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Rescue vs breeder: which is right for you?

There are a million places to get a new dog if you’re in the market for one. Some, like petstores or huge kennels, are never a good idea. But when it comes down to the simple question of do I get a puppy from a breeder or do I get an adult dog from a shelter or rescue, there are definite pros and cons to consider so that you can make the best choice for your household. Pros and cons are not universal— some people are more flexible and have a less specific vision of what works for them while others need predictability; some people do not want to deal with puppyhood while others can’t imagine bringing home anything but a puppy.

Sometimes there is no clear-cut answer, but lets lay out some of the pros and cons.

First let’s look at breeders. There is a world of variation in quality of breeders out there, but for the purposes of this post, let’s just talk about people who are breeding with quality in mind– people who afrank081209bre health-testing their dogs before breeding them (hip certifications, eye certifications– whatever is appropriate to the breed), who are doing their research before breeding and who care where their pups are going and what happens to them.

The pros of buying a puppy from a breeder:

  • You’ll have an idea of the genetic lines behind your dog including temperament and health. If you’re looking for a mellow house-dog Golden Retriever, you probably don’t want to buy a pup from somebody breeding high-energy hunting dogs. And you always, always want to know the family of dogs that your pup is coming from are healthy.
  • While genetics are always a bit of a wildcard, you’re doing everything you can to stack the deck in your favor. If you breed a dog with good hips to a dog with good hips, chances are pretty good that you’re going to get dogs with good hips. If you’re buying a pup of a breed that is prone to seizures, knowing that none of his immediate relatives have had seizures is a big plus. Nothing is absolute, but the odds are with you.
  • You’ll get a lifetime of support. A good breeder is invaluable in the assistance and knowledge they can provide. Plus, it’s nice to have a cheerleader sometimes, especially through those teenage months.
  • You get a health guarantee. Good breeders stand behind the pups that they’re producing. But be careful to read the fine print to see what exactly the guarantee is.
  • A good breeder will have already started the oh so important process of socialization. Pups will have been exposed to different sounds, different textures, different people. Some will have already been started on crate training. They’ll be on their way to being well-adjusted, happy dogs.
  • A good breeder will take back a dog at any time, no matter what. Your pup will always have a safe place to land if something happens that you can no longer keep him, or even if he is simply not a good match for your family.

So what about the cons?puppy4

  • Good breeders don’t breed often (a litter or two a year) so you will likely have to wait.
  • It takes time and effort on your part to find and reach out to breeders to find one who is a good match for you and your family.
  • Good breeders can be hard to find, especially if you don’t have connections in The Dog World.
  • The pricetag. No getting around it. It costs money to do things right, so your pup will cost a bit more. Although the purchase price is still a drop in the bucket compared to the price of caring for a dog for his lifetime, the initial layout of cash can still feel a bit painful.

On the flip side, there are tons of good dogs out there in shelters and rescues who are there through no fault of their own. It’s a common myth that dogs in shelters are there because of behavior problems, but in this day and age, money, housing, and job changes are huge reasons for dogs not staying in their homes.

What are some benefits of adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue?

  • Adult rescues are often very “what you see is what you get”, especially if they’ve been in foster care. You can get a good idea of what kind of dog you are bringing home, which takes some of the mystery out of adopting. You’ll know simple things such as size and coat type (it can be so hard to predict what mixed-breed pups are going to turn into when they grow up), but you’ll also get a good idea of temperament– is this dog good with other dogs? cats? kids?
  • Many dogs in shelters have already lived in somebody’s home and are housebroken and come with some basic skills. Training a new dog is important regardless because it is such a huge relationship-builder, but I’m always a big fan of pre-housebroken dogs, myself.
  • Most rescues will take back dogs that they’ve placed, again, for any reason, so if something should happen, the dog has a safe place to go.
  • You’re saving a life. Whether you adopt from a shelter that does put dogs to sleep due to overpopulation or you adopt from a no-kill rescue, you’re opening up a spot for another dog in need. Plus, there are simply some great dogs in shelters, and one of them might just be The Dog for you.

