Gas anesthesia requires specialized equipment and training. Several precision components are used to administer and monitor anesthesia:

Oxygen

All pets put under gas anesthesia are given 100% oxygen from the moment they are anesthetized until they wake up, dramatically increasing the safety of the procedure.

We have a special machine in surgery that generates 100% oxygen

As a backup,  oxygen is stored in large tanks under high pressure. The oxygen in the tanks is delivered to the anesthetic machine via special piping throughout the hospital. This allows us to have anesthetic machines in several hospital locations. A pet can be brought into radiology after its surgery and still be kept under gas anesthesia while the surgeon reviews post operative radiographs to ensure everything is in order. This is especially helpful when orthopedic surgery is performed.

Endotracheal Tube

With rare exceptions, oxygen is delivered to your pet by a breathing tube (endotracheal tube) in its windpipe. It is the preferred method to administer oxygen because it is very efficient, will prevent any vomitus from entering the trachea (vomiting rarely happens because of fasting and pre-anesthetic sedation), and allows us to gently inflate the lungs during surgery so that work at maximum efficiency. Besides oxygen, the anesthetic gas (Isoflurane) is also administered through the endotracheal tube. Medications can even be administered via this special tube.

After Little Bit was given an injectable anesthetic a breathing tube was placed in his windpipe and Isoflurane was administered.

We can easily inflate your pet’s lungs by gently squeezing the bag connected to the tube and monitoring the amount of pressure we are exerting with a gauge on the anesthetic machine. Each size and species of pet requires a different sized endotracheal tube. The tube is not removed from your pet until it is literally waking up. This ensures that the swallowing reflex is present and your pet is now safely able to breathe on its own.

This x-ray shows the breathing tube (follow the arrow) as it passes over the tongue and down the trachea (windpipe).

"Chase Summerville" 2/2/98

Vaporizer

An instrument called a precision vaporizer is used to deliver the anesthetic gas within the oxygen. It is a very precise instrument allowing us to make fine adjustments in anesthetic level. Without this vaporizer we would not have the wide safety margin that we currently enjoy.

For most surgeries we administer the anesthetic at a setting of 1-2 %. This small percent of anesthetic, added to the oxygen the pet is breathing, is all that is needed to achieve complete surgical anesthesia. Before the surgical procedure is finished the anesthetic is lowered before it is turned off completely. As the surgeon is finishing the procedure your pet is in the beginning stages of waking up. This is another way we minimize anesthetic risk.

Monitoring

During the procedure your pet will be monitored in several ways. One of the best monitors is the surgeon because he is literally visualizing the blood in the circulatory system. Any change in the blood is readily noticed because pets that are breathing 100% oxygen should have bright red blood.

Also, we have an anesthetist nurse in the room monitoring anesthesia. She monitors oxygen flow and anesthetic settings on the precision vaporizer, along with heart rate and respiratory rate. She also uses several tools to aid her in keeping a close watch on important anesthetic parameters:

All of our patients, especially the smaller ones like this guinea pig, are kept on warm water water blankets to prevent hypothermia before during, and after any anesthetic procedure.

Surgery-GPigWaterBlanket Surgery-GPigWaterBlanket1

 

Anesthetic Monitor

This highly accurate and sensitive monitor gives us detailed information on your pets physiologic status while under anesthesia.

It is calibrated prior to surgery to ensure accuracy

Esophageal Stethoscope

Our anesthetist technician can also use an esophageal stethoscope to listen to the heart. This sensitive instrument is passed into your pet’s esophagus while under anesthesia and placed right at the level of the heart, thus greatly enhancing our ability to hear the heart and detect any problems.

Pulse Oximeter

The portable pulse oximeter is an instrument that measures the oxygen saturation of you pet’s red blood cells (to be more specific, its hemoglobin). It is an extremely sensitive instrument that gives us an indication of problems that may be arising long before your pet suffers any ill effects. In addition to measuring oxygen saturation, it measures heart rate, pulse character, and respiration.

