Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
On December 3, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned pet owners of potentially toxic vitamin D levels in some dog foods. The affected foods have been recalled. A list of recalled brands is posted on the FDA website: https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/ucm627485.htm.
Vitamin D: both an essential nutrient and a poison
Vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosphorus levels in the body. This vitamin is necessary for bone health and for normal muscle and nerve function. Vitamin D is fat soluble, not water soluble, so the body stores extra vitamin D in the liver and fatty tissues instead of expelling it in the urine.
Excessive levels of cholecalciferol, the active form of vitamin D, lead to dangerously high levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. Calcium deposits form in body tissues, especially tissues that have a large blood supply, like the kidneys. Mineral deposits in the kidneys cause kidney failure, which is the usual cause of death in animals with vitamin D poisoning.
Rodenticides (rat and mouse poisons) that contain cholecalciferol are typical sources of vitamin D poisoning in pets. Even small amounts of cholecalciferol-containing rodenticides can cause severe kidney damage in dogs and cats. Human vitamin supplements and contaminated pet foods can also cause cholecalciferol toxicosis in pets.
According to the FDA, some of the recalled dog foods contained 70 times the expected level of vitamin D.
Symptoms of vitamin D poisoning
Watch for these symptoms, especially if your dog has been eating one of the recalled foods:
Signs of poisoning usually appear within a day or two after an animal ingests a toxic level of vitamin D. By this time, the kidneys have already been affected. Blood tests show increased levels of calcium, phosphorus, and markers of kidney disease.
What you should do
If your dog has been eating one of the recalled diets, stop feeding the diet immediately. The FDA recommends disposing of the food in such a way that other animals (including wildlife) and children cannot reach it.
Seek veterinary care immediately if you think your pet might have vitamin D poisoning. The symptoms are not specific to vitamin D toxicosis (lots of things cause vomiting), so your veterinarian will perform bloodwork and possibly other diagnostic tests. Take either the bag of dog food or a photo of the label, including the lot number, to the clinic with you if your dog might have eaten a recalled food.
The sooner treatment starts, the better the chance of recovery. Treatment involves hospitalization for several days, intravenous fluids, medications to help flush calcium out of the body and support kidney function, and repeated blood tests to monitor kidney function and levels of calcium and phosphorus.
The FDA suggests that pet owners and veterinarians report possible cases of vitamin D poisoning through the online Safety Reporting Portal.
For more information
FDA Alerts Pet Owners about Potentially Toxic Levels of Vitamin D in Several Dry Pet Foods, FDA.gov website
Cholecalciferol, Pet Poison Helpline website
Cholecalciferol, Merck Veterinary Manual website
Photo by Ruby Schmank on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Keep your pets safe, happy, and out of the emergency clinic with these Thanksgiving safety tips.
No fatty food
Turkey skin, meat drippings, gravy, bacon, butter, and other fatty foods can cause pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) in dogs. This potentially painful condition leads to vomiting, loss of appetite, and dehydration. Pancreatitis can land a dog in the veterinary hospital for intensive care. Any dog can develop pancreatitis, but some breeds are more prone to it than others. Miniature schnauzers are the poster dogs for pancreatitis.
Don’t give your pet a turkey leg. Bones can get stuck in the digestive tract (esophagus, stomach, or intestines). Sharp bones can puncture the digestive tract.
No turkey brine
The solution used to brine turkeys might taste great to pets, but the high salt content can lead to salt toxicosis. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, increased thirst, tremors, and seizures.
No raw meat or raw eggs
Raw meat and eggs can carry harmful bacteria like salmonella. Dogs and cats are just as susceptible to food poisoning from bacteria as humans are.
No raisins, grapes, or currants
Even small amounts of these fruits can cause kidney damage in dogs.
No raw bread dough
Raw yeast dough expands in a dog’s stomach, potentially causing bloat. Raw yeast dough also produces ethanol, which can give a pet alcohol poisoning.
