Monday, April 29, 2013

Heartworm disease and your dog (or cat!) 

 Or, why does my dog need heartworm pills every month?

 I've said it many times before, and it bears repeating again. If you choose to do nothing else for your dog, heartworm prevention is still an absolute necessity. Now, I obviously don't recommend skipping vaccinations, flea control, or otherwise neglecting care for your dog. But heartworm disease is a killer, and absolutely preventable for a fraction of the cost and risk of treating it later. 

What is heartworm disease?

 Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis. The parasite attaches to the inside of the blood vessels near the heart and grows to about the size of a spaghetti noodle. Disease can be caused by as little as a single worm, but there are often many of these worms present in affected dogs. The presence of heartworms in these vessels causes damage to the heart, blood vessels, and lungs over time, and eventually leads to heart and lung failure and death.

 How do dogs get this disease? 

Heartworms in a dog mate and reproduce in the blood vessels where they live. Thier offspring, called microfilaria, are microscopic baby worms that freely circulate through a dog's bloodstream. When an infected dog is bitten by a mosquito, these baby worms are ingested with the mosquito's blood meal. They spend a few weeks living it up in the mosquito, where they grow a bit and eventually move to the mosquito's salivary glands, ready for deployment. The infested mosquito then bites another dog, and the baby worms are injected out of the salivary glands and into the dog's bloodstream, ready to mature and begin the cycle anew. 

Living in central Florida, there is no time of the year when mosquitoes aren't a problem. Sure, they're less active in what we call "winter", but with 72 degree weather in January, they can still wreak havoc! While some folks in other parts of the country may get away with skipping prevention for part of the year, that's not an option here.  Heartworm disease is endemic in this area, meaning it is present 'in the wild' all the time.  

​But my dog is inside all the time! She only uses pee pads! 

Mosquitoes are more than happy to come into your home to feed. The mosquitoes around my house insist on it. And when they come in, they'll bring heartworms with them! While Fifi may have less exposure, staying inside all the time does not eliminate the possibility of contracting heartworm disease. 

How can I tell if my dog has heartworms? 

In the early stages of heartworm disease, there is no visible sign of the disease. Being the well adapted parasites they are, heartworms have developed mechanisms to live inside dogs for a long time without killing them. After all, if they killed dogs immediately, they wouldn't have time to breed and spread to new hosts. A dog may have worms inside for months or years without showing any signs of disease. However, when signs occur, it indicates that a large amount of damage has already taken place. 

Over time, irritation to the heart and vessels causes the heart to enlarge and the vessels to become thickened and less elastic than normal. The worms also cause irritation in the lungs, which causes a condition similar to emphysema. Dogs have an ability to compensate for this damage until it gets pretty bad, and when they finally show signs it is bad news for your pet.  The first signs pet owners usually notice are dry coughing and wheezing. This indicates that your dog's lungs are in bad shape. Next, you may notice swelling in your dog's belly or a wet cough. These are signs that the heart is no longer functioning efficiently, and allowing fluid to accumulate. Obviously, these are things we would all like to avoid! 

Fortunately, we can detect heartworms within a few months after infection, before any physical signs are present. We use a simple test on a single drop of blood, which detects molecules produced by the female worms. This allows us to treat heartworm cases before they become life threatening. 

So you can treat the disease? 

Yes, we can, but at a great cost. Not only is the treatment expensive ($800-$1200), it requires use of medication that is basically poisonous to your dog as well as the parasites. The treatment is dangerous, and your pet will have to be kept in a kennel for a couple months after treatment to prevent further serious damage to the lungs after the worms die. Despite our best care, a small number of dogs will have an adverse reaction to treatment, which can be fatal. This is usually not the case, and the vast majority of patients recover without complication, but why would we want to take that chance? Also, there is inevitably some damage done to the heart and lungs before any signs are seen, so prevention is the best option! 

What about my cat? 

While most people don't realize it, cats can actually get the same parasite as dogs. However, cats don't tolerate the parasite nearly as well as dogs do. This is due to the fact that the heartworm is specially adapted to deal with the chemistry and immune response in dogs. In short, this means that while it is harder for heartworms to survive to adulthood in cats than dogs, they can be especially bad if they do. Often, the only outward sign we see when a cat contracts heartworm disease is sudden death when the worm dies.  

What can I do to prevent this? 

Prevention of heartworm disease is simple. First, we will do a yearly blood test to make sure your pet has not picked up heartworms. Then, you will prevent heartworms from infecting your dog by simply giving them a medicated treat once a month. We recommend Trifexis™ for the gold standard in flea and heartworm protection for dogs in a single pill. We recommend Revolution™ for monthly prevention of fleas and heartworm for your feline friends.  That's it. That's all you have to do to prevent this deadly menace! 

