Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is safe for humans but toxic to dogs. It is an ingredient in sugar-free gum and a variety of foods, especially products for people who have diabetes or need food with a low glycemic index. Xylitol is added to some oral care products because it slows the growth of bacteria that cause dental cavities.
Products that contain xylitol might or might not be labeled as being sugar free or low in sugar. Xylitol is found in products like these:
Effects in Dogs
Xylitol is safe for most animals, but dogs don’t metabolize xylitol the same way as other species. Compared with humans, dogs absorb more of the xylitol they ingest and process it more quickly. Xylitol causes dogs’ insulin levels to surge, resulting in rapid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level).[1,2] Ingestion of larger amounts of xylitol can damage the liver and interfere with blood clotting.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs can appear as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion but might be delayed for several hours. These are some of the common symptoms:
Other sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners (sorbitol, aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin) should be safe for dogs. Xylitol does not seem to be toxic to cats.
What to Do
If your dog eats sugarless gum or another product that might contain xylitol, call a veterinary clinic or an animal poison control hotline right away. Keep the packaging if possible so the amount of xylitol your dog ingested can be estimated. Do not try to make your dog vomit. Induced (forced) vomiting can be dangerous for a dog whose blood glucose level is already dropping.
Treatment usually involves hospitalization, intravenous medications to correct hypoglycemia, and continued monitoring of laboratory values. Dogs with liver involvement and more serious symptoms need more intensive treatment.
Dogs that ingest small amounts of xylitol and are treated promptly tend to recover well. The prognosis is poorer for dogs that develop liver damage and blood clotting problems.
How to Keep Your Dog Safe
Keep candy, baked goods, and other products that might contain xylitol away from your dog (watch out for counter surfers!). If you keep gum or mints in your purse, don’t leave your purse where your dog can reach it. Don’t brush your dog’s teeth with toothpaste meant for humans. Read product labels to check for artificial sweeteners; sorbitol should be OK but xylitol is not.
1. DuHadway MR, Sharp CR, Meyers KE, Koenigshof AM. Retrospective evaluation of xylitol ingestion in dogs: 192 cases (2007-2012). J Vet Emerg Crit Care (San Antonio). 2015;25(5):646-654. doi:10.1111/vec.12350
2. Dunayer EK. New findings on the effects of xylitol ingestion in dogs. Vet Med. 2006;101(12):791-797.
3. Dunayer EK, Gwaltney-Brant SM. Acute hepatic failure and coagulopathy associated with xylitol ingestion in eight dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2006;229(7):1113-1117. doi:10.2460/javma.229.7.1113
4. Jerzsele Á, Karancsi Z, Pászti-Gere E, et al. Effects of p.o. administered xylitol in cats. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 2018;41(3):409-414. doi:10.1111/jvp.12479
Photo by regipen
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Six months after my first blog post about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and pets, it’s time for another look at what we know about the disease. The information in this article is current on October 2, 2020. For updates and more information, please see these resources:
Can pets get sick with COVID-19?
Infection is possible but rare in animals. Cats seem to be at higher risk than other companion animals.
Over the last several months, a few animals have had positive tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, after contact with people who were known or suspected to be carrying the virus. The virus has been identified in domestic cats, large cats, mink, and dogs. A positive virus test doesn’t necessarily mean that an animal will get sick or will be able to transmit the virus to other animals.
According to the OIE, cats and farmed mink have developed disease symptoms after being infected naturally (not in a laboratory). Cats have had respiratory and digestive tract symptoms, and mink have had respiratory disease and a higher death rate.
In laboratory studies, cats, ferrets, golden Syrian hamsters, some nonhuman primates, dogs, and fruit bats have been infected. In the laboratory, cats, ferrets, and fruit bats were able to transmit the infection to other animals of the same species. Whether animal-to-animal transmission happens in animals’ natural environments is not yet clear.
Can pets give COVID-19 to people?