No chocolate or artificial sweeteners
Chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats; the darker the chocolate, the higher the risk. Many low-sugar and sugar-free foods (including some baked goods) contain xylitol, a sweetener that is very dangerous for dogs.
No onions or garlic
Cats are highly sensitive to compounds in onions, garlic, leeks, and chives that can cause anemia. Dogs and cats may also develop upset stomachs from eating these vegetables.
Take out the trash
Bones, corncobs, and string used to truss a turkey are all enticing to pets that have access to the garbage can. These items can cause intestinal blockages. Keep kitchen trash sealed away from your pets while you’re preparing the big meal. If you plan to block your pets out of the kitchen, remember that children and guests might leave interior doors and baby gates open.
Watch the exits
Pets may not be used to guests coming and going, and your company might not be prepared to stop your pets from dashing out of an open door. Make sure your pets all have identification (collar tag, microchip, or both) in case of an escape.
Give your pets a safe space
Give your pets a quiet place to get away from the action. Some pets are much more comfortable staying safely in another room the whole time guests are at your house. Guests who aren’t accustomed to having pets underfoot might appreciate this too.
See the blog post about human foods that are toxic to pets for more details.
Photo by Chevanon Photography
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Some substances that are not particularly dangerous for dogs or humans are highly toxic to cats. Cat owners who are unaware of the risks may inadvertently expose their cats to toxins like canine flea control products or over-the-counter pain medications.
Cats can be exposed to toxic agents either by eating them directly or by licking them from their fur. The symptoms of poisoning depend on the toxin and can include drooling, vomiting, lethargy, tremors, and seizures.
If you think your cat may have swallowed a toxin, do not try to make your cat vomit. None of the home “remedies” that have been used to induce vomiting in people or dogs are considered safe in cats. Call your veterinarian or an animal poison control hotline right away.
When you take your cat to the veterinary clinic, also take the package or product label of the substance your cat was exposed to. If your cat ate a plant and you’re not sure of its identification, bring a photo of the plant if possible.
Permethrins in topical flea control products marketed for dogs commonly cause toxicosis in cats. Cats are highly sensitive to these insecticides, which are in the pyrethroid family. Permethrin products are available as spot-on products, dips, and sprays. Cats are typically exposed either directly (by an owner using a dog-strength product on a cat) or indirectly (by contact with a dog recently treated with a permethrin product). Permethrin toxicosis causes tremors, seizures, loss of coordination, and drooling.
Other topical insecticides sometimes cause skin irritation in cats. Cats that lick topical products may react to the taste, so apply these products to an area your cat can’t reach with its tongue, like the back of the head. Read labels carefully and be sure to treat your cat only with products labeled for cats.
A single tablet of acetaminophen (Tylenol) can kill a cat. In cats, acetaminophen interferes with the oxygen-carrying ability of red blood cells and causes anemia. Cats with acetaminophen toxicosis may have brown gums, rapid heart rate, and lethargy. Ingestion of acetaminophen is a medical emergency in cats.
Cats do not process nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) the same way that humans and dogs do and are more likely to experience adverse effects. Examples of these pain relievers are ibuprofen, carprofen, naproxen, etodolac, and meloxicam. Cats that ingest NSAIDs may develop stomach ulcers, kidney failure, or seizures.
The antidepressant medication venlafaxine (Effexor) is a relatively common cause of toxicosis in cats. According to ASPCA Animal Poison Control, cats will readily eat venlafaxine capsules. Other antidepressants can also be dangerous to cats. Symptoms of toxicosis are dilated pupils, vomiting, rapid breathing and heart rate, and loss of coordination.
Amphetamines cause tremors, seizures, and heart rhythm abnormalities in cats. Even small amounts of amphetamines in medications or illicit substances can be toxic.
All parts of lilies, including the pollen, cause potentially fatal kidney failure in cats. Lilies that are dangerous to cats are members of the Lilium and Hemerocallis genera, such as Easter lilies, Asiatic lilies, tiger lilies, stargazer lilies, wood lilies, and daylilies. Calla lilies, peace lilies, and Peruvian lilies (Alstroemeria) are not “true” lilies and do not damage cats’ kidneys. If your cat is exposed to a lily, seek veterinary care immediately; early treatment improves the prognosis.