But there are also cbaltoons to adopting:

  • There are a lot of unknowns. You have no idea what kind of health issues the parents and grandparents of your new dog may have had. You get no health guarantee, and there’s no accountability.
  • With a puppy, you’re bringing home a complete wildcard. You might adopt a “Chihuahua mix” puppy and have it grow into a 30 pound dog. For some people, that’s part of the fun. For others, not so much.
  • You’re not getting a blank slate. When you bring home an adult dog, you’re bringing his history home with him. While a lot of behavior issues will be readily apparent before your pooch comes home, some are not. While a dog may not show issues in a highly structured foster home, for example, he may have some issues in your more relaxed home environment.
  • It can be a lot easier to teach manners to a puppy than to an 80 pound adolescent Labrador. Bad habits can be hard to break; it depends on how much time and effort you’re willing to put into it.
  • Some rescues can be very inflexible in their screening. They want the best homes possible for the dogs in their care, and they have a very concrete vision of what that is. It can take some time to find a rescue that you mesh with. (Shelters tend to be much more flexible, but you lose the benefits of seeing what a dog is like in a foster home environment.)
  • If you have your heart set on a certain breed or type of dog, you may need to be very patient and persistent in your search. Some breeds are a dime a dozen in rescue, others are in much higher demand. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

 

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What does “holistic” mean? (And other pet food marketing gimmicks)

Includes fresh fruits.

Includes fresh fruits.

In Part One of our pet food guide series, we talked about the importance of reading labels and what different ingredients really are and some of the games that manufacturers play (such as splitting ingredients) to make you think there is more or less of something in the bag than there really is.

Unfortunately, there are lots of games that marketers can play with words that have meaning… but that meaning may not be what you think it is. My hope with this post is to give you the knowledge to know what you’re looking at when you read the back of a pet food bag, and to make your decisions based on actual information, not fancy packaging.

So, some quick definitions. AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, is in charge of monitoring pet food manufacturing. They have constructed some very specific definitions. For example, did you know that a food marketed as “beef dinner” is a very different food than one marketed as “with beef” or as “beef flavor”? Who knew, right?

A food that is labeled, for example, “Beef for dogs” must contain 95% beef not counting water for processing, and 70% beef including that water. Only the named meat counts toward the percentage. You can’t have a food labeled “Beef for dogs” that is made up of a large portion of, say, chicken.

However,

if the label reads “Beef dinner” (or entree or platter or formula, etc), then there only needs to be >25% of that ingredient. There’s an awful lot of room between 25% and 95%. And more interestingly, the named ingredient (“beef” in this case) does not even need to be at the top of the ingredients list). And if they want to make it, say, “chicken and fish entree for cats”, the chicken and fish must only add up to >25% in combination and there only need be 3% minimum of any single named ingredient. So your “chicken and fish entree” might only be 3% fish.

And there can be more and different ingredients that are not highlighted in the food’s name.

This can be a problem if your dog has a food sensitivity. Someone has suggested that you try a lamb and rice formula dog food for your pup because he seems to have a sensitive tummy. Lamb and rice can be good for some dogs with possible food sensitivities, so you scan the shelves and pull down a bag of Pro Plan Puppy Lamb and Rice. The front of the bag looks inviting. It’s Lamb and Rice formula, “Lamb is the first ingredient”. And it is, but as we learned in our previous food post, ingredients are listed by weight, and when you take the water weight out of a fresh, unprocessed meat, it tends to drop way down on the list. Where’s the real source of protein in this food coming from? Poultry by-product meal (chicken? turkey? duck? who knows!). So much for avoiding ingredients your dog might be sensitive to.

(If your dog doesn’t have issues with specific ingredients, this is much less of a concern!)

It’s frustrating. You shouldn’t need a PhD to read food labels.

In contrast, look at this food: Nature’s Variety Instinct Lamb Meal and Peas. The first ingredient? Lamb meal. Top of the list, no other hidden meats. Fairly transparent. And yes, more expensive, right?

Did you know that “with” also has a legal definition? “With” means there is between 3% and 25% of that ingredient in the food. It was designed as a way to highlight minor ingredients mostly for marketing purposes. Chicken dinner WITH cheese, for example.

And then at the bottom of the list comes “flavor”. “Bacon flavor dog biscuits” need only contain enough of that ingredient to be detectable.

