Spring Has Come…

With springtime comes many outdoor activities. We are seeing people snap photos of their morel mushrooms, play outdoors sports, do yard work, and of course, head out into the great outdoors to spend time with their pets.   Along with all of these outdoor activities we need to be aware and attentive to the danger of wood ticks during the springtime. Numerous people and pets are being diagnosed with tick borne diseases. My focus this month will be on some important information about ticks and how to protect yourself and your pets.

Growing up on an Iowa farm, our dog had more ticks than I could count on any given day. It was a job to check the dog over daily and remove any ticks that were found. The number of products available back in the 70’s to use as prevention was limited and so every pet and person got a good tick check at the end of the day. We never heard about Lyme Disease or Erlichiosis in those days. We just knew that one large tick leads to many baby ticks and did not want that to happen so we flushed the ticks or squashed them. Today between social media, television, friendly conversations, etc., it is rare not to find some new information about tick diseases or hear about another person diagnosed with a tick borne disease. These diseases are in every state except Hawaii. It is important to educate yourself on the best way to protect your family and your pets.

I first want to discuss Lyme disease in dogs. Most people are familiar with Lyme disease and know that a very small deer tick transmits this disease to its host. What is not talked about is that mice, turkeys, birds are also hosts for the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that deer tick transmit. Therefore any person could be at risk for contacting Lyme disease no matter where they live or play.   Deer ticks also have a very active stage in the fall. This is not common knowledge and therefore people that hunt and hike in the fall are not protecting themselves.

Dogs have some great advantages over humans when it comes to protecting themselves against Lyme disease.   There are vaccines that can protect our canine friends from Lyme disease and if vaccinated prior to exposure they have greater than 95% success. The first time it is given there is a series of 2 vaccinations and then it is an annual shot after that. Puppies can be vaccinated as young as 12 weeks of age. Discuss the risk your pet may have to Lyme disease with your veterinarian and see if you should start this immunization today.

We have had flea and tick products for many years that when applied topically would prevent many ticks from attaching and taking a blood meal.   Then about 3 years ago some oral products came to the market that gave 100% body coverage but do require a bite for a blood meal. So the debate still continues, bite or no bite, which is better. I believe that both products when used properly and used 9-10 months out of the year, can do a great job at preventing tick infestations. Now you will notice that I suggested 9-10 months out of the year. In Madison County, we have seen some extremely mild winters where we get minimal snow and often have days during December – February where we are above freezing. It has been discovered that ticks will still be out “questing” for their host even at freezing temperatures if the ground is not covered with snow.   For that reason, you must consider protecting your pet longer and/or consider year round prevention.   Many infections of Lyme Disease will not be discovered until 4-6 months after the tick bite. This is related to the Borrelia life cycle once it is injected into the host.   Dogs do not get a bullseye skin rash so the first indication your dog has been infected may be fever, extreme joint pain, lethargy, and no appetite. Exposure to Lyme disease can be diagnosed with a simple laboratory test done in the clinic. These tests can also indicate exposure to Erlichiosis and Anaplasmosis which are two other tick borne diseases. We have been seeing many positive test results with Erlichiosis and last month I had my first positive Anaplasmosis in a dog that moved here from Wisconsin. The owner indicated 4 years ago the dog was ill and treated for Anaplasmosis. It was still positive when it presented to Winterset Veterinary Center for a routine screening. The dog is no longer clinically ill but may always be positive on the screening test. Anaplasmosis has often been considered a disease of the South, but this dog had never left Wisconsin.

Erlichiosis and Anaplasmosis both cause similar symptoms to Lyme’s disease. We do not have any vaccines to protect against these two diseases, so your best protection would be tick control and checking for ticks at the end of the day.   We do not know how long a tick must be attached to transmit these organisms. For Borrelia that transmits Lyme Disease we know it is more then 24 hours, but the research is still ongoing for the other two diseases. Researchers know it is quicker than Borrelia but is it 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc hours we still do not know. We are also aware that once positive for any one of these tick borne diseases, treatment or no treatment, they will most likely remain positive for the rest of their life. There is concern now that some of our joint disease issues may stem from a chronic (long term) infection of tick borne diseases. These organisms can also infect the kidney which can be detrimental as the pet ages. It has been shown that infection with Erlichiosis can produce clinical symptoms much faster than Lyme Disease. Therefore it is important to remove ticks quickly to prevent transmission of the bacteria.

Lyme Disease was first diagnosed in Lyme, Connecticut in the mid 1970’s and a scientist, Willy Burgdorfer, in 1981 made the connection between deer tick and the disease. The first dog case of Lyme disease in Madison County was diagnosed by Dr. Jim at Winterset Veterinary Center in 1989. Since that time cases have been increasing in humans and animals.   This link gives information about Lyme Disease: History of Lyme Disease | Bay Area Lyme Foundation

The following link indicates that Erlichiosis has now been discovered in Minnesota and Wisconsin in humans and will only be a matter of time before Iowa is on the map. We are finding Erlichiosis in Iowa dogs so I am certain it will be diagnosed in humans very soon.


