|What you should know about external parasites*
|At some point in their lives, many pets experience discomfort caused by external
parasites such as fleas, ticks, or mites on their skin or in their ears. These
parasites can be extremely irritating to pets and can cause serious skin problems
and can carry diseases. Although this provides basic information about the most
common external parasites, your veterinarian is your best source of advice regarding
your pet's needs. Modern medicines make treatment, control, and prevention of many
external parasites much easier than in the past.
Fleas thrive when the weather is warm and humid. Depending on your climate, fleas
may be a seasonal or year-round problem. Your pet can pick up fleas wherever an
infestation exists, often in areas frequented by other cats and dogs. Adult fleas
are dark brown, no bigger than a sesame seed, and able to move rapidly over your
Adult fleas live their entire lives on your pet. Female fleas begin laying eggs
within 24 hours of selecting your pet as a host, producing up to 50 eggs each day.
These eggs fall from your pet onto the floor or furniture, including your pet's bed,
or onto any other indoor or outdoor area where your pet happens to go. Tiny,
worm-like larvae hatch from the eggs and burrow into carpets, under furniture, or
into soil before spinning a cocoon. The cocooned flea pupae can lie dormant
(inactive) for weeks to months before emerging as adults that are ready to infest
(or re-infest) your pet. The result is a flea life cycle of anywhere from 12 days to
Risks and Consequences
You may not know that your pet has fleas until their number increases to the point
that your pet is obviously uncomfortable. Signs of flea problems range from mild
redness to severe scratching that can lead to open sores and skin infections. One of
the first things you may notice on a pet with fleas is "flea dirt" — the
black flea droppings left on your pet's coat.
Fleas bite animals and suck their blood; young or small pets with heavy flea
infestations may become anemic (low red blood cells). Some pets can develop an
allergy to flea saliva that may result in more severe irritation and scratching.
Also, pets can become infected with certain types of tapeworms if they ingest fleas
carrying tapeworm eggs. In areas with moderate to severe flea infestations, people
may also be bitten by fleas. While fleas are capable of transmitting several other
infectious diseases to pets and people, this is rare.
Treatment and Control
Your veterinarian will recommend an appropriate flea control plan for your pet based
upon your needs and the severity of the flea infestation.
Fleas spend a lot of their time off of your pet and in the environment. In
addition to treating your pet, reduce the flea population in your house by
thoroughly cleaning your pet's sleeping quarters and vacuuming floors and furniture
that your pet comes in contact with frequently. Careful and regular
vacuuming/cleaning of the pet's living area helps to remove and kill flea eggs,
larvae, and pupae. You may also have to treat your house with insecticides to kill
the fleas; consult with your veterinarian about products that may work best for you.
Selecting a professional exterminator is many times the best choice to treat the
environment and this is always recommended. Make sure you select an exterminator
that offers a good guarantee.
With moderate and severe flea infestations, you may be advised to treat your yard
in addition to treating the inside of your home. Your veterinarian can recommend an
appropriate course of action and suggest ways to prevent future flea infestations.
Hosting a tick is the price dogs or, less commonly, cats may pay for investigating
shrubbery, brush, or wild undergrowth. Ticks have a four-stage life cycle, and
immature ticks often feed on small, wild animals found in forests, prairies, and
brush. Adult ticks seek larger hosts like dogs and cats who venture into these
habitats. Tick exposure may be seasonal, depending on geographic location.
Risks and Consequences
Ticks are most often found around your dog's neck, in the ears, in the folds between
the legs and the body, and between the toes. Cats may have ticks on their neck or
face. Tick bites can cause skin irritation and heavy infestations can cause anemia
in pets. Ticks are also capable of spreading serious infectious diseases (such as
Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, E.Canis, and others) to the pets and the
people on which they feed. Disease risk varies by geographic area and tick species.
Treatment and Control
Prompt removal of ticks is very important because it lessens the chance of disease
transmission from the tick to your pet. Remove ticks by carefully using tweezers to
firmly grip the tick as close to the pet's skin as possible and gently pulling the
tick free without twisting it. After removing the tick, crush it while avoiding
contact with tick fluids that can carry disease. Do not attempt to smother the tick
with alcohol or petroleum jelly, or apply a hot match to it, as this may cause the
tick to regurgitate saliva into the wound, increasing the risk of disease.
Pets at risk for ticks should be treated during the tick season with an
appropriate tick preventative. Your veterinarian can recommend a product best suited
to your pet's needs. Owners who take their pets to tick-prone areas during camping,
sporting, or hiking trips should examine their pets for ticks immediately upon
returning home and remove them from their pets. If your pet picks up ticks in your
backyard, trimming bushes and removing brush may reduce your pet's exposure to tick
Ear mites are common in young cats and dogs, and generally confine themselves to the
ears and surrounding area. Mites are tiny and individual mites may be seen only with
the aid of a microscope. Your pet can pick up ear mites by close contact with an
infested pet or its bedding.
Risks and Consequences
Ear mites can cause intense irritation of the ear canal. Signs of ear mite
infestation include excessive head shaking and scratching of the ears. Your pet may
scratch to the point that it creates bleeding sores around its ears. A brown or
black ear discharge is common with ear mite infections.
