All posts tagged 'dog facts'

5 Spooky Canine Superstitions

adorable-dog-and-witch

We’re all familiar with the long and storied association between cats and mythology. It makes sense: they are mysterious creatures, well suited to legends and lore. But what about dogs? As man’s best friend, they fall into a bit more of a predictable and familiar category. Or do they?

As much time as we spend with dogs, it makes sense that superstitions would crop up over time. While some are specific to a certain time or place, others are more universal. Where did these myths come from, and why? Read on to learn about five of the most unusual ideas and legends surrounding our canine companions!

1. A Howling Dog Brings Death

Origin: This is one of the most common dog superstitions, and can be found in multiple cultures. In Greek mythology, the howling of a dog was thought to signal that the Wind God had summoned death to a nearby home. In Norse mythology, dogs howl at the approach of Freyja, the Goddess of Death. Why? Because her chariot is pulled by two giant cats (think about it). In Welsh lore, the king of Annwn would patrol the land riding supernatural hounds that only other dogs could see. The howling was their way of acknowledging the presence of these spooky beasts as they raced by.

Facts: Dogs howl as a form of communication. Sometimes it's for attention, other times it's an expression of anxiety, and sometimes it’s just a loud way of saying, “HELLOOOOOO." As a form of communication, it’s very effective! As a former coonhound owner, I can attest to the fact that baying carries over long distances. Remember, dogs are pack animals, much like their relatives, wolves, whose howl can be heard for many miles!

howling-at-the-moon

2. Dogs Can See Ghosts

Origin: If you’ve lived with a dog, you’ve probably had this hair-raising experience ... it’s pitch black outside. You’re home alone. In the eerie silence, your dog suddenly starts to stare at a wall (or worse, a door with no window) and starts to growl, hackles raised. Are they seeing the supernatural?

Facts: Dogs do perceive the world differently than we do, but that’s hardly proof of the supernatural. From dog whistles that pick up high frequencies we cannot register to a sense of smell 10,000 more sensitive than our own, dogs enjoy a heightened experience of their environment beyond our capabilities.

Out in the world, many people report dogs appearing agitated in the moments before earthquakes or other natural disasters. It is theorized dogs can pick up on sensitive vibrations we miss. People have taken advantage of these sensitivities to train dogs in everything from seizure alerts to cancer detection, proving that in almost every sense, dogs out-perceive the world compared to you and me. So what is your dog growling at in the dead of night? Let’s tell ourselves something comforting so we can fall asleep tonight.

3. If You Step in Dog Poo, Do it Properly

Origin: This one is specific to France, land of croissants, the Louvre, and lots and lots of dog poop. According to local lore, stepping in dog piles with your left foot is good luck, while stepping in it with your right? Woe be unto you!

Fact: More than anything, this legend reflects that as a “scoop your poop” culture, France has a long way to go. A recent survey noted that while 1.85 million dog waste bags were sold in the UK in 2015, France sold a mere 3,600. That’s one fifth of one percent as many bags being sold, people. Until 2007, dog poop wasn’t even mentioned in French law at all. Mon dieu!

I think no matter where you live we can all agree on one thing. Stepping in a warm pile of dog waste never feels lucky, regardless of the foot.

three-white-dogs

4. Seeing Three White Dogs Together Signals Good Luck

Origin: An English myth contends that seeing three white dogs standing together is a sign of good fortune, particularly financial luck. An alternate version states the same good luck will come to you if you spot a Dalmatian (pun intended!) on the way to a business meeting.

Fact: No one is quite sure where this came from. Maybe because these dogs were rare, it was more of a unique find to see them wandering the streets! Just as possible is the simple associations people make between white being a symbol of good luck and black a symbol of bad luck, an unfortunate fallacy that results in many wonderful black cats and dogs having a more difficult time getting adopted. As someone who adopted both a beautiful black Labrador and a sweet and wonderful black cat, I’m convinced they bring nothing but great fortune.

5. No Dogs Allowed On Board Ships

Origin: Historically, nautical legend is filled with a wide variety of superstitions about who and what can come on board. It makes sense. Sailing is by nature a dangerous occupation, so every time something terrible would happen, it’s only natural to look for some external cause. Better to blame the flowers or bananas you brought on board than the terrible weather you had no control over. But why dogs? That, unfortunately, remains a mystery. You’d think those long, lonely days out on the open seas could only be improved with a happy companion. Maybe it was the fleas they brought as stowaways?

