Our pets instinctually hide illness, pain and weakness as a survival technique… and when we do notice a problem, often the issue has progressed to a point that is both life-threatening and expensive. For this reason, combined with the fact that dogs and cats are unable to communicate symptoms, veterinarians often recommend annual blood tests for their clients. It is an important tool used to discover potential issues before they become serious.
Besides a physical exam, lab work is the most important tool in a Vet’s diagnostic arsenal. In a situation where a pet is presenting symptoms of illness with no obvious cause, the blood test is often the only way we can arrive at an appropriate Treatment Plan in a timely fashion. However, we would prefer to prevent discomfort and disease in pets – therefore, a routine yearly CBC provides both a baseline as well as an early warning system for most diseases.
Carson, a 6-month old Golden Retriever, arrived at the hospital for his neuter surgery. He had shown no signs of illness, and was active and alert. Our pre-surgery protocol includes a CBC to ensure that all of our patients are healthy for anesthesia. Carson’s Organ-Function Panels were elevated, not enough to cancel surgery, but enough to prompt a conversation with his owners about dietary and treating habits. They had been unknowingly feeding him human food that is toxic to canines. Had we not had the opportunity to have the conversation with them, their vibrant young puppy could have sustained irreparable damage to his organs.
Petunia, a 10 year-old Himalayan cat arrived for annual vaccines. Because she is considered a “senior”, our recommendation was to run blood work to obtain baseline information. Her owner had noticed no symptoms or changes in behavior, but the blood workup indicated that Petunia was diabetic. Because Petunia was diagnosed in early stages, we were able to work with the client to create a Treatment Plan which resulted in Petunia reaching remission very quickly.
When your Veterinarian offers a Blood Test during your pet’s annual exam, please understand that it is not an attempt to “nickel and dime” the owner. Often the cost of a simple blood test can save you thousands of dollars in future treatment cost, and needless pain and suffering (as silent as it often is) for your pet.
At West Chester Veterinary Center, we have partnered with our Laboratory Services provider, IDEXX, to develop a “Junior-sized” Blood Panel work-up for our annual visits (asymptomatic patients). We are offering this service at a 15% discount with vaccines in January so that our patients can establish a baseline for reference in their charts. If you are currently up-to-date on the standard vaccines, please consider taking advantage of this offer to get started on vaccines, such as Influenza, Lyme and Leptospirosis, that are starting to be required in the Cincinnati area and are highly recommended by our medical team.
Protect your Pup from the Flu.
Deadly strains of Canine Influenza are being reported across the country, prompting boarding facilities, dog parks, and day cares to require proof of vaccination. Due to the high probability of contagion (it spreads at a rate of 80 – 100% contraction from exposure to the carrier), veterinarians are recommending the Canine Influenza Vaccine be among the standard vaccines your pup receives at their annual visit, depending on the possibility of exposure.
Several strains of Canine Influenza have been introduced to the United States from dogs imported from Southeast Asia. Now that the disease has entered the country, it has been very difficult to arrest the spread of the virus.
Unfortunately, dogs begin shedding the virus at least four days before they even become symptomatic. Because the symptoms are similar to other upper respiratory diseases, owners often delay seeking diagnosis and treatment from their veterinarian; also delaying necessary quarantining procedures as well. As a result, many high-risk dogs, such as puppies, non-vaccinated dogs, dogs with poor preventative care (rescue/shelter dogs) and senior dogs, may be unwittingly exposed to the dangerous and sometimes deadly virus. It is even possible for dogs to be carriers of the virus and be completely asymptomatic, compounding the risk.
For this reason, our veterinarians are now recommending that our patients who are around other dogs receive a bivalent injection of the two common Canine Influenza Virus, H3N2 and H3N8. It is a “killed” virus, meaning it cannot cause your dog to contract the disease. Like the human flu virus, the disease can mutate over time and develop new strains; thus, the need for a dual vaccine, as well as continued research to ensure that we continue to protect our pups from any strains that may develop over time. For example, if your pet has already been vaccinated for H3N8, it will need to begin a series to protect against H3N2.
The CIV or Flu Vaccine Series begins with an initial vaccination, followed by a booster within 2 – 3 weeks. Boosters are then given on an annual basis. However, please keep in mind that your pet may not be fully protected from CIV until 14 days AFTER the initial booster… so PLAN AHEAD. If you plan to board your dog, you will need to begin flu vaccination a month before boarding. Also, avoid socializing your dog until they are fully vaccinated.
Because many of these Symptoms mirror other Upper Respiratory Infections, it is vital that your Veterinarian test for CIV:
- Persistent Cough
- Nasal or Eye Discharge
- Reduced Appetite
- Secondary Bacterial Infections can occur, causing more severe illness and pneumonia
As with any virus, supportive care to keep your dog as comfortable as possible. Medications may be prescribed if there is a secondary bacterial infection. It typically takes 2 -3 weeks for your dog to recover. During that time, they need to be isolated from other dogs and everything they come in contact with will need to be thoroughly sanitized before introducing any other dog back into the environment.
