Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Ringworm (dermatophytosis) is a skin infection caused by fungi. It’s called ringworm because in humans it sometimes looks like a small circular skin rash. Ringworm isn’t caused by a worm, despite the name.
Ringworm is zoonotic: it spreads between animals and people. Many animal species carry ringworm. The infection is transmitted by contact with an infected host or with contaminated soil, bedding, or other objects in the environment.
Causes and Risk Factors
Many types of fungi cause ringworm in different host species (animals and people). The most common fungi that infect cats and dogs are Microsporum canis and Trichophyton mentagrophytes, whose natural hosts are animals, and M gypseum, which is found in soil.
Fungi tend to infect abraded skin, not healthy intact skin, so scratches and scrapes—for example, from scratching itchy skin—make ringworm more likely.
The pet animals most likely to have ringworm are young puppies and kittens, free-roaming animals, and animals living in warm or humid climates. Working and hunting dogs are more likely than indoor dogs to encounter fungal spores in the environment.
Signs of Infection
In dogs and cats, ringworm doesn’t typically cause the ringlike skin lesion that it causes in humans. Ringworm in animals mimics other skin diseases and can’t be diagnosed just by its appearance. Some animals have no visible signs at all. These are some of the signs of ringworm in dogs and cats:
Ringworm isn’t usually itchy. However, skin conditions that an animal might have at the same time as ringworm could cause itchy skin, and these conditions can also make a fungal infection more likely.
A combination of diagnostic tests might be needed to confirm a fungal infection and monitor the response to treatment. M canis infection causes hairs to glow fluorescent green under a Wood’s lamp, a type of ultraviolet light source, although the fluorescence can be difficult to see in some patients. Samples collected by plucking hairs or brushing affected skin can be submitted for fungal culture or polymerase chain reaction testing.
In animals and people with normal immune function, ringworm can clear on its own without treatment, although this can take weeks or months. The goals of treatment are to clear the infection more quickly and prevent the infection from spreading to others.
In dogs and cats, treatment often involves both topical treatment and oral medication. Topical treatment (like antifungal shampoos) reduces the risk of disease transmission and environmental contamination. Oral medication treats the fungal infection at its source.
Decontaminating an infected animal’s surroundings might be part of the treatment plan. Environmental decontamination prevents false-positive culture results (caused by noninfective fungal spores carried on the fur) that might lengthen the course of treatment.
These steps help prevent ringworm from spreading to people and other animals:
1. Moriello KA, Coyner K, Paterson S, Mignon B. Diagnosis and treatment of dermatophytosis in dogs and cats. Clinical Consensus Guidelines of the World Association for Veterinary Dermatology. Vet Dermatol. 2017;28(3):266-e68. doi:10.1111/vde.12440
2. Ringworm. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed September 9, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/ringworm.html
Image source: CDC Public Health Image Library
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Vaccines for dogs and cats are safe, especially compared with the risk of disease. Most animals don’t have any untoward symptoms after receiving a vaccine. But vaccines, like any other medicine, can have some side effects.
Vaccination produces an immune response, and inflammation is part of the immune response. Most of the symptoms (if any) that animals have after vaccination are caused by normal inflammation, meaning that the immune system is acting the way it’s supposed to act when it’s stimulated.
Allergic (hypersensitivity) reactions to vaccines are uncommon in dogs and cats but can be serious. These reactions are caused by an inappropriate immune response. The most severe type of hypersensitivity reaction is anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.
In one study of dogs in the United States, the rate of vaccine-associated adverse events, including everything from normal inflammatory responses to anaphylaxis, was 0.38% (38 events per 10,000 vaccine doses). Anaphylaxis accounted for 1.7% of the adverse events. The risk of adverse events was highest in small-breed dogs and dogs who received multiple vaccines at the same time.
These are some of the common mild vaccine effects you might notice in your dog or cat. In most cases it’s safe to monitor these symptoms at home. If any of these symptoms last longer than a day or if your pet seems very uncomfortable, contact your veterinarian.
More Serious Symptoms
Allergic reactions to vaccines appear minutes or several hours after vaccination. Anaphylaxis can start with these symptoms and is a medical emergency. Seek veterinary care right away if your pet has any of these symptoms.