Treatment and Control
Treatment of ear mites involves thorough ear cleaning and medication. Your
veterinarian can recommend an effective treatment plan.
Sarcoptic Mange Mites
Microscopic sarcoptic mange mites cause sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies.
Sarcoptic mange mites affect dogs of all ages, during any time of the year.
Sarcoptic mange mites are highly contagious to other dogs and may be passed by close
contact with infested animals, bedding, or grooming tools.
Risks and Consequences
Sarcoptic mange mites burrow through the top layer of the dog's skin and cause
intense itching. Clinical signs include generalized hair loss, a skin rash, and
crusting. Skin infections may develop secondary to the intense irritation. People
who come in close contact with an affected dog may develop a skin rash and should
see their physician.
Treatment and Control
Dogs with sarcoptic mange require medication to kill the mites and additional
treatment to soothe the skin and resolve related infections. Cleaning and treatment
of the dog's environment is also necessary.
Demodectic Mange Mites
Demodectic mange caused by demodectic mange mites is mainly a problem in dogs.
Demodectic mange mites are microscopic, cigar-shaped, and not highly contagious. A
mother dog, however, may pass the mites to her puppies.
Risks and Consequences
Localized demodectic mange tends to appear in young dogs as patches of scaly skin
and redness around the eyes and mouth and, perhaps, the legs and trunk. Unlike other
types of mange, demodectic mange may signal an underlying medical condition, and
your pet's overall health should be carefully evaluated. Less commonly, young and
old dogs experience a generalized form of demodectic mange and can exhibit
widespread patches of redness, hair loss, and scaly, thickened skin.
Treatment and Control
Your veterinarian will discuss treatment options with you. Treatment of dogs with
localized demodectic mange generally results in favorable outcomes. Generalized
demodectic mange (demodecosis), however, may be difficult to treat, and treatment
may only control the condition, rather than cure it.
|Look for fleas, ticks, and coat abnormalities any time you groom your dog or
cat or when you return home from areas that are likely to have higher numbers of
|See your veterinarian if your pet excessively scratches, chews, or licks its
haircoat, or persistently shakes its head. These clinical signs may indicate the
presence of external parasites or other conditions requiring medical care.
|Prompt treatment of parasites lessens your pet's discomfort, decreases the
chances of disease transmission from parasite to pet, and may reduce the degree
of home infestation.
|Discuss the health of all family pets with your veterinarian when one
pet becomes infested. Some parasites cycle among pets, making control of
infestations difficult unless other pets are considered. Consult your
veterinarian before beginning treatment.
|Tell your veterinarian if you have attempted any parasite remedies, as this
may impact your veterinarian's recommendation.
|Be especially careful when applying insecticides to cats, as cats are
particularly sensitive to these products. Never use a product
that is not approved for cats, as the results could be lethal.
|Follow label directions carefully.
|Leave treatment to the experts. Your veterinarian offers technical expertise
and can assist you in identifying products that are most likely to effectively
and safely control your pet's parasite problem.|
If you have any questions, please call Hancock Animal Hospital at
617-773-0008. Home Page
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|Internal parasites in cats and
|Most internal parasites are worms and single-celled organisms
that can exist in the intestines of dogs or cats. The most common worms are roundworms,
hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms. Common single-cell parasites are
coccidia and Giardia.
What are roundworms
and how are they spread?
Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite in dogs and cats in the
world. Animals with roundworms pass the infection to other animals when the
worm eggs develop into larvae and are present in the animal's feces
(droppings). Your pet can pick up the infection by eating infected soil,
licking contaminated fur or paws, or by drinking contaminated water.
Infected female dogs may pass the infection to their puppies before birth
or afterwards when they are nursing. Infected female cats cannot infect their
kittens before birth, but can pass on the infection through their milk when
kittens are nursing.
What are the health risks to pets and people?
Puppies and kittens are the most prone to roundworm infection. Because
roundworms live in the small intestine, they steal the nutrients from the food
your pet eats and that can lead to malnutrition and intestinal problems. As
the larvae move through your pet's body, young animals may develop serious
respiratory problems such as pneumonia.
Roundworm infections are zoonotic (pronounced zoe-oh-NOT-ick) diseases,
meaning that they are animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans. While
direct contact with infected dogs and cats increases a person's risk for
roundworm infection, most infections come from accidentally eating the worm
larvae or from larvae that enter through the skin. For example, children are
at risk for infection if they play in areas that may contain infected feces
(such as dirt piles and sandboxes), and they pick up the larvae on their
Left untreated, roundworms in people can cause serious health problems when
the larvae enter organs and other tissues, resulting in lung, brain, or liver
damage. If the roundworm larva enters the eyes, permanent, partial blindness
What are hookworms
and how are they spread?
Hookworms are the second most common intestinal parasites found in dogs,
but they are less commonly found in cats. Your pet can become infected when
larvae penetrate the animal's skin or the lining of the mouth. An infected
female dog can pass the infection to her puppies through her milk, but this
does not occur in cats.
What are the health risks to pets and people?
Hookworms are dangerous parasites because they actually bite into the
intestinal lining of an animal and suck blood. As with roundworms, puppies and
kittens are at high risk of infection and developing severe diseases. Left
untreated, hookworm infections can result in potentially life-threatening
blood loss, weakness, and malnutrition.