Mouse and rat poisons are toxic to all mammals, not just to rodents. Cats are exposed either by eating the bait or by eating the animal that ate the bait. Different rodenticides work by different methods. Treatment depends on the active ingredient, so be sure to bring the product label to the veterinary clinic if your pet has been exposed.
Anticoagulant rodenticides cause fatal internal bleeding by preventing blood from clotting. Bromethalin rodenticides cause lethal nervous system damage. Rodenticides containing cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) cause calcium-phosphorus imbalance that leads to kidney failure. Zinc and aluminum phosphide baits cause toxic gas to build up in the digestive tract (toxic fumes in vomit are also dangerous to anyone nearby).
For more information
Photo by Federica Diliberto
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
You may have read recent news reports about a possible association between grain-free diets and heart disease in dogs. Here’s what we know about this issue so far.
In July 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notified the public that they were investigating reports of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs eating diets whose main ingredients were legumes (such as beans, peas, and lentils) or tubers (potatoes and sweet potatoes). These ingredients are common in diets labeled “grain free.”
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. In this disease, the heart chambers enlarge and the chamber walls become thinner and weaker. Patients may develop a murmur and an irregular heartbeat. If untreated, the condition leads to heart failure and death. Symptoms, which often don’t appear until the patient is in heart failure, include decreased energy, coughing, and episodes of collapse.
The causes of dilated cardiomyopathy are not fully known, but several factors have been implicated. The disease is thought to have a genetic link; it’s familial in Dobermans, boxers, and other large breeds. In cats and sometimes in dogs, it is also associated with dietary deficiency of the amino acid taurine.
Taurine is not considered an essential dietary nutrient for dogs. Normally dogs (unlike cats) can synthesize taurine from other nutrients in their diets. But some dogs, notably golden retrievers and Cocker spaniels, do develop taurine deficiency that leads to dilated cardiomyopathy. The dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy in the recent reports were of various breeds, not just the breeds considered typical for dilated cardiomyopathy.
Some of the dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy who were eating grain-free diets had normal blood taurine levels, so simply adding taurine to the diet might not solve the problem. Dr Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist at Tufts University, has suggested that changes in how the body processes taurine could lead to a functional taurine deficiency even if levels of taurine in the diet and the blood are normal. A high proportion of legumes in the diet could affect the way a dog’s body metabolizes amino acids (by altering gut bacteria, for instance).
Other explanations of how grain-free diets could be connected to dilated cardiomyopathy have been proposed, although most are still speculative. Taurine deficiency could potentially result from increased excretion of taurine in feces. A diet with legumes and tubers as main ingredients could be deficient in nutrients dogs need to make taurine. Other ingredients, like exotic protein sources, could also be associated with dilated cardiomyopathy, according to Dr Freeman.
At this point, the potential link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy is not clear. The FDA is continuing to investigate, and cardiologists from several veterinary schools (including the University of California, Davis) are collecting more data.
What you should do
So far there is no evidence that legumes and potatoes in dog food cause a problem if they are not main ingredients—that is, if the food is a conventional diet that also happens to include these ingredients. If you’re currently feeding your dog a grain-free diet or one containing exotic ingredients (like kangaroo), talk to your veterinarian about the possible risks. Also ask your veterinarian if your dog really needs to eat that diet. For the vast majority of dogs, a grain-free diet has no benefit over a conventional diet.
Consult your veterinarian if your dog is showing symptoms of heart disease. If your dog has dilated cardiomyopathy, your veterinarian can test her blood taurine levels. Veterinarians and pet owners can report suspected cases of diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy to the FDA through the online Safety Reporting Portal or by calling their state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator.