Lumps at Injection Sites
Most small, firm lumps at vaccine injection sites are caused by inflammation and resolve in a couple of weeks without treatment. An injection-site lump or swelling that is still present after 3 weeks or is enlarging should be checked by a veterinarian. Injection-site cancer is rare but can happen in cats (vaccine protocols and formulations for cats minimize this risk as much as possible).
Vaccines could—at least in theory—be linked to autoimmune diseases, in which the immune system targets cells of the body. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (affecting red blood cells) and thrombocytopenia (affecting platelets) occur in animals, but the association of these disorders with vaccination isn’t clear. The presence of an autoimmune disease would affect future vaccination decisions for the animal, though.
If Your Pet Has Had a Vaccine Reaction
Tell your veterinarian if your pet has had any vaccine-related symptoms. Your veterinarian will determine if your pet most likely had a normal inflammatory response or an allergic reaction. The decision on how to proceed with future vaccinations depends on the symptoms, the animal’s overall health, and the animal’s individual risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.
Depending on the circumstances, options for future vaccinations might include dividing vaccines among several visits instead of giving multiple vaccines all at once, giving medication (like an antihistamine) before vaccination, using a different type of vaccine, or discontinuing a vaccination. Vaccine titers—levels of antibody in the blood—indicate whether an animal is likely to still be protected by earlier vaccines, so titer testing can replace vaccination in some cases.
Some of these options don’t apply to rabies vaccination, which is mandated by law. In North Carolina and South Carolina, as in many states, veterinarians cannot give medical exemptions for rabies vaccination, and rabies antibody titers can’t be used instead of vaccination.
1. Moore GE, Guptill LF, Ward MP, et al. Adverse events diagnosed within three days of vaccine administration in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2005;227(7):1102-1108. doi:10.2460/javma.2005.227.1102
2. Tizard IR. Adverse consequences of vaccination. Vaccines for Veterinarians. 2021;115-130.e1. doi:10.1016/B978-0-323-68299-2.00019-8
3. AAHA canine vaccination guidelines: vaccine adverse reactions. American Animal Hospital Association. Accessed August 27, 2021. https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/vaccination-canine-configuration/frequently-asked-questions/how-can-adverse-reactions-be-managed/
4. Rabiesaware.org. Accessed August 27, 2021. http://www.rabiesaware.org/
Photo by Raghavendra V. Konkathi on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Most skin lumps in dogs are benign. In cats, skin masses are more likely to be malignant. It’s impossible to know if a mass is benign or malignant just by looking at it and feeling it. For diagnosis, a sample of cells from the mass must be examined under a microscope.
Veterinarians use either fine-needle aspiration or biopsy to take samples from skin masses. Fine-needle aspiration is a quick technique that doesn’t require anesthesia. The veterinarian uses a syringe and needle (about the same size used for dog and cat vaccines) to remove a small sample from the mass. The sample is transferred to a microscope slide and either checked at the veterinary clinic or sent to a laboratory for a pathologist to evaluate.
Biopsy is the removal of a section of a mass—or an entire mass, if it’s small—for submission to a laboratory. Biopsy requires at least local anesthesia; most patients need sedation or general anesthesia. Fine-needle aspiration doesn’t always yield enough cells for a definite diagnosis, so biopsy is necessary for some masses.
So when is it okay to just watch a lump to see if it gets bigger, and when should a lump be checked by a veterinarian? Masses that fit these criteria should be evaluated by aspiration or biopsy:
The advantage of evaluating masses while they’re small is that malignant skin tumors can often be cured if they’re removed early. Larger masses are harder to remove completely. Some types of skin cancer spread through the body (metastasize) over time.
Benign masses don’t metastasize to other areas of the body or damage the tissues around the mass. Once diagnosed, they can be left alone unless they become painful or annoying to the animal (for example, if the surface becomes irritated or the mass grows large enough to interfere with movement). These are some of the most common benign skin lumps in dogs and cats:[2,3]
Malignant masses are cancerous and invade the surrounding tissues or metastasize throughout the body. Some malignant skin tumors that can’t be cured with surgery can be treated with radiation or chemotherapy. Animals with skin cancer benefit from referral to a veterinary oncologist. These are some of the malignant skin tumors that affect dogs and cats:[2,3]
1. Ettinger S. See something, do something. Why wait? Aspirate. In: Proceedings of the NAVC Conference, Volume 30: Small Animal and Exotics. NAVC; 2016:720-722.