There is still no evidence, after infections in millions of people, that companion animals spread the infection to humans. “The current pandemic is being sustained through human to human transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” writes the OIE. There have also been no reports of the virus being spread by contact with animal hair or accessories like leashes.
The virus probably arose from an animal species (possibly bats), but we don’t yet know the exact source, route of transmission to humans, or whether intermediate host species were involved.
How should I protect my pets during the pandemic?
The OIE, CDC, WHO, and AVMA all have similar recommendations for pet owners during the pandemic:
The CDC guidance for handlers of service and therapy animals is available here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/animals/service-therapy-animals.html
If I have COVID-19, what should I do with my pets?
Recommendations for people with confirmed or suspected infection include the following:
Should my pet be tested for the COVID-19 virus?
Current guidance from the CDC and the North Carolina Division of Public Health does not recommend routinely testing animals for SARS-CoV-2. Veterinarians are asked to rule out more common causes of the symptoms before considering COVID-19 testing. In North Carolina, the decision to approve testing in an animal is made in collaboration with state public health officials. Animals approved for testing must meet certain criteria, like having possible exposure to SARS-CoV-2, compatible clinical signs, and no evidence of another cause of the symptoms.
Image: Creative rendition of SARS-COV-2 virus particles (not to scale). Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Socialization helps dogs become comfortable with new people, animals, and situations. It’s especially crucial for puppies and newly adopted dogs. Socializing dogs requires a little creativity during a pandemic, but you can still make sure they have the experiences they need to be well-adjusted pets.
The best age to socialize puppies is up to about 3 months. Very young pups consider everything they encounter to be a normal part of life, so they’re not likely to be afraid of these things later on. After 3 to 4 months of age, their brains are less receptive to new experiences and their fear responses increase. Puppies that don’t receive adequate early socialization sometimes grow into adult dogs with fearful, anxious, or aggressive behaviors that could land them in a shelter.
Adult dogs also benefit from socialization and training. Newly adopted dogs need consistency and routine to help them settle into their new homes. Carefully exposing dogs to things that worry them, with plenty of positive reinforcement and professional help if necessary, can help them manage their fears. As always, contact your veterinarian if your dog is especially fearful or has had changes in behavior.
Here are some things you can do to enrich your dog's environment during times of physical distancing.
Give your dog toys that engage all of the senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Rotate the toys so your dog doesn’t get bored. Let your dog explore different areas of the house under supervision.
Let young puppies interact safely with everyday objects, especially ones that move or make noise: brooms, umbrellas, pots and pans, blenders, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, bicycles, and so forth. Play music. Let your puppy play on different surfaces, like wood, carpet, pillows on the floor, slick surfaces, gravel, concrete, and grass.
Wear hats, sunglasses, and your pandemic face covering—not necessarily all at the same time—in front of your puppy. Move the furniture around to help your pup get used to changes in the environment.
Give dogs and puppies practice spending time alone to help prevent separation anxiety when you have to leave. Use positive reinforcement to teach your new dog or puppy that their crate is a safe space.
Sit outside with your dog or puppy and watch people go by. Is the neighbor using a leaf blower? Fabulous—this is a great opportunity to teach a young pup that loud sounds are OK. (If your dog is afraid of the sound, don’t push this! The point is to get puppies used to noises before they develop noise anxiety, not to force a fearful dog to sit through something scary.)
Take your dog on walks. The more people, other dogs, and noisy vehicles a puppy encounters before 3 months of age, the better. Adult dogs also need the sensory stimulation they get from walks. Maintain physical distance from other people during the pandemic; the CDC recommends keeping dogs at least 6 feet away from people who aren’t in their own household.
Go for car rides, gradually increasing your dog’s time in the car. If your pet has motion sickness or car anxiety, contact your veterinarian.