Photo by John Price on Unsplash
Veterinary technicians are trained caregivers who fill a role in veterinary medicine similar to the role of nurses in human medicine. National Veterinary Technician Week (October 14-20, 2018) is a good time to talk about what veterinary technicians do.
Veterinary technicians don’t just hold animals during examinations. In fact, holding is usually the job of another group of staff, the veterinary assistants. Veterinary technicians collect samples (like blood and urine) for testing, perform laboratory procedures, obtain radiographs, prepare patients and equipment for surgery, and monitor patients under anesthesia. They place intravenous catheters, administer medication, provide nursing care, and educate pet owners. Veterinarians diagnose disease and prescribe treatment; technicians (like nurses in human hospitals) implement the treatment plan.
I asked the Mallard Creek technicians what they consider the best part of their job. They said they really like seeing sick patients they’ve been nursing get well, ready to go home to their owners. Watching family pets grow up is definitely a perk of primary care practice, but they all mentioned that the job is more than playing with puppies and kittens!
Caring for sick and injured animals is tough work, often emotionally draining. Technicians are on the front lines taking care of ill animals that would usually rather be anywhere else.
Most veterinary technicians in the United States work in private animal hospitals. Some specialize in certain types of practice, such as equine or emergency medicine. Veterinary technicians also work for research institutions, veterinary schools, zoos, diagnostic laboratories, animal shelters, pharmaceutical companies, feed companies, veterinary supply companies, government agencies, and the military.
Veterinary technicians go through a 2- or 4-year course of study after high school, taking classes in subjects such as anatomy, animal diseases, dental procedures, nutrition, parasitology, and laboratory techniques. Their training covers multiple animal species. North Carolina has 4 accredited veterinary technician programs: Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (Asheville), Central Carolina Community College (Sanford), Gaston College (Dallas), and Miller-Motte College (Raleigh).
To earn licensure, veterinary technicians must pass a national licensing examination. Technicians licensed in North Carolina must also pass a state examination based on the NC Veterinary Practice Act. To maintain licensure, veterinary technicians attend continuing education classes. North Carolina requires 12 hours of continuing education every 2 years for veterinary technicians.
If you’d like to learn more about veterinary technicians, see the AVMA web page about veterinary technicians and assistants and the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America website.
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Revolting as it seems to us, some dogs like to eat feces. If you’ve been the not-so-proud owner of a poop-eating dog, you’ve probably wondered why dogs have such a nasty habit and what you can do to stop it. Unfortunately, the short answers are (1) because they’re dogs and (2) not much.
Mother dogs ingest their puppies’ feces during cleaning, but that’s not the only time dogs eat stool. The scientific word for eating feces is coprophagy, and some dogs seem particularly enthusiastic about it.
Coprophagy in dogs hasn’t been extensively studied, but researchers from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine recently published the results of a new investigation of canine coprophagy. They focused only on dogs that eat dog feces (not the feces of other species, like cats or horses). The investigators conducted 2 online surveys of dog owners and received over 3000 responses.
According to their results, 16% to 23% of dogs engage in coprophagy (depending on how strictly coprophagy is defined—that is, how many times a dog has to eat poop to be classified as a poop eater). Most coprophagic dogs in the study preferred fresh stool no more than 2 days old. Age, sex, neuter/spay status, and diet were not associated with coprophagy. Dogs that were hard to housetrain (and therefore might not mind being in close contact with feces) were no more likely to eat feces than were dogs easy to housetrain. Compulsive or anxious behavior was also not related to stool eating. These results may not be definitive, though; in a study published in 2010, anxiety disorders and neutering (in male dogs) were both associated with coprophagy.
The researchers did turn up a few other factors linked to poop eating. Coprophagic dogs were more likely than noncoprophagic dogs to be described as “greedy eaters.” Terriers and hounds were more likely than other breed groups to be stool eaters (although in the 2010 study, sporting dogs had this dubious honor). The data did not allow for extensive analysis of specific breeds, but among the breeds that could be studied, the percentage of stool eaters was highest in Shetland sheepdogs and lowest in toy, miniature, and standard poodles. Not surprisingly, dogs in multiple-dog households (with access to more stool sources) and dogs reported to eat cat poop or dirt were more likely than others to eat dog feces.