Fact: Times have changed. Dogs are now considered faithful companions to many seafaring people. You can even get your dog his or her own lifejacket if you’re planning to bring him aboard. If you want any further proof about how much our views have evolved over time, consider this: cats on board ships used to be considered good luck, probably due to their ability to control the rodent population. Can you imagine taking today's average house cat out on the high seas? Yikes!

If you ask me, having a dog in the house is good luck no matter what. According to my own personal legends and lore, dogs bring good health, happiness, and reduced stress to all they come across. That's a story I could tell again and again!

Have you ever heard a dog-related superstition? Share it in the comments section below!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Pudgy Pet? Surprisingly Easy Fixes

woman-and-pug

The latest surveys indicate that over half of the dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight. Moreover, a sizeable percentage fit the criteria for moderate to severe obesity. The extra heft puts pets at-risk for serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, painful arthritis, high-blood pressure, kidney disease and cancer, all of which can shorten their lifespan. The good news is that solving your companion animal’s weight problem might be easier than you’d expect.

A pet parent’s strongest weapon in the fight against obesity is small and powerful … a measuring cup! If you’re like many pet parents, you guess at the amounts, or simply replenish the bowl when it’s empty. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention states that as few as 10 extra pieces of kibble can lead to excess weight gain in smaller dogs. Amazingly, just by measuring meal portions, you can help your dog or cat shed unwanted weight!

While the feeding guide on a label offers a good rule of thumb, remember that most of these standardized charts are based on the needs of young adult dogs. If you’re feeding an older “couch potato” based solely on the label, you could be over-feeding your dog by about 20%. Each pet’s metabolism is different, so it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian … they can calculate your pet’s ideal daily intake.

Another vital measure towards curbing weight is also a simple one … selecting the perfect food. Choose a diet that states an animal-specific protein source (such as chicken or fish) as the number one ingredient. Avoid foods pumped up with corn, wheat and glutens, as carbo-loading will sabotage any weight-loss efforts. Made for canines with weight issues, Life’s Abundance Adult Weight-Loss Formula has 28% less fat and 32% fewer calories per cup compared to our original formula. This recipe also features higher protein levels to aid metabolism, and is enhanced with L-carnitine to support a healthy metabolism and weight management.

happy-frenchie

Now, let’s talk about treats. You know that great feeling you get when you give your pup an edible goodie? Yeah, you might not be doing them a favor, because too many treats on the market aren’t much better than canine candy bars. Again, stick with a trusted brand, one that commits to only selling treats with a targeted health benefit. For example, Life’s Abundance offers a whole line of baked treats, each made to promote overall health and happy tummies. Wholesome Hearts are delicious, low-fat dog treats, perfect for dogs who need to be careful about their weight. The rich aroma makes Wholesome Hearts simply irresistible. Break treats into smaller pieces and dole them out as mini-rewards for your pupper.

Lastly, research has proven the most effective way to living a long, disease- and pain-free life is daily exercise. Dogs make the best exercise partners … they’ll never tempt you to skip your new routine in favor of a flavored latte. We’re not talking about going out and running a marathon. As little as 20-30 minutes of brisk walking can have a remarkable effect, improving cardiovascular health, enhancing mood and boosting immune function. Plus, you’ll likely eliminate behavioral problems common among cooped-up canines. Do yourself and your dog a favor and commit to daily walks.

If you implement these simple suggestions, your companion animals will be well on their way to slimmer figures and healthier lifetimes.

Be sure to share this post with other pet parents. It just might be the first step in the process toward a better life for an overweight pet.

Ways a New Puppy Improves Life with Teens

Dakota-and-Oliver

For the past three weeks, I have heard “Are you nuts?” more times than I can count. I think the answer is mostly likely “yes,” but then again I challenge any one of you to turn down this face ...

Puppy-Oliver

Yes, our family now has not one but two puppies. Dakota is eight months old, and just getting into that lovely stage where his adult teeth are all in and he’s starting to mellow out. So, of course it’s the perfect time to introduce a Golden Retriever puppy. Meet Ollie!

Dakota was mortified at first, annoyed at second, but now they are best buddies. He gets to bear the brunt of Ollie’s substantial puppy energy, and they spend long hours chasing each other all over the yard, wrestling like two frat brothers, and generally looking for mischief to get into.

Dakota-peeks

For most of my adult life I have had retrievers, and one of our favorite things to do was head over to Grandma’s house on the weekends to go swimming. I’ve never had a dog who could resist going into the pool. Until Dakota, that is. He hates swimming. Despises the water and looks at it like it is acid.

Ollie, not so much. I don’t think you could keep his fuzzy little butt out of the water if you tried.

