Spring Has Arrived – Let the Itch Begin!

The arrival of springtime was extended this year. We are finally seeing Mother Earth turn the corner.  It is such a transformation from day to day as the dead becomes alive again. Along with this amazing time of year we also see pets start to itch. Allergies to the pollinating trees and flowers does not only affect people but our pets as well. During your pets lifetime, if you do not have to deal with allergies, you should count yourself blessed. They can be a source of constant frustration for the pet and the entire family.

It is crucial that if you suspect allergies in your pet that you seek veterinary care.  We do need to make certain that your pet is reacting to environmental allergens verses external parasites (fleas, lice, mites) or food sensitivities. One flea will bite 50-70 times a day. That can be extremely irritating. Pets can develop Flea Bite Dermatitis where each bite causes an allergic reaction from the flea saliva making that pet miserable. This causes a number of pets that have just a few fleas to show a more intense reaction than other pets in the home. Both dogs and cats can be affected by this condition.

Bravecto, a 3 month flea and tick prevention, has been extremely effective in breaking this cycle. Any flea that feeds dies immediately and this decreases the allergic reaction. In the past many of our topical products had difficulty spreading over the skin of these allergic pets since their skin was damaged from their constant chewing and scratching.  Therefore we had some pets who never seemed to get relief without the use of corticosteroids to reduce the itch. Corticosteroids caused all sorts of undesirable side effects like increased thirst and urination along with weight gain. We also had concerns about long term usage leading to a disease called Cushings Disease.

For the last 3 years we have been selling Bravecto. It has been interesting to see dogs that never had hair during the summer months now have a full coat because we have knocked the fleas dead with every bite the first time. The 3 month dosage removes the infestation from most homes and continual usage keeps it from returning. We have also seen a decline in fall allergy cases. Please, if you have a pet that seems to have “seasonal allergies” consider the use of a product like Bravecto to see if it can benefit your pet.  We may be underestimating the number of flea bite dermatitis cases in our pets since fleas are hard to find.

Other external parasites like lice and mites can cause dogs to itch constantly. This past week I had a dog from California that was itching all over. They did not use flea and tick products since they lived in the desert. They did allow their dogs to run free when hiking or exploring new areas. Her pampered and protected fur babies had lice. She was shocked. We started prevention for external parasites and she took home shampoo to start bathing her dogs since they sleep with her. I informed her that dog lice do not like to live on people but she was taking no chances. Every pet, no matter how sheltered, should be on prevention for external parasites. This includes indoor only cats, especially if you have a dog that goes in and out.

Food allergies are a year round cause of skin issues in dogs and cats. I realize this does not seem logical. Why would a pet’s diet cause them to itch? It is related to the immune systems response to the ingredients in the pets food. Often times the itching will involve the face, ears, and neck. Dogs with ear issues only have responded to dietary changes. It is important that you visit with your veterinarian about your pets itching so you can have the best possible outcome.

If your dog does have seasonal or year round allergies not related to external parasites or diet, we have some new products that are revolutionizing these pets lives and their families. These two products can remove the itch without the side effects of products available in the past. The cost is based on the size of the dog but has successfully stopped the itch. Pet parents are sleeping better because their dogs are not scratching all night. The dogs no longer have hair loss or skin infection associated with the constant scratching and chewing. Many dog owners report that their pets appear happier overall because they no longer spend their days itching.

The first product that came available was Apoquel. This oral medication is given twice per day for the first 2 weeks, then goes to a once daily dosage for maintenance. We have some dogs that are on this year round and others that only need it for a season, like fall. As long as they get their medication the dogs are comfortable and not itching. Everyone is happy.

Last year a product called Cytopoint became available as an injectable product to help itching dogs. Initially they felt it would need to be given monthly to control the itch. As the product became more widely used, it was determined there was a longer duration of efficacy than originally thought. Many dogs were getting 8 weeks or more before the itching returned. We use the product and encourage the owner to help us determine how often the injection should be given based on the dogs symptoms.

These two products have truly changed the lives of allergic dogs and their owners. We, as veterinarians, are grateful to have products that we can use that are effective and do not have undesirable side effects. Make certain that you speak with your veterinarian about whether either of these products would be right for your dog. Since springtime has arrived officially, start your flea and tick medications today. We know those undesirable external parasites are waiting for your fur babies. Don’t let them have a chance at survival on your pet or in your home.

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My pet just peed on my carpet!