The investigators asked survey participants about methods they used to (try to) control their dogs’ coprophagy. Reported methods ranged from behavior modification/management techniques (the most common of which was chasing the dog away from the poop) to various food additives. The success rates of all of these methods were abysmal. The highest success rate, only 4%, was with a reward-based “leave it alone” command. Everything else had success rates ranging from 0% to 2%. The authors were careful to point out that their data came from self-reported dog owner surveys. Clinical trials, if someone were to conduct them, might yield different results.
So is poop eating really a problem for dogs? It depends. A healthy dog who eats the stool of another healthy dog probably won’t have much trouble, although some types of fecal bacteria are hazardous if ingested. Parasite transmission is likely the biggest risk. Many intestinal parasites (like hookworms and roundworms) are spread through fecal-oral contact. And a couple of case reports have described dogs that developed drug toxicosis from eating the stools of housemate dogs that were taking medications.[3,4] A veterinary examination is always a good idea for a dog who eats stool, especially if the behavior is new or increasing, in case the dog has a medical reason for coprophagy.
If your dog eats stool, the best way to control it is to limit his access to feces. Picking up stool in the yard is just about the only way to keep a dog from eating it. Before you get angry at your dog or try punishment (which doesn’t work anyway), remember that this behavior is normal for dogs. The UC Davis researchers hypothesized that domestic dogs inherited the coprophagy habit from their wolf ancestors—so if nothing else, your poop-eating canine has lots of company.
1. Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Tran A, Bain MJ. The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy. Vet Med Sci. 2018;4(2):106-114.
2. Boze BGV. Correlates of coprophagy in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) as assessed by owner reports. J Appl Companion Anim Behav. 2010;4(1):28-37.
3. Hutchins RG, Messenger KM, Vaden SL. Suspected carprofen toxicosis caused by coprophagia in a dog. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013;243(5):709-711.
4. Shadwick SR, Ridgway MD, Kubier A. Thyrotoxicosis in a dog induced by the consumption of feces from a levothyroxine-supplemented housemate. Can Vet J. 2013;54(10):987-989.
Photo by Noel Lopez on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Both indoor and outdoor cats need vaccines. Vaccination protects cats against infectious diseases that cause serious illness or death. This article describes the vaccines that veterinarians commonly recommend for cats.
One factor that affects vaccination protocols for cats—but not dogs—is the risk of injection-site sarcomas. Some cats develop these malignant tumors at the injection sites of vaccines or other substances. These cancers are uncommon (estimated to occur in 1 to 10 of every 10,000 cats vaccinated) but can be devastating. Although the vast majority of cats do not develop injection-site sarcomas, feline vaccination protocols are designed to balance the tumor risk with the need to keep cats protected from infectious disease. Recommendations include giving cats only the vaccines that are necessary, vaccinating cats no more often than necessary, and using vaccine formulations that are less likely to cause sarcomas.
Rabies vaccination is mandated by law for dogs and cats in the United States. In North Carolina, all cats, dogs, and ferrets aged 16 weeks and older must be vaccinated against rabies. Rabies vaccination laws are one reason this fatal disease is very rare in humans in the United States. Around the world, rabies kills tens of thousands of people every year.
Cats in North Carolina can and do get rabies. In 2017, cats were 1 of the 5 most common species to test positive for rabies in this state (after raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats). The total number is low, but the risk is real.
Cats that live 100% indoors need rabies vaccines too. Cats sometimes escape outside. And sometimes the unexpected happens, like a bat getting into the house. The presence of a bat indoors is considered a rabies exposure unless the bat is caught and tests negative. A cat that is exposed to rabies but does not have a current rabies vaccination is subject to quarantine for up to 6 months. Also, a cat that bites a person must be quarantined for 10 days; cats without current rabies vaccinations typically spend this quarantine at a facility instead of at home. For more information, see the post about NC rabies laws.