Oliver-leaps

It’s entirely possible that I only agreed to take on another puppy because sleep deprivation from the first puppy left me delirious, but to be honest we’re all feeling pretty darn good about our decision here in the Vogelsang household. With the exception of the mass amounts of fur we now have to deal with every day (remind me again how a tiny puppy can shed that much?) we were well equipped to take this little guy on.

It's also possible that I agreed to this because my oldest is entering high school this year and I needed a small distraction from both the march of time and her natural (yet still sad) pulling away from wanting to hang out with us. As I sit overseeing Dakota and Ollie's mutual and seemingly perpetual wrestling competition at my feet, it’s a good time to reflect on what puppies bring to the life of a parent with teenagers:

1. Puppies are always overjoyed to see me, which I can’t always say for the teenagers. Any extra joy I feel certainly has an effect on the whole household.

2. The pups are also always excited to see the teenagers, which keeps them around a little longer in the evenings before disappearing to talk to their friends.

3. Puppies are incredibly photogenic, so my kids spend even more time with us taking photos for their Instagram feeds. Whatever it takes, right?

4. Puppies keep you in the moment. I mean, not only are you taking in every cute and adorable moment, you are truly engaged because otherwise they eat all your shoes. It’s easy to spend the day staring at your phone and miss what’s going on right in front of you.

5. Pups remind you that every moment is fleeting. It seems like Ollie and Dakota are literally growing in front of my eyes, a pound a day. They live their lives in fast forward. They remind me that even though my human kiddos grow a little more slowly they, too, are young for only a short while.

6. Puppies remind me to have compassion for other parents. As a vet, it’s very easy to sit in an exam room or on the phone and tell someone what they should be doing, but we forget how truly difficult some of the implementation can be. An act as simple as brushing the dogs every day takes me five times longer than it should as Ollie tries to eat the brush, then the hair, then a sock he found who knows where. The same goes for human parenting. Boy, it’s easy to judge other parents for the lunches they pack or a child’s choice of T-shirts but really, we’re all just trying to do the best we can!

7. Pups put to rest, once and for all, any regrets about the size of our family. One of my neighbors has three dogs and six children. They are lovely and she is very happy. I am very happy with two dogs and two children, and my hands are more than full! I don’t know how she does it, but I am glad she has the family that makes her fulfilled. Everyone creates the family that is right for them.

Any other puppy lessons you care to share? Leave your stories in the comments section below.

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

5 Meds That Are Toxic to Pets

dog-at-vet

The past four months have been a blur of training, cleaning up and chasing around after our new puppy, Dakota. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I did forget how much trouble a curious puppy can get into! Last week I found Dakota chomping on a travel-sized bag of trail mix that included chocolate covered raisins. Chocolate covered raisins! How did that even get into the house? I still don’t know where it came from, but fortunately I was able to intervene before he opened the bag.

Most people know that chocolate and grapes can be toxic for pets, but potential threats can lurk elsewhere in your home. Prescription and over-the-counter medications are among the top reasons people call into poison control hotlines for both kids and pets, and with good reason. Here are the top five medications of concern when it comes to pets and toxicity:

1. Ibuprofen. As the active ingredient in common over-the-counter products such as Advil and Motrin, ibuprofen is unfortunately ingested by pets both accidentally and intentionally by owners unaware of its potential side effects. Cats are particularly sensitive to its effects. The most common clinical sign is vomiting or gastrointestinal ulcers, though it can also lead to kidney damage. Other NSAIDS such as Aleve can also be problematic.

2. Acetaminophen. Speaking of pain medications, acetaminophen-containing products such as Tylenol are also high on the list of pet poisons. Like ibuprofen, cats are particularly sensitive to the effects of this medication, and one pill is enough to kill a cat. Both cats and dogs can experience liver damage as a result of this medication, starting with decreased appetite and leading to yellow skin (a sign of jaundice), swollen paws or difficulty breathing. Acetaminophen is a common ingredient in combination products like cough and flu remedies, so be careful to read the label on your products!

pill-spill-dog

3. Stimulants. ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin can be toxic to companion animals. Sadly, they are more likely to be ingested by pets as they are often prescribed for children who may be less vigilant about keeping the pills out of the reach of the household dogs and cats. Signs of ingestion may include dilated pupils, seizures, shaking or hyperactivity.

4. Antidepressants. Antidepressants fall into several categories depending on their mechanism of action. In the most commonly prescribed medications (such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Effexor) work by increasing the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain. When overdosed, the brain can be flooded with these chemicals and pets can experience a variety of symptoms such as depression, hyperexcitability, seizures and vomiting.