This instrument does its magic by measuring the hemoglobin that is oxygenated and comparing it to the hemoglobin that is not oxygenated. It does this by shining a light on an artery, and then measures how much of this light is absorbed. It gives us an answer in PaO2– the partial atmospheric pressure of oxygen

This pulse oximeter shows a pet with an oxygen saturation of 94%, a heart rate of 157. It is breathing 27 times per minute, and its heart rate is steady.

This is Little Bit having his teeth cleaned under general anesthesia. The pulse oximeter is attached to his rear leg.

The pulse oximeter has several different types of sensors that can be attached in various locations depending on the procedure being performed.The pulse oximeter can also be used on pets that are not anesthetized. It is useful for pets that are having difficulty breathing (dyspnea) from many different causes. It is also used to monitor pets that are in a state of shock. One of the most common reasons for pets to be presented to us in a state of shock is from trauma, especially being hit by a car (HBC).

The esophageal stethoscope and the pulse oximeter can be used simultaneously. In this dog, undergoing a neuter operation, Denise, our nurse anesthetist, is taking a reading with both instruments.

The blue tube on the anesthetic machine suctions exhaled gases from our patient and vents them outside the building. The white particles in the canister absorb exhaled carbon dioxide, and the round gauge measures the pressure at which oxygen is being introduced into the endotracheal tube when the technician inflates the bag.

Techa 1

We have a short Quicktime movie showing a pulse oximeter in action on one of our volunteers. The top number is the oxygen saturation, the bottom number is the heart rate. The vertical bar gives us a clue as to the strength of the heart beat. Click on the link below.

Pulse Oximeter

Capillary Refill Time

To complement these high tech methods of monitoring, our anesthetist technician uses several hands-on techniques as a backup. One of the easiest of these is called capillary refill time (CRT). By pressing on the mucous membranes in the mouth, and noting how long it takes for the blanched area to turn pink again, we get a basic assessment of your pets cardiovascular status. A normal pet’s pink color returns within 2 seconds. This technique is used in other situations besides anesthetic monitoring. It is especially helpful when a pet is in shock or is dehydrated.

Blood Pressure Monitor

We also monitor the blood pressure when pets are under anesthesia for the longer surgical procedures. This is done with our anesthetic monitor. Our hypertension page has a video of the doppler blood pressure monitor in action when we use it in an exam room.

Pain Medication

We complete the anesthetic process by giving your pet a pain injection before it wakes up from the anesthetic. Since the gas anesthesia has a small amount of residual analgesia (ability to kill pain), the pain shot kicks in as the gas anesthetic is wearing off. This allows for a very smooth and pain free recovery. Those of us that have had even minor surgery know how important pain medication is after a procedure. This pain injection will keep your pet calm its first night home from any surgery.

Local Anesthesia

Another excellent way to prevent the pain encountered when your pet first wakes up is to use a long acting local anesthetic at the incision site. We administer it prior to completion of the surgery, and its affects last for 6 hours.

We use the long acting version of this drug which eliminates pain for up to 8 hours.

We even have a local anesthesia patch that is used in some cases to bring long term relief for several days if needed.

Pain Patch

We also use Duragesic patches for general pain control in the more serious cases. It is preferable to apply it 12 hours before the surgery for maximum effect postoperatively. It provides pain relief for 3 days. It is important to make sure that no children or other pets are allowed to contact the patch in any way. Bring your pet back to us for proper removal and disposal.

The patch is applied in different locations depending on the surgery. Wrapped around one of the legs and between the shoulder blades are common locations. One of our nurses is applying it in this picture using gloves to ensure she does not come into contact with the active ingredient.

If we put it on the leg it is covered with a bandage. We will commonly staple the patch to the skin if we put it between the shoulder blades. It will be bandaged for protection and to minimize the chance of contact with other pets and children. Please return in 3 days for us to remove it and dispose of it properly.