In North Carolina, the first rabies vaccine a cat receives lasts for 1 year, and subsequent vaccines can legally be given every 3 years (as long as the vaccine is labeled for 3-year use). If your veterinarian recommends giving your cat a rabies vaccine every year instead of every 3 years, it’s probably because the clinic uses a feline rabies vaccine that is designed to reduce the sarcoma risk and is labeled for 1-year use. Most 3-year rabies vaccines on the market are killed-virus vaccines that contain adjuvants, substances that enhance the immune response. Killed, adjuvanted rabies vaccines have been associated with injection-site sarcomas in cats. A different type of rabies vaccine, a recombinant vaccine, does not contain adjuvants. The most common version of the recombinant rabies vaccine is a 1-year vaccine. Ask your veterinarian which type of rabies vaccine the clinic uses for cats.
Feline herpesvirus 1 (rhinotracheitis), calicivirus, and panleukopenia virus
Vaccines for feline herpesvirus 1, calicivirus, and panleukopenia virus are often included in a single combination vaccine. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends that all cats be vaccinated against these viruses as kittens (in a series of boosters), again 1 year later, and then every 3 years. In past decades, cats received these vaccines every year, but annual vaccination is no longer considered necessary.
Feline herpesvirus 1 and calicivirus are 2 of the main causes of feline respiratory disease complex. This illness spreads easily from cat to cat. People can also carry the infectious agents on their clothing, which is how indoor cats can be infected. Infection causes sneezing, discharge from the nose and eyes, conjunctivitis (pinkeye), fever, mouth ulcers, and eye ulcers. Some combination vaccines also cover Chlamydophila (Chlamydia) bacteria, which cause conjunctivitis in cats.
Feline panleukopenia virus is very contagious among cats, and infection can be fatal. The virus is similar to canine parvovirus. Like parvovirus, it destroys cells lining the intestine and impairs immune function. In kittens, it can also damage the part of the brain that regulates coordination and balance.
Feline leukemia virus
Feline leukemia virus is a retrovirus that suppresses immune function and causes cancer. Because the virus impairs immunity, infected cats develop a wide variety of medical problems. Most infected cats die within 3 years of diagnosis. There is currently no cure.
Vaccines against feline leukemia virus have been associated with injection-site sarcomas. For this reason, the decision to vaccinate an adult cat usually depends on the cat’s lifestyle and risk factors. However, the AAFP recommends vaccinating all kittens against feline leukemia virus. A nonadjuvanted recombinant vaccine is available.
Photo by Sticker Mule on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Dogs often receive vaccines during their veterinary wellness visits. But what are all of those shots for? This article describes the diseases that canine vaccines help prevent.
Vaccines save lives and are safe, but your dog might not need every vaccine available. Vaccination is a medical procedure, and the choice of vaccines to use is specific to each dog. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s risk factors. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) lifestyle-based vaccine calculator is a good starting point.
Canine vaccines fall into 2 categories: core vaccines, which are recommended for all dogs, and noncore vaccines, which are recommended for dogs whose lifestyle and environment put them at risk of infection.
Rabies vaccination is mandated by law in the United States. In North Carolina, all dogs, cats, and ferrets older than 4 months must be vaccinated against rabies. Rabies is caused by a virus that is spread through the saliva of infected mammals. After an incubation period that can last up to several months, the virus attacks the brain. Infection is almost always fatal once symptoms begin.
The rabies vaccine is an example of an animal vaccine that also protects human health. Read more about rabies in the blog post about NC rabies laws.
Canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus 2, and parvovirus
Vaccines against canine distemper virus, adenovirus 2, and parvovirus are included in a single combination vaccine.
Canine distemper virus infection causes fever and respiratory symptoms (runny nose and coughing) before it proceeds to the nervous system, resulting in seizures and possibly death. Dogs that survive the initial infection can have nervous system abnormalities for the rest of their lives.