5. Vitamin D. As doctors are starting to diagnose Vitamin D deficiency more often, this is a common supplement in people’s medicine cabinets. When there is too much in the body, blood calcium levels also rise, resulting in serious damage to the kidneys. It is so effective at causing damage that it's commonly used in rat poisons such as d-Con. Vitamin D might appear on rodenticide labels as “cholecalciferol,” and should be avoided.

There’s no time like the present to ensure any of these items in your house are safely secured away from prying pet paws. If you suspect your dog or cat has ingested any of these harmful substances, call your veterinarian or a pet poison control helpline ASAP!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Make Your Dog Happier by Thinking Like One

appreciating-beauty

Most people who have a dog love their dog. Unfortunately, sometimes that love falls short of actual empathy. For example, many of the "problem dog behaviors" that people complain about aren't really your dog's fault. If someone you know keeps getting "bad dogs," chances are that the dogs aren't the source of the problem. By showing your pupper a bit of empathy by viewing recurring issues from their perspective - both physically and mentally - you will develop a deeper appreciation and love for your furry companion. And that translates into a happier dog ... and a happier you!

Dogs are so much more than most people know. Like humans, dogs produce oxytocin, which allows both species to experience love and affection. Canines also have highly evolved limbic systems - more advanced than the majority of other species and comparable to humans - which enables them to experience a range of higher emotions, including an appreciation for beauty and something akin to religious ecstacy. If you've ever caught your dog gazing at a sunset or drinking in the beauty of nature, such meditative moments are caused by flares of limbic activity. 

live-is-better-with-a-pack

The most important point about dogs is that they are pack members. This is one of those facts that everyone knows but hardly anyone ever considers when trying to understand canine behavior. Imagine how confusing it is for animals with a genetic predispostion towards a pack mentality when you - the de facto leader of the pack - don't exhibit pack behavior!

Your dog's socialization instincts are very strong. Pack hierarchy was established millions of years before domestication (search for "Tomarctus," "Miacid" and "Cynodictis" for more details about the ancient progenitors of modern dogs). Humans and dogs began living together starting around 30,000 BC, so there's a long history behind the "man's best friend" descriptor. Because you provide food, shelter, affection and fun, you are the de facto leader of the pack. That's why it's so vital for you to understand how this should inform your interactions with your pup! To get you started on this journey of understanding, here are three examples that frequently crop up for pet parents.

He Stares at Me Every Time I Eat!

regarding-hooman

From pitiful, longing looks to grumpy growl grumbling, dogs all over the world appear to be begging to eat the food on your plate, much to our annoyance. While he may find the smell of your food super appealing, that's not the primary take-away from this behavior. So, what is he trying to communicate? Let's put on our "pack mentality glasses." As social creatures, dogs view mealtime as a social event. As top dog, you are responsible for fairness at mealtime. But when you - and other human family members - partake, your dog feels left out. Punished even. So, in a sense, they are begging ... only they're begging for inclusion. If at mealtime, you provide them food or a healthy treat, then suddenly your dog not only feels included, they also no longer feel ostracized. Try it for yourself and see if everyone isn't happier!

She's Just Scared of Everything!

dogs-eye-view

Again, dogs are sensitive social animals. Recent MRI studies show that dogs are capable of complex emotions and reading the emotional state of their caregivers. When people express anger or annoyance - whether it's at the news, a bad day at work or problems with a spouse or partner - dogs are highly attuned to that. Frustration on your part over skittishness or anxiety will likely only exacerbate these very issues. Whether you realize it or not, you're setting the tone for everyone else in your home. If you're quick to snap, your dogs will be anxious. For the wellbeing of your pack, be careful about the emotions you project.

He Keeps Chewing Up My Shoes!

This one is so common, it's hard to find someone who hasn't experienced the heartbreak of losing a favorite pair of shoes. Sadly, many feel their dog was being vindictive and dole out a harsh punishment. First of all, canine memory works differently than it does for us. Shaking a slobbery, mangled shoe at your pupper is really going to baffle them, especially if it's been more than 20 minutes since it was destroyed. So, what are dogs trying to tell you when they chew up your shoes? This question is answered best with another question: what is the last thing you do before you leave the house for an extended period of time? You put on your shoes, right! Your dog believes - with evidence gathered basically every day - that destroying your shoes will prevent you from leaving the house (i.e., the pack). He's really not being a jerk, he's just trying to keep you where you belong ... with him! To avoid this happening, simply protect your footwear with a dog gate.

intense-focus-pupper

There you have it. Three simple examples of "problem behavior" that can be understood in a completely new way that's more charitable to your dog. Just remember that you're the leader here and your dog looks to you (often lovingly) for reassurance, consideration and safety.