2. Gear R. Lumps and bumps: common skin tumors. British Small Animal Veterinary Congress 2008. Veterinary Information Network. Accessed August 3, 2021. https://www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?id=3862939&pid=11254&
3. Five types of skin cancer in dogs. NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine. Accessed August 3, 2021. https://cvm.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/5-Types-of-Tumors.pdf
Photo by Anusha Barwa on Unsplash
Any dog might need to wear a muzzle at some point. Muzzle training makes wearing a muzzle stress-free and even fun for the dog. Resources for training a dog to love a muzzle are linked at the end of this article.
Why Dogs Wear Muzzles
Muzzles can be incredibly useful. Wearing a muzzle doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog is aggressive. A muzzle is just another tool to help keep dogs and people safe. These are some of the many reasons a dog might use a muzzle:
Choosing a Muzzle
The type of muzzle to look for is a basket muzzle. Correctly fitted basket muzzles don’t hold a dog’s mouth shut, so a dog wearing a basket muzzle can pant, drink water, and take treats.
Don’t buy a cloth muzzle like the ones sometimes used for dog grooming and veterinary procedures. Cloth muzzles keep the dog’s mouth closed, so these muzzles are not safe for dogs to wear for more than a few minutes and can also be stressful for dogs.
Basket muzzles come in various styles, materials, and colors. Some are made of flexible rubber; muzzles made of wire offer more bite protection. Muzzles for specific breeds (like greyhounds) and custom-made muzzles for dogs with hard-to-fit faces are also available.
The fit of the muzzle is crucial, so you’ll need to measure your dog’s face according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (Estimate the measurement if your dog might bite when his face is touched.) A basket muzzle should be long enough to avoid rubbing the tip of the nose but not so long that it hits the dog’s eyes, and it should be deep enough to let the dog open his mouth wide to pant. A basket muzzle deep enough to allow for full panting will probably look huge when the dog’s mouth is closed, but this is the correct fit.
The muzzle should have lots of openings for air flow. Some basket muzzles have large holes for treats; others have smaller gaps in front of the nose to keep dogs from eating things they shouldn’t.
Muzzle Training Basics
Dogs accept muzzles most readily if the training involves yummy treats and is done gradually over weeks. Dogs who are already afraid of muzzles need extra training steps and more time; don’t hesitate to seek help from a positive-reinforcement trainer.
Watch your dog’s body language throughout training to be sure she’s happy and relaxed. If at any point your dog avoids the muzzle, you’re moving too fast. Back up a couple of steps and proceed more slowly.
1. Arhant C, Schmied-Wagner C, Aigner U, Affenzeller N. Owner reports on use of muzzles and their effects on dogs; an online survey. J Vet Behav. 2021;41:73-81. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2020.07.006
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Ear mites are common in cats and dogs. They cause significant ear itching and inflammation and are contagious between animals.
In cats, ear mites are the most common cause of external ear disease. Ear mites affect dogs too, but external ear disease in dogs is more often caused by allergies.
Ear mites (Otodectes cyanotis) are tiny parasites similar to the mites that cause mange. They live in the ears and are sometimes also found on skin elsewhere on the body. Ear mites feed on natural skin debris like ear wax. They stay on the skin surface and don’t burrow into the skin, unlike some other mites.
Ear mites spread easily through close contact between animals. People are not thought to be at risk from cat and dog ear mites. It’s possible but very rare for ear mites to affect humans.
The signs of ear mites are similar to the signs of ear infections caused by bacteria and yeast. Animals can have ear mites without showing any symptoms, but most animals have these signs:
Bacterial and yeast ear infections cause signs similar to ear mites, so don’t assume that a cat or dog with itchy ears has ear mites. An animal with suspected ear mites should see a veterinarian to look for ear mites and rule out other ear problems that would need a different type of treatment. Some animals have ear mites and a bacterial or yeast ear infection at the same time.