If we know a dog has any one of these tick borne diseases the use of antibiotics can knock down the clinical symptoms. The problem is knowing how long to treat and if the bacteria will actually be cleared from the body. Studies have shown that even with treatment the organism may remain in the body and surface at times of stress such as pregnancy or treatment with immunosuppressive medications. This is what makes these diseases such a mystery to treat. We are still learning new information daily on the life cycle of these tick borne diseases.

So if you are headed out to enjoy the great outdoors, please take precautions not only for your pet but yourself as well. This is the time of year when ticks are out in full force and it only takes one tick to start a long illness that may always plague you or your pet.

Do not take a chance on this because it is a life changing disease and anyone who has contacted it will tell you……I wish I would have known then what I know now about these tick borne diseases. Their lives will never be the same. Learn from their words of wisdom and take all the precautions you can and protect your pets with vaccinations, flea and tick products, and regular tick checks.

Is This a Service Animal, Therapy Animal, or Pet?

It has become apparent that pet owners are interested in taking their pets with them everywhere they go. Some hotel chains are making exceptions for pets. There are pets in businesses and public venues that I have not seen before. I believe that we are going to see more opportunities for pets in public places in the future. Yet we must be cautious not to infringe on the rights of those working dogs that are essential for the disabled and/or handicapped to carry out their day to day routines.

We are seeing an increase number of people indicating their “pet” is a therapy animal, service animal, or emotional support animal. Yet there is much confusion and misunderstandings about what the differences are. I am going to share some basic information and then encourage you to ask more questions and find out more details if there are situations that you are finding yourself or someone you love in. A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. A disability can include a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that a medical professional (licensed mental health professional) has determined provides benefit for an individual with a disability. A therapy animal has been obedience trained and screened for its ability to interact favorably with humans. Their primary purpose is to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, etc. At Winterset Veterinary Center we have been asked to write letters indicating a pet is an emotional support or therapy animal. We are not licensed to make that decision so we cannot write such a letter. There are trainers that offer many different levels of training. One must educate themselves on what are the needs of the person desiring the animal. How do you select the animal and is that even possible? What are the expenses necessary to train the animal? If we train this animal, where are we allowed to take the it at the end of the program? The following link has an excellent chart describing the differences between service, emotional support, and therapy animals. The article is associated with a news team that realized how easy it was to turn a family pet into a service dog just through an online purchase. Of course that is not legal and is punishable by law if someone is caught passing their dog off as a service dog.


I reprinted the chart below so if you are interested in learning the comparison’s between service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs it is there for your information. I found this chart at orvis.com titled, “Is that a real service dog?”

There are very high standards and guidelines that must be followed with service animals. These requirements take a large number of hours in training and gaining experiences that can often times only be accomplished through programs like Paws and Effect, Puppy Jake, Guide Dogs of America, etc.   Even in these programs sometimes up to 50% of the puppies that begin training never complete the training or retire early. The cost to train a dog in one of these programs can range from $10,000-$20,000 or more. The training can span more than 2 years depending on what tasks the animal is being taught. Attempting to adopt a dog or purchase a dog and start the training process yourself can be a great expense and at the end a dog may not have the skills or mental capacity to be a service dog. Often times a trainer agrees to help you train your dog but there is no guarantee that you will have a dog that can truly be a service dog for you or your loved one. Take time to look at this link and recognize the great challenges that lie before you and your pet. The investment in time and money will be substantial. The following link lists requirements of service dogs in public and will be a good source of information.


If after reading this you are still interested in training your dog to be a service dog, emotional support dog, or therapy dog. A good place to start is working toward a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) award. A CGC award is for dogs that pass basic social and behavioral classes. There are 10 basic steps to this award. It is a noncompetitive test for all dogs and can be used as a prerequisite for therapy dogs. Some homeowner insurance companies and apartment complexes are looking to use these tests to encourage good manners in the dogs and teach responsible pet ownership to their owners. The following link gives you more information on what this CGC test is all about and what the test items are. This is a great place to start with any dog and if it receives this award then you are able to move forward with additional training and tasks. If it fails this CGC test then you need to realize this dog will never be anything but a very special pet that can give you great joy and happiness.


This last link just points out the great injustice to those people who do have service dogs and how it affects them in their daily lives when others try to pass their pets off as service dogs. Please consider the danger of “Imposter Service Animals” to the general public. We need to protect the true service animals and their owners by keeping our companion animals only in public places that allow all pets.

Easy-to-Obtain Vests Can Make an Untrained Pet Look Like an …

March is Pet Poison Awareness Month

Pet Poison Prevention Awareness Month during March is fast approaching. It is always a good time to refresh our minds about common items that are a huge danger to pets.

My goal this month is to encourage pet owners to pet proof their homes when it comes to some of these common products. The number of calls we get around holidays about pets eating chocolate is just one indication of how awareness is important at all times.