WARNING: HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS
The virus can be spread through airborne particles (coughing, sneezing) and transferred through saliva and feces. It can be spread from human to dog. For this reason, dogs that come in contact with CIV should be quarantined, and humans should take strict precaution with hand washing and cross contamination procedures involving feed bowls, bedding, toys and clothing. Even shoes should be decontaminated before entering an area with other dogs.
All of the above can be avoided by simply vaccinating your dog against the Canine Influenza as soon as possible, and keeping them up to date on vaccines every year.
What are Heartworms?
Which pets are at risk? Dogs and Cats.
How would my pet get Heartworms? It takes the bite of one infected mosquito for the parasite to be transferred to an unprotected host. With the increased prevalence of wild hosts (coyotes and foxes) in our suburban, even urban, areas the risk of Heartworm has increased… even in Northern states. In Ohio, the mosquito continues to evolve into a hardier species, and our winter continues to shorten, making Heartworm prevention a year-round necessity. Unfortunately, Cincinnati has ranked number one in the Nation for positive Heartworm test results.
Source: The American Heartworm Association
How do I protect my pet? Dogs should begin prevention at 7 months of age, and then be tested at a year, then annually. Unfortunately, prevention is not 100% if the pill is given late or is vomited or coughed up. The test for dogs is a simple blood test and you can often receive the results the same day from your veterinarian. If the test is positive, then additional tests will become necessary. Your veterinarian will guide you through the treatment process at that time. For cats, the test is a little more involved because they rarely have an adult parasite shedding proteins into the bloodstream. Prevention in cats is even more important because 1. There is no approved method of treatment for cats, and 2. In many cats, the only symptom of heartworm infestation is sudden death.
Is there a vaccination for Heartworm Disease? Not at this time, there are only prevention options.
What are some symptoms that my pet may be infected? In dogs: coughing, lethargy, labored breathing, decreased appetite and weight loss, dark or bloody stools may indicate Heartworm Disease. In cats: vomiting, coughing, asthma, lethargy, loss of appetite and weight, or sudden death.
What are my prevention options? There are a few FDA approved prevention protocols for dogs and cats, in Pill, Spot-on and Injectable formulations. Speak with your veterinarian about which protocol would be appropriate for your pet as some breeds have shown resistance and/or reactions to some forms of prevention. At this time, there are no approved “natural remedies”.
My dog tested positive for Heartworm Disease, what now? Fortunately, this disease is very treatable:
- Confirm the diagnosis.Once a dog tests positive on an antigen test, the diagnosis should be confirmed with an additional—and different—test. Because the treatment regimen for heartworm is both expensive and complex, your veterinarian will want to be absolutely sure that treatment is necessary.
- Restrict exercise. This requirement might be difficult to adhere to, especially if your dog is accustomed to being active. But your dog’s normal physical activities must be restricted as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed, because physical exertion increases the rate at which the heartworms cause damage in the heart and lungs. The more severe the symptoms, the less activity your dog should have.
- Stabilize your dog's disease.Before actual heartworm treatment can begin, your dog’s condition may need to be stabilized with appropriate therapy. In severe cases of heartworm disease, or when a dog has another serious condition, the process can take several months.
- Administer treatment.Once your veterinarian has determined your dog is stable and ready for heartworm treatment, he or she will recommend a treatment protocol involving several steps. The American Heartworm Society has guidelines for developing this plan of attack. Dogs with no signs or mild signs of heartworm disease, such as cough or exercise intolerance, have a high success rate with treatment. More severe disease can also be successfully treated, but the possibility of complications is greater. The severity of heartworm disease does not always correlate with the severity of symptoms, and dogs with many worms may have few or no symptoms early in the course of the disease.
- Test (and prevent) for success.Approximately 6 months after treatment is completed, your veterinarian will perform a heartworm test to confirm that all heartworms have been eliminated. To avoid the possibility of your dog contracting heartworm disease again, you will want to administer heartworm prevention year-round for the rest of his life.
My cat tested positive, what can I do?
- Treatment Unfortunately, there is no approved treatment for cats. But because the parasite rarely grows to adulthood in cats, there can be spontaneous shedding of the parasite. You and your vet can provide symptom support, aiding your cat’s recovery.
- Monitor Due to the damage the parasite can inflict on your Cat’s lung function, you need to be aware of symptoms so that you and your vet can support your cat medically.
- Prevention It is vital that you continue monthly prevention for your cat. The cumulative affect of multiple infestations can be painful and, often, fatal.
Heartworm 101: Final Exam Cheat Sheet: Test. Prevent. Talk to your Vet.