To ensure your pets complete safety, it will stay with us for at least several hours after it is awake. We will verify the pain medication is working and there are no ill effects from the anesthetic administered. It will also allow your pet to completely wake up and walk normally in a controlled environment where it cannot hurt itself. Our technical staff monitors your pet post operatively until we are certain it is ready to go home.

Long term pain control at home is also important during the next several days. We will routinely send you home with an anti-inflammatory medication or pain suspension for long term pain control. The two most common medications we use are Rimadyl and Torbutrol suspension.

Laser Surgery

Even though it is not an actual pain medication, using our carbon dioxide laser when indicated during a surgical procedure dramatically minimizes pain because it decreases inflammation, swelling, and cauterizes nerve endings. By using the laser and stopping the pain cascade before it even begins there is a dramatic influence on decreasing post operative pain.

Returning Home after anesthesia

When you bring your pet home after anesthesia it is helpful to follow some common sense suggestions:

Keep contact with other pets and children to a minimum for at least the first 12 hours. Confine it to an area where it cannot hurt itself  because it may not be steady on its feet for up to 24 hours. It might be groggy the first night due to the pain injection it was given.

Use pain medication as prescribed and keep your pet in a warm and quiet area. You can spend time giving unlimited TLC

Even though your pet has probably been fasted for the anesthesia, feed it only a small amount of food and water when first returning home. Give it more later if it eats well and does not vomit (emesis). Most pets return to a normal appetite within 24 hours. If your pet has not fully recovered from the anesthetic by the next day then please call our office.

Please call us in the evening if you have any questions when your pet returns home from surgery or any anesthetic procedure.

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Worms (Internal Parasites)

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The study of parasites is called parasitology. It is an important discipline because internal parasites cause death and disease worth billions of dollars in animals each year. These parasites have highly evolved life cycles that make their elimination impossible. In addition, many internal parasites affect people with the potential for serious consequences.

Dogs and cats (especially puppies and kittens) are routinely infected with internal parasites, sometimes without apparent evidence of the infestation until it is too late. This means that a pet can have internal parasites even though the fecal sample is negative. It is suspected that internal parasites predispose your pet to IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) later in life.

Fortunately, we have effective medications to treat most parasites. Many of the medications we use to treat internal parasites, called anthelmintics, treat more than one parasite. The advent of these broad spectrum anthelminitcs makes treatment much more effective. We recommend all dogs and cats get a treatment for internal parasites every 6 months.

This best method for treatment is to use flea products on a monthly basis that also kill internal parasites and prevent heart worms. We have several medications, some oral and some topical, to achieve this.

This section will discuss internal parasites that are commonly found in dogs and cats in our area. This includes:

  • Tapeworms
  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Whipworms
  • Coccidia
  • Giardia

These internal parasites differ from external parasites, which usually affect the skin and ears of dogs and cats. Click here to learn more about external parasites.


Symptoms

Symptoms manifested by pets that are infected with internal parasites can vary, and depend on a pet’s age, nutritional status, parasite load, duration of infestation, etc. One of the most common symptoms of internal parasitism is diarrhea. Other symptoms include poor appetite, lethargy, coughing, and abdominal distention. Some pets don’t show any symptoms while others can die from their infestation. Internal parasites tend to infest older and younger animals most commonly. Internal parasites can also make a pet more susceptible to other diseases. It is not uncommon for a puppy with Parvo virus to have internal parasites simultaneously.

Due to the prevalence of internal parasites in dogs and cats, their lack of symptoms in some cases, and the potential for humans to become infested also, your pets feces should be checked for internal parasites twice a year. Dogs and cats that are outside and exposed to other animals should have their feces checked more often. Routine worming should be performed on all dogs and cats every 6 months, even if the stool check for parasites is negative.


Diagnosis

The majority of internal parasites are diagnosed by microscopic examination of the feces for eggs that are released by the adult female in your pet’s intestine. The number of eggs released in a given fecal sample can be variable, sometimes there aren’t any even though your pet has an adult female parasite in its intestines. This means that a negative fecal report does not guarantee that your pet is free from internal parasites. In many cases we need to run numerous samples to feel comfortable that your pet is free of internal parasites. In some cases our doctor’s will treat for a specific parasite, even on a negative fecal sample, when they feel there is a likelihood of infestation, because some internal parasites eggs are notoriously hard to detect.