(I am not sure who does the detecting.)

It seems the further you look, the more confusing it gets.

Recently the trend seems to be toward “Natural” and “Holistic” foods. The ads on television want you to believe that Holistic is better for your pet.

But what is “Holistic”? As far as pet food goes, there is no real (legal) definition.

“All Natural” is a funny one. It means that the ingredients must be “derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources” but can be put through any manufacturing process that the company wants it to as long as they don’t add anything synthetic to it… except for that which is unavoidable for processing. Clear as mud, right?

The same thing with “Human Grade”, which AAFCO considers a “false and misleading” phrase, as all ingredients would have to meet both requirements from the USDA for pet food and the FDA for human food. Technically it’s possible, but it’s unlikely that many pet food processing plants actually meet the grade.

Organic is even more confusing. There is no organic certification for pet food ingredients (and thus no official seal from the National Organic Program which certifies human organic foods), and yet AAFCO allows the word to be used on packaging and nobody’s really going to make a fuss about it. So what’s a word worth? Who knows.

I think the best we can do is look with open eyes and let our minds be reasonable. We all want what’s best for our pets, right? But does “best” have to equate with “super fancy high end organic”? Is it worth paying for labeling that uses terms that don’t really mean anything?

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Food, Health, kittens, Puppies

 

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How to get your kitty to drink more (and why it’s important)

Staying well hydrated is important to the health of all creatures (humans are no exception). It is essential to kidney and bladder health. Unfortunately, because cats were originally desert creatures who gleaned most of their fluids from their food, not from drinking water, which was scarce, they did not develop the same “thirst drive” that humans and dogs did. When they are not getting enough fluids, their bodies do not trigger them to go drink some water. Instead, many cats live their lives in a state of chronic mild dehydration.

Potato chips do not contribute to good hydration.

Potato chips do not contribute to good hydration.

This, unfortunately, can contribute to two common health issues in cats– chronic kidney failure and urinary tract problems (bladder stones, urinary blockages). When a cat isn’t drinking enough, it puts stress on his kidneys. Over time, this stress causes damage. It also causes his urine to become more concentrated than it should be. This can contribute to the formation of crystals, which can in turn become stones (sometimes impressively large!) in the bladder, or which can cause a blockage in the urethra, making the cat unable to urinate. This is a life-threatening (and expensive) emergency situation which we all just want to avoid.

So how do we get our finicky friends to drink more? There are lots of ways. Try several and see which ones work best for you and your cat.

Because cats have historically gotten most of their fluid intake from their food, switching from dry food to a canned diet is the very best way to keep your kitty hydrated. We recommend feeding at least some canned food, even if you do not want to feed it exclusively. To add even more fluids, you can mix some water in with the canned food to form a “soup”. Most cats love this.

Because cats have different preferences, try leaving multiple water bowls out in different places throughout your house. Some cats prefer a wide shallow bowl (that their whiskers won’t touch the sides of), so consider using a pie plate or something similar. Offer water in glass or stainless steel bowls instead of plastic, which can sometimes cause water to have a bad taste.

Be sure to clean and refill water bowls daily. Remember, cats can be so finicky! Also, consider offering filtered or distilled water– chlorinated or hard water can have a flavor that cats don’t like.

You can consider adding a few drops of tuna “juice” (the water that canned tuna is packed in) or clam juice to a bowl of water. Make sure to provide plain water as well.

Many cats are attracted to moving water, so kitty fountains are a popular choice to encourage drinking. You can also try a dripping faucet if you don’t mind your kitties on the counters.

Hopefully this post will give you some ideas to help get your kitty drinking more and staying better hydrated. Your kitty’s bladder and kidneys will thank you!

For more tips: Tips to Increase Your Cat’s Water Intake

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Cats, Food, Health, kittens

 

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5 Tips to Help Slim Down Your Tubby Kitty

Obesity is a growing problem across our pet population, but indoor cats seem to be at the highest risk. While a fat cat may be cute, all that extra weight puts these cats at a higher risk offatchloe
health problems such as arthritis and diabetes, and those things are not fun to deal with for anybody. The average housecat (Domestic Shorthair) should weigh about ten pounds. There are kitties with smaller frames and those with bigger frames, so one cat may be chubby at 10 pounds while another is underweight. If your cat is a healthy weight, you will be able to feel his ribs but not see them. He’ll have a waist when you look at him from above, and his belly should tuck up– not hang down– when viewed from the side.

