Journal

The focus in medicine, both human and veterinary, has evolved so that the effort of practitioners is now being directed towards health maintenance, enabling patients to live a longer, more enjoyable life. We recognize that we have the ability to influence our own health through choices we make, including proper diet and exercise. We also realize that regular screening tests are important to detect sub-clinical signs or early indicators for the future development of specific diseases. With our pets becoming integral members of our families, we want to provide the same benefits to our pets.

The goals of a well-designed health maintenance or wellness program include: identifying health risk factors for the patient; taking steps to eliminate or minimize their future impact on health; and detecting diseases at an early stage. Health risk factors include heredity, past medical history, chronological age, and environmental influences. Health maintenance services for pets have traditionally included vaccinations and control or prevention of internal and external parasites. Comprehensive wellness programs place more emphasis on the specific life style and life stage of the patient, allowing the veterinary team to tailor programs towards the individual. For example, a cat that lives in a high rise apartment and spends most of its day as a guardian of the couch has entirely different set of risk factors than a purebred Labrador retriever puppy that is in training for field trial competitions. Well designed health maintenance programs not only include the traditional vaccination and parasite control components, but also incorporate components such as prophylactic dental care, nutritional recommendations (including life stage diets), behavioral modification programs, and screening tests to detect specific individual risk factors.

Using the examples above, the indoor cat has specific life-style risk factors that predispose it to obesity, the most significant malnutrition problem seen in North American cats and dogs (studies suggest that more than 25% of pet dogs and cats are overweight or obese). Obesity can cause or worsen conditions such as arthritis, heart and lung disease, endocrine diseases such as diabetes mellitus, to name a few. It is well established that obesity shortens life span. The Labrador pup is at risk for developing orthopedic disease during rapid growth stages, especially if he is fed a high-energy diet or is given calcium supplementation. For both animals, as they age they may be at risk for developing kidney disease if they regularly consume excessive phosphorus in their diets. Wellness programs for these pets would include nutritional management and regular physical examinations.

As the pet ages, the recommended wellness program may be expanded to include other screening tests such as radiographs, blood tests, urinalysis, and fecal examination. Since pets age more rapidly than humans, it is important to monitor older pets more frequently. Thus, veterinarians now recommend that geriatric cats and dogs have a physical examination at least twice a year. As a general rule, senior cats are over 8 years of age, while dogs are considered to be senior at 5 years of age in certain large breeds and 8-10 years in smaller or mixed breeds.

As your veterinary health care providers, we encourage you to contact us so that we can develop a wellness program for your family pet.

Leptospirosis and Your Pet

Leptospirosis is a serious disease of mammals that is caused by a number of species of bacteria belonging to the genus Leptospira. In North America, this disease has begun to re-emerge as a threat to our companion animals in recent years, especially dogs. Cats can get this disease in very rare cases.

Many different strains or serovars of leptospira bacteria are found throughout the world. Each serovar is adapted to a different mammalian host, which it uses as a carrier or host species. When an animal belonging to the host species is infected, the disease is usually mild and may go unnoticed, although the animal may continuously shed the organisms into the environment. Infected animals shed the disease mainly in their urine. The disease is transmitted to other susceptible animals by direct contact with an infected animal or by exposure to water or soil contaminated by infected urine. If the susceptible animal belongs to a host species, the infection will usually be mild; if the same serovar infects an animal that is not a host species, the severity of the infection can range from mild to severe.

The host species for the strains of leptospirosis that cause the most serious forms of disease in dogs include raccoons, skunks, voles, mice, cattle and pigs. Dogs typically become infected from drinking contaminated water, although the bacteria can enter the body across other membranes or through wounds or scratches on the skin. A high wildlife population in an area will increase the risk of exposure. Although the risk used to be higher in rural areas, as our cities continue to expand outwards, wildlife are being forced into inhabiting suburbs and more populated locations. In short, if your dog is a field or hunting dog or if you have skunks and raccoons visiting your yard, especially if your yard has poor drainage, then the disease should be a concern to you.

It usually takes 5-14 days for the disease to develop after exposure, but it can be as short as a few days or as long as a month. Antibodies begin to appear in the blood of an infected animal 7-10 days after infection, and the disease can be diagnosed by a test that detects these antibodies. Clinical signs of leptospirosis in dogs vary with the age and immune status of the animal, and the aggressiveness of the particular strain or serovar.

The majority of leptospirosis infections are subclinical, meaning that no obvious signs of illness are present. Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in the number of serious infections in pet dogs. Dogs that have been infected with leptospira bacteria may suddenly develop a high fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, stiffness, severe muscle pain, vomiting, a painful abdomen, and/or bloody urine. The organism typically will invade the liver or kidneys, and without rapid and aggressive treatment it can leave to severe damage, even organ failure. Treatment includes antibiotics and hospitalization for intravenous fluid therapy.

Leptospira needs a neutral to alkaline soil with moist conditions and warm temperature (7-36oC or 44-95oF) in order to survive. Stagnant water, such as that found in swamps or areas of poor drainage, meets these requirements. Under ideal circumstances, the organism can survive in the environment for up to 6 weeks. As a result, most cases of leptospirosis are diagnosed between spring and fall.

You can help prevent transmission of this disease by keeping your pets away from swampy areas, improving the drainage of your property, and making your yard less attractive to wildlife. Open areas with more sunlight will decrease dampness after a rainfall, and may act as a discouragement for wildlife. To minimize water collection, install drainage tile in swampy areas or raise the ground level with landscaping. Do not leave your pet’s food and water bowls outside where they can become contaminated by wildlife. You can greatly reduce the risk of exposure by not allowing your pet to run off leash in wooded, swampy areas between July and the first hard freeze of winter.
Your veterinarian can vaccinate your pet against two of the strains or serovars that are prevalent in dogs. The available vaccines are effective for about one year, and booster vaccines must be given annually. Unfortunately, the available vaccines do not provide protection against all of the serovars that can cause disease.

Finally, it should be noted that leptospirosis is zoonotic, or can be transmitted to humans. Therefore, it is important that you avoid contact with contaminated urine or stagnant waters. Although it is considered rare for a human to acquire this disease from an infected dog, it is prudent to thoroughly wash your hands after handling any animal.
If you have further questions, do not hesitate to discuss them with your veterinarian.

For more information about the disease in humans, consult the Centers for Disease Control website at https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/

Heartworm Disease

What is Heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition caused by parasitic worms living in the arteries of the lungs and occasionally in the right side of the heart of dogs, cats and other species of mammals. 

How Heartworm Happens: The Life Cycle

Mosquito bites dog, cat or other susceptible animal, and the infective larvae enter through the bite wound. 

What Are the Signs of Heartworm Disease?

For both dogs and cats, clinical signs of heartworm disease may not be recognized in the early stages, as the number of heartworms in an animal tends to accumulate gradually over a period of months and sometimes years and after repeated mosquito bites.

How Do You Detect Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm infection in apparently healthy animals is usually detected with blood tests for a heartworm.

Prevention:

Because heartworm disease is preventable, it is recommended that pet owners take steps now to talk to their veterinarian about how to best protect their pets from this dangerous disease. Heartworm prevention is safe, easy and inexpensive. While treatment for heartworm disease in dogs is possible, it is a complicated and expensive process, taking weeks for infected animals to recover.

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