Category Archives: parasites

Tick Talk

15449166187_902e37d345_zWe have been spoiled with some absolutely gorgeous weather this fall, and I know a lot of people have taken advantage of it to get outside, often with their dogs, and enjoy it. I know I have. Unfortunately, tick season is still in full swing. Even though it’s gotten a bit colder, those little guys are still out and active. And remember– ticks are hardy little bloodsucking parasites. Even when there is snow on the ground, if there is a warm day, they will be out looking for warm bodies to attach to. I know I’ve found plenty of ticks on my dogs after a hike on a mild January day. It’s like it never ends!

Ticks love bushes and overgrowth, long grasses, weeds. They hang out there and wait for a tempting target, then hop on and enjoy the ride. This is gross enough, especially when they bite and attach themselves to your dog (or you), but ticks can carry some nasty diseases such as Lyme and Anaplasmosis. These diseases seem to be especially prevalent in the Mt. Gretna and Cornwall areas, so if you live or hike there, be especially aware. Be sure to check yourself and your pets thoroughly after being outside. And remember, ticks can be absolutely tiny.

What if you find a tick?

There are lots of old-school recommendations on how to remove a tick that include burning it with a match or smothering it in Vaseline. Please do not do either of these things! You risk stressing the bug and causing it to regurgitate all the nasties in its stomach into you or your dog. This is how disease is transmitted, so you want to avoid this when at all possible. Instead, invest in one of the inexpensive tick-removing gadgets such as a tick twister (which we sell here), or a tick spoon. You can also use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick and gently pull straight out to remove it. Do not panic if the head gets left behind. It is not ideal, but the body will push it out in time. Just keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get infected or yucky. Sometimes skin tags and moles can look an awful lot like ticks, but only ticks have legs!

After the straight-forward tick-check method of prevention, your next line of defense is the tick-preventative spot-on or oral treatment. For years this has been the role of Frontline Plus, a topical flea and tick medication that kills ticks when the pesticide penetrates their thick shells. In recent years there have been a whole host of other products introduced, but as most of them are toxic to cats, we have stuck with our tried and true Frontline.

lorihikingdogsThis Spring, however, we introduced something completely different– an oral flea AND tick medication that comes in a flavored chewable tablet and lasts for a month. This product is called Nexgard, and we love it. It should not be used in dogs with a history of seizures, and the key difference is that it does require the bug to bite the animal and feed on it in order to be killed, but you are not left with that disgusting greasy spot on your dog’s back, frequent bathing or swimming has no effect on it, and it seems to be very effective at killing off bugs.

Last but not least, we do offer the Lyme vaccine for dogs who are in areas with a large amount of Lyme (again, Mt. Gretna and Cornwall– we’re looking at you). The Lyme vaccine should never ever replace regular tick-checks or a tick-preventative medication, but since we know that no product is perfect, that the tiny deer ticks that pass Lyme to your dog can be very hard to find on a fluffy pooch, and that sometimes maybe we don’t reapply on exactly a monthly schedule, this is something we encourage for dogs in high risk areas.

The problem with the Lyme vaccine is that it can give a little bit of a false sense of security. Lyme disease is so well-known these days, but ticks in this area can carry a host of other diseases, which are not prevented by the Lyme vaccine. Anaplasmosis is the most common, and it can lead to a pretty sick dog, just as Lyme can. So you always always want to use the vaccine as a backup plan, not as a primary method of defense.headhalter

Hopefully this post clears up some of the confusion that might be out there about ticks in this area, how to keep them off your dog, and what diseases they carry. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, whether general or specifically about your pet, give us a call during regular office hours at 665-2338 and someone will be happy to help you figure out the best option for your own pets.

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Posted by on November 3, 2014 in Dogs, Health, parasites, Puppies, Safety


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Flea and tick products: which one is best?

Ah, flea season. How we loathe it. As summer draws to an end, we are seeing the typical spike in flea infestations. Getting rid of the little suckers can be frustrating, and the wide array of products available can be overwhelming. Where to start?

Flea and tick collars available at the pet or grocery store are really not a good choice (but they work great at killing the fleas you vaccuum up if you put one in the bag or canister). They tend to not protect the whole pet, and it is not at all uncommon to see fleas walking right over the collars with no ill effects. Plus they’re not great to have around kids, because the pesticides can be easily ingested.