After vomiting, urination issues with pets is one of the most common calls veterinarians receive. The conversations always allude to the frustration by the owner for this terrible, but natural, deed. This is one of the largest reasons for animals surrendered to shelters or kicked out of the home left to wander the streets. This is a complex issue and so since it is spring, I will begin with puppy and kitten urination issues and clarify some do’s and don’t’s when it comes to urination habits. Again this would be my personal opinion and someone else may not agree with my comments, but at least you have options when you consider others viewpoints.

Kittens instinctively want to pee in and dig into something to urinate. They learn about covering their excrement from their mother. If you have an orphaned kitten they may never learn to cover their urine or stool. They can learn to use the box but may not be tidy about it. As a kitten, they have very tiny stool and urine and the box is huge so one can get by with scooping the box weekly. Please do not do that. As the kitten grows it becomes necessary to make that box pristine to encourage them to want to use the box instead of the carpet or flower pot. I use the scenario that when I go to a public restroom and see a toilet that has not been flushed, I move on to the next stall in hopes that one is more appealing. Cats do not want to step into the box and smell another cats urine or stool. They do not want to dig where they have already peed or pooped. They do not want to dive head first into a tub that smells or has clumps in it. If they bump their head on the hood/cover every time they attempt to pee or poop they may go elsewhere. A good rule of thumb is 1 litter box per cat in the house with daily scooping required of all boxes. Daily also add some fresh litter over the top. At least monthly you should dump the entire box if using clumping litter and weekly if using clay litter. It is important to not switch litter types abruptly. Cats are not fans of change.   One way a cat may stop using a box is to suddenly changing the type of litter without a gradual mixing over time of the two types of litter. Be aware of the type of stool and size of clumps when cleaning the box.   Any changes can be a clue to other health issues that could be life threatening if not addressed. Now having said this, I know some people have cats that do not seem to mind a dirty box. Feel blessed or be aware that things can change in a heartbeat and you may need to practice new litter box hygiene.

House breaking is the first hurdle that needs to be conquered when you bring home that cute adorable puppy. Most people get the puppies around 8 weeks of age. A puppy gets good bladder control at about 16 weeks of age. What that means is they can learn to go outside, but there is no waiting allowed before 4 months of age. If they need to go, they need to go now. Using a crate or kennel can encourage them to hold their urine. When you get home, and are attempting to get them out quickly enough to relieve themselves, you may have some oops moments. A puppy under 16 weeks should be let out every 4-6 hours during the day and every 6-8 hours at night. Do not feed or leave water in the indoor kennel since that may make it necessary for them to relieve themselves in the crate. Any puppy that eats and drinks will most likely need to go outside within 30-45 minutes. Plan to get up earlier each day so you can make certain they have had ample opportunity to relieve themselves before you leave. If you have to be gone longer than 6 hours, find a friend, neighbor, family member that can come in and let your puppy out. Avoiding accidents is the best way to be successful with house breaking.

NEVER, NEVER punish the puppy if they have an accident in the house. You can startle them if you catch them in the act by clapping your hands and scoop them up and see if they will finish outside. If you find the pee or poop in the house, rubbing their nose in it or scolding them while pointing or showing them the waste will make them realize you do not like pee or poop so they will avoid doing it in front of you. They do not connect that you are scolding them because they did it in the house. That is often why they sneak away and avoid being seen while in the house relieving themselves. It is also why some puppies will never go potty when you are outside with them watching. They know you do not like poop or pee because it makes you all growly and mad. Puppies get distracted often when outside and do not completely finish their business. It is wise to take them out on a leash and use a command, “Go Potty”, and not allow any playtime until they have taken care of business. Do offer a treat right outside when they pee or poop. Do not wait until you come indoors since that only rewards them for coming in the house. They forgot long ago that they peed while outside.

What about potty pads? I am not a fan. When you allow a puppy to pee on a potty pad in the house, you are telling that puppy it is okay to go in the house. Puppies have a preference for peeing on surfaces that they first pee on. A puppy born outside in the barn and has grass to pee on will be much easier to housebreak than a puppy that was raised on tile floors. During the winter when you put down a potty pad because it is cold outside, and then take them outside when the weather improves to pee, they are not even thinking about eliminating outside. I have suggested to some people to work past this issue to nail down a potty pad outside in the grass and slowly start cutting it smaller so eventually they are peeing in the grass. I can assure you though that they may still find it convenient to pee on the newspaper or magazine left on the floor.

If you are having housebreaking issues with your puppy after 4 months of age, do not ignore this. By doing so you may never have a dog that you can trust in your home. There are some medical causes for poorly house trained puppies. Speak with your veterinarian if you are concerned. The longer the puppy eliminates in the home the more challenging it gets.