Ear mites are easiest to see with magnification, either in a sample of ear debris under a microscope or through an otoscope inserted into the ear (if the animal’s ears aren’t too painful). Sometimes the mites are visible in ear debris without magnification; they look like pinpoint white specks that move.
In the past, treating ear mites meant instilling an oily liquid into the animal’s ears daily for about 3 weeks. This type of product is still available over the counter without a prescription, but don’t use an over-the-counter remedy without first taking your pet to see a veterinarian. Newer prescription products kill ear mites more quickly, some in only 1 or 2 doses, and some don’t require putting drops directly into the ears. Because ear mites are contagious, it’s best to treat all dogs and cats in the household.
For More Information
See these links for more information and photos of ear mites:
Photo by Madalyn Cox on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Separation-related behavior problems are fairly common in dogs and also affect cats. Pets with separation-related distress aren’t acting out of spite or mischief when they shred the sofa cushions or urinate on the carpet. These animals are anxious and afraid, and they need help.
Separation anxiety is a catchall term that describes stress-related behaviors that happen when an animal is separated from its attachment person. It causes significant distress to the animal and can lead to relinquishment or euthanasia. Animals with separation anxiety sometimes have other anxiety disorders, like noise phobia. Like other types of anxiety, separation anxiety tends to get worse if it’s not treated.
Animals with separation anxiety show distress behaviors only when they’re separated from their people, not at any other time—unless, of course, they also have another source of anxiety.
Some signs of emotional distress are obvious:
Other signs are more subtle and may go unnoticed if no one is nearby to see or hear the animal:
Animals with subtle signs of anxiety are in just as much distress as the ones who destroy the house. Unfortunately, these animals might be less likely to get treatment because their signs are harder to spot.
In a survey of cat owners, the most common separation-related behaviors in cats were destruction, vocalization, inappropriate urination, depression, aggression, and agitation.
Many disorders cause the same signs as separation anxiety. Pets with possible separation anxiety should first see a veterinarian to rule out medical conditions like urinary tract infection, diabetes, and neurological disorders.
Because of the complexity of anxiety disorders, pets who show distress behaviors often need a full veterinary appointment dedicated to behavior evaluation, not just a quick discussion during a routine wellness visit. A detailed behavior history from the pet’s owner is crucial.
The best way to tell whether problem behaviors are caused by separation is by video recording the pet when the owner isn’t home. Video doesn’t require a home surveillance system; a cell phone can be set up to point at the pet while the owner leaves the house for a few minutes. Separation-related behaviors usually start soon after the owner leaves or even while the owner is getting ready to leave. Video can help pin down the cause of the anxiety (for example, maybe the dog doesn’t rip up the pillows until the mail carrier arrives). Because video is the only way to detect subtle signs of distress, it makes sense for all pet owners to record their animals at some point to be sure all is well.
Managing anxiety in animals usually requires a combination of behavior modification and antianxiety medication. The goal of behavior modification is to teach animals how to relax and calm themselves. Antianxiety medication reduces reactivity so that animals are capable of learning new behaviors, which they can’t do while they’re distressed.
Animals with separation anxiety might need more than 1 type of medication: a long-term drug taken daily and a short-acting drug to use in stressful situations or while waiting for the long-term drug to take effect. Antianxiety medications must be prescribed by a veterinarian. Various nonprescription remedies, such as pheromones and nutritional supplements, are also available. Most of these alternative treatments are more expensive than prescription medications and have less evidence to show that they’re effective.
Treatment of separation anxiety takes time—think months, not days. The most important early goals are to keep the pet safe and minimize sources of anxiety. These are some steps to take right away while waiting for treatment to take effect:
1. de Souza Machado D, Oliveira PMB, Machado JC, Ceballos MC, Sant’Anna AC. Identification of separation-related problems in domestic cats: a questionnaire survey. PLoS One. 2020;15(4):e0230999. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0230999
2. Overall KL. Advances in treating dogs who cannot be left alone. VMX 2020 Proceedings: Small Animal & Exotics: Book 1. North American Veterinary Community; 2020:120-123.