Dogs that are used to being handled are less stressed than others at the veterinary clinic. Prepare your puppy for future veterinary visits by using positive reinforcement while touching his paws, ears, tail, and belly. On behalf of clinic staff everywhere, I beg you to get your puppy comfortable with foot handling while he’s young. Contact your veterinary clinic for advice if your dog has trouble with nail trims at home.
Socializing Dogs During COVID-19 (American Veterinary Medical Association): https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/socializing-dogs-during-covid-19
Socializing Your Puppy During the COVID-19 Pandemic (University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center): https://www.vmc.umn.edu/sites/vmc.umn.edu/files/puppy_socializing_during_covid19.pdf
1. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. AVSAB position statement on puppy socialization. 2008. Accessed September 4, 2020. https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Puppy_Socialization_Position_Statement_Download_-_10-3-14.pdf
2. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): if you have pets. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated June 28, 2020. Accessed September 4, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/pets.html
Photo by Alvan Nee
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
If your pet’s eye is red, have it checked by a veterinarian without delay. Eye redness is a nonspecific symptom. It’s nearly always impossible to tell whether a red eye is minor or serious without ophthalmic tests at a veterinary clinic. These are some of the conditions that cause red eyes in dogs and cats.
Conjunctivitis, called pinkeye in people, is inflammation of the tissue that lines the eyelids and covers the whites of the eyes. Causes of conjunctivitis in pets include environmental irritants, allergies, skin disease, dry eye, and (especially in cats) viral or bacterial infections. Some of the conditions that cause conjunctivitis also affect the eyelids and the cornea, the clear front part of the eye.
Corneal ulcers are defects on the surface of the cornea. In dogs and cats they can be caused by things poking the eye (like turned-in eyelashes, a foreign object under the eyelid, or being swatted in the face by a cat), infections, dry eye, disorders of corneal cells, and chronic eye exposure in flat-faced animals with shallow eye sockets. Corneal ulcers and scratches are painful. Some ulcers are shallow and heal fairly quickly with treatment. Others are deep and can perforate all the way through to the interior of the eye. Diagnosis requires applying an ophthalmic stain to highlight the corneal defect.
Trauma to the outer surface of the eye causes redness of the white part of the eye, similar to the redness caused by conjunctivitis. Blunt trauma to the head can cause bleeding inside the eye, which looks like dark red discoloration behind the cornea. Bleeding disorders and other conditions can also cause blood accumulation inside the eye.
Uveitis is inflammation of the interior of the eye. Uveitis doesn’t happen on its own; it’s a sign of another problem. Some of the diseases that cause uveitis affect the whole body: infections, tick-borne diseases, immune-mediated disorders, cancer, and so forth. Uveitis is also caused by eye disorders like cataracts. Uveitis is a painful condition that can lead to glaucoma. Diagnosis involves examination of the eye, measurement of eye pressure, and tests to find the underlying cause.
Glaucoma is a disease characterized by increased pressure within the eye. The condition is inherited in some dog breeds and is also caused by uveitis, lens luxation (lens slipping out of place), and cancer of the eye. Glaucoma is painful and leads to blindness. Sudden-onset glaucoma is a medical emergency if vision is to be saved.
Cherry eye is the common term for prolapse of the gland of the nictitating membrane, a pink membrane (sometimes with a dark edge) at the inner corner of the eye. A tear gland within this membrane can swell and protrude past the edge. The prolapsed gland looks like a round pink or red mass at the inside corner of the eye. This is the one type of “red eye” that doesn’t require an immediate visit to the veterinarian—unless other symptoms, like squinting or eye discharge, are also present. However, a prolapsed tear gland can cause eye irritation, and tumors in this area look similar, so it should still be checked out. Prolapsed tear glands are treated surgically.
Photo by Céline Harrand
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Most wild mushrooms aren’t dangerous, but some are fatal if eaten. Keep your pets safe by removing wild mushrooms from their environment.