Like roundworms, hookworm infections are zoonotic, and infections usually
occur by accidentally eating the larvae or by the larvae entering through the
skin. In humans, hookworm infections cause health problems when the larvae
penetrate the skin. The larvae produce severe itching and tunnel-like, red
areas as they move through the skin and, if accidentally eaten, can cause
What are whipworms
and how are they spread?
These worms get their name from their whip-like shape. Animals with
whipworms pass the infection along to other animals when the worm eggs develop
into larvae and are passed in their feces (droppings). Your pet can pick up
the infection by eating infected soil or licking their contaminated fur or
What are the health risks to pets and people?
Like hookworms, whipworms bury their heads in the lining of an animal's
intestine and suck blood, but they are generally less harmful and usually do
not cause health problems. Occasionally, severe infections can develop and
lead to diarrhea, weight loss, and blood loss. Whipworm larvae rarely infect
humans when they are accidentally eaten.
What are tapeworms
and how are they spread?
Tapeworms got their name because they are thin and flat, like strips of
tape. Unlike the smooth-bodied roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms,
tapeworms' bodies are actually made up of joined segments. Dogs and cats
become infected with tapeworms when they eat infected fleas or lice. They can
also get certain types of tapeworms by eating infected rodents.
What are the health risks to pets and people?
Tapeworms live in the small intestine and steal the nutrients from the food
your dog or cat eats. An infection is usually diagnosed when the eggs sacs are
seen under the pet's tail or on its stool. These sacs look like flattened
grains of rice. While there are several dewormers available that are effective
against tapeworms, keeping your pet free of fleas is the best preventative.
Rarely are tapeworms a risk to people.
How can I prevent/treat worm
Healthy pets may not show outward signs of a worm infection. However, if
you notice a change in your pet's appetite or coat, diarrhea, or excessive
coughing, see your veterinarian. In most cases, a simple fecal test can detect
the presence of worm eggs or adults and, if present, your veterinarian will
recommend a deworming program. A good way to prevent worm infections is by
using one of several Licensed monthly heartworm preventatives available from
your veterinarian at Hancock Animal Hospital.
Nursing female dogs and cats and their litters are also major sources for
the spread of infective eggs and larvae. If you have a new puppy or kitten, or
a pregnant pet, consult with your veterinarian at Hancock Animal Hospitalabout
a deworming program that will reduce your family's risk of infection.
Worm infections in humans can be easily prevented by practicing good
hygiene and sanitation. Children should be discouraged from eating dirt and
should not be allowed to play in areas that are soiled with pet feces.
Sandboxes should be covered when not in use. Adults and children should always
wash their hands after handling soil and after contact with pets. Shoes should
be worn when outside to protect feet from larvae present in the environment,
and raw vegetables should be thoroughly washed because they may contain
parasites from infected soil.
Dog droppings should be immediately picked up from public areas and from
your yard to reduce the chances of contaminating the soil. Keeping cats
indoors is an effective way to limit their risk of exposure to roundworms.
At Hancock Animal Hospital we routinely de-worm puppies and kittens even if
fecal samples are negative to help prevent these infections.
Other internal parasites
Coccidia (cok-SID-ee-ah) are single-celled parasites and are not
visible to the naked eye. Your pet can become infected by eating infected soil
or licking contaminated paws or fur. Once swallowed, the parasites damage the
lining of the intestine and your pet cannot absorb nutrients from its food.
Bloody, watery diarrhea may result, and the animal may become dehydrated
because it loses more water in its stool than it can replace by drinking.
Young pets are most often infected because their immune systems may not yet be
strong enough to fight off the parasite. Coccidia can be very contagious among
young puppies and kittens, so households with multiple pets should be
especially careful to practice good hygiene and sanitation.
A routine fecal test by your veterinarian will detect the presence of coccidia.
Treatment with medications will prevent the parasite from multiplying and
allow time for your pet's immune system to kill the parasites.
Giardia (gee-AR-dee-ah) is also a single-celled parasite that, if
swallowed, damages the lining of the intestine and reduces the absorption of
nutrients from the food your pet eats. While most Giardia infections
do not cause illness, severe infections can lead to diarrhea.
Giardia is harder to diagnose than other intestinal parasites, and
several stool samples may have to be tested before it is found. If necessary,
your veterinarian will recommend treatment with medications to eliminate the
infection. Because it is highly contagious among animals, good hygiene and
sanitation are important when there are multiple pets in the household.
Important points about internal parasites
|See your veterinarian if your pet has diarrhea, weight loss, increased
scooting, a dull coat, or if you see worms under its tail, in its bedding,
or on its stool.
|Prompt treatment of internal parasites lessens your pet's discomfort,
decreases the chances of intestinal damage, and decreases the chance that
your pet will infect humans or other animals.
|Good hygiene and sanitation reduce the chances that your pet will infect
people or animals. You can help prevent the spread of infection by always
cleaning up your pet's droppings immediately.|
At Hancock Animal Hospital will can go over routine and specific parasite
controls that your pet may need. Please contact us with any questions
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|Feline lower urinary tract disease*
| What is Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD or FUS)?
Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), sometimes called Feline
Urological Syndrome (FUS), describes a variety of conditions that affect the
bladder and urethra of cats. Cats with FLUTD most often show signs of
difficulty and pain when urinating, increased frequency of urination, and
blood in the urine. Cats with FLUTD also tend to lick themselves excessively
and may urinate outside the litter box, often on cool, smooth surfaces like a
tile floor or a bathtub.
While FLUTD can occur at any age, it is usually seen in middle-aged,
overweight cats that get little exercise, use an indoor litter box, have
little or no outdoor access, or eat a dry diet. Factors such as emotional or
environment stress, multi-cat households, and abrupt changes in daily routine
may also increase the risk that a cat will develop FLUTD.
Major Signs of Lower Urinary Tract
|Straining to urinate
|Frequent and/or prolonged attempts to urinate
|Crying out while urinating
|Excessive licking of the genital area
|Urinating outside the litter box
|Blood in the urine|
Note that cats with a urethral obstruction will also show
these signs but will pass little or no urine and become increasingly
distressed. A urethral obstruction is an emergency and requires
immediate veterinary treatment.
How is FLUTD diagnosed?
Because FLUTD has many causes, it can be difficult to diagnose. Based on
your cat's symptoms, your veterinarian will do a physical examination and most
likely will run a urinalysis. If the cause is still not identified, tests such
as bloodwork, x-rays, and additional urine tests may be recommended.
What are the most common causes of FLUTD?
Urolithiasis (Urinary Stones)
One possible cause of FLUTD is the formation of urinary stones, also called
uroliths. These are collections of minerals that form in the urinary tract of
cats. X-rays or ultrasound are usually needed to diagnose urinary stones.
While a special, stone-dissolving diet is often prescribed to eliminate the
stones, more aggressive treatment is needed for those that cannot be dissolved
through changes in diet. For example, a veterinarian may help a cat pass
stones by flushing its bladder with sterile fluids. If this fails, or if
stones recur, then surgery may be necessary. A veterinarian may then recommend
medication or dietary changes after surgery to help prevent recurrence.
The most serious problem associated with urinary function is when a cat's
urethra becomes partly or totally blocked. Urethral obstruction is a
potentially life-threatening condition caused either by urethral stones or by
urethral plugs (the latter are made of a soft material containing minerals,
cells, and mucus-like protein).
Male cats (neutered or intact) are at greater risk for urethral obstruction
than females because their urethra is longer and narrower. This is a true
medical emergency, and any cat suspected of suffering from this condition must
receive immediate veterinary attention. Once the
urethra becomes completely blocked, the kidneys are no longer able to remove
toxins from the blood or maintain a balance of fluids and electrolytes in the
body. Without treatment, death frequently occurs when these imbalances lead to
heart failure — often in less than twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
Treatment of this condition involves dislodging the obstruction, usually
accomplished by flushing a sterile solution through a narrow tube placed into
the urethra. Once the obstruction is removed, further treatment depends upon
the condition of the cat. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances are treated
with intravenous fluid therapy. Antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat
infection, and drugs that help restore bladder function are sometimes
For cats who continue to experience urethral obstruction despite medical
treatment, there is a surgical procedure called a perineal urethrostomy. Since
side effects of this surgery can include bleeding, narrowing at the surgical
site, urinary incontinence, and a greater incidence of other kinds of bladder
diseases, it is usually considered only as a last resort.
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis
Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)—also called interstitial cystitis—is the
most common diagnosis in cats with lower urinary tract disease. The disease is
not fully understood and may involve several body systems in addition to the
Stress and diet changes can increase the risk of FIC. As many as 40-50% of
cats will have another episode of FIC within one year, but veterinarians
cannot predict which cats will have relapses. The disease can be chronic and
very frustrating for the cat, the owner, and the veterinarian. The current
goals of treating cats with FIC are to decrease the severity and frequency of
What can I do at home to prevent future occurrences of
Fortunately, most cats recover from FLUTD. In
some cats, however, the condition often reoccurs. To help reduce the chances
|Feed small meals on a frequent basis.
|Consult with your veterinarian about the best diet for your cat. Many
commercial diets are acceptable, but many urinary conditions respond
better to specialized prescription diets.
|Provide clean, fresh water at all times.
|Provide an adequate number of litter boxes (usually one more than the
number of cats in the household).
|Keep litter boxes in quiet, safe areas of the house.
|Keep litter boxes clean.
|Minimize major changes in routine.|
If you have any questions, please call Hancock Animal Hospital
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|Heartworm is a preventable, but serious and potentially fatal,
parasite that primarily infects dogs, cats and ferrets. It can also
infect a variety of wild animals, including wild canids (e.g., foxes,
wolves, coyotes), wild felids (e.g. tigers, lions, pumas), raccoons,
opossums, and pinnipeds (e.g., sea lions and seals), as well as others.
There have been documented human infections, but they are thought to be
rare and do not usually result in signs of illness.
How is heartworm disease transmitted and what does
Heartworms can only be transmitted from animal to animal by
mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, young heartworms
called microfilariae enter into that mosquito's system. Within two
weeks, the microfilariae develop into infective larvae inside the
mosquito; these infective larvae can be transmitted to another animal
when this mosquito takes its next blood meal. Unlike dogs, infected cats
do not often have microfilariae circulating in their blood, and an
infected cat is not likely to transfer the heartworm infection to
The infective larvae mature into adult heartworms in approximately
six months. During the first three months, the larvae migrate through
the animal's body, eventually reaching the blood vessels of the lungs.