Cheap topical flea and tick preventatives are, well, you get what you pay for. And these can be tricky. There is actually a product on the market that is marketed as flea treatment, but unless you read the fine print, you are not going to realize that it does not kill fleas at all, just sterilizes the eggs. Toxicity is also a concern. And flea/tick medications sold for dogs should never EVER be used on cats. Cats can be very sensitive, and dog products can cause neurologic problems and in extreme cases, even death.Oakley and Dakota

So what do we recommend?

Frontline Plus is our old standby, a good workhorse that kills both fleas and ticks. It’s been around for a long time, and we see very few reactions to it. There have been concerns about its effectiveness against fleas recently, so some people have chosen different options. The biggest cause of product failure is inconsistency in use, but if you feel that Frontline is no longer working, we do have other options!

Our favorite of the new products is Nexgard, an oral flea and tick preventative that is given once a month. It is only available for dogs, but it seems to do a great job in killing fleas and ticks. Because it is an oral medication instead of a topical one, the flea or tick does need to bite your pet and feed on him, so you will find attached ticks, but they will most likely already be dead. This has become pretty popular since we started carrying it, and almost everyone has been very happy with it.

Advantage II is another topical medication choice if you only need protection from fleas. It’s a great choice for indoor cats, or for dogs who don’t venture into woods or fields where they’re likely to pick up ticks. Advantage is available for both cats and dogs, and it seems to work very well.

If Advantage isn’t seeming strong enough, we are also carrying a product called Activyl. Unlike our other flea and tick products, Activyl must be purchased as an entire sixpack, but for the really tough flea infestations, it seems to make a big difference.

catzillasunrollIf you’re looking for a product that works against more than fleas and ticks, we carry a product called Revolution. Revolution is a topical product that protects against fleas and heartworm disease in dogs (and ticks but not very well) and fleas, heartworm, and ear mites in cats. Because it’s not particularly effective against ticks, we don’t typically recommend it for dogs (who must be heartworm tested or current on oral heartworm medication), but we do have it as an option for those who are interested.

And last but not least, we carry an area treatment for the home that we really like, called Siphotrol. It is a spray rather than a bomb, so you are able to put it in the places where it needs to be, such as the corners of rooms and under the furniture. It is pet-safe once dry, and it dries pretty quickly. It is a great option if you already have fleas in your home, because only a very small portion of the flea population is the adult fleas you see on your pets. The siphotrol will take care of the various life stages of fleas that are living in your carpeting or furniture, and give you a big step up in effectively eliminating the problem.

For complete instructions on how to combat fleas in your home, check out our Dealing With the Dreaded Flea Infestation post from last year. Chock full of excellent information and recommendations on returning your home to a bug-free zone.


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Why we recommend heartworm preventative for all dogs.

You might notice that we are starting to get more vocal about our recommendation that all dogs either be on monthly heartworm preventative year-round or tested for the disease annually. In the past, we’ve encouraged it, but we’ve kind of slipped a bit recently. It’s easy to get neglectful about preventative when you live in Pennsylvania– it’s not like we’re in The South where they have hundreds upon hundreds of afflicted animals. Heartworm has never been a huge risk in Pennsylvania, and it’s still not.


It is a growing risk.

Heartworm disease is quite literally worms living and growing in the heart. heartwormThe larvae are passed from infected mosquitos biting and transmitting them into a dog’s bloodstream. From there, they spread throughout the bloodstream, and as they mature and grow they migrate to the heart and lungs, where they take up residence. Left unchecked, a heartworm infection can lead to severe heart disease, failure, and death. It is not a nice disease. It can be treated, but the treatment is expensive and somewhat risky depending on the severity of the infection. Often, the damage to the heart is permanent.

Check out this nifty interactive map on the Pets and Parasites website. Click on Heartworm and follow the prompts to check out the PA map. This map shows the number of reported tests and positives. There is not a lot of heartworm… but there is not no heartworm, either. We don’t know how many positive tests were not reported, and we also don’t know how many infected dogs are going undetected. This is the scary part, because these dogs form a reservoir from which heartworms can be spread. If a mosquito bites an infected dog and then later bites your dog, your dog can become infected. It happens as quickly and easily as that.

Our world is changing, and with it, the incidence and distribution of parasites and diseases such as Lyme disease and heartworm disease also changes. It used to be that heartworm disease was not a big concern because we get cold cold winters that killed off all the mosquitos. This past winter was cold, but unusually so. We have seen a trend toward milder weather, and mosquitos like mild.