3. Sherman BL. Canine separation anxiety: a common behavior problem and welfare concern. 2019 Fetch DVM360 Conference Proceedings. MultiMedia Animal Care LLC; 2019:37-39.
4. Tynes VV. Separation anxiety and the “pandemic puppy”: what lies ahead after lockdown. American Animal Hospital Association. Accessed June 22, 2021. https://www.aaha.org/publications/newstat/articles/2021-06/separation-anxiety-and-the-pandemic-puppy-what-lies-ahead-after-lockdown/
5. Brooks W, Calder C, Bergman L. Separation anxiety: the fear of being alone. Veterinary Partner. June 4, 2020. Updated July 14, 2020. Accessed June 22, 2021. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/doc/?id=9673053&pid=19239
Photo by Mark Zamora on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
About two-thirds of cats respond to catnip. Catnip toys and catnip plants are safe for cats and can provide sensory stimulation and environmental enrichment for indoor cats.
Environmental enrichment means adding things to or changing an animal’s environment in ways that enhance the animal’s mental and physical well-being. An enriched environment lets animals express behaviors that are normal for their species and helps them cope with stress.
Environmental enrichment is used to improve the welfare of animals in zoos and shelters, and it can also help indoor cats be happier and healthier. Sensory enrichment is part of environmental enrichment, and catnip provides olfactory stimulation for cats that are attracted to it.
What is catnip?
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial herb in the mint family. It can be grown in pots or planted in the garden, though like other mints it tends to be invasive if it’s not confined to a container.
The compound in catnip that appeals to cats is nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is a volatile substance, meaning that it forms a vapor. Cats that respond to catnip are attracted to its scent, not necessarily to its taste.
Some other plants contain nepetalactone and similar compounds. In a study published in 2017, most cats that didn’t respond to catnip were attracted to silver vine (Actinidia polygama). About half of the cats in the study responded to Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) or valerian root (Valeriana officinalis).
How does catnip affect cats?
Cats’ reactions to catnip include sniffing and licking it, rubbing their faces in it, rolling in it, kicking it with the back feet, and drooling. The response lasts for about 5 to 15 minutes, after which the cat doesn’t respond to the plant for an hour or two.
Cats do not become addicted to catnip.[2,3] Nepetalactone works through the body’s opioid response system, likely providing a feel-good reward to cats that interact with catnip. Nepetalactone stimulates the opioid response system by increasing the release of natural endorphins, which probably explains why nepetalactone isn’t addicting like externally administered opiates (such as morphine) can be.
Why are cats attracted to catnip?
The catnip response is inherited. Some big cats, like leopards and jaguars (but not tigers), are also attracted to catnip. Breed, sex, and neutering status do not affect cats’ sensitivity to catnip, although the catnip response seems to increase as cats grow to adulthood. We don’t know why some cats but not others have catnip-sensitive genes or why other species don’t respond to catnip in the same way.
So why are cats sensitive to catnip at all? It would be very unusual for animals to have an innate (as opposed to learned) behavioral response that serves no biological purpose.
A study published in 2021 suggested that the catnip response could have evolved as a means of pest defense. This study showed that nepetalactol (a compound in silver vine similar to nepetalactone) repels mosquitoes when it’s applied to cats’ heads. The researchers observed cats’ interactions with nepetalactol samples and found that the cats showed rolling and face-rubbing behaviors only when the samples were within reach, not when the cats could smell the samples but not come in contact with them. After more tests, they concluded that the point of the catnip response is to transfer nepetalactol to the face and body to ward off mosquitoes.
Feel free to offer catnip to your cats if they enjoy it. Don’t rely on catnip for mosquito control, though! Mosquitoes transmit heartworms and other diseases, and catnip isn’t effective enough as a mosquito repellant to keep your cats safe.