During the last three months, the immature worms continue to develop and
grow to adults, with females growing to lengths of up to 14 inches. The
worms damage the blood vessels, and reduce the heart's pumping ability,
resulting in severe lung and heart disease. When the animal shows signs
of illness due to adult heartworm infection, it is called heartworm
If adult worms (5-7 months post-infection) of both sexes are present,
they will mate and produce new microfilariae. The microfilariae can
cause the animal's immune system to mount a reaction; this immune
reaction can actually cause damage to other organs. This life cycle
continues when a mosquito bites the infected animal and becomes infected
by the microfilariae. After development of the microfilariae to
infective larvae within the mosquito (10 days to 2 weeks later) the
infective heartworm larvae are capable of infecting another animal.
Adult heartworms can survive for 5 to 7 years in dogs and several months
to years in cats.
Where is heartworm disease found?
Geographically, heartworms are a potential threat in every state as
well as in many other countries around the world. All dogs, regardless
of age, sex, or living environment, are susceptible to heartworm
infection. Indoor, as well as outdoor, cats are also at risk for the
disease. If you plan to travel with your dog or cat to a different part
of the country, or another country, ask your veterinarian about the risk
of heartworm infection in the area where you are going to relocate or
What pets should be tested for heartworm?
Because heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, any pet exposed to
mosquitoes should be tested. This includes pets that only go outside
How can I tell if my pet has heartworm disease?
Dogs: If your dog has been recently or
mildly infected with heartworms, it may show no signs of illness until
the adult worms have developed in the lungs and signs of heartworm
disease are observed. As the disease progresses, your dog may cough,
become lethargic, lose its appetite or have difficulty breathing. You
may notice that your dog seems to tire rapidly after only moderate
Numerous diagnostic tests are available for your veterinarian to
detect the presence of adult heartworm infection (> 6 month old
infections) in your dog. Antigen tests detect the presence of adult
female heartworms, and antibody tests determine if your pet has been
exposed to heartworms. The antigen test is most commonly performed, and
is very accurate in dogs. Further tests, such as chest radiographs
(x-rays), a blood profile and an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the
heart), may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis, to evaluate the
severity of the disease, and to determine the best treatment plan for
Cats: Signs of possible heartworm disease
in cats include coughing, respiratory distress, and vomiting. In rare
cases, a cat may suddenly die from heartworms.
The diagnosis of heartworm infection in cats is more difficult than
it is with dogs. A series of different tests may be needed to help
determine the likelihood of heartworm infection as the cause of your
cat's illness and, even then, the results may not be conclusive. In
general, both antigen and antibody tests are recommended for cats to
give the best chances of detecting the presence of heartworms.
How can my pet be treated?
Dogs: As with most medical problems, it is
much better to prevent heartworm infection than to treat it. However, if
your dog does become infected with heartworms there is an FDA-approved
treatment available. There is substantial risk involved in treating a
dog for heartworms. However, serious complications are much less likely
in dogs that are in good health and when you carefully follow your
The goal of heartworm treatment is to kill the adult worms and
microfilariae present in your dog, as safely as possible. However, when
a dog is treated it is important to consider that heartworms are dying
inside the dogs lungs. While your dog is treated, it will require
complete rest throughout hospitalization and for some time following the
last treatment. Additionally, other medications may be necessary to help
control the body's inflammatory reaction as the worms die and are broken
down in the dog's lungs.
Cats: There is currently no effective and
safe medical treatment for heartworm infection or heartworm disease in
cats. If your cat is diagnosed with heartworms, your veterinarian may
recommend medications to reduce the inflammatory response and the
resulting heartworm disease, or surgery to remove the heartworms.
Can heartworms be surgically removed?
Surgical removal of heartworms from dogs and cats is a high-risk
procedure and is typically reserved for severe cases. However, in many
cases surgical removal of heartworms may be necessary to afford the best
opportunity for survival of the pet.
Can heartworm disease be prevented?
Heartworm infection is almost 100% preventable in dogs and cats.
There are several FDA-approved heartworm preventives available in a
variety of formulations. Your veterinarian can recommend the best method
of prevention based upon your pet's risk factors and lifestyle. Of
course, you have to remember to give your pet the preventive in order
for it to work!
The preventives do not kill adult heartworms, and will not eliminate
heartworm infection or prevent signs of heartworm disease if adults are
present in the pet's body. Therefore, a blood test for existing
heartworm infection is recommended before beginning a prevention program
to assess the pet's current heartworm status. Because it is more
difficult to detect heartworms in cats, additional testing may be
necessary to make sure the cat is not infected.
Testing must then be repeated at appropriate intervals. The next test
should be performed about 6 months after starting the preventive
treatment, to confirm that your pet was not infected prior to beginning
prevention (remember, tests only detect adult worms). Heartworm tests
should be performed annually to ensure that your pet doesn't
subsequently become infected with the disease and to ensure the
appropriate amount of medication is being prescribed and administered.
There have been reports of pets developing heartworm infection despite
year-round treatment with a heartworm preventive, so having your pet
tested regularly is the best way to keep them protected.