In some parasites a diagnosis is made by observation of the mature parasite in your pet’s feces or during an autopsy in your pet’s intestines. This is especially true for Tapeworms. Tapeworm eggs are difficult to detect during microscopic fecal analysis, so observation of the actual worm is how they are routinely diagnosed.

The two primary methods of fecal analysis are direct observation and fecal flotation. In direct observation a smear is made of some fecal material on a microscope slide and the slide is analyzed by one of our nurses for parasite eggs. It is used to detect eggs that don’t show up well during the fecal flotation.

Fecal flotation is the most accurate way to detect most internal parasites. A sample of fresh feces is put into a special solution that causes any eggs that might be present to float to the top and adhere to a cover slip. The cover slip is put on a microscope slide for analysis. This concentration of eggs substantially increases the chance of finding any eggs that might be present. Some eggs, notably Tapeworm eggs, dissolve during this process and might be undetected. This is the reason you can see Tapeworms in your pets stool yet the fecal analysis came back negative.

We have sanitary containers for you to use to obtain a fecal sample from your pet. Once the sample is obtained it should be kept cool until we analyze it. Analysis should be within 12 hours to increase accuracy.

The flotation solution has been added to the fecal container and a cover slip has been placed on the top to collect any eggs that float to the surface after a 5 minute wait

The cover slip is put on a microscope slide and carefully scanned for the eggs of any parasite. High magnification is needed because the eggs are microscopic in size.


Treatment

Internal parasites have very sophisticated life cycles that can make treatment difficult. Some of these life cycles involve mandatory maturation processes in other animals, including insects. Specific treatment modalities are set up to address these life cycles and will be discussed for each individual parasite in the following sections. It is important to follow these treatment regimens precisely.

Some parasites can only be controlled, not eliminated. In these cases it is important to check your pet’s feces routinely and to use medication on a long term basis.

There are new treatments for internal parasites that are very broad spectrum. They kill a wide variety of parasites, and are the medications we use as a routine wormer.

Revolution, will kill fleas, heartwormsear mites, and even internal parasites. We recommend it for cats.

Trifexis kills internal parasites, heartworms, and fleas, and is recommended for dogs.

Please ask our receptionist for brochures on these products.


Tapeworms

By far the most common internal parasite we encounter is Tapeworms. The scientific name for the Tapeworm we encounter in our area is called Dipylidium.

Life cycle

The source of the infestation is a flea that has been swallowed by your pet or a cat that eats infected rodents. The flea gets the Tapeworm in its system by swallowing it during its larval stages, when the larvae eat the eggs that have been passed from pets that are already infested with Tapeworms.

The lifecycle of the Tapeworm is simple compared to other internal parasites

Symptoms

In spite of their prevalence Tapeworms are not a significant cause of disease in dogs and cats. Most pets do not have any symptoms, and if symptoms are present, are mild in nature. Some pets will itch at their anus or scoot on the ground when the worms cause irritation as they pass.

Diagnosis

Most Tapeworms are diagnosed by visualizing the worm in your pets feces, crawling around its anus, or in its bedding. Tapeworms segments crawling on your dog’s anus might cause scooting, although full anal sacs are a much more common cause of scooting. They come in long attachments that usually break off into individual pieces when they exit from your pet. They usually look like pieces of white rice and turn yellow after they have been out of the body for a while.

This is a packet of Tapeworm eggs as viewed under a microscope. It is rare for us to see them in this packet because the fecal flotation solution causes this packet to burst.

 Treatment

Several medications are available that are highly effective at ridding you pet of Tapeworms. The most common treatment is an oral medication that rids your pet of all Tapeworms within 24 hours. This medication also kills rounds, hooks, and whipworms. It does nothing to prevent your pet from re-infecting itself. Proper flea control does.

