Thursday, April 2, 2015

7 Things EVERYONE Should Know About Ticks

Protect yourself and your pets with these top tick tips:

All ticks come in small, medium, and large sizes.
Ticks have four main life stages: eggs (the smallest size), larvae (equivalent to a grain of sand), nymphs (the medium size, about the size of a poppy seed) and adults (the largest size, about the size of an apple seed).

Ticks crawl up.
Ticks live on the ground no matter the locale.  They typically crawl up from grass blades onto a host and migrate upward, which is why they're often found on the scalp -- they want to feed around the head, neck, and ears of their host, where the skin is thinner.

Cold and snowy? No big deal.
Yup, winter doesn't bother certain tick species.  In fact, adult stage deer ticks become active every year after the first frost.  While some ticks go dormant, deer ticks will be active any winter day that the ground is not snow-covered or frozen.  This surprises people, especially during a January thaw or early spring day.

Ticks carry disease-causing microbes.
Tick-transmitted infections are more common these days than in past decades.  With explosive increases in deer population, the trend is increasing abundance and geographic spread of deer ticks and lone star ticks; and scientists are finding an ever-increasing list of disease-causing microbes transmitted by these ticks.  Tick bites used to be an annoyance, but now a bite is much more likely to make you sick.

If you (or your dog, cat or horse) are bitten, you probably won't know it.
This is super creepy, but tick bites are painless (ticks' saliva has anesthetic properties) and hosts generally don't feel it.  What's worse: fewer than half of people who've been infected with Lyme disease show the "bull's-eye rash" that was once thought to be a telltale sign of the disease.  If you start showing flu-like symptoms in the middle of summer (fevers, chills, aches, and pains are common symptoms of a variety of tick-borne diseases), go to the doctor and ask to be tested for the illnesses associated with ticks.  This is also why it's essential to keep a close eye on your pet and check for ticks after it spends time outdoors.

The easiest way to remove a tick is with pointed tweezers.
Think of a tick as a little germ-filled balloon.  Squeeze it too hard on its back end, and all the germs get pushed to the front end.  Using really pointy tweezers, it's possible to grab even the poppy-seed sized nymphs right down next to the skin.  The next step is to simply pull the tick out like a splinter.  Other tick removal methods, like a hot match, Vaseline, dish soap and cotton, or various little key-like devices don't work, so don't bother trying.  And your safest bet is going to a doctor or veterinarian for removal.

Tick bites and tick-borne diseases are 100% preventable.
There's really only one way to become infected with a tick-transmitted disease, and that's from a tick bite.  Taking steps to protect yourself (with tick-repellent clothing or spraying tick repellent on clothing) and your pets (with year-round preventative medication and regular tick checks), especially if you spend any time outdoors, will drastically reduce your risk of developing tick-borne diseases.  Remember, just one bite is all it takes to make you or your pet sick -- so prevention is your best bet.

Source: DVM360 Magazine, March 2015 Issue.

Monday, March 9, 2015

"Hey, It's Just an Ear Infection, Right?" Not Exactly.

Isolated ear infections are uncommon in dogs. Sure, Cocoa may dive at Lake Sunapee for a week in July and develop an isolated ear infection that is readily treated. But what about dogs like Sadie with recurring or chronic ear infections? The vast majority of dogs who suffer from an ear infection that persists or recurs have an underlying cause for those infections. These underlying causes can be treated, more often than not.

OK, so what does your canine best friend look like when she has an ear infection? Even if she shows no symptoms these HURT. Most dogs will become quiet when they hurt; they seldom vocalize, especially with ongoing chronic pain. We are their best friend and their advocate. The infection is sometimes hidden deep in the canal, which you cannot see without special equipment. At home, families should watch for these symptoms:
  • Shaking head
  • Rubbing ears on floor
  • Holding head to one side
  • Increased wax of varying color
  • Ear odor
  • Redness to ear canal or to ear flap
  • Thickened skin of ear flap
How do we eliminate the isolated ear infection? Often Cocoa's veterinarian will provide a "triple approach," giving her a topical medication that addresses all three: yeast, bacteria, and inflammation. For uncomplicated ear infections, this is highly effective. If this describes your dog, consider her very fortunate. For patients that experience ear infections that will not go away or frequently return, read on!

Chronic or recurring ear infections: Do you have to accept them as a pain that your loyal friend must endure? NO!