Because it’s not easy to know if a wild mushroom is poisonous, treat any wild mushroom ingestion as a medical emergency. If your dog or cat eats wild mushrooms, call an emergency animal clinic, your veterinary clinic, or a pet poison hotline right away. Don’t wait until your pet gets sick before you call. Some of the most toxic mushrooms don’t cause symptoms until hours after they’re swallowed.
Pet poison hotlines (fees might apply):
ASPCA Animal Poison Control: 888-426-4435
Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661
Photos of toxic mushrooms in North Carolina:
NC State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox: mushrooms
Symptoms of mushroom poisoning depend on the type of mushroom and the amount eaten. Toxic mushrooms can be categorized by the type of problem they cause: liver and kidney failure, central nervous system effects, muscarinic reactions, hallucinations, or gastrointestinal irritation.
Liver and Kidney Failure
The mushrooms responsible for the most deaths are in the Amanita, Galerina, and Lepiota genera. Examples are Amanita phalloides (death cap), Amanita bisporigera (destroying angel), and Galerina autumnalis (autumn skullcap).
The toxic compounds in these mushrooms are amatoxins, phallotoxins, or virotoxins. These toxins damage cells of the liver, kidneys, and intestines. The symptoms progress through stages:
Central Nervous System Effects
Mushrooms containing the compounds ibotenic acid and muscimol affect the central nervous system. The mushrooms most often involved in this type of poisoning are Amanita muscaria (fly agaric) and Amanita pantherina. Symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion (possibly earlier in cats) and include the following:
Muscarine is a substance that affects a specific metabolic pathway in cells of the body. Ingestion of muscarine-containing mushrooms—usually Clitocybe and Inocybe species—causes clinical signs related to part of the nervous system that regulates routine (not conscious) body functions. Symptoms appear a few minutes to a couple of hours after ingestion:
Hallucinogenic mushrooms include those in the genera Psilocybe, Conocybe, Panaeolus, Copelandia, Pluteus, and Gymnopilus. The toxic components are psilocybin and psilocin, which are similar to the drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Symptoms usually begin within an hour or two after ingestion:
Many mushrooms cause gastrointestinal (digestive tract) problems. The exact toxin in most of these mushrooms is not known. Some of the mushroom genera that cause this type of problem are Chlorophyllum (which often forms fairy rings on lawns), Omphalotus, and Scleroderma. Symptoms usually begin soon after ingestion and improve on their own within a few hours. Most symptoms are mild:
Diagnosing mushroom poisoning is difficult unless the animal is seen eating the mushroom or vomits up pieces of mushroom. Known access to wild mushrooms, compatible symptoms, and physical examination findings can put mushroom poisoning on the list of possibilities. Blood and urine tests are used to assess organ function in dogs with symptoms.
Treatment depends on the symptoms and type of mushroom (if known). Animals exposed to the most toxic mushrooms need early and aggressive treatment to survive. Unfortunately, early treatment isn’t possible if the ingestion was not witnessed and symptoms don’t begin until several hours later.
No antidote is available for mushroom poisoning. The best way to manage the risk is to prevent pets from eating wild mushrooms.
1. Hovda LR. Unfriendly fungi: five groups of mushrooms toxic to pets. DVM 360. Published October 20, 2015. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.dvm360.com/view/unfriendly-fungi-five-types-mushrooms-toxic-pets
2. Brownie CF. Poisonous mushrooms. Merck Veterinary Manual. Updated August 2014. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/poisonous-mushrooms
3. Cope RB. Toxicology brief: mushroom poisoning in dogs. DVM 360. Published February 1, 2007. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.dvm360.com/view/toxicology-brief-mushroom-poisoning-dogs
Photo of Galerina species by Bernard Spragg
If you’ve been sheltering at home during the pandemic, your pets have gotten used to having you around all the time. Puppies and kittens adopted during lockdown might have never been home without people. Take these steps to prevent separation anxiety in your pets when you start spending more time away.