At Hancock Animal Hospital we recommend yearly heartworm testing and
approved monthly preventative. If you have any questions, please call
Hancock Animal Hospital at 617-773-0008.
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Euthanasia and Grief- the hardest decision*
It's never an easy decision to make, but perhaps the kindest thing you can do for a pet
that is extremely ill or so severely injured that it will never be able to resume a life
of good quality is to have your veterinarian induce its death quietly and humanely through
A decision concerning euthanasia may be one of the most difficult decisions you will
ever make for your pet. Although it is a personal decision, it doesn't need to be a
solitary one. Your veterinarian and your family and close friends can help you make the
right decision and can support you as you grieve the loss of your pet.
What should I do?
Eventually, many owners are faced with making life-or-death decisions for their pets.
Such a decision may become necessary for the welfare of the pet and your family. Consider
not only what is best for your pet, but also what is best for you and your family. For
example, if your pet has an injury or disease that requires more care than you and your
family can give to make sure it has a good quality of life, euthanasia may be the right
decision. Quality of life is important for pets and people alike.
Once the decision for euthanasia has been made, it is sometimes easier to discuss what
you want done with the remains of your pet's body before your pet is euthanatized – by
making arrangements prior to euthanasia, it can bring some degree of comfort to know what
will be done with your pet's body, and you will not have to focus on these decisions while
you are grieving the recent loss of your beloved pet. The staff at Hancock Animal Hospital
can provide information about burial, cremation, and other alternatives.
How will I know when?
If your pet can no longer experience the things it once enjoyed, cannot respond to you
in its usual ways, or appears to be experiencing more pain than pleasure, you may need to
consider euthanasia. Likewise, if your pet is terminally ill or critically injured, or if
the financial or emotional cost of treatment is beyond your means, euthanasia may be a
valid option. Sometimes asking yourself the question, "Does my pet have more bad days
than good days?" can help you make the decision.
Your veterinarian understands your bond with your pet and can examine and evaluate your
pet's condition, estimate its chances for recovery, and discuss any potential
disabilities, special needs and long-term problems. He or she can explain medical and
surgical options as well as risks and possible outcomes. Because your veterinarian cannot
make the euthanasia decision for you, it is important that you fully understand your pet's
condition. If there is any part of the diagnosis or the possible effects on your pet's
future that you don't understand, ask questions that will help you understand. Although
there are times when the decision needs to be made immediately, you usually will have some
time to review the facts and discuss it with your family and friends before making the
What if the animal is healthy?
Euthanasia might be necessary if a pet has become vicious, dangerous, or unmanageable.
Some undesirable and abnormal behavior can be changed, so it is important to discuss these
situations with your veterinarian. Your and your family's safety should always be taken
Economic, emotional, and space limitations or changes in lifestyle also may cause an
owner to consider euthanasia for their pet. Sometimes it is possible to find another home
for the pet and that option should be pursued prior to opting for euthanasia. Euthanasia
of healthy pets should be considered only when alternatives are not available.
How do I tell my family?
Family members usually are already aware of a pet's problems. However, you should
review with them the information you have received from your veterinarian. Long-term
medical care can be a burden that you and your family may be unable to bear emotionally or
financially, and this should be discussed openly and honestly. Encourage family members to
express their thoughts and feelings. Even if you have reached a decision, it is important
that family members, especially children, have their thoughts and feelings considered.
Children have special relationships with their pets and should not be excluded from the
decision-making process because they might seem too young to understand. Preventing
children from participating in the process may only complicate and prolong their grief
process. Children respect straightforward, truthful, and simple answers. If they are
prepared adequately, children usually are able to accept a pet's death.
Will it be painless?
Euthanasia is most often accomplished for pets by injection of a death-inducing drug.
Your veterinarian may administer a tranquilizer first to relax your pet. Following
injection of the euthanasia drug, your pet will immediately become deeply and irreversibly
unconscious as the drug stops brain function. Death is quick and painless. Your pet may
move its legs or head or breathe deeply several times after the drug is given, but these
are reflexes and don't mean that your pet is in pain or is suffering.
How can I say goodbye?
The act of saying goodbye is an important step in managing the natural and healthy
feelings of grief and sorrow following the loss of a beloved friend and companion.
Once the euthanasia decision
has been made, you and other family members may want to say goodbye to your pet. A last
evening with your pet at home or a visit to the pet at the hospital may be appropriate.
Family members who want to be alone with the pet should be allowed to do so. Some pet
owners choose to be present during their pet's euthanasia, but others choose to say
goodbye beforehand and not be present during euthanasia. This is a very personal decision
and you should do what feels right for you. Do not let others pressure you into making a
choice that makes you uncomfortable.
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How can I face the loss?
After your pet has died, it is natural and normal to feel grief and sorrow. For some
people, spending some time with their pet after euthanasia is helpful. The grieving
process includes accepting the reality of your loss, accepting that the loss and
accompanying feelings are painful, and adjusting to your new life that no longer includes
your pet. By understanding the grieving process, you will be better prepared to manage
your grief and to help others in the family who share this loss.