We must identify and eliminate the cause of the ear infection. For the vast majority of cases, this is the single most important aspect of care and often the most overlooked. What are the most common causes? Allergies, allergies, and yes you guessed it, allergies. Food allergy, inhalant allergy, and flea allergy underlie most ear infections in dogs. In a few instances, we may see a grass awn or foxtail lodged in the ear. Very few dogs may be harboring ear mites, quite uncommon in comparison to other causes of ear infections.

The tricky part: Determining WHICH of the allergies is causing the ear infections. Here are a few hints:
  • You find fleas. Easy - eliminate the fleas, treat the ear infection and see how Sadie is feeling.
  • The ear infections happen regardless of season. Consider a food allergy and speak to your veterinarian about the best hypoallergenic diet to try. This is often misunderstood. Please speak to a well informed veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist to appropriately institute a hypoallergenic diet trial. An entire article could be devoted to this subject alone.
  • You recently changed foods (meaning in the past few months) or have started feeding new treats (especially those loaded with artificial colors, flavorings, preservatives) and now Sadie has an ear infection. As much as possible, only feed your pup foods in which you can understand all of its ingredients.
  • The ear infections correspond to a move to a new house. Environmental inhalant allergens are a common culprit of ear infections.
  • Sadie is 3 years old and has begun having ear infections that tend to be seasonal - meaning they are concentrated most heavily in particular seasons. Whether it be Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter - different dogs are sensitive during different seasons. These are generally often due to inhalant allergens; allergies often develop as dogs mature in early adulthood.

My medical approach to aid our patient's suffering from persistent ear infections may include some or all of the following:
  • Ear cytology (ear is swabbed and debris is evaluated under a microscope)
  • Ear culture (ear is swabbed and a micro-biology lab identifies the exact organisms)
  • Blood work (complete blood cell count and blood chemistry including thyroid)
  • Hypoallergenic food trial. With this approach, please speak to an informed veterinarian, as choosing lamb, duck, or even kangaroo diet from your favorite feed store is not a diet trial. Also, grain-free food has become trendy and is not "hypoallergenic"; in some cases, they aggravate symptoms.
  • Blood test evaluating for inhalant allergens. I do not recommend blood tests that evaluate for food allergens as they are highly unreliable (as in, as reliable as a blindfolded monkey at a dart board).
  • Evaluation for mites, there are several to consider.

Ear infections, whether short-lived or persistent, are almost always treatable. However, they sometimes require some investigation, critical thinking, patience and commitment. Our pals deserve these in abundance.

Written by Jennifer Lesser, DVM for publication in the Spring 2015 issue of 4 Legs & a Tail ( Pick up your free copy at our front desk today.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winter Tips for Our Feline Friends

As you get home from work, a swirl of cold winter air announces your arrival, waking your feline housemate.  She does not share your motivation to leave the warm indoor comforts.  Being a cat, she almost imperceptibly acknowledges your return, takes a deep breath and resumes her nap snuggled deeply in your favorite sweater.

Even for cats who normally savor the adventure of being outdoors, icy ground and single digit temperatures generally dissuade all but the most avid feline hunters.  Being indoors is warm and cozy.  Cats adapt to winter.  They create pastimes, such as puppeteering you the owner (who owns whom?) to present the "right" food.  "Hmm, tuna, chicken, salmon, rabbit, or liver?  Shredded pâté on dry kibble, please."  Working up an appetite climbing screens, mauling a pillow, cruising the kitchen counter for crumbs, and attacking your slippers as you wander the kitchen: it's all in the hunt.

Cats are playful, intelligent, social creatures who thrive on mental and physical stimulation.  These needs require attention, whether the winter finds kitty temporarily or permanently inside.  Food dispensing toys are great, either do-it-yourself, like a plastic container inside a plastic container, each with holes, or purchased from West Lebanon Feed & Supply.  Kibble designed to minimize dental plaque is a great filler for these games.  Look for Tartar Shield treats, Purina DM, Hills T/D or Royal Canin dental prescription kibble.  Another favorite toy is the Panic Mouse, a battery operated chase/hunt game.  Or, place a ping-pong ball in an empty bathtub - more entertaining for you or the cat, who knows?  Cats love to hunt: feed this desire by allowing her to hunt for food hidden in random nooks of your house.
If you cat is enjoying outdoor time during the winter days (and why not?), you should bring her inside by nightfall.  Great Horned owls, coyotes, foxes, fishers, and even malicious people and automobiles pose nighttime threats.  Given a choice, foxes are less likely to chase a nimble rabbit than  to nab a docile and well-fed house cat, more calories for less energy.  Beyond being odoriferous, skunks, along with raccoon, bats and foxes may also carry the rabies virus.  These potential traumas, plus poisons such as antifreeze, frostbite, and infectious diseases, are very real concerns for cats who spend the night outside.