Another big change is with the animal rescue community. We are seeing more and more small rescues which are rescuing dogs from poor Southern animal shelters and bringing them up here. These dogs frequently carry heartworm disease, and while they might be treated once they get here, they still bring that disease to the area. In addition, many of these rescue groups use a slow-kill method of treatment, which we are now discovering is leading to heartworms which are immune to all of the heartworm preventative drugs we have. Fortunately, this has so far been contained to the area around the Mississippi River, but it’s a scary scary thought.


Dogs left in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Tom Fox.

All of these factors contribute to our goal of testing and protecting all dogs against heartworm disease. A monthly tablet (Sentinel) or chew (Heartgard Plus) can stop heartworm infections before they develop by killing any of the larvae your dog might have picked up in the last month. If you kill them off monthly, the worms never have a chance to grow and cause harm. In addition, our heartworm preventative medications help control many of the intestinal parasites which are more common to our area– things like roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.

If your dog is not currently on heartworm medication, or if you’re not very consistent about giving it and you would like to schedule an appointment to have your dog tested, please give us a call at 717-665-2338. Our staff can give you the information you need and point you toward the test that would best fit your dogs’ lifestyle. We can also get your pup started on preventative to make sure he does not develop this horrible disease.

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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Dogs, Health, parasites, Puppies


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New weapons in the war on bugs!

Flea season last year was horrible. We saw so many clients with flea infestations who had never ever had flea problems in the past. It was frustrating and expensive for clients, and frustrating for us because they were so hard to treat. While we have an excellent step-by-step treatment guide for dealing with fleas, it seemed that no matter what people were doing, it just wasn’t working.

Recently, a few new products have come onto the market. One is just for fleas, the other is for fleas and ticks. White Oaks Veterinary Hospital is carrying both of them in order to give our clients more options when it comes to fighting the dreaded bugs that our pets can harbor.

The first one is for fleas only and is available for both cats and dogs. It is called Activyl, and we’ve been getting great reviews from clients.

Nobody wants fleas.

Nobody wants fleas.

We are only carrying the flea-only version of the product (the one that also kills ticks is toxic to cats), and it is currently only available for purchase as a pack of six, but at this point it does appear to be a powerful weapon against those dreaded blood-sucking, home-infesting fleas. If you have a kitten and you’re just looking for a general flea preventative, we would still recommend Advantage because it is a bit more gentle. If you’ve been using Frontline or Advantage and it’s working for you– fantastic! No reason to fix something that’s not broken. But we want to make you aware that we do have a potentially more potent option for the really tough flea problems.

Our other new product is something we’re pretty excited about– the first once-a-month ORAL flea and tick preventative called Nexgard.


There have been other oral flea preventatives out there for awhile, but this is the first one that works against ticks as well. It is made by Merial, the makers of Frontline, and it has had extremely good reviews. It is slightly more expensive than Frontline, but it’s a terrific option for dogs who swim a lot, are bathed a lot, or have owners who dislike the oily patch that topical preventatives leave.

As with many oral medications, the most frequent side effect is vomiting, but otherwise this product seems to work very well. A number of staff members have tried it and liked it (I love it for my smooth-coated dogs– no mess!) and we are excited to see how it performs this flea season.

As always with tick prevention, checking your pet over after being out and avoiding high-risk tick areas is advised no matter what kind of preventative you are using (and even if you are having your dog vaccinated against Lyme disease because ticks do carry other nasties), but in the area that we live in, ticks are going to be lurking and for many people and their pets, unavoidable.

Nexgard is not available for cats. It is a dog-only product.

If either of these products sounds like something that you might be interested in for your own pet, or if you have any questions about what the right flea and tick preventative for your pets is, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 717-665-2338. We would be happy to help you figure out the best option for your pet.


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The Scoop on Poop: Or, why we ask you to bring a stool sample.

Poop is gross. Make no mistake– we get that. But examining a stool sample for parasites on an annual basis is a great way to make sure that both your pet and your family stay as healthy as possible. Intestinal parasites can not only make pets sick, but they are easily spread from one pet to another, within the family or, if your dog goes places like the dog park, to dogs outside the family.

What is even more distressing is that some intestinal worms are also transmissable to humans. This is a bigger concern in families where there are children who might play outside a lot and maybe not always remember to wash their hands. It is also a concern in families that include people with compromised immune systems. It is such an easy risk to mitigate simply by bringing a stool sample along to your pet’s annual visit.

Stink bugs are fun to play with. And crunchy.

Stink bugs are fun to play with. And crunchy.