Sometimes well-meaning family and friends may not realize how important your pet was to
you or the intensity of your grief. Comments they make may seem cruel and uncaring
although they were not meant to be taken that way. Be honest with yourself and others
about how you feel. If you feel despair, talk to someone who will listen to your feelings
about the loss of your pet. Talk about your sorrow, but also about the fun times you and
your pet spent together, the activities you enjoyed, and the memories that are meaningful
The stages of grief
There are many stages of grief, but not everyone experiences them all or in the same
order. The stages include denial, anger, guilt, depression, acceptance, and resolution.
The grief can seem to come in waves, may be brought on more intensely by a sight or sound
that sparks your memory, and may seem overwhelming at times.
Your first reaction may be denial—an unwillingness to accept the
fact that your pet has died or that death is unavoidable. Denial may begin when you first
learn the seriousness of your pet's illness or injuries. Often, the more sudden the death,
the more difficult the loss is to accept and the stronger the denial.
Anger and guilt often follow denial. Your anger may be directed toward
people you normally love and respect, including your family, friends or your veterinarian.
People coping with death will often say things that they do not really mean,
unintentionally hurting those whom they do not mean to hurt. You may feel guilty or blame
others for not recognizing the illness earlier, for not doing something sooner, for not
being able to afford other types of or further treatment, or for being careless and
allowing your pet to be injured.
Depression is a common experience after the death of a special pet.
The tears flow, there are knots in your stomach, and you feel drained of all your energy.
Day-to-day tasks can seem impossible to perform and you may feel isolated and alone. Many
depressed people will avoid the company of friends and family. It might be hard to get out
of bed in the morning, especially if your morning routine involved caring for your pet's
needs. Sometimes you may even wonder if you can go on without your pet. The answer is yes,
but there are times when special assistance may be helpful in dealing with your loss. If
you are suffering from profound depression, seek professional assistance.
Eventually, you will come to terms with your feelings. You can begin to accept
your pet's death. Resolution has occurred when you can remember your pet
and your time with them without feeling the intense grief and emotional pain you
previously felt. Acceptance and resolution do not mean that you no longer feel a sense of
loss, just that you have come to terms with the fact that your pet has died.
Even when you have reached resolution and acceptance, feelings of anger, denial, guilt,
and depression may reappear. If this does happen, these feelings will usually be less
intense, and with time they will be replaced with fond memories.
Although everyone experiences the stages of grief, grieving is always a very personal
process. Some people take longer than others to come to terms with denial, anger, guilt,
and depression, and each loss is different. If you understand that these are normal
reactions, you will be better prepared to cope with your feelings and to help others face
theirs. Family and friends should be reassured that sorrow and grief are normal and
natural responses to death.
If you or a family member have great difficulty in accepting your pet's death and
cannot resolve feelings of grief and sorrow, you may want to discuss these feelings with a
person who is trained to understand the grieving process and can support and help you as
you mourn your loss. Your veterinarian certainly understands the relationship you have
lost and may be able to suggest support groups and hot lines, grief counselors, clergymen,
social workers, physicians, or psychologists who can help.
Remembering your pet
The period from birth to old age is much shorter for most domestic animals than for
people, and death is a normal part of the lifecycle. It cannot be avoided, but
understanding and compassion can help you, your family, and your friends manage the grief
associated with it.
For some people, a memorial service or ritual (such as releasing balloons or spreading
cremated remains) can be therapeutic. You may choose to keep and display reminders of your
beloved pet, such as photos or mementos or anything that helps you recall and treasure the
good times you spent with your beloved pet. You may also wish to make a memorial
contribution to a charity in honor of your pet and the deep bond you shared. Just as the
grieving process varies from person to person, so does the method of remembering the pet
that shared your life.
Should I get another pet?
The death of a beloved pet can upset you emotionally, especially when euthanasia is
involved. Some people may feel they would never want another pet. For some, the thought of
having – and eventually losing – another pet may seem unbearable. These feelings may
pass with time. For others, a new pet may help them recover from their loss more quickly.
Just as grief is a personal experience, the decision of when, if ever, to bring a new pet
into your life is a personal one.
If a family member is having difficulty accepting the pet's death, getting a new pet
before that person has resolved his or her grief may make them feel that you think the
life of the deceased pet was unworthy of the grief that is still being felt. Family
members should agree on the appropriate time to bring a new pet in to their lives.
Although you can never replace the pet you lost, you can find another to share your life.
For more information about the American Veterinary Medical Foundation
and how you can make a memorial contribution, visit www.avmf.org
free to contact us at Hancock Animal Hospital at any time. 617-773-0008
What are vaccines?
Vaccines are products designed to trigger protective immune responses in pets and
prepare them to fight future infections from disease-causing agents.
Vaccines can lessen the severity of future diseases and certain vaccines can prevent
infection altogether. Today, a variety of vaccines are available for use by veterinarians.
Some vaccines are administered via injections using a syringe and needle, and others are
administered into the animal's nose. Other methods of administration are currently under
Is it important to vaccinate?
Yes! Pets should be vaccinated to protect them from many highly contagious and deadly
diseases. Experts agree that widespread use of vaccines within the last century has
prevented death and disease in millions of animals. If an unvaccinated pet develops one of
these diseases, treatment can become very expensive and many of these diseases can be
fatal despite treatment. Even though some formerly common diseases have now become
uncommon, vaccination is still highly recommended because these serious disease agents
continue to be present in the environment.