Prevention

Since fleas are directly responsible for this infestation their control is apparent. We recommend advantage and Program for safe, economical, convenient, and highly effective flea prevention. A new product, called Revolution, will kill fleas, heartworms, ear mites, and even internal parasites. Please ask our receptionist for a brochure.

Public Health Significance

Children can pick up Tapeworms from eating fleas, but it rarely causes any problem. Other species of Tapeworms exist that have significant potential to cause serious disease in people. Fortunately, we do not encounter them in our local area in dogs and cats.

 Roundworms

A common parasite of dogs and cats, especially puppies and kittens, is Roundworms. The scientific name for their group is called ascarids. We routinely treat puppies and kittens for this parasite for 2 reasons. The first is their prevalence, the second is their potential to infest humans. The larval form of this parasite has the potential to cause serious disease in children. Fortunately it is a rare problem, and can be prevented by worming all puppies and kittens early in life. It is all prevented by monthly use of flea and heart worm prevention products like Trifexis for dogs and Revolution for cats, since these products also kill roundworms.

Life cycle

The life cycle of this parasite almost ensures that a puppy or a kitten will be exposed. They can get it from their mother while they are in the uterus (dogs), during nursing, and through contamination with infected feces. Larval forms of this parasite migrate through internal organs, get coughed up and swallowed, and become mature parasites in the small intestines. Intermediate hosts like rodents can become infected by eating eggs, and can then infect a dog or cat when they are eaten. Some larvae migrate to the tissues of internal organs and remain dormant until pregnancy where they become active and infect the developing puppies in the uterus.

 Symptoms

Common symptoms are a distended abdomen and diarrhea. Some puppies and kittens will be vomiting, lethargic and not eating well, while others will not show any symptoms. On rare occasions the parasite load can be so heavy that the intestines become obstructed. Coughing, fever, nasal discharge and even pneumonia can occur in pups that have large numbers of larvae migrating through their respiratory tract.

Diagnosis

In some cases the Roundworm will be present in your pet’s feces, vomitus or crawling around its ansu. This is not a consistent finding, and worms that might be present one day might not be there the next.

It looks like a curled up piece of spaghetti

The vast majority of Roundworm infestations are diagnosed on fecal analysis for eggs. Young puppies can be infected before the eggs of the parasite appear in the feces.

This is one type of Roundworm egg when viewed under the microscope. The thick membrane around the eggs prevent them from drying out when they are laid in the environment.

 Treatment

There are several effective treatments for Roundworms. We can easily treat your pet with an oral version given during a routine office visit. It has to be retreated in 2 weeks due to the migrating larvae since the medication does not kill the larvae. Some pets require several more treatments for a full cure. If you keep your pet on Trifexis or Revolution year round you are treating for this problem monthly. This is the best way to go.

Prevention

Roundworm eggs can remain viable for a long time in the environment. Children will get this parasite by eating dirt contaminated with the eggs, therefore cleaning up your pet’s feces immediately, and eliminating exposure to the feces of other animals when your pet goes for a walk, are important treatment modalities. Litter pans should be changed frequently and washed thoroughly and then allowed to dry in the sun. Keeping cats indoors also eliminates exposure to the feces of infected pets and the eating of infected rodents.

Public Health Significance

Children are of particular vulnerability to infestation because of their propensity to put things in their mouths and their attractions towards puppies. areas that might be contaminated with dog or cat feces should be off limits to children. This might include public areas such as parks or playgrounds. Even though these infestations in children are relatively uncommon, if they occur there can be significant damage to the internal organs like the liver, heart, brain, lungs, and eyes. This reason alone is why all puppies and kittens should be routinely treated for Roundworms, whether or not their fecal exam indicates they have parasites. also, teach your children to wash their hands frequently after handling pets, and not to put anything unnecessary in thier mouths.

Hookworms

Hookworms are blood sucking parasites that live in the small intestine. The scientific name for the Hookworm we encounter in our area is called Ancylostoma. They can be very pathogenic and even cause death due to anemia and low protein level.