Canine adenovirus 1 causes infectious canine hepatitis, a potentially fatal liver disease that also affects blood clotting ability. The vaccine against adenovirus 1 can have unwanted effects, so the currently recommended vaccine targets canine adenovirus 2, a variant that causes respiratory illness. The adenovirus 2 vaccine protects against both virus variants.
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious, sometimes fatal infection spread through the feces of infected animals. Puppies and incompletely vaccinated dogs are most likely to be infected. Parvovirus causes severe intestinal disease (diarrhea and vomiting) and disrupts immune function.
Antibody tests (vaccine titers) are available for canine distemper virus, adenovirus 2, and parvovirus and may be an alternative to vaccination for some dogs.
Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus
Infectious tracheobronchitis, or kennel cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria. Bordetella bronchiseptica (a bacterium), canine parainfluenza virus, canine distemper virus, and canine adenovirus 2 are some of the organisms that cause kennel cough. Kennel cough is usually mild, but some dogs develop more serious illness. Kennel cough vaccines target Bordetella and sometimes parainfluenza virus. Parainfluenza virus vaccine is also included in some combination distemper/parvovirus vaccines.
Leptospirosis is caused by infection with Leptospira bacteria. This infection is zoonotic: it can spread between animals and humans. Leptospira are carried by many animal species, including wildlife and farm animals, and are usually transmitted through urine. Animals become infected through any contact with infected urine, including exposure to contaminated water or soil. Leptospirosis ranges from mild illness to kidney failure, liver failure, and death.
Canine influenza virus
Like kennel cough, canine influenza is a very contagious respiratory illness. Most dogs develop the mild form of flu, but the disease progresses to pneumonia in some dogs and can be fatal. Two strains of influenza virus are known to cause canine flu. AAHA recommends vaccinating at-risk dogs against both strains.
The bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi is responsible for Lyme disease, a tick-borne disease that causes fever and lameness in many animal species, including dogs and humans. North Carolina is currently on the border of one of the geographic areas with a high risk for Lyme disease.
For more information
Canine vaccination guidelines (AAHA)
Vaccinations (American Veterinary Medical Association)
Photo by Jay Wennington
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Are dogs’ mouths really cleaner than humans’ mouths? Definitely not! You may have read the recent news story of a Wisconsin man who required multiple limb amputations after contracting a bacterial infection from dog saliva. This type of severe infection is extremely rare, but dogs' (and cats’) mouths do harbor quite a variety of bacteria, some of which can make people sick.
The organism responsible for the Wisconsin patient’s infection was Capnocytophaga canimorsus, which is common in dog and cat saliva. Many different Capnocytophaga species normally live in the mouths of healthy dogs, cats, and humans. Up to 74% of dogs and 57% of cats have Capnocytophaga in their mouths. The types of Capnocytophaga that live in human mouths are usually different from those in dogs and cats.
Capnocytophaga canimorsus is one of the bacteria that cause infections in people who are bitten by dogs. Although it is usually spread through bites, it’s possible for a person to contract the infection after being licked by a dog. The Wisconsin man was reportedly licked, not bitten. A case report published in 2016 described an older woman who developed serious illness from Capnocytophaga canimorsus that likely came from contact with her own Italian greyhound. She recovered fully after 2 weeks of intensive care and antibiotics.
The vast majority of people exposed to this bacterium do not become ill. (Think of all the times you’ve been licked by a dog and haven’t gotten sick.) People who have had their spleen removed, use alcohol to excess, or have compromised immunity (from cancer or HIV infection, for example) are at increased risk of Capnocytophaga infection. Infection can cause severe sepsis (blood infection), gangrene, and inflammation of the heart lining, eyes, lymph nodes, and brain membranes. Infection in a pregnant woman can spread to the fetus. A 2015 review article reported a fatality rate of about 26%.
Of course Capnocytophaga are not the only bacteria in our pets’ mouths. Oral cavities—everyone’s, humans included—contain hundreds of different species of bacteria. Most of these bacteria are not zoonotic; that is, they are not spread between animals and people. The ones that do cause illness in people are usually transmitted by bites. However, one study found that several oral bacteria species could potentially be transmitted by close contact between pet dogs and their owners.