It is also important to remember that pets can be vaccinated for some Zoonotic
(pronounced ZOE-oh-not-ick) diseases, which are diseases that can be spread from animals
to people. For example, rabies is a serious, often fatal, disease that can spread from
infected animals to people. By vaccinating your pets for rabies, you are protecting your
family as well as your pet.
Does vaccination ensure protection?
For most pets, vaccination is effective in preventing future disease. Occasionally, a
vaccinated pet may not develop adequate immunity and, although rare, it is possible for
these pets to become ill if exposed to the disease. These gaps in protection should be as
short as possible to provide optimal protection against disease for the first few months
of life. It is important to remember that although breakdowns in protection do occur, most
appropriately vaccinated pets are able to successfully fight off disease—reinforcing the
importance of vaccines in your pet's preventive health care program.
Are there risks?
Any treatment carries some risk, but these risks should be weighed against the benefits
of protecting your pet from potentially fatal diseases. Most pets respond well to
vaccines. The most common adverse responses are mild and short-term, including fever,
sluggishness, and reduced appetite. Pets may also experience temporary pain or subtle
swelling at the site of vaccination. Although most adverse reactions will resolve within a
day or two, any excessive or continued pain, swelling, or listlessness should be discussed
with your veterinarian.
Rarely, more serious adverse reactions can occur. Allergic reactions appear within
minutes or hours of a vaccination and may include repeated vomiting or diarrhea, whole
body itching, swelling of the face or legs, difficulty breathing or collapse. Contact your
veterinarian immediately if any of these symptoms are seen. In very rare instances, death
could occur from an allergic reaction. There are other uncommon but serious adverse
reactions, including injection site tumors (sarcomas) in cats, which can develop weeks or
months after a vaccination. The best advice is to always tell your veterinarian about any
abnormalities you notice after your pet has been vaccinated.
**** ALWAYS tell us prior to any vaccinations if your pet has had any previous
vaccination problems or concerns.
Why do puppies and kittens require a series of vaccinations?
Very young puppies and kittens are highly susceptible to infectious diseases because
their immune systems are not fully mature. While nursing, their mother's milk contains
antibodies (special proteins) that provide some immunity to diseases; however, these
maternal antibodies do not last long, and there may be gaps in protection as the milk
antibodies decrease and the puppies' or kittens' immune system isn't yet capable of
fighting off infection. In many instances, the first dose of a vaccine serves to prime the
pet's immune system against the virus or bacteria while subsequent doses help to further
stimulate the immune system to produce the antibodies needed to protect a pet from
specific diseases. To keep these gaps in protection as small as possible and to provide
optimal protection against disease in the first few months of life, a series of
vaccinations are scheduled, usually 3-4 weeks apart. For most puppies and kittens, the
final vaccination in the series is administered at about 4 months of age; however, in some
situations, a veterinarian may alter this schedule based on an individual animal's risk
factors. Remember that an incomplete series of vaccinations may lead to incomplete
protection, making puppies and kittens vulnerable to infection.
Which vaccinations should my pet receive?
Not all pets should be vaccinated with all available vaccines. "Core"
vaccines are recommended for most pets in a particular area because they protect from
diseases most common in that area. "Non-Core" vaccines are reserved for
individual pets with unique needs. Your veterinarian will consider your pet's risk of
exposure to a variety of preventable diseases in order to customize a vaccination program
for optimal protection throughout your pet's life. Talk with your veterinarian about your
pet's lifestyle including its expected travel to other geographic locations and/or contact
with other animals (such as exposure at kennels, obedience classes, shows, and dog parks)
since these factors impact your pet's risk of exposure to certain diseases. For older
pets, make sure your veterinarian is aware of any previous adverse reactions to vaccines.
How often should my pet be vaccinated?
For many years, a set of annual vaccinations was considered normal and necessary for
dogs and cats. There is increasing evidence to support that immunity triggered by some
vaccines provides protection beyond one year while the immunity triggered by other
vaccines may fail to protect for a full year. Consequently, one vaccination schedule will
not work well for all pets. Your veterinarian will determine a vaccination schedule most
appropriate for your pet.
What are antibody titers, and do they replace vaccinations?
Antibody titers are blood tests that measure the amount of antibodies in the blood.
Following exposure to a disease-causing organism (such as a virus) or a vaccine, the body
generates antibodies that help to destroy the organism and prevent or minimize illness if
the body is exposed to the same organism again.
Antibody titers do not replace vaccination programs, but in some instances may help
your veterinarian determine if your pet has a reasonable expectation of protection against
disease. However, there are only a limited number of disease-causing organisms for which
antibody titers can suggest your pet's level of protection, and those antibody tests have
limitations. Consequently, a higher antibody titer does not necessarily mean your pet will
be protected if exposed to the disease, and a lower titer may not mean your pet's
protection is lacking.
A final thought
Many factors are taken into consideration when establishing a pet's vaccination plan.
Your veterinarian will tailor a program of vaccinations and patient health care that will
help your pet maintain a lifetime of infectious disease protection.
free to contact us at Hancock Animal Hospital at any time. 617-773-0008
provided in part by the American Veterinary Medical Association.