Gradually Change the Schedule
Dogs and cats feel most secure when their environment is predictable. If meal and walk times will be changing, start the new schedule in advance to give them time to adjust. You might also need to gradually alter the timing, frequency, and duration of play times (but make sure they still get plenty of exercise).
Make Departures No Big Deal
A standard recommendation for pets with separation anxiety is to stay calm when you leave and when you return. It’s fine to say hi when you walk in the door, but excited greetings and prolonged goodbyes can be counterproductive. You don’t want to focus too much of their attention on the fact that you are going or coming.
Start With Short Departures
Have everyone leave the house for a few minutes to see how your dog reacts. Some signs of separation anxiety are barking, whining, scratching at the door, urinating or defecating in the house, and chewing the door frame or other objects. A video camera (if you have one) can pick up signs like pacing, panting, and lip licking. If all goes well, gradually increase the length of time you’re gone.
If your dog seems anxious, progress very slowly and use positive reinforcement like treats when you leave. Simply picking up the keys or touching the doorknob is enough to trigger anxiety in some dogs. Dogs that already have separation anxiety might need a veterinary consult.
Use Toys and Treats
Giving your pets toys or treats when you leave can serve 2 purposes: distraction and counterconditioning. A time-consuming toy like a food puzzle gives them something to think about other than the fact that you’re gone. Never leave your pets with toys they can swallow whole, chew apart, shred, mangle, break, or choke on, though.
Counterconditioning means giving an animal a positive stimulus, like a yummy treat, at the same time as an unwanted event, like you leaving. Counterconditioning can help animals form positive associations with things they don’t like but have to put up with.
Confine Pets Safely
If your dogs can’t safely have the run of the house while you’re away, accustom them to a crate or an appropriate room in advance. Make the space a familiar, comfortable environment for them, using positive reinforcement as needed.
Destruction and house soiling aren’t signs that your dog resents you or wants your attention. These could be signs of anxiety, boredom, lack of exercise, or (with house soiling) just needing to be taken out more often. Punishing animals after the fact increases their anxiety and does nothing to keep the behavior from happening again. Look for the cause of the problem instead.
Doggie Daycare? It Depends
Dog daycares and kennels might or might not be open in your area. Follow your local public health precautions. Dogs and cats don’t seem able to transmit COVID-19 to humans, and the risk of them becoming infected appears to be low. To be safe, however, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends limiting contact between pets and people who are not part of the household. If any people or animals in your home are sick, don’t send your dog to daycare. And don’t put face coverings over pets’ noses or wipe them down with household disinfectants.
For More Information
COVID-19: 7 steps to help your pet prepare for your return to work. American Veterinary Medical Association. Published June 12, 2020. Accessed July 3, 2020. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/covid-19-7-steps-help-your-pet-prepare-your-return-work
McConnell P. Preventing separation anxiety in the time of COVID. The Other End of the Leash. Published April 27, 2020. Accessed July 3, 2020. https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/preventing-separation-anxiety-in-the-time-of-covid
Photo by Eric Ward
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Make plans now to keep your pets safe over the July 4 weekend. Large fireworks shows might be canceled this year, but fireworks stores across the state line are open and home fireworks pose risks for pets.
Fireworks in neighborhoods are traumatic for many animals. The loud bangs are random and sporadic, so they’re hard to predict. For pets at home, neighborhood fireworks are louder than big fireworks shows because they’re closer. And fireworks set off by individuals tend to continue for several hours, often over a few days, instead of being limited to the duration of a fireworks show.
Animals startled by loud noises can bolt unexpectedly. Take these steps to keep your pets from getting lost and increase the chance of finding them if they run off:
Noise phobia, or irrational fear of certain noises, is common in dogs and is often triggered by fireworks. Noise phobia goes further than just disliking loud sounds. Animals with noise phobia have reactions that range from hiding under the bed to destroying parts of the house. Some symptoms, like seeking attention, are subtle. This anxiety condition often gets worse with time and can seriously affect an animal’s safety and welfare.