More information can be found at: The american Heartworm Society

Friday, March 4, 2011

PFC Day 2: Merrick "Grammy's Pot Pie" 5-Star Entrees for Dogs

Hi again. Back to it. Shoulda had the dog food first, then the Haagen Dazs. The Dulce de Leche is arguably one of the finest ice creams available- subtle in its sweetness, supple and delicate on the tongue...

The Merrick offering reminds me at first glance of Beneful, which I have not had the pleasure of sampling. This stuff is dry and crunchy, and has a light and crisp consistency. It consists of tiny kibble bites in three variations- one brown, one whitish, and one green. The brown are pretty much as expected, though these have a heavy and almost overcooked protein flavor under the fiber consistency. Certainly not much to my liking this time, though I again think the ice cream may have something to do with this and intensifying the flavor a bit. The whitish bits are mild and almost corn flavored, and the green ones have the flavor of, you guessed it, fibrous peas. Yes, peas. I can actually taste it, and it imparts a kinda pleasant flavor to the mix. For a dog food, not a bad impression of pot pie.

Clifford says: mmmm.... now we're talking. Skip the Purina, and gimme some pot pie! Tell mom I can taste the veggies!!!!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pet food challenge! Day 1: Platinum Natural Chicken and Rice Dry

More a semi-moist than a dry, this food has a firm consistency and a dark brown color. 70% whole chicken, and no animal "byproducts", I had high hopes for this offering. The representative told us how this food is made from whole chickens, roasted at just below boiling for 16 hours. Or was it 18? 22? Some very long roasting time, anyway. I was assured that this was pure nutrition. They even had a nifty display with several foods in jars with the same amount of water added that morning. This stuff doesn't swell with water like regular kibble, and gets a fun fatty layer floating at the top of the jar.

In short, this stuff tastes like dog food to me. Thinking back on my experience as a three year old sharing kibble with our Great Dane, I recall a fibr flavor. Kiinda grainy, but mostly dry, kinda tasting like hay smells. Doesn't conjure up great ntrition in my mind, in any case. Well, that's where we are with this one. Not bad for flavor exactly, but certainly not vibrant and savory. Second bowl? No thanks. I didn't finish the first one.

Clifford says: serve this on top of my Purina. Higher in protein, sure. Enhanced nutrition, you bet. I'm not picky. Bring on the dog food that tastes like dog food. Yum, another meal in paradise.

Pet food challenge!

So, I'm not sure this particular project has been done before. At least, not in public. Not that anyone will admit to. You might think I'm gross. Or crazy. Or crazy gross. I just wanna know one thing: what's my dog eating every day?

We went to a pet expo downtown in Sarasota the other day, and got a whole bunch of sample packets of dog food, and it occurred to me that a lot of claims were being made about nutrition and palatability, and organicness, and earth-friendliness and the like. Now, nutririon can be quantified, to some extent. Calories, protein and fiber content, vitamins... yeah, yeah. And purity of ingredients can be claimed. We use 70% real chicken and no byproducts! Ok, great. But palatability? Who's actually quantifying this variable?

My dogs think just about everything is tasty. Dog food? All about it. Cheese? Like, OMG! Dead fish, decaying on the beach? That's so tasty they not only devour it, but want to roll in it to take the scent home. I've even seen dogs eat poop. POOP, people.

Now, I'd like to say I'm not one to judge, but come on. We all judge. So, I'm here for you and your dog. I consider myself a bit of a conisseur of people food. I'm not exactly a snob, but I do judge my food rather critically. Bland. Too much salt. Dry. Overcooked. Not enoughh salt. Trying too hard. Not trying enough... so I'm going to take the hit on this one. No, I'm not about to try some poop or dead fish for palatability. But I figure, I feed my dogs out of a giant bag of dried food chunks every day, and they seem to like it quite a here goes...

I'm going to try each and every one of these dog foods. Then on to the next. I'll be judging on several loose criteria, with overall flavor being the holy grail. I'm assuming, for all intents, that nutritionally these foods are all comparable. The specifics, as they stand, may be the subject of future debate. In the scope of this comparison, however, flavor will be king. I rarley rave over how nutritious a meal is. I do rave oer flavor. So here goes.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Looking back, I realized my kids have all been posted here, except one. Boo Radley, AKA "Bad Dog" (says so on his ID tag!)... this is one crafty little critter. He used to fly over the 4' chain link to go roaming in Tennessee. He'd end up in the neighbors' backyards, playing with their dogs. More than once, he was brought home in the back of someone's car. A couple apologies later, and I'd always get: "oh, no, he's fine! We love him to death! He was playing with our dogs... we were just leaving, so we thought we'd drop him off at home"

Boo is a classic foster failure. He was foisted on me as a young pup, probably a year old, by a coworker at the vet hospital. "Just until we find him a home." Right. I'm not sure anyone actually looked for a home for him after that. I think I was the mark, the fall guy, the sucker, the intended home. Seven years later, and here he is, still with me, still up to his old antics...