So… what do you do when your cat is overweight? Here are some tips to help your kitty’s weight head in the right direction:

1. Feed a higher protein diet. Digesting protein requires more energy than digesting carbs, which means your kitty will burn off more of the calories she is taking in, rather than storing them in fat. As an added bonus, it will keep her feeling full longer. Higher protein foods are more expensive than foods based on carbohydrates, but the payoff is worth it.

2. Stop free feeding. Many people allow their cats free access to as much food as they want at all times. This combined with boredom can quickly turn into a cat who eats for something to do, consuming way more calories than he is burning off, resulting in weight gain. Measuring your kitty’s food will give you control over the number of calories being consumed. The average indoor cat only requires about 200 calories a day. Many dry cat foods contain 400 or more calories per cup!

Canned food is delicious!

Canned food is delicious!

3. Feed canned food. Canned food is usually higher in protein and lower in carbs (see #1), plus it has the added benefit of providing more moisture. Since many cats are not good drinkers, any way you can add more moisture to their diet is helpful in decreasing bladder and kidney troubles. (Kitty waterfountains work great for encouraging drinking as well.)

4. Go easy on the treats. Treats are fine, but be mindful of the extra calories that they add. Choose treats that are low in calories and only feed a few of them per day. No more than 10% of your cat’s calories for the day should come from treats (and tablefood! if your cats are like mine).

5. Encourage exercise! Weight gain is a simple equation of calories being taken in being higher than the calories being burned. The more active you can encourage your cat to be, the healthier (both mentally and physically) he will be, and the easier it will be to keep him at a healthy weight. Consider feeding meals out of a food-dispensing toy such as the Slimcat Interactive Feeder. Make your kitty work for his meals!

Lots of cats also enjoy a good laser-pointer chase session, or a feather toy on a string. Whatever gets them moving!

I hope these tips make the idea of putting your kitty on a diet more manageable and less overwhelming. It is always easier to keep a cat at an ideal weight than it is to get weight off of him, but weight loss is certainly possible! Do not despair! Your kitty’s body will thank you for it, especially as he gets older.

And if all else fails, there is always the underwater treadmill!

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2014 in Cats, Health

 

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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.

But.

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.

katrinadogs

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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A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Pet Food Bags Part 1

pidgefoodThe pet food business is certainly booming today, and there are so many different options to choose from. There’s everything from Walmart’s cheap Ol’ Roy to the super-premium, super-expensive holistic foods. How on earth do you begin to evaluate what is on all those shelves and pick something that will be good for your pet as well as your wallet? In this week’s blog post, I hope to give you some of the basic information you need to read pet food labels in the hopes that it will help you be able to choose more wisely based on information instead of marketing and attractive packaging.

Before the mid-1800s, pets were generally fed whatever scraps were left over after the humans ate. It wasn’t until a man named James Spratt came along and invented the first dry dog food, completely revolutionizing how pets in this country are fed, that pet food manufacturing became an industry. These days, pet food is a big, complicated, profit-driven business. Everybody is out to attract consumers with what they think will be the most appealing. “Now with chicken!” “Holistic!” “Gluten free!” Cute happy puppies and catchy jingles on tv! But what does any of this really mean, and what is truly important?

The first thing to look for on the packaging of a food is the AAFCO statement. AAFCO is an organization which analyzes pet foods and guarantees that they meet a certain nutrient profile that is deemed to be acceptable for either adult pets or for growth and reproduction. This can be done in one of two ways– either simply by analysis of the ingredients, or analysis done with the addition of actual feeding trials. It is easy to tell which method was used because one of two statements will be printed on the packaging: ““(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles” or “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition”. Is one better than the other? Potentially. Just because something looks good on paper, so to say, doesn’t mean that it will function as expected when it’s actually ingested. Feeding trials will prove in a real life situation that a formulation really works.hameat

The next thing we’re going to look at is ingredients.

Ingredients are complicated. There are so many games that food manufacturers can play to make their foods look better than what they actually are.