In addition to fun activities and shelter from the cold and predators, please feed your kitty well.  Cats thrive on canned food, though (being cats!) some felines insist on only eating crunchy kibble.  Cats are true carnivores; the optimal diet is a commercial cat food high in protein and moisture.  Lower on the scale are colorful food and treats made from corn meal and red dye number 30... Though, if you add green 55 and yellow 28, you may have Fruit Loops, which my kids think are yummy!  Winter is a less active time, so be vigilant about overfeeding.  Your veterinarian and local feed store are both happy to help, and would gladly provide advice.

Whether your cat found you on a walk, at the Humane Society, through a friend, or was flown in from Russia --yes, this happens-- he needs a bit of special care during these winter months.  Even in winter, watch for fleas; ours is on preventative year-round.  Test annually for intestinal parasites, consult your vet to establish the best vaccination schedule, and examine kitty's mouth for inflammation and bad breath: cats are prone to dental disease.

Oh yes, and give them lots of love! Cats return it in spades.

Caring tips:

  • Keep kitty active during indoor winter months.
  • Moderate feeding if your cat is less active.
  • Keep cats indoors at night.
  • Fleas may be a year-round problem; use a good preventative.
  • Canned foods and tartar-preventing treats are great for nutrition, kidney health, and dental health, areas for vigilance in all cats.
Written by Dr. Jennifer Lesser, DVM

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Cautions: Some Tips to Give Thanks For

With aromas filling the house and visitors coming and going, Thanksgiving can be an exciting time, for you and your pets.  Such a meaningful holiday doesn't come without it's hazards though, and we'd like to give you every opportunity to avoid a hiccup in your holiday plans.  Here are some items and information to keep your pets happy come dinner time:

Fatty foods:  Too much fatty, rich, or unfamiliar foods can give your pet pancreatitis or gastroenteritis; two medical conditions that can be very painful and even life-threatening.

Bones:  Make no bones about it.  Certain bones can lacerate or obstruct your pets' insides.  Save the bones for the broth, not your dog.

Onions:  Onions and onion powder, widely found in stuffing and used as a general seasoning, will destroy your dog or cat's red blood cells, which can lead to anemia, lowering the ability of the blood to carry oxygen to different parts of the body.

Grapes and Raisins:  Grapes and raisins, in stuffings, pies, and other Thanksgiving goodies contain a toxin that can cause kidney damage to both dogs and cats.

Chocolate:  Chocolate can actually be fatal to your dog or cat; so all those sweets should be kept far out of reach.

Food wrappings:  Aluminum foil, was paper, plastic wrap, and other food wrappings can cause intestinal obstructions, which can be life-threatening.  Make sure these items are kept out of reach and find their way to the garbage.

Garbage:  Keep an eye on the garbage and make sure it's always secured.  If you dog gets into it, he may think he hit the jackpot!  But all he'll be winning are potential health problems such as gastric disturbance, vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly death.

Other tips:
Fresh water:  Make sure your pet always has fresh water available.  With so many people coming and going, their stress level may be higher, causing them to drink more.  And also, with so many people, there's often a chance their bowl may get knocked, dumped, or forgotten.

Quiet place:  Also be sure to give your pet a quiet place to retreat to during the holiday hustle.  Watch their behavior to be sure they're not too stressed.

Diet and Exercise:  Maintain your pet's regular meal and exercise schedule and avoid too many holiday leftovers.  A disruption in their dietary routine can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.

With a careful eye, some due diligence, and plenty of attention, your pets can have a happy Thanksgiving too.  From all of us at Norwich Regional Animal Hospital, we hope pets and owners have a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Questions and Answers about Ebola and Pets

The ongoing epidemic of Ebola in West Africa has raised several questions about how the diesase affects the animal population, and in particular, the risk to household pets. While the information available suggests that the virus may be found in several kinds of animals, CDC, the US Department of Agriculture, and the American Veterinary Medical Association do not believe that pets are at significant risk for Ebola in the United States.