Life cycle

Hookworms are spread by eating infected larvae that are in the environment. These infective larvae can also penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream where they mature into adult Hookworms in the small intestine. Puppies can also get infected while nursing or in the uterus prior to birth. Some Hookworm larvae migrate to muscles where they serve as a source of future infections.

 Symptoms

Pets with Hookworms have the potential to be very ill,especially in dogs. Symptoms include lethargy, dark stools or diarrhea, weakness and vomiting. In severe cases they are anemic and debilitated, especially the older and younger pets. The larvae might even irritate the skin when they penetrate between the toes and pads.

Diagnosis

Adult Hookworms are small so they are usually not seen passed in the feces. This diagnosis is made primarily by finding the distinctive egg in your pet’s feces. Any pet that is anemic should have its feces checked for this parasite.

These eggs are more oval than Roundworms, and the membrane is thinner

 Treatment

Infected pets might require hospitalization and even a blood transfusion if their symptoms are severe. There are different types of worming medications used, some require retreatment several weeks after the initial treatment because of the larvae that migrate through the body. All require checking your pet’s feces to make sure the parasite has been eliminated. Long term treatment and surveillance in the form of fecal exams are necessary. Dogs with chronic problems are put on heartworm preventive medication on a monthly basis since this medication also kills Hookworms. Any dog put on heartworm preventive medication needs to be checked for heartworm disease before we start preventive medication.

If you keep your pet on Trifexis or Revolution year round you are treating for this problem monthly. This is the best way to go.

Prevention

Fecal exams should be performed frequently on pets that have a history of Hookworm infestation. Prompt removal of feces helps prevent contamination of the yard with larvae. Larvae are killed in cold climates when exposed to freezing temperatures.

Public Health Significance

Hookworm larvae can penetrate the skin of people and cause significant irritation. These larvae can migrate through the body and cause damage to internal organs. Just like in Roundworms discussed above, puppies should be routinely treated for this parasite at a young age.

Whipworms

Whipworms are blood sucking parasites that live in the large intestine, usually only in dogs. They are called Whipworms because they have a slender end and a thick end, hence the appearance of a whip. The scientific name for the Whipworm we encounter in our area is called Trichuris. They can be as pathogenic as Hookworms, and also cause death due to anemia and low protein level.

Life cycle

Female Whipworms lay eggs in the environment that eventually turn into larvae. Pets ingest these larvae when they ingest soil that is contaminated. These larvae take 3 months to develop into adults capable of causing disease.

 Symptoms

Symptoms of Whipworm infestation include chronic diarrhea, anemia, and weight loss.

Diagnosis

Like most internal parasites Whipworms are diagnosed by looking for the eggs in the feces. They are oval in shape and have a plug at each end that aids in identification. Their thick membrane gives them significant protection. The eggs are shed intermittently, so a negative fecal sample does not guarantee that your dog is free of Whipworms. Adult Whipworms can sometimes be visualized when an endoscope is passed into the rectum of a pet with chronic diarrhea.

 


Treatment

Various oral medication are also used to treat Whipworms. Treatment is commonly repeated in 3 weeks and 3 months due to the life cycle of this parasite. If you keep your pet on Trifexis or Revolution year round you are treating for this problem monthly. This is the best way to go.

Prevention

Control of reinfections is difficult because eggs that have been laid in the environment are very resistant. Feces need to be rechecked and a long term plan for surveillance and treatment needs to be initiated.

Public Health Significance

Human infections with this parasite might occur, although this controversial. Common sense dictates prompt removal of feces from your pet’s environment and washing your hands any time there is a potential exposure.

Coccidia

Coccidia are not technically a worm, but a protozoan parasite that infect dogs and cats primarily, but can be seen in other species.