The first thing you need to understand is that ingredients are listed in order of weight. When you look at the meat content of a certain food, and you see that “chicken” is the first ingredient on the list, what you need to remember is that fresh meat is approximately 70% moisture. When you suck all that moisture out during the kibble manufacturing process, the actual nutritional part that is left is going to fall signficantly lower on the list.

However, if you see the words “chicken meal” instead, you’re looking at an ingredient that has already been dehydrated and concentrated. If that is at the top of the list, it’s going to stay there. A named meat meal (chicken, turkey, lamb, whatever) is a great ingredient and something you want to see at the top of the list. Meal is going to offer the highest amount of protein and nutrients.

And the naming of a specific meat source matters. You want to see “Chicken meal”. You do not want to see “Meat meal” or “Meat and bone meal”. Products that list a generalized “meat” ingredient tend to be using whatever they can get the cheapest, and that may change from day to day, from bag to bag. This is especially important if your pet has any food sensitivities.

Another thing to pay attention to is ingredient splitting. Manufacturers will split ingredients (especially grains or carbohydrates) into their individual components, which will move them down the list weight-wise and make them look like less than they really are. Here’s the beginning of an ingredient list from a grain-free dry dog food. Grain-free foods are often marketed as being “better”, but in truth some of them are still relying on carbs, not meat protein, as the bulk of the diet.

Chicken, Potatoes, Yellow Peas, Pea Protein Concentrate, Potato Starch, Chicken Meal, Chicken Fat,

So here we have Chicken as the first ingredient. Remember, though, that chicken is 70% water weight, all of which will disappear during processing. Then come potatoes. Also with a fair bit of water weight to them. But look– down the list– more potato, in the form of starch, and there after that is the coveted Chicken Meal that we should be looking for, because that is where the bulk of your meat-based protein is going to come from. In the middle? Yellow peas, followed by Pea Protein Concentrate. You have to wonder where on the list that chicken would actually fall if the potatoes and the peas were not split up into individual components. Maybe not first, in the spotlight, where people are going to see and and say “oh! This food has lots of chicken in it!”

What about by-products? By-products are looked down upon by some as inferior ingredients, but I think we need to think about what “by-product” really means and what an animal would eat in the wild. Here’s the AAFCO definition for Chicken By-Product Meal: “Chicken By-Product Meal – consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.”
crosbyfood

Sounds kind of gross, but in reality, if left alone with a fresh chicken, a dog is going to eat those squeamish bits too. Chicken feet, for example, are an excellent source of glucosamine, a joint supplement. So while it isn’t what I personally would want to be eating, it is not without nutritional value for an animal. Again, in “meal” form, you have a concentrated source of nutrients.

What it comes down to, at least for me, is that I want a food that gets most of its protein from meat, not grains or carbs. Cats are obligate carnivores. They need to eat meat. Dogs are technically opportunistic scavengers who will eat just about anything, but if you look at their teeth, those are the teeth of a meat-eater. With protein, the source matters when it comes to what the animal’s body is best able to use. Eggs offer the highest and most easily digestible quality of protein, followed by meat, and then followed by grains. Yes, you are going to pay a bit more for a food that is heavy in meat-based protein, but the food will be more nourishing, and you will likely have to feed less of it in order to give your pet all of what he needs. (Which will also result in less poop! Yay!)

At the end of the day, there is no one perfect food. There is no one “best” food. Every cat, every dog, is an individual. What works well for one dog may cause itchy skin in another. What works great for one cat may cause another to lose weight and look unkempt. So there is a little bit of experimentation that goes on in finding the best food to feed your pet. It is ok to switch foods. We always recommend that you do so gradually– start adding small amounts of the new food to the old food, and gradually change the ratio until you’re feeding all the new food. The speed at which you will need to do this depends greatly on your individual pet. The goal is a healthy, active pet in good weight, with a healthy coat, little odor, and a smoothly-running GI system. The right food can do amazing things.

I hope this helps a little bit in the decoding of food labels. It’s a confusing process, and there are so many games that food manufacturers like to play to make their foods more appealing. A little information about the tricks of the trade will go a long way toward helping pet owners be more savvy consumers.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Food, Health

 

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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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