We also see a rash of calls each fall about accidental rat poison exposure. As warm weather returns the calls can switch to outdoor exposures of new plants and shrubs that are available for chewing on.   Every season or holiday has risks lurking for our pets. Stay aware and alert to what is in and around your home.

Foods that we eat can be a problem for our pets. Chocolate is one that most people are aware of its toxicity to pets. Dark chocolate is more toxic than milk chocolate, but depending on the size of the pet and what volume they consume, symptoms can range from vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, and even death. What people are not as familiar with is raisins, grapes, and currants causing irreversible kidney damage to our pets when ingesting even a small amount. Onions whether cooked or raw can cause anemia and only transfusions can save pets once this process of destruction begins. Raw bread dough can cause distention of the stomach and ethanol intoxication develops as the yeast ferments. Macadamia nuts can cause clinical symptoms of vomiting, weakness, depression, but has not shown to be fatal.

Avocado fruit, leaves, stems, and seeds have all been shown to be toxic to multiple animals but less so for dogs and cats. There are a number of people who have hobby farms and may not be aware of its effect on the heart muscle or its ability to cause severe mastitis in lactating animals such as cattle, goats, sheep, rabbits, horses, pigs, etc. The following article has more information on risks to animals.

Avocado – Toxicology – Veterinary Manual

Edibles and/or Medibles are cannabis infused, food products. Homemade or commercially prepared marijuana infused foods and drinks have increased the number of accidental pet poisoning by greater than 330% in the last few years. The following article is a great resource for anyone wanting to know more about this new risk to our family pets. If your pet has been exposed to THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) please contact your local veterinarian and tell them exactly what they ate and how much. The package from the product would be of great help if it is still available.

Pets and Pot: Poisoning Cases at an All Time “High” | Pet Poison …

Mouse and rat poisons are high on the list of items toxic to both dogs and cats that many people are very familiar with. In the last few years a new rat poison called Bromethalin has been replacing the previous poison called Brodifacoum. Bromethalin causes severe brain edema and affects the pets nervous system. It does not have an antidote like we have with Brodifacoum offering the Vitamin K to stop bleeding disorders. There are multiple products that contain these different poisons so make certain you know what you are purchasing and keep them away from pets. Including the dead mouse or rat to avoid any secondary poisoning situations.

Indoor and/or outdoor plants are often a cause for concern for our pets. With Easter approaching it is important to keep all Lilies away from our pets. This link will take you to a sight to explore whether you have any plants that could be harmful to your pets. Be aware of any flowers delivered to your home since they are a source of curiosity for your pets, especially cats.   Outdoor landscape plants such as the Yew plant, which is cardiotoxic to all animals, are important to consider as well. Unexpected death is often the first symptom seen when animals are exposed to Yew.

Top 10 Plants Poisonous to Pets – Pet Poison Helpline

Xylitol is toxic to your dog and this is one that is becoming more of a concern since we have a large number of products that contain it.   Everyone knows chocolate is toxic but the risk with xylitol is even greater since the volume needed to cause death is much less. The article below describes in more detail the dangers with xylitol. It has a great photo showing the amount of chocolate verses the amount of gum it would take to kill a dog.   Cats have not shown to be as sensitive to xylitol but I would still suggest avoiding consumption.

Xylitol: The “sugar-free” sweetener your dog NEEDS you to know about

Human medications are a huge concern for pets as well. The list is endless on how these medications can affect our pets. So often the accidental poisoning occurs when a dose is dropped or a bottle is not returned to a safe location. Please put all medications and daily pill dispensers in tightly secured locations where pets cannot chew or play with the containers. A purse or bag are not considered secure.   If exposure has occurred please have the name and strength of the drug and an idea of how many may have been consumed and how long ago. This information can be helpful in determining the treatment and potential side effects.

As springtime draws near we will once again need to protect our pets from fleas and ticks as we start enjoying the outdoors again. Flea and tick products can be a source of toxicity to our pets. This usually occurs because the wrong product was used on their pet. Most dog products are toxic to cats. Do not attempt to treat your small dog with just a drop of the large dogs’ flea and tick product. Avoid your pets ability to lick the area where the product was applied and from licking one another. You can remove most topical flea and tick products using Dawn dishwashing detergent. Then it is important to have your pet seen by your veterinarian if they display signs of vomiting, depression, tremors, seizures, etc.

Pets are family and one needs to consider the importance of being aware at all times of what hazards are present in and around your home or that of family and friends. Pets should always be seen as toddlers when considering how to pet proof every location. If you ever find yourself wondering whether something is poisonous or not, or what symptoms to look for, the following link to the Pet Poison Helpline is a great source of information. If you need more advice they do work directly with you and your veterinarian for a fee.   I hope spring comes early and we are able to have a warm and safe March, free from accidental poisonings.

Pet Poison Helpline | Animal Poison Control Center


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