How are animals involved in Ebola outbreaks?
Because the natural reservoir host of Ebola has not yet been confirmed, the way in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak is unknown. However, scientists believe that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal, such as a fruit bat or primate (apes and monkeys), which is called a spillover event. Person-to-person transmission follows and can lead to large numbers of affected persons. In some past Ebola outbreaks, primates were also affected by Ebola, and multiple spillover events occurred when people touched or ate infected primates. In the current West African epidemic, animals have not been found to be a factor in ongoing Ebola transmission.

How does Ebola spread?
When infection occurs in humans, the virus can be spread in several ways to others. Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with:
  • blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
  • objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
  • Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food.  However, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats.
  • Only a few species of mammals (for example, humans, monkeys, and apes) have shown the ability to become infected with and spread Ebola virus.  There is no evidence that mosquitoes or other insects can transmit Ebola virus.
Can dogs get infected or sick with Ebola?
At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or other animals.  Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola.  There is limited evidence that dogs become infected with Ebola virus, but there is no evidence that they develop the disease.

Here in the United States, are our dogs and cats at risk of becoming sick with Ebola?
The risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the United States is very low.  Therefore, the risk to pets is also very low, as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a person with Ebola.  Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola.

Can I get Ebola from my dog or cat?
At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or animals.  The chances of a dog or cat being exposed to Ebola virus in the United States is very low as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a symptomatic person sick with Ebola.

Can my pet's body, fur, or paws spread Ebola to a person?
We do not yet know whether or not a pet's body, paws, or fur can pick up and spread Ebola to people or other animals.  It is important to keep people and animals away from blood or body fluids of a person with symptoms of Ebola infection.

What if there is a pet in the home of an Ebola patient?
CDC recommends that public health officials in collaboration with a veterinarian evaluate the pet's risk of exposure to the virus (close contact or exposure to blood or body fluids of an Ebola patient).  Based on this evaluation as well as the specific situations, local and state human and animal health officials will determine how the pet should be handled.

Can I get my dog or cat tested for Ebola?
There would not be any reason to test a dog or cat for Ebola if there was no exposure to a person infected with Ebola.  Currently, routine testing for Ebola is not available for pets.

What are the requirements for bringing pets or other animals into the United States from West Africa?
CDC regulations require that dogs and cats imported into the United States be healthy.  Dogs must be vaccinated against rabies before arrival into the United States.  Monkeys and African rodents are not allowed to be imported as pets under any circumstances.

Each state and US Territory has its own rules for pet ownership and importation, and these rules may be different from federal regulations.  Airlines may have additional requirements.

Can monkeys spread Ebola?
Yes, monkeys are at risk for Ebola.  Symptoms of Ebola infection in monkeys include fever, decreased appetite, and sudden death.  Monkeys should not be allowed to have contact with anyone who may have Ebola.  Healthy monkeys already living in the United States and without exposure to a person infected with Ebola are not at risk for spreading Ebola.

Can bats spread Ebola?
Fruit bats in Africa are considered to be a natural reservoir for Ebola.  Bats in North America are not known to carry Ebola and so CDC considers the risk of an Ebola outbreak from bats occurring in the United States to be very low.  However, bats are known to carry rabies and other diseases here in the United States.  To reduce the risk of disease transmission, never attempt to touch a bat, living or dead.

Where can I find more information about Ebola and pet dogs and cats?
CDC is currently working with the US Department of Agriculture, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and many other partners to develop additional guidance for the US pet population.  Additional information and guidance will be posted on the CDC website as well as partner websites as soon as it becomes available.

Information for:
Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Questions and Answers about Ebola and Pets

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Halloween Season Pet's Ghouls and Goblins!

Apple picking, hayrides, Jack-o-lanterns, costumes and trick-or-treat candy. Happy Halloween! The following tips can help keep our loyal family pet safe. Fido and Fancy will fair beautifully, given their own space and no opportunity to share in the sweet edibles (and wrappers) gleaned from our children’s ghoulish adventures.

CHOCOLATE: Delicious to us, toxic to our pets due to theobromine, a type of methylxanthine. Darker chocolates cause more harm than milk or white chocolate. Symptoms vary from vomiting and diarrhea to irregular heart rhythms and seizures. Dogs’ powerful noses allow them to uncover unopened bags and boxes of chocolates in places owners would otherwise consider inaccessible. Chocolate is a powerful motivator: caution!