If you think your pet might have noise phobia, call your veterinarian. Your pet might need a combination of short-term treatment (like antianxiety medication) that you can use right away and long-term behavior modification measures. The sooner you address noise phobia, the better it will be for your pet.
Various therapies have been used to help dogs with noise phobia. Some work better than others. A survey published in May 2020 asked dog owners how they managed their dogs’ fireworks fears and how well various techniques worked. The most effective measures, indicated by at least 69% of owners, were counterconditioning (giving the dog something desirable when the noise occurred), prescription antianxiety medication, and relaxation training. Pressure vests and desensitization using fireworks recordings were less effective. Pheromones, nutraceuticals, and herbal remedies worked for the fewest dogs.
Fireworks contain hazardous substances like fuel, oxidizers (for combustion), and heavy metals. If swallowed, these chemicals can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, liver disease, or kidney disease. Lit fireworks and smoke are obviously a risk to animals’ eyes and skin. Keep your pets completely away from new and used fireworks:
1. Riemer S. Effectiveness of treatments for firework fears in dogs. J Vet Behav. 2020;37:61-70.
2. Fireworks. Pet Poison Helpline. Accessed June 19, 2020. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/fireworks/
Photo by Andy Thrasher
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Otitis externa, or inflammation of the outer ear canal, causes itchy or painful ears and is common in dogs. Dogs with otitis externa often develop ear infections.
Otitis externa affects the part of the ear from the eardrum outward. Inflammation or infection that extends farther into the ear causes otitis media (middle ear disease) or otitis interna (inner ear disease).
Allergies to environmental substances (pollens, dust, etc) or to food ingredients are the most common causes of otitis externa in dogs. Other causes include parasites like ear mites, endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism, and immune system disorders.
Risk factors that make dogs more likely to develop otitis are long droopy ears, narrow ear canals, lots of hair in the ear canals, and growths in the ear canals. Plucking hair from the ear canals, cleaning the ears aggressively, and using harsh ear cleaners may damage the cells lining the ear canal and increase the risk for otitis externa.[1,2]
Depending on the cause, otitis externa can be a chronic problem that requires lifelong management. Dogs with allergies sometimes have flares of otitis even if the condition is under control most of the time.
Symptoms of external ear disease vary according to severity, individual dogs’ tolerance to discomfort, and whether infection is present. Most dogs with otitis externa have 1 or more of these symptoms:
Some dogs with long-term or recurrent otitis externa develop end-stage ear disease. These dogs have chronic ear pain (although they might not show obvious signs of pain), narrowed ear canal openings, hardened ear canals, and possibly hearing loss.
The diagnosis of otitis externa is usually made by physical examination and history. Cytology, or examination of material from the ear canal under a microscope, is used to diagnose infection, identify the type of infection (bacteria, yeast, or both), and monitor the response to treatment. Examination of the canal and eardrum with an otoscope is helpful but not always possible in dogs with painful ears unless they are sedated. Other diagnostic tests can include bacterial culture of ear canal contents and imaging studies like radiography or computed tomography. Your veterinarian might recommend additional tests to find the underlying cause if your dog has had multiple episodes of otitis externa.
Medications to treat ear infections include topical ear drops, oral medications, and medicated ear washes. The type of medication used depends on the type of infection and the severity of inflammation. The underlying cause of otitis is also treated as needed.
Many medications prescribed for ear infections contain anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids. These medications reduce redness and itching, so the symptoms will improve before the infection has resolved. The best way to be sure the infection has actually cleared up is to follow your veterinarian’s dosing directions (how often and how long to use the medication) and to return for ear cytology rechecks as your veterinarian recommends.
For many dogs, especially those with allergies, otitis externa can’t be completely prevented. Work with your veterinarian to manage the factors that contribute to your dog’s otitis and watch for symptoms so you can catch ear infections early.