But, you ask, what if my pet is an indoor pet? Clearly, animals who are kept primarily outdoors are at a higher risk of contracting intestinal parasites because their exposure is higher. Cats especially are frequent hunters, and their prey can carry and pass along parasites. But even indoor pets are at risk. Does your dog not ever leave the house even to relieve himself? There are many cats who truly do not ever leave the house. While their risk of infection is significantly lower, it is not zero. Rodents can get into your house and pass along parasites. Certain bugs are guilty as well– cockroaches, some types of flies, and even stink bugs (and who doesn’t get stink bugs?) It is also entirely possible for any person coming into the house to bring the shed eggs in on their shoes. Indoor pets do not live in a vacuum; parasites are everywhere.

What about dogs who are on monthly Heartworm Preventative? Both Sentinel and Heartgard work as monthly dewormers for intestinal parasites, but they are labeled to “control” (but not necessarily eliminate) the worm population and keep the pet from becoming sick from them. This monthly deworming is one of the reasons why we encourage people to give Heartworm preventative even through the winter months when mosquitos are dormant and the risk of contracting heartworms is very low. Unfortunately, no Heartworm preventative is going to offer complete protection against all intestinal parasites, and they completely miss coccidia, a common single-celled organism that can cause terrible diarrhea.

So what are the most common intestinal parasites?

Roundworms are especially common, especially in puppies and kittens. They are frequently passed from mother to babies, whether before they are born or while they are nursing. The tricky thing about roundworms is that when they infect a dog, some of the larva will migrate into the body’s tissue and lie dormant. They then can be reactivated by the hormones produced during pregnancy, so even if the mother of the litter had a clear stool sample checked before pregnancy, she can still transmit worms to her pups. Roundworms are most dangerous in very young animals who simply do not have the strength and immune system to fight them. In healthy adult pets, infections are generally not serious.

But. Roundworms can be transmitted to people. Young children may become infected by ingesting dirt contaminated with animal feces. Sandboxes are frequent favorite bathrooms for stray and outdoor cats, and children may be exposed there. Hand-washing is extremely important. Adults who work outside, in the garden for example, are also at risk of being exposed, as well as people cleaning litterboxes. Bottom line? Wash your hands!

Hookworms are another frequent offender. Hookworms can be a bit uglier than their roundworm companions. They are transmitted either by ingestion of the eggs, or by larva penetrating the feet and migrating through the body. Hook worms do more damage than roundworms, as they tear out tiny pieces of the intestinal wall for nourishment, resulting in blood loss in the pet. Dark stools, bloody diarrhea, and weight loss are the most common signs of a hookworm infestation.

And like the roundworm, hookworms can infect people. They can penetrate the bare skin of humans in the same way that they can our pets. The best prevention is a clean yard, shoes, and regular stool checks to make sure your pet is not contaminating his environment.

Whipworms seem to be becoming more common in this area recently, or at least we have been finding more of them on stool checks. The most common symptoms are poor condition, weight loss, and in severe infections, chronic bloody diarrhea. Whipworms can be very difficult to get rid of in the environment. Under favorable conditions, eggs can remain infective for up to five years in the environment. Keeping a clean yard and checking stool samples regularly are the best way to prevent environmental contamination.

A stool sample test in progress.

A stool sample test in progress.

Tapeworms are a little bit different. In order to acquire tape worms, your pet needs to ingest a flea, whether through grooming or hunting. Tape worms do not show up very well on stool samples– the easiest way to diagnose them is through the observation of worm segments on your pet or one of his common sleepng areas. Tape segments look like grains of white rice. If you see these, you should give us a call. Tape worms require the intermediary host of the flea. They cannot be passed pet to pet or pet to human. They are, however, a warning sign of flea infestation, so that is something you also want to stay on top of.

And last but not least is coccidia, which is not a worm, but a single-celled organism called a protozoa. Again, this is most commonly spread from ingestion of the parasite. The most common sign is, once again, diarrhea.

All of these different parasites require different types of dewormers. While there are deworming medications for pets available in some pet stores and in feed stores, they often are not very effective, and are usually only effective against one type of parasite. This isn’t helpful if that’s not what your pet has. We at White Oaks Veterinary Hospital recommend annual stool samples so that we can properly diagnose and treat any parasites that your pet has picked up. And any time your pet is being seen for diarrhea, you should definitely bring a stool sample along, as parasites are a frequent cause of intestinal issues.

We wamt to do our best to keep your pets and your family as healthy as possible, and regular stool checks are a very useful tool that we can use. Please try to remember to bring one to your pet’s next visit!

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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Health, parasites


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Dealing with the dreaded FLEA INFESTATION.