Male intact pets during the mating season can start marking in the home. Some females during their heat cycle will urinate to alert the males that they are soon ready. These are instincts that are normal behaviors and can be difficult to rectify when the hormones are raging. Obviously by neutering and spaying your pets this can be controlled and avoided. Keep in mind that the longer the pet has been marking the more difficult it can be to reverse the behavior.

Diets can have an impact on urination habits. FUS stands for Feline Urological Syndrome and years ago we would see multiple cats a week with urinary issues. The males cannot urinate and the females are peeing outside of the box in small quantities and more frequent times. Over the years a number of cat food companies recognized that diets can prevent the cause of this medical condition and so they have adjusted the formulas. We do not know why some cats are affected by this and another in the same household is not. We still see a few cats each year with these issues but are happy when we can prescribe a diet that will prevent crystallization(sand like) in the urine.

This 18 lb. female terrier mix had a radiograph taken and the urinary stones are circled in red.

Dogs can have cases of crystallization of the urine but they are more often diagnosed with bladder stones. These are not stones in the kidneys or coming from the kidneys. These stones develop only within the bladder and cause urination issues over time. Some dogs try to pass the stones and cause blockages and cannot urinate and others will have accidents in the house with or without visible blood in the urine. A radiograph is often the best way to diagnose this condition. These stones are mineralized so they are very obvious in the bladder with a radiograph. Some stones can be dissolved with special prescription diets but others will require surgical removal. To avoid reoccurrence a preventive diet is prescribed for the rest of the pets life. Cats can also get bladder stones but it is less common.

This is the stones (seen in the radiograph above) after they were removed.

Urinary tract infections are seen in pets as well. Often times the pet is drinking more water. Asking to go outside more often. Peeing smaller quantities more frequent times. Cannot hold their urine through the night or day while you are at work. These are treated with antibiotics and often recovery is reached in 7-10 days.

Urinary incontinence is common in aging female spayed dogs. The important thing to consider here is if you note that there is a wet spot where your pet laid while sleeping.   In these situations, they are not actively squatting and peeing but instead the urine is seeping out when they are relaxed and are not even aware that it has occurred. We have wonderful medications to help prevent this issue for your pets. It does not have to happen every time they sleep so make certain you are seeing this often enough to justify the daily medication for life.

Numerous health conditions affect the thirst and urination habits of pets. These conditions are more likely noted in aging pets. Many times when I ask clients about a pets water consumption the response I get is, “They drink plenty of water.”   Is this amount normal or excessive? Clients bring the pet in because they are peeing in the house. What I am trying to determine is whether this pet has one of the above concerns or a major health issue associated with the thyroid, pancreas, liver, kidney, uterus, etc. These health issues require additional diagnostics to find the cause and extent of the disease. A healthy pet should drink at least 1-2 times the amount of dry food they eat in a day. If they are eating canned food they will drink much less. If your pet is drinking more than that or you are filling the water bowl up more than you used to or your pet is now drinking from the faucet or toilet bowl you may have a pet with a health concern. If the litter box has much larger clumps of urine than before or you need to change it more frequently, your cat may have a health concern. Many of these conditions can be treated with medications and/or special diets. The sooner they are diagnosed the better chance we have of controlling the symptoms of increase thirst and urination.

Behavioral issues are often blamed for a pet urinating in the house. I am not saying that this does not occur but I feel it is necessary to rule out the above concerns before classifying your pet as having a behavioral problem. Perceived behavioral issues relating to inappropriate urination are most often discovered to have a medical basis.

As you can see there are multiple reasons for pets urinating in the house. I am sure I have missed other causes but wanted you to be aware of things that matter when trying to determine the reason for your pet peeing on your carpet.   If this article has triggered any concerns with your pet, be certain to contact your veterinarian. Early intervention in each of these situations can improve the life of your pet and hopefully prevent you from having to replace your carpet!

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FELV AND/OR FIV…. what do these abbreviations mean for our cats?

FELV is an abbreviation for Feline Leukemia Virus. This is a retrovirus that infects cats only. No dogs or humans have shown infection with this virus. FIV stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus which is a lentivirus that infects cats as well. Both viruses are transmitted through saliva and biting seems to have the highest rate of potential infection to other cats. If cats are outdoors or indoor-outdoor there is a higher risk of exposure related to the fighting amongst cats for territory and during the mating season. We have concern that even when in close association with a positive FELV cat there could be exposure through saliva when grooming each other and even nasal excretions with sneezing. Caution should be exercised with food dishes and litter boxes.