For most people, the risk of contracting a severe infection after being licked by a dog is incredibly low. But if your dog has zoonotic parasites like hookworms or roundworms, eats a raw meat diet, or eats feces (including foraging for snacks in the cat’s litter box), it would be a very good idea not to let him lick you in the face.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking extra precautions around animals if you have an increased risk of infection. And everyone should take steps to prevent dog bites, which are much more likely than doggie kisses to cause an infection.
Photo by James Barker
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
1. Never leave an animal in a parked car in warm weather.
Pets can die of heat stroke if they’re left for even a short time in a hot car. Heat exhaustion isn’t only a summertime risk. On sunny days, a car interior can become dangerously hot even if it’s pleasantly warm outside. The temperature inside a parked car can increase by nearly 20°F in only 10 minutes. When the outside temperature is 70°F, a car interior may reach 113°F in an hour. If it’s 95°F outdoors, the temperature inside a car can climb to 114°F in 10 minutes. Cracking the windows open has no effect on the temperature inside a parked car.
Signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke include panting, dark red gums, rapid heart rate, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Heat stroke can be fatal. Brachycephalic (flat-faced) animals are especially at risk. Read more about heat stroke here.
2. Keep your pet restrained.
Just like children, pets are safest in cars when they’re securely restrained. Seat belt harnesses and crates keep pets from becoming airborne during hard braking or being thrown out of the car in a collision. Pets riding in laps can be crushed by a person’s body or an inflating airbag. Unsecured animals can also injure people in the car if they become projectiles during a crash.
Animals that are loose in cars can also distract the driver, increasing the risk of accidents. Pets may worm their way into a driver’s lap or line of vision, and those that make their way into the footwell interfere with the foot pedals.
Dogs riding in truck beds should be confined in a ventilated crate that is protected from the weather and attached to the truck. Dogs should never ride in a truck bed unrestrained or secured only by a leash; they can be killed or severely injured if they jump or are thrown out.
If possible, give your pet time to become familiar with the restraint (harness or carrier) before using it on a road trip. Start with short rides that end in something fun to help your pet build positive associations with the restraint.
3. Don’t let your dog ride with its head out of the window.
A dog sticking its head out of a car window with its ears flapping in the breeze may look cute, but this is not a safe way for dogs to ride. Dogs can sustain eye and head injuries from flying debris. A dog that is able to get its head or other body parts out of a window is also not safely restrained.
4. Manage anxiety and nausea on car trips.
Stress and motion sickness are not as dangerous for pets as heat stroke or being ejected from a moving vehicle, but managing these common problems makes a trip easier for everyone. (And a dog vomiting all over the upholstery is certainly a distraction for the driver.)
Both anxiety and motion sickness can cause vomiting, so discuss your pet’s symptoms with your veterinarian to determine the best treatment approach. Two things you can try are withholding food for a few hours before travel and starting with very short rides. Pets with motion sickness may experience less nausea with an empty stomach—at the very least, cleanup will be easier if they do vomit. Pets with anxiety may need to begin by just sitting with you for a few minutes in the parked car. Over time, with patience and positive reinforcement, you can begin driving them around the block and building up to longer rides. One of my own dogs is much calmer in the car if he’s in the crate that he likes to nap in at home (in this case, the crate is both a restraint and a safe, familiar space).
Antianxiety and antinausea medications help many animals travel more comfortably. The choice of medication depends on the symptoms and the cause of the problem. Talk to your veterinarian if your pet continues to have signs of nausea or stress in the car.
5. If in doubt, leave your pet at home.
Not all pets like to ride in the car, and not all destinations welcome animals. Some trips, like visits to the veterinary clinic, are unavoidable. For other excursions, consider leaving your pets safely at home if they don’t enjoy car rides and don’t have to go with you.
Photo by n-k