‘Tis the season for fleas. It seems like they are everywhere right now, and lots of people are struggling with combatting them. There are so many options out there for treating flea problems– treating your pets, treating your house. Let us try to lay out a basic warfare plan for you.

Fighting the flea life cycle is a challenging battle. Most people with flea issues find that fleas seem to come in waves– again and again– making the fight seem impossible to win. It is frustrating, but we are here to help. We agree that it takes a lot of work, but with guidance you can end your flea problem by targeting the life cycle and striking it from multiple angles.

It is time to think like a flea to better understand fleas. By the time you realize you have a flea problem, you are likely six or more weeks into these pests infiltrating your home! In a typical flea population, the adult fleas, which prefer to live on your pet, represent only about 5% of the total flea population. The remaining 95% of the flea population, the eggs, larvae, and pupae, exists in the environment. Depending on temperature and humidity, the completion of the life cycle from egg to larva to pupa to adult flea varies from as short as about two weeks up to one year. An adult flea can survive for three months to one year, with the females laying up to 50 eggs per day. It is imperative to treat all the pets and their home environment (which sometimes includes your car, your garage, and the outside yard area), to get a flea problem completely under control.

To Do List:

Step One — Treat all the Pets

Apply a monthly flea product to every pet that lives or enters your home. We recommend Frontline Plus or Advantage II — the active ingredients in both of these products can be safely used on dogs and cats. If you do not treat every pet, the flea life cycle will continue. Be sure to use the product according to package instructions. You must treat all pets for several months (usually at least three) to break the life cycle of the flea. Do not discontinue treatment after only one or two months. REPEAT THE TOPICAL TREATMENT MONTHLY.

If you are using Frontline Plus, do not bathe your pet for two days before or after applying the product. Advantage II can be applied immediately after a bath and a towel drying.

For a severe infestation, Capstar, an oral pill, will begin killing adult fleas on a pet within an hour of ingestion and continue killing fleas for 24 hours. It’s a like a “flea bath in a pill”.

For dog-only environments, Sentinel, which is a heartworm preventative product, also contains a “birth control for the flea that the dog takes”, thus preventing any viable, hatchable eggs being laid by the fleas.

Step Two — Treat the Indoor Environment

Fleas can seemingly go anywhere. Their eggs can be on your pets, but most will fall off into your carpets and furniture and between the cracks in your floor. Once the eggs hatch, the larva live in similar areas until they spin their cocoons, then finally emerge as adult fleas. And then the life cycle repeats. To stop this process, we recommend Siphotrol Plus Area Treatment — an aerosol can product with both quick kill and residual activity against fleas– or you can hire a professional residential pest control company.

Before treating, vacuum the environment very well, concentrating on the areas where “dust bunnies” go and where your pets spend most of their time. After vacuuming, empty your vacuum canister or bag immediately since flea eggs can hatch inside your vacuum cleaner. Be sure to follow package instructions carefully, treating your entire house, even areas your pet does not enter (fleas still will!). This might include closets, basement, garage, and bathrooms. We recommend use of a spray product like the Siphotrol Plus Area Treatment, because foggers will get good overall coverage but may not reach under furniture, under cushions, or in the nooks and crannies.

Wash your pet’s bedding and your own bedding in hot water.

Repeat this process in 2-3 weeks and then as needed to fully resolve your situation.

Step Three — Treat the Outdoor Environment

It is likely that every time your pet walks outdoors, he or she is picking up new fleas. Fleas are often brought into your yard by wildlife and stray cats– animals who visit your yard when you are not looking. People can actually bring “hitchhiker fleas” into the home on pant legs and shoes. Fleas will enter your house through window screens, cracks, and crevices like any other bug. Check your local retail store (Lowe’s, Home Depot, Tractor Supply) for outdoor sprays or granules to help reduce your pet’s exposure to fleas when they are enjoying the outdoors.

Whew, that was a lot of information! Fleas can be an extremely frustrating problem to deal with, and we totally understand that. If you are having problems that you just cannot get under control, talk to us and maybe we can help. Also, your flea products will have a phone number for the manufacturer on them, and that can also be a helpful resource in combatting stubborn flea issues. Merial, the makers of Frontline Plus, guarantee their product if purchased from a veterinarian, and will even go so far as paying for the home to be treated by an exterminator in some cases.

Things will get better after we start getting some good hard frosts, but if you have a flea problem in your home, the change in seasons will unfortunately not be helpful. Hopefully the steps in this post will help you get back to a happy, pest-free household.

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Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Cats, Dogs, fleas, Health, parasites


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