Life cycle

Coccidia life cycles are complex and involve many stages of development. Coccidia produce cysts instead of larvae and eggs. Dogs and cats usually get the infection from ingesting the cysts in the environment or eating animals like mice that are already infected.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually occur in young animals and include diarrhea and abdominal pain. These young animals can become severely dehydrated and the infection can be life threatening. This is especially true in pets that are stressed or have other parasites. Many pets, especially the older ones, do not show any symptoms when infected.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of Coccidia infection is made by identifying the very small eggs in a fecal sample. They can be very difficult to detect due to their small nature and variable shedding by a pet. This is why our doctors will occasionally treat a pet for Coccidia even though the fecal exam is negative for this parasite.

 Treatment

Sulfa type medications or sulfa and antibiotic combinations are used to affect a cure. They need to be given for up to 3 weeks.  There is also a medication that requires only 3 days of treatment. Kittens that are very ill require hospitalization and intravenous fluids to help them fight off the infection.

Prevention

Prompt removal of feces helps prevent continued environmental contamination.

Public Health Significance

A version of Coccidia, called Toxoplasmosis, is of particular significance to pregnant women since it can cause disease in unborn children. The most common source of infection for pregnant women is eating improperly cooked meat (especially pork, lamb, and venison), not necessarily from the feces of cats. In a cat that does have Toxoplasmosis, the eggs that are laid in the environment (litter pan) do not become infective until 24 hours have passed. If the litter pan is cleaned twice daily the eggs will not have time to become infective to pregnant women. Wear gloves when you change the litter pan. Better yet,have someone else clean the litter pan. When you garden you should also wear gloves since stray cats may use the soil as a litter pan. Keeping your cat indoors and not feeding it raw meat will prevent it from getting Toxoplasmosis and passing it on.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 60 million people in the United States are infected with the Toxoplasmosis parasite. Few have symptoms because a healthy immune systems keeps it in check. You may feel like you have the “flu,” swollen lymph glands, or muscle aches and pains that last for a few days to several weeks. However, most people who become infected with toxoplasmosis don’t know it. On the other hand, people with immune system problems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, those taking certain types of chemotherapy, or persons who have recently received an organ transplant, and infants, may develop severe toxoplasmosis, which results in damage to the eye or the brain. Infants who became infected before birth can be born retarded or with several other serious mental or physical problems.

Giardia

Giardia are also protozoal parasites that live in the small intestines. Giarida are found every where in the world, Infection rates are variable, with younger animals having a higher rate of infection. There are various strains that differ in their potential to cause disease. The strain called Giarda lamblis (also called intestinalis or duodenalis) is the primary strain of people, companion animals. and livestock.

This parasite can be found on fecal exams of healthy pets that don’t have any symptoms. It is probably under diagnosed due to the chronic nature of the problem it presents and the difficulty of coming up with a positive diagnosis.

Giardia exists in 2 forms; trophozoites and cysts. The active and motile form, called trophozoites, are the stage which lives in the intestines of an affected mammal. These trophozoites produce non-motile cysts which are shed into the environment. The cysts remain viable in the environment for months, especially in cool and moist areas. They thrive in clear and cool water, a good reason not to drink running water in the outdoors, no matter how pristine it looks. The cysts are killed by freezing, boiling, and extended contact with disinfectants.

It is theorized that giardia make pets prone to food allergies. By interfering with the intestinal lining they let in proteins that stimulate the immune system to cause an allergic reaction.

Life cycle

The cysts in a contaminated environment are transmitted to mammals or birds upon ingestion. Gastric acid and pancreatic enzymes work on these cysts in the stomach and intestines, causing them to release 2 trophozoites. These motile trophozoites attach to the lining of the small intestine where they interfere with digestion. Within 2 weeks they encyst and are passed in the feces to contaminate the environment and await another host.

 Symptoms

In many pets there aren’t any symptoms, while in others that do show symptoms, the problem might resolve by itself. The most susceptible pets are puppies and kittens, pets with other internal parasites, and debilitated pets. Diarrhea that occurs can be severe and can be accompanied by poor appetite and dehydration. Vomiting, weight loss and blood in the stool are occasional symptoms.