CANDY: High sugar and fat may cause significant imbalance to the digestive system, including the pancreas. Owners may see diarrhea (possibly with blood), vomiting, abdominal pain and fever. Symptoms may be immediate or delayed by a couple of days.  

CANDY WRAPPERS, RIBBON, PACKAGING: Packing materials may cause blockages in the stomach and intestinal tract, a potentially life threatening condition. Symptoms may include vomiting, decreased energy, no stool production and decreased appetite.

RAISINS: Raisins and grapes may create significant kidney damage. Good for your kids, bad for your pets! Please keep raisin treat bags away from your cats and dogs. If known ingestion occurs, please call your veterinarian immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to occur. Symptoms may include vomiting, decreased appetite, discomfort, kidney failure.  

XYLITOL: Present in many sugar-free gums and in low-calorie snacks, xylitol may cause kidney damage and failure, significant abdominal discomfort, severe low blood sugar and liver damage. 

GLOW STICKS: Cats! Cats are especially attracted to glow sticks (as are some dogs). The contents may cause pain and irritation of their mouths if they puncture the stick. Though not life threatening, exposure would likely cause profuse drooling and foaming at the mouth, and a big mess!

Early detection and treatment are the key elements in speedy recoveries.  

We like to err on the side of caution; it pays to be aware of potential hazards. There are several levels of care, from simple vigilance, to online research, to phone support, to veterinarian care. You are your pet’s caregiver, and we hope we have provided some valuable information to file away during this fun time of year.

If you cannot contact your regular veterinarian, consider calling the National Animal Poison Control Center (1-800-548-2423; $65 per call) to speak directly with a veterinary poison specialist. Of course, have the contact information for your pet’s primary doctor on hand for ease of access.  

Happy Halloween to all!

Courtesy of: 
Norwich Regional Animal Hospital
Jennifer Lesser, DVM, 802.296.CARE (2273)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

September 28 is World Rabies Awareness Day: How to Prevent This Killer Disease

What would you do if you found your dog outside fighting with a raccoon? Or if you found your inside-only cat playing with a dying bat inside your home? You might think that these are uncommon occurrences, but these scenarios do happen and could have a deadly outcome. Rabies remains a major concern worldwide, killing more than 55,000 people every year.

Rabies is a disease we usually think of as having well under control with vaccines, but despite mandatory vaccines for all pets, hundreds of cats, dogs, horses, and other domestic animals contract this killer each year. The deadly disease seems to emerge each spring and summer as a problem in foxes, raccoons, skunks and bats and can be transmitted to pets and people through contact with their saliva. Rabies is a very scary disease because it is fatal to both people and unvaccinated pets. The good news is with vaccination, rabies is almost 100% preventable in our animals and with some common sense precaution when it comes to wildlife. 

Vaccination of your animals is the best way to prevent rabies. Vermont state law requires that all dogs and cats be vaccinated for rabies. If your pet is not vaccinated and fights with an unknown wild animal (or even a confirmed rabid one), your pet will be required to be quarantined for six months. Please remember that your unvaccinated pet can infect you and your family and that rabies is always fatal to our unvaccinated pets. There is no treatment and the only way to test for rabies in our pets is to examine a post-mortem sample of brain tissue.

Never assume that your "indoor" only pet is safe from rabies, either. Bats, the largest reservoir of rabies virus in North America, can easily find their way into homes. Attracted to their fluttering flight or a dying bat on the floor, our pets, especially cats, risk exposure. And, since bat bites are almost undetectable due to their size, you might miss the fact that your pet has been bitten.

Finally, always contact an animal control officer or wildlife expert if you see a wild animal acting strangely. Wild animals are just that: they avoid humans and should run away when they see you. Most are active at night, too. So if you see a wild animal in your yard that doesn't appear to be afraid of you, especially in broad daylight, or if it is acting strangely, do not attempt to capture the animal on your own. Keep your pets inside so they are not exposed, and call animal control.  It is especially important that cats that spend a significant time outdoors, and thus may come in contact with wild animals without the knowledge of the owner, be fully vaccinated. 

For more information including a county-by-county summary of rabies cases in Vermont, go to or call the Rabies hotline at 1-802-223-8697.

By M. Kathleen Shaw, DVM
Vermont Veterinary Medical Association
The Vermont Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA), founded in 1898, is a professional organization of over 330 veterinarians dedicated to compassionate animal care and quality medicine.  For more information, visit or call (802) 878-6888.