Small Animal FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions
There is no substitute for regular visits to your veterinarian to detect disease in its early stages, and to implement vaccination, parasite prevention, dental hygiene and other programs that safeguard your pet from costly and sometimes fatal diseases.
All dogs are at risk of exposure to various infectious diseases, even if they spend most of their time indoors. Some infectious diseases are life-threatening while others, like rabies, also pose a public health risk. Vaccination to prevent common infectious diseases supports the first goal of medicine - disease prevention. Prevention of infectious disease is beneficial to your cat than treating it once it occurs. The animal's natural immune system helps eliminate viral and bacterial infections. Thus, preventive vaccination is one of the most reliable and cost-effective methods of health care available to a pet owner.
Vaccines contain killed or modified live forms of viruses or bacteria. They stimulate production of protective antibodies in immunocompetent animals that neutralize the natural virus or bacteria if the animal is later exposed. Although vaccines provide protection against infectious disease, they do not treat or cure existing diseases. Some vaccines contain combinations of viruses or bacteria that immunize against several diseases, minimizing inconvenience to the owner and discomfort for the pet.
Nursing puppies ingest immunizing antibodies from their mother. These maternal antibodies provide early protection against infectious disease. However, they also neutralize the immunizing agents in vaccines. Maternal antibodies naturally decline during the first 3 to 4 months of life and eventually disappear. For this reason, puppies vaccinated earlier than 12 weeks of age. This increases the likelihood of long-term protection from vaccination as soon as maternal antibody levels have declined below protective levels.
Immunity to most infectious diseases gradually decline so periodic revaccination is generally necessary. Frequency of vaccination is dependant on your dog's lifestyle, age and risk of disease exposure. Your veterinarian can determine the appropriate vaccination interval based on your pet's history and individual circumstances.
The benefits of vaccination are usually considered to far outweigh the relatively small risk of vaccine-related adverse effects. Allergic reactions to vaccination and local, injection-site irritation are uncommon, but they do occur. On rare occasions, dogs may develop tumors (fibrosarcomas) at the site of injection, including vaccines or even bite wounds. Your veterinarian can advise you of the possible risks associated with vaccination and the steps to take if vaccine-related reactions occur.
Rabies is a viral disease that can affect all warm-blooded mammals, including cats, dogs, wildlife and humans. The virus infects cells of the nervous system, producing incoordination and behavioral abnormalities, such as unusual aggression or withdrawal. Once the signs of rabies appear, the disease is always fatal. Rabies is usually transmitted by bite wounds, often from infected wildlife, which represent the largest reservoir of the disease in the U.S. Vaccines are very effective in preventing rabies. Most states in the U.S. require rabies vaccination of dogs at 1 to 3-year intervals. Many states also require rabies vaccination of cats.
Dogs are at risk of enteritis (intestinal disease) caused by two common viruses, canine parvovirus and canine coronavirus. Canine parvovirus enteritis is generally considered to be more severe than coronavirus enteritis. However, parvovirus enteritis may be more serious if coronavirus is also present. Diarrhea and vomiting caused by these viruses can range from mild to severe, and are accompanied by depression and loss of appetite. Unvaccinated puppies and young dogs are most commonly affected because they usually have not been previously exposed or vaccinated and are susceptible to infection. Viral enteritis is easily spread because of the large volume of virus in the feces, which contaminates the environment and is readily spread from one animal to another. Severe cases of viral enteritis can be fatal due to dehydration and loss of appetite. Puppies are at greatest risk of death because of their limited body reserves.
Canine distemper is a widespread, high-mortality viral disease of dogs. Exposure is considered inevitable during a dog's lifetime, so canine distemper vaccination is almost always recommended. Puppies and young dogs without immunity are at greatest risk. Canine distemper virus infects various tissues in the dog's body, producing diarrhea, fever, nasal and ocular discharge, respiratory disease, appetite loss and neurologic signs such as muscular spasms and paralysis. The disease is easily transmitted and often fatal.
Hepatitis is spread by contact with urine, feces and other secretions from infected animals. The liver is the primary organ affected and death is possible in severe cases.
Several types of bacteria and viruses are known to cause infection and inflammation of the lungs and respiratory passages of dogs. The most prevalent are adenovirus type 2, parainfluenza virus and Bordatella bronchiseptica. The stress associated with boarding and increased exposure to these organisms commonly results in "kennel cough" in unvaccinated dogs.
The bacteria, which cause Lyme disease in dogs and humans, is carried by a specific tick species. Lyme disease is very difficult to diagnose because of the long incubation period and vague, arthritic, flu-like symptoms that may accompany it. As the disease progresses, Lyme-causing bacteria damage many different organs including the liver, heart, nervous system and kidneys. Infective ticks, as small as the head of a pin, may inhabit urban and rural lawns and gardens, as well as fields and forests. Cool, wet weather in the spring and fall increases your pet's risk of contracting Lyme disease.
Giardia is the most common waterborne parasite in North America. Virtually all mammals, including cats, dogs and humans, are susceptible to Giardia infection. Surface water contaminated by the fecal material of infected wildlife, birds and livestock is thought to be the primary breeding ground of this organism, which is very resistant to cold temperatures. Giardia can infect your pet when it drinks from contaminated puddles, ponds, ditches or streams.
Lepto is a serious bacterial disease of mammals including dogs and humans. While many organisms may be attacked by the leptospira bacteria, the liver and/or kidney are the most frequently affected. Symptoms of the disease may include fever, vomiting, lethargy, abdominal pain, coughing and increased urination. If left untreated, death may occur. Diagnosis of lepto can be difficult. Leptospira bacteria are harbored in the bodies of wildlife, rodents and livestock, and are expressed in the urine of infected animals. Any surface water contaminated by this urine represents a source of infection to your pet. Increased rainfall may elevate your pet's risk of contracting leptospirosis.