1. Ellis SL. Environmental enrichment: practical strategies for improving feline welfare. J Feline Med Surg. 2009;11(11):901-912. doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2009.09.011
2. Bol S, Caspers J, Buckingham L, et al. Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria). BMC Vet Res. 2017;13(1):70. doi:10.1186/s12917-017-0987-6
3. Uenoyama R, Miyazaki T, Hurst JL, et al. The characteristic response of domestic cats to plant iridoids allows them to gain chemical defense against mosquitoes. Sci Adv. 2021;7(4):eabd9135. doi:10.1126/sciadv.abd9135
4. Ellis SL, Wells DL. The influence of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of cats housed in a rescue shelter. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2010;123:56-62. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2009.12.011
Photo by Madalyn Cox on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Motion sickness is common in dogs and cats and can cause significant anxiety in affected animals. The condition is usually associated with riding in a car, boat, or airplane. If your pet vomits during trips, contact your veterinarian for medical help.
Motion-related nausea is caused by stimulation of the vestibular system, a set of structures in the inner ear responsible for sense of balance and coordination of head and eye movements. Signals from the vestibular system are connected to the vomiting center in the brainstem.
Motion sickness is probably related to sensory conflict when input from the eyes (what the animal sees) doesn’t match motion that the vestibular system detects. Head movements that are jerky, inconsistent, or in the opposite direction of the body’s motion—all of which happen while riding in a vehicle—can trigger the neural signals that lead to vomiting.
Animals with motion sickness sometimes vomit before the vehicle is even moving because they’re anxious and scared. They’ve learned that riding in a vehicle makes them feel sick, so they develop fear of the vehicle itself, and that fear makes them vomit. Anxiety that’s not related to motion sickness can also cause vomiting, so animals who are afraid of car rides for other reasons might vomit even if they don’t really have motion-related nausea.
Animals with motion sickness don’t always vomit. Some of the symptoms of nausea and anxiety are more subtle. Watch for these symptoms in dogs and cats:
Diagnosing motion sickness is usually pretty straightforward: vomiting that happens only in moving vehicles is motion sickness. A thorough history can help determine whether the animal has motion-related nausea, anxiety, or both. Vomiting that continues longer than the vehicle ride or is accompanied by other symptoms, like stomach pain, should be investigated further.
Withholding food for a few hours before the animal travels is a good way to start but might only reduce the volume of vomit; it won’t help with anxiety. Puppies sometimes outgrow motion sickness, especially if they receive positive-reinforcement training for vehicle rides. Training improves anxiety-related symptoms in some adult animals too. However, many animals need medicine to help them deal with motion sickness.
Safe and very effective antinausea medicines for dogs and cats are available by prescription. A veterinarian can help decide whether a pet would benefit most from antinausea medicine, antianxiety medicine, or both.
Motion sickness remedies for humans are available without a prescription, and some of these can be used in dogs and cats. However, never give your pet any motion sickness remedy without talking to your veterinarian first. Some of the products for humans have unwanted effects in animals. Many “natural” remedies are either untested or not effective in animals, and some might even be unsafe.
1. Conder GA, Sedlacek HS, Boucher JF, Clemence RG. Efficacy and safety of maropitant, a selective neurokinin 1 receptor antagonist, in two randomized clinical trials for prevention of vomiting due to motion sickness in dogs. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 2008;31(6):528-532. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2885.2008.00990.x
2. Graham H. Motion sickness in small animals: pathophysiology & treatment. Clinician’s Brief. June 2013. Accessed May 16, 2021. https://www.cliniciansbrief.com/article/motion-sickness-small-animals-pathophysiology-treatment
3. Coates JR. Motion sickness in animals. Merck Veterinary Manual. Updated March 2021. Accessed May 16, 2021. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/nervous-system/motion-sickness/motion-sickness-in-animals
4. Hickman MA, Cox SR, Mahabir S, et al. Safety, pharmacokinetics and use of the novel NK-1 receptor antagonist maropitant (Cerenia) for the prevention of emesis and motion sickness in cats. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 2008;31(3):220-229. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2885.2008.00952.x
Image source: James Frewin via Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Chip, snack, and cereal bags pose a suffocation risk that pet owners might not know about until it’s too late. Dogs and cats have died after putting their heads in snack bags and other food containers.
Of the various types of food containers, plastic and Mylar-lined bags are the biggest suffocation hazards. When an animal with its head in a bag inhales, the bag tightens around the head, cutting off airflow. The animal might not be able to remove the bag on its own. Death can occur in just a few minutes.