It is always recommended that a cat and or kitten be tested for both of these viruses prior to introduction to any other cats in your home. It Is important to protect all cats that are in your home when considering an addition to your household. The tricky part is that most research indicates a new cat should be tested 30 days after its last exposure to other cats to make certain that the virus is not incubating within your new cat. Most shelters check for FELV and some for FIV. It is important to ask questions at the time of adoption so you know what has already been done. Ask about the quarantine and if the test was done 30 days after it’s last exposure to other cats with unknown histories.

FIV has been labeled the Feline AIDS like infection for cats. It is not contagious to humans. Cats can live perfectly normal lives with the FIV virus and infect other cats in the area over the years. Worldwide about 2.5-4.4% of cats are infected with FIV. This virus is spread through bite wounds so living casually amongst other cats that do not fight can prevent the spread of the virus. It has been shown that some cats immune system will challenge the virus and the cat will get lifetime immunity. Other cats may always be a carrier affecting other cats around them when fighting or breeding, and then sadly enough some cats end up with a compromised immune system and become extremely ill and can die from the virus. Since the immune system is affected the clinical signs can be varied so blood tests are the only way to diagnose this infection.

FELV is species specific for cats but evidence points to potential infections within the larger wild cat populations, such as lions. Nationwide, we see an infection rate of 2-3%. A newborn kitten can be born with the infection if the female is positive. Some cats can fight off the infection and will show antibodies against it indicating prior exposure.   Positive cats be carriers for their lifetime and die of natural causes or they can become extremely ill and eventually die from this infection. This virus affects the immune system as well and so the clinical signs can be numerous. A blood test is the only way to know if your cat has FELV.

Testing for both FIV and FELV can be done within most veterinary facilities. There are also different tests that can be done at professional laboratories if there are any concerns or questions about the accuracy of the first test. Any cat that is going to be introduced to your current cat population should be tested prior to allowing the cats to spend time getting to know one other. If you cannot wait the 30 day period before introduction, then have the cat tested on day 1 and then retest them 60 days later to make certain they are not carriers of the viruses. A positive test does not mean your cat is dying. It indicates your cat has been exposed. It says your cat can be a potential carrier for the virus. It means you need to offer the best preventive care to reduce stress for this cat. It is important to seek veterinary care if your cat becomes ill. It is necessary to know the risks to other cats in your household or outside.

Vaccinations are available to protect cats against FELV and FIV but neither are 100% effective. The FELV vaccine has reduced the percentage of positive cases since it was introduced over 30 years ago and will not cause a false positive on the blood tests. The FIV vaccine can generate antibodies after vaccination which then make it difficult to determine which cats are positive for the virus and which cats have been vaccinated. If you vaccinate your cat against FIV make certain to tell your veterinarian. These vaccines are of little use if your cat never goes outside or is never exposed to other cats that have these viruses.   These vaccines are administered when the risk is present for potential exposure to other cats that carry the viruses. THE BEST WAY TO PREVENT INFECTION IS TO AVOID EXPOSURE TO CATS AND KITTENS OF UNKNOWN STATUS OF FELV OR FIV.  

Treatment of cats diagnosed with either of these viruses is symptomatic. There are no proven formulas to remove this infection so if the cat is not eating you must find ways to feed it. If the cat has seizures you must seek medications to stop the seizures. If the cat has cancer you must seek the advice of an oncologist. If the cat has reoccurring upper respiratory infections antibiotics may always be needed. Keeping your positive cat healthy and happy with minimal stress may allow them to live a long life free of clinical disease. Yet, as with all viruses that affect the immune system, in spite of all of your efforts your cat can become clinically ill at any time. Many people request vaccinations for their indoor-outdoor cat(s) against FELV and do not do the test. I let them know that is their choice, but to always remember if their cat gets sick and conservative treatments are not turning the illness around, you must let your veterinarian run the diagnostic tests for FELV and FIV. These infections are more common than we would like to believe and without doing the tests you may never know the status of your cat.

In closing I want to thank all those people with big hearts that take in stray cats and kittens. Most cats seem to find their owners more than the owners find them. I applaud those efforts but also want to make certain you are aware of the risks to your current household population and please quarantine these strays until they can be seen by your veterinarian to avoid risks not only for FELV and FIV but so many other contagious conditions such as internal and external parasites, fungal infections, upper respiratory infections, etc. A new cat or kitten can be the demise of a current cat if you are not cautious.

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