Also known as feline distemper, feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious, often fatal disease of cats. The disease is caused by a parvovirus transmitted by contact with infected cats, their feces or environmental contamination. The virus is highly resistant and capable of surviving in the environment for months. Kittens without prior vaccination or exposure are most susceptible. Signs of acute infection include fever, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal pain, tremors and incoordination.
The great majority of feline respiratory diseases result from two easily transmitted infections: feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), caused by a herpesvirus, and feline calicivirus (FCV). FVR and FCV infection result in similar illnesses, characterized by nasal and ocular discharge, conjunctivitis, ulcers of the oral cavity, anorexia, depression and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Cats usually recover in 1 to 2 weeks, although cats with FVR can become persistently infected after returning to normal, shedding the virus during periods of stress. FVR can result in abortion of infected fetuses. Kittens are at greatest risk of FVR and FCV because they usually have had no prior vaccination or exposure and are highly susceptible to infection. Chlamydia psittaci bacteria are a less common cause of feline respiratory disease, but can increase the severity of FVR or FCV infection. Vaccines are available for FVR, FCV and Chlamydia psittaci.
Feline leukemia is a high-mortality disease caused by the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). FeLV produces an initial immunosuppressive infection followed by various other diseases (e.g. respiratory disease, diarrhea, anemia) affecting the immunosuppressed cat. Cats that survive these initial diseases may develop some form of cancer, hence the name feline leukemia. The disease is transmitted by direct contact with infected cats or with contaminated food dishes or litter boxes. Feline leukemia vaccination is now commonplace.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) begins as an upper respiratory infection that can progress to a widely distributed inflammation of tissues and organs, including peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal cavity). Although not always present, a classic sign of FIP is abdominal swelling with fluid as a result of inflammation. FIP is caused by a coronavirus that is transmitted by contact with cats. Once signs of FIP appear, death loss approaches 100%. Cats 2 years of age and younger and elderly cats are most often affected.
FIV attacks a cat's immune system, producing a slow-developing immunodeficiency disease that results in chronic secondary and opportunistic infections. These include respiratory, gastrointestinal, urinary tract, and skin infections, and general unthriftiness. Various cancers may also develop. FIV infection is life long. However, FIV disease is relatively uncommon and most cats remain normal for extended periods until immunodeficiency occurs.
Parasitic zoonoses are diseases caused by parasites. While we normally associate parasites, such as roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms with cats and dogs, people can accidentally be infected with the same parasites.
Young children are especially at risk. Based on a national survey, 73 percent of pediatricians see cases of pet-to-human parasitic zoonotic disease every year. Parasites can cause problems that range from intestinal upset to blindness or even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), thousands of patients in the United States are infected with roundworms annually, and an estimated 750 will suffer permanent visual impairment or even blindness.
Parasites are transmitted to people through oral ingestion of parasite eggs from a contaminated environment, through hookworm larvae penetrating the skin, or from accidentally ingesting a flea infected with a tapeworm. Contamination occurs when people accidentally put dirty hands in their mouths. People, particularly children, can be exposed to parasites at work or play in contaminated soil, such as a sandbox or garden. Parasite eggs cannot be seen by the naked eye but are present wherever there are feces from an infected animal. Sometimes fruits and vegetables growing close to or in the ground, such as strawberries and carrots, are contaminated. If not carefully washed, they can be a source of human infection as well.
Parasite eggs are shed by animals, even by those that appear to be well and energetic. Therefore, you may not recognize any illness or see obvious symptoms until it is too late. A nationwide study revealed more than 1 out of 3 untreated dogs were infected by roundworms, hookworms, or whipworms. Almost 100% of puppies less than 3 months old are infected with roundworms. Of veterinarians who see adult cats, 43% report seeing cats with tapeworms, and 26% report seeing cats with roundworms frequently to often.
If left untreated, intestinal parasites quickly reproduce in your pet's intestinal tract and produce eggs, which then contaminate the yard when the pet defecates. These eggs become infective, and are the source of most zoonotic infections. Regular deworming of your pet removes intestinal parasites before they are able to reproduce, and can greatly reduce contamination of the environment. In addition, regular deworming of your pet removes intestinal parasites, which can cause illness in your pet. That's why it's wise to see your veterinarian as soon as you adopt a pet. The doctor can recommend an effective treatment, which should begin as early as 2 to 3 weeks of age. Preventive deworming is the best protection. Preventive deworming is a practice recommended by the American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists (AAVP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Preventive deworming consists of treating your pet for intestinal worms at regular intervals that are specifically designed to prevent disease and the shedding of parasite eggs in your yard and home.
Regular deworming is the best way to prevent parasitic disease, and the transmission of intestinal parasites from pets to people. Frequent deworming is crucial for newborn puppies and kittens because they can be seriously harmed by parasites. Regular deworming also prevents the shedding of parasite eggs, which can contaminate yards or any place pets defecate. The danger is not only that your pet can be reinfected, but that family members can be infected too.
Most intestinal parasites can multiply at an alarming rate, so even a single intestinal worm can become a fast-growing problem. One female roundworm can lay up to 100,000 eggs in one day. One hookworm can produce up to 20,000 eggs in a day. In just one week, two puppies infected with roundworms can shed more than 20 million eggs and contaminate a 2800-sq. ft. backyard. Parasite eggs can survive in the soil for years. Although many deworming products claim to remove multiple parasites, some do not work as effectively or as thoroughly as others. Several dewormers, for example, leave certain worm species and their eggs behind. And some do not remove whipworms and/or tapeworms at all. That's why it's important to ask your veterinarian about dewormers that remove the broadest range of parasites and their eggs most effectively.