1. Bajwa J. Canine otitis externa - treatment and complications. Can Vet J. 2019;60(1):97‐99.
2. Paterson S. Topical ear treatment - options, indications and limitations of current therapy. J Small Anim Pract. 2016;57(12):668‐678. doi:10.1111/jsap.12583
Photo by Ryan Walton
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Whipworms are intestinal parasites that are relatively common in dogs and can cause serious illness. Some (not all) monthly heartworm preventives prevent whipworm infection.
Canine whipworms are small worms about 2 to 3 inches long that live in the cecum, a pouchlike structure attached to the large intestine. The whipworm that infects dogs, Trichuris vulpis, does not infect humans. (Another species of whipworm can infect people.) Whipworms are very rare in cats in North America.
According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), almost 50,000 dogs in the United States tested positive for whipworms in 2019. About 2500 of these dogs were in North Carolina, putting North Carolina in the CAPC high-risk category for whipworms.
Dogs are infected with whipworms when they swallow whipworm eggs in the environment—for example, by licking dirt from their feet. The eggs hatch in the dog’s intestines and grow to adult worms in the cecum. About 2.5 to 3 months after the dog is infected, the adult worms begin producing eggs that pass out of the body in the feces.
Whipworm eggs in the environment take about 2 to 3 weeks (or longer) to develop into a stage that can infect dogs. This means that dogs are infected by swallowing contaminated substances, not by eating fresh dog poop. Whipworm eggs in the environment are resistant to temperature changes and sunlight and are able to infect dogs for years.
Symptoms of whipworm infection depend partly on the number of worms present and can include the following:
Whipworm infection can be a little tricky to diagnose. Typical fecal analysis at a veterinary clinic involves looking for worm eggs in a stool sample under a microscope. However, because whipworms don’t produce eggs for the first few months after infection and they don’t produce eggs all of the time, stool analysis with a microscope can miss the infection. Sending a fecal sample to a diagnostic laboratory for a whipworm antigen test can increase the chance of finding the infection.
Treatment and Prevention
Antiparasitic drugs to treat whipworm infection are typically given in at least 2 doses spaced a few weeks apart. Monthly heartworm preventives that contain milbemycin (given by mouth) or moxidectin (applied to the skin) will treat and prevent whipworm infection. Other heartworm preventives available at the time of writing (May 2020) are not effective against whipworms.
It’s not possible to completely eliminate whipworm eggs that are already in the environment. The CAPC recommends reducing dogs’ risk by removing dog feces from the environment and regularly testing dogs for whipworms.
1. Parasite prevalence map: 2019, whipworm, dog, United States. Companion Animal Parasite Council. Accessed May 20, 2020. https://capcvet.org/maps/#2019/all/whipworm/dog/united-states/
2. Brooks W. Whipworm infection in dogs and cats. Veterinary Partner. Published May 8, 2004. Updated July 18, 2018. Accessed May 20, 2020. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/doc/?id=4952061&pid=19239
3. Trichuris vulpis. Companion Animal Parasite Council. Updated October 1, 2016. Accessed May 20, 2020. https://capcvet.org/guidelines/trichuris-vulpis/
Image: photomicrograph of Trichuris vulpis egg, 400× magnification. Credit: CDC/Dr Mae Melvin.
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
New information about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to emerge as the pandemic progresses. The information in this article is current on the date of posting (April 1, 2020). For the most recent updates, see the resources linked at the end of the article.
Can pets get sick with COVID-19?
This question is still being investigated. A vast number of pets have lived with people with COVID-19 without getting sick, so the risk of human-to-animal transmission is probably extremely low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not had any reports of animals in the United States getting sick with COVID-19.