This year for Halloween, he went as... himself. I left him unattended in the backyard for five minutes while Rhys and I were inside, and he managed to find a way under the fence. Guess he wanted to go trick-or-treating. We had a good time driving around for a couple hours yelling "BOO!" out the car window...

I consider him the luckiest dog alive. Not only has he escaped being hit by a car, despite his insistence on fleeing the yard at every opportunity, but he's also escaped being strangled in my frustration...

Harry Potter's food was placed up on my desk, close to the back wall, far out of reach of grounded dogs. Worked for about a day, until Boo realized there was food up there. I noticed that the food was disappearing at a quick rate. Not so surprising, as Harry is a big kid, but then I noticed that the bowl was crumb free. I've never seen a cat lick a bowl, but you never know. Well, the other night, I rounded the corner and caught Boo standing in the middle of the desk top, munching away... I made a noise and he scrambled frantically off the desk and out the door. Tell me he doesn't know better, and I've got a bridge to sell you...

So, we put up a baby gate... right. Not sure exactly why I thought it would change anything. After all, this is a fence jumping, desk mounting, food stealing machine we're dealing with here. That lasted about a day as well, and I came home to find the baby gate laid out in the floor and the food bowl licked clean again... grrr... so now I've just gone back to closing the door.

Things I Learned Today

Sunday is likely the most popular day to realize that something's just not right with the cat. I have to assume that this is because people have mroe time on Sunday to hang out at the house and stare at the cat. Add to that that nobody else but the ER is available to see patients on a Sunday, and I'm thinking Tuesday and Wednesday seem like good days to take off...

No questions so far... email me at if you have a topic for me to write about. Till then, good night...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Harry Potter, and things I learned today

Harry Potter... now lives with me. Temporarily. Or so they tell me. So he's got some urinary issues. We need to test him, but for now we're keeping up with his methioform. And, he's very sweet. He loves attention, and has this habit of stretching out his left paw while he talks to you... quite endearing. Anyone need a cat? Just fill out an adoption application! Until then, he'll be protecting the house from rodents for me :)

Things I learned today:

1. Best to transfer your samples to the serum separator tube before transferring to your EDTA tube if you're using the same needle for both. Got a cat sample back with Ca 4.3 and K of 9.5.... kinda threw me for a loop, not what I was looking for on a Saturday morning. A little research and some help from a colleague, and it turns out that EDTA contamination, even in minute amounts, can jack up your results. I know it binds calcium, but not sure about the potassium...

2. Invoices are something I'm not fond of. Getting them in the mail, or creating them. Needless to say, it's a bit more rewarding to create them, as it means I'm getting paid. I don't enjoy dinking around with spreadsheets much, though. Much as I enjoy doing fruitless tasks for hours on end on the computer, I've identified this one as one more thing I'd as soon have someone else do for me. Thankfully I have an awesome office manager to keep me in line and on track... and she works for free, pretty much. You should be so lucky. Rhys, you're awesome. And, we have an accountant who wants to help us... Rhys's mom, I know where Rhys gets her awesomeness... : )
OK, I guess I really only learned one important thing today. I already kinda knew about invoicing being something I was not interested in...

Oh, 3. Dog food made with 70% chicken, formed into little brown pellets, still tastes like dog food. Not as dry as kibble, but the flavor is still there. Don't judge me. I try just about everything once.

The HSLWR project is moving forward, ever so gradually. It's amazing the amount of work involved in just coordinating a thing like this. We're so close to getting really rolling... I'm really looking forward to bringing in the next round of critters for adoption! We've taken in a cute little Shih tzu who needs some special care, and a little immiticide, and we're preparing a place for her... spay next week, and maybe adopted the next? Stay tuned and find out...

Meanwhile, I've taken on some new clientele, and we're getting the groove of the housecall business. Six animals in one housecall... not bad. Now if I can just get enough prevention products in the same place at the same time to cover it all...

Ask me a question, and I'll try to give you an answer. This could be fun. We might both learn something.
Good night.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lucy, now

Slim and trim, 65 pounds.... here's where I have to give props to Royal Canin. I started her on Weight and Osteo in January last year, and cut her food intake to about a cup and a half a day. The first couple days she gave me the puppy dog eyes and insisted I was starving her to death. She put up with the fat jokes at work, and we started hitting the beach for fetch in the water pretty much daily. Five months later, she finally reached her fighting weight, and the difference was incredible!

At her fat weight, she would get winded just running up and down the yard a couple times. It was a struggle just getting up, and she would lay around the house and pant for no apparent reason. Short runs would leave her stiff and half lame... i even thought about putting her on Rimadyl!

Now she's a puppy again. 25 pounds later, and she is running laps around her old self. Get the weight off. Totally worth it. YOU are responsible for what your dog eats. Don't look at me like I'm crazy when I tell you your dog is fat. Been there. Done that. Good night.