Diagnosis

Giardia can be hard to diagnose because the parasite cysts become shriveled in the routine fecal solution that is used to bring eggs to the surface and adhere to the cover slip. Special fecal flotation solutions (zinc sulfate) are a more accurate manner to make the diagnosis. Cysts can be shed intermittently, so several samples are sometimes needed to make this diagnosis.

Fresh fecal samples that are not put in the fecal solution can sometimes show the parasite. We sometimes send fecal solutions to our outside lab for special tests when we suspect the problem yet we don’t find the parasite. Just like Coccidia, our doctors might treat for this disease even on negative fecal samples.

 Treatment

Flagyl is the drug routinely used to treat Giardia, although it does not cure all Giardia infections. The usual course of therapy is for 5 days, although our doctors will vary this dose depending on specific circumstances. Other medications are sometimes used if the Flagyl is not effective. There is no drug that is 100% effective against Giardia.

We recommend treating pets that are positive for Giardia even if they don’t have any symptoms. This helps eliminate environmental contamination, and helps minimize spread to people. If one pet in a household has Giardia we recommend treating all pets.

Prevention

Giardia cysts in a kennel are relatively easy to destroy with routine disinfectants, and are susceptible to drying and heat. Once an environment like a lawn is contaminated though, it can be almost impossible to eliminate this parasite.

  1. Treat all in contact animals in the household.
  2. Recommend to bathe all pets every 7-14 days with mild hypoallergenic  shampoo like Hilyte or and oatmeal shampoo.  If unable to bathe then to wipe down with separate clean damp cloths/towels once a day or once every other day especially around the anal area (please save this area for last).
  3. Wipe feet and anal area  of affected pet at least once a day especially after going outside with a clean damp cloth/towel.  OK to use baby wipes around anal area.
  4. Prevent licking on surfaces outside, prevent from eating grass, and prevent from drinking water from communal water dishes at dog parks or from ponds or ditches as much as possible.
  5. Give bottle water or filtered water or water that has been boiled.  This filters should filter out up to Giardia and Cryptococcus organisms from tap water.  Boiling the water  will kill any organisms present in the tap water.
  6. Thoroughly clean food and water dishes daily with soap and hot water and sterilize the food and water dishes weekly.
  7. Pick up feces immediately or as soon as possible.  Recommend to thoroughly clean out litter boxes daily and to disinfect and sterilize the boxes at least once a week.
  8. Once done with medications bathe all pets or at least bathe both dogs and wipe down all feline pets in the house with separate clean damp cloths/towels. Also clean and vacuum entire house and clean all bedding.
  9. Once done with course of medications please bring a fecal sample the same day or the next day that the medications are finished.  If the fecal results are negative then do another fecal analysis in 30 days post-treatment.  If the fecal results are still  positive for Giardia then will recommend to proceed with other possible causes of this persistently high infestation with Giardia i.e. immune system problems that are preventing her from getting rid of this protozoal parasite.

Good nutrition, avoiding overcrowding, general parasite control, and proper sanitation procedures are all critical in prevention. Cleaning up feces on a daily basis goes a long way to preventing contamination.

A vaccine available for dogs is very helpful in persistent infections

Public Health Significance

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Giardia is one of the most common causes of waterborne diseases in humans in the United States. Many people get Giardia from other people and and contaminated water. Symptoms in people include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and nausea. They appear within 2 weeks of exposure to the parasite.

Exposure comes from many sources. They include swallowing water from swimming pools, lakes, rivers or streams that have been contaminated with animal or human feces. Fruits and vegetables that have not been washed (with Giardia free water!), along with accidental ingestion from hands contaminated by using toys, bathrooms, changing tables, etc., are also sources of infection. This emphasizes the importance of routine washing of hands. Boiling drinking water for one minute will kill this parasite.

We routinely treat pets with Giardia in their feces, even if they are not showing any symptoms, because of the potential for people to pick up this disease. Washing your hands frequently after touching your pet and bathing your pet frequently will help minimize exposure. We have a vaccine for dogs that do not respond to routine treatment. This will help prevent human exposure.

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