Preventive Vet conducted an online survey about pet suffocation and received 1354 responses from 2014 through 2018. The responses from pet owners whose pets died or almost died of suffocation are summarized here.
Most common culprits:
Where pets got hold of the bags:
More than one-third of pet owners were home when their pet suffocated. Of the owners who were away from home, 18% were gone for less than 15 minutes.
Animals of all sizes are at risk. According to the survey responses, more than half of the dogs who suffocated were larger than 30 lb, and some were over 60 lb.
Simply being aware of the risk is a big part of keeping your pets safe. A lot of us have probably left chip and other food bags where our pets can reach them. Here are some steps you can take:
Pet suffocation awareness, Preventive Vet website: https://www.preventivevet.com/pet-suffocation
Prevent Pet Suffocation website: https://preventpetsuffocation.com/
Photo by Yulia Khlebnikova
In March and April 2021, outbreaks of Salmonella infection linked to wild songbirds, ground turkey, and small turtles were reported, and several brands of dog and cat food were recalled because of possible Salmonella contamination.[1,2]
Dogs and cats are at risk of illness from salmonellosis. However, healthy adult animals infected with these bacteria often become carriers with no symptoms. Salmonella are zoonotic—they spread between humans and other animals—so a major concern with Salmonella infection in animals is that it increases the risk for people.
Salmonella are spread through the feces of infected animals. These are some of the animals that carry Salmonella and expose people to infection:
Contaminated Food and Water
People and animals are most often infected with Salmonella by eating food or drinking water contaminated with feces. Handling contaminated food is also a risk if you don’t wash your hands thoroughly afterward to avoid bringing the bacteria to your mouth. Potential sources of Salmonella infection in humans, dogs, and cats include the following:
Animals carrying Salmonella shed the bacteria into their environment. Animals that seem completely healthy can be Salmonella carriers. It’s safest to assume that Salmonella are present anywhere an animal of a high-risk species spends time: reptile habitats, terrariums, aquariums, chicken coops, animal pens, and so forth. Bedding and water tanks or bowls (especially in reptile and amphibian habitats) can also be contaminated.
Bird Feeders and Birdbaths
Wild songbirds aren’t just Salmonella carriers; sometimes they get sick and die of Salmonella infection. The type of Salmonella that birds carry, S typhimurium, is contagious to people and other animals. Cats who hunt birds or hang out under bird feeders and birdbaths can be infected.
Many adult dogs and cats exposed to Salmonella don’t get sick but can still spread the bacteria. Puppies, kittens, stressed animals, immunosuppressed animals, and animals with other diseases are more likely to become ill with salmonellosis. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea. The infection can be fatal in fetuses and newborns.
Salmonellosis in cats infected by birds is called songbird fever. Symptoms are similar to salmonellosis in other animals: vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
As with most diseases, specific treatment depends on the individual animal’s needs. Salmonella can develop resistance to antibiotics, so animals with mild symptoms might be treated only with supportive measures. In some cases, the choice of antibiotic is based on results of culture and antimicrobial sensitivity tests.
Be aware that raw meat pet diets are a common source of Salmonella. The CDC recommends these measures to prevent Salmonella infections:
1. Reports of selected Salmonella outbreak investigations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/outbreaks.html
2. Recalls, market withdrawals, & safety alerts. US Food & Drug Administration. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts
3. Salmonella infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/salmonella.html
4. Kukanich KS. Update on Salmonella spp contamination of pet food, treats, and nutritional products and safe feeding recommendations. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2011;238(11):1430-1434. doi:10.2460/javma.238.11.1430
5. Marks SL, Rankin SC, Byrne BA, Weese JS. Enteropathogenic bacteria in dogs and cats: diagnosis, epidemiology, treatment, and control. J Vet Intern Med. 2011;25(6):1195-1208. doi:10.1111/j.1939-1676.2011.00821.x
6. Salmonella outbreak linked to wild songbirds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 1, 2021. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/typhimurium-04-21/index.html
Image source: Shenandoah National Park (photo by N. Lewis, NPS)
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
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