There have been rare reports of pets in other countries having positive tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (A positive test for a virus doesn’t necessarily mean the virus will cause illness in that animal. It also doesn’t show whether the animal can pass the virus to another animal.) These animals each lived with a person with confirmed COVID-19 and were almost certainly exposed by the infected person. Two dogs in Hong Kong had positive tests for SARS-CoV-2 but had no symptoms (they didn’t actually get sick with COVID-19). One cat in Belgium reportedly had a positive test and symptoms, but because of missing or questionable evidence about this cat, the World Organisation for Animal Health has not confirmed this as an infection.
Can pets spread COVID-19 to people?
Multiple infectious disease experts and international health organizations say there is currently no evidence that dogs and cats can spread the COVID-19 virus to people.
There is no need to avoid, neglect, or surrender pets out of fear of COVID-19. (This has reportedly been happening in some places.)
Pets and people live in close contact and can share other diseases, so health organizations recommend washing your hands after handling animals and practicing good hygiene in general.
Can pet hair or accessories (leashes, food bowls, etc) transmit the COVID-19 virus to people?
According to the most recent data and guidance, transmission through pet accessories is theoretically possible but hasn’t been shown to actually happen. SARS-CoV-2 mainly spreads from person to person. Touching an object that has virus particles on it and then touching your face could possibly transmit the virus, but this route is not considered a major source of infection.
If the virus can be transmitted through pet hair or accessories at all, transmission is probably more likely with smooth, solid objects like food bowls than with porous or fibrous objects like hair. Coronaviruses can stay on surfaces for hours or days, according to the World Health Organization. The virus particles might or might not be able to infect a person during that whole time, depending on the environmental conditions.
Although it seems unlikely that the virus would be transmitted by a leash, food bowl, or pet hair, it’s always a good idea to clean pet accessories regularly and wash your hands after handling an animal.
If someone in my household has COVID-19, how should I protect my pets?
The CDC recommends that people who have COVID-19 stay separated from pets. CDC guidance states that people with COVID-19 should “avoid direct contact with pets, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, sleeping in the same location, and sharing food.” This guidance does not apply to service animals, who can stay with their handlers.
If possible, someone who does not have COVID-19 should take over the pet care. People with COVID-19 who have to continue caring for their pets (including service animals) should wash their hands before and after handling their pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association adds that people with COVID-19 should wear a face mask around their animals and shouldn’t share food, dishes, or bedding with them.
No one is recommending that pets wear face masks, in case you were wondering. Face masks could actually harm animals by hindering their breathing.
How should I prepare for pet care in case I get sick with COVID-19?
Plan ahead, just as you prepare for natural disasters like hurricanes. Identify someone who can take care of your pets if you’re unable to. Make sure you have a couple of weeks’ worth of pet food and medications. Check your supply of monthly heartworm and flea preventives and contact your veterinarian if you need a refill. If your pet has medical needs, be ready to provide a list of instructions for another caregiver. Consider preparing a letter for your veterinarian authorizing your backup caregiver to approve treatments.
If my pet needs to see a veterinarian, what should I do?
Contact your veterinarian to find out if your pet should go the clinic. Depending on local guidance, the clinic might be postponing non-urgent procedures to help reduce community spread of COVID-19. Some clinics might be able to treat established patients through telemedicine (virtual visits).
Under North Carolina’s current stay-at-home order, veterinary clinics are considered essential businesses. Your pets can still get the care they need. If your pet needs to be seen at the clinic, you will probably be asked to stay outside the building while your pet is taken inside to help keep you and the clinic staff safe.
If I am (or might be) sick with COVID-19 and my pet needs to see a veterinarian, what should I do?
Call the clinic. Your clinic might not have sufficient personal protective equipment for staff to use when handling animals from a household with COVID-19. Your veterinarian might be able to treat your pet via telemedicine or refer you to a clinic with available protective equipment. If your veterinarian confirms that your pet should come to the clinic, have someone else (ideally not living in your household) transport your pet to the clinic.
For more information and updates:
Image: colorized scanning electron micrograph of cell infected with SARS-CoV. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH; https://www.flickr.com/photos/nihgov/49680300342/.
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.