We're very interested to know if this article leads you to reconsider some aspect of your dog's behavior, so please let us know your take in the comments section below!

Dave Mattox
Content Editor

What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease

bright-eyed-pupper

If you’ve ever had the displeasure of finding a tick on your pet, you know how revolting they are. The first time I found one on my Golden Brody, I was petting him when I felt what I thought was a skin mass. When I looked closer I found to my horror that it was a huge, engorged tick. We had just moved to another part of the county a month prior; in our previous home we never had a tick issue, so I was using just a flea and heartworm preventive. That changed quickly!

Which brings up a couple of points. First, as gross as ticks are, the bigger concern here is that they carry a variety of diseases that can negatively impact your pet’s health. The most prevalent of these tick-borne diseases is Lyme disease. Second, even within relatively tiny geographical regions, the parasite risk can vary tremendously. If you read last month’s blog post on heartworm disease, you’ll remember this trend of microclimates combined with two years of hot, wet weather has created a huge increase in the prevalence of heartworm in areas where they were never a problem before. The same goes for fleas and ticks.

If you haven’t heard of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (capcvet.org), bookmark their site now. It has the most comprehensive parasite data available. Although it’s geared towards veterinarians to help them educate clients, you can absolutely use and share this wonderful resource with your pet parents friends. It's an invaluable tool for assessing the specific risks in a particular geographic location.

sad-pupper

Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. It affects both pets and people, but it is not transmitted to you directly from your companion animal. A bacterial disease, symptoms begin with headaches, fatigue and fever, but it can progress throughout the body and negatively impact multiple organ systems if left untreated. Because the signs are so vague, many cases are left undiagnosed for a very long time. For more detailed data about its symptoms, visit cdc.gov/lyme/signs_symptoms/index.html.

The CAPC just released their 2018 Parasite Forecast, and it’s got some bad news about Lyme disease. As the tick population has spread, so has the incidence of Lyme disease. While veterinarians in the northeast are well-versed in recognizing signs, it is becoming a much bigger problem in areas such as the Dakotas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. It may not even be on the radar for most people who live in these areas, but it should be.

The data is so specific that you can click on your state and find the statistics by county - how many pets were tested for Lyme and how many came back positive. As a well-informed pet parent this is invaluable if you find a tick on your pet. It can help you answer questions like "should I tell my vet?" and "should I really pay for the test?" We encourage all of our readers to search the database, available here: capcvet.org/maps/#2018/all/lyme-disease/dog/united-states.

reading

But it’s not all bad news! Once diagnosed, Lyme disease can be treated with a course of antibiotics. And there’s plenty that you can do right now! First, be aware of the risk in your specific area. Second, use a good tick medication. You have choices ranging from monthly spot-ons to collars and even oral medications available from the vet. They are all quite effective, so it’s a matter of personal preference and what works best for you. There is a vaccine as well. If you live in a Lyme endemic area, talk to your vet about whether the Lyme vaccine is a good option for you.

And mostly importantly, check your pet for ticks, especially in the areas where they like to hide: under ear flaps, between the toes and in the armpits. Removing ticks promptly decreases the risk of Lyme disease, as most cases of transmission occur when the tick has been attached longer than a day.

Fortunately for us, Brody’s tick issue was a one-time affair. From that day forward for the rest of his life, he was on year-round prevention. As soon as Dakota hit the weight limit for the preventive I wanted to use, I started him on tick prevention as well. I check him every day but so far all I find are little burrs from his rolling around in the grass. Hopefully it stays that way!

We love sharing our collective knowledge and experiences here at Life’s Abundance. Have you ever had a pet diagnosed with Lyme disease? How was it diagnosed? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Make Vet Visits Less Stressful

car-trip

Does your dog experience mild-to-severe apprehension when it comes time for a veterinary check-up? If so, you’re definitely not alone. My own dogs, Oliver and Zelda, are well-adjusted happy campers. But when it’s time to go to the vet’s office, they both start to freak out before we’re barely out of the door.

Until something dawned on me. I had been going about vet visits all the wrong way. Even though I had incorporated all the tricks I’ve learned over the years – travel to places other than the vet, trips to the vet where we just visited with the techs and no exam was given, taking a pocket full of Tasty Rewards or Turkey & Berry Chewies – and though there was marginal improvement, the fear factor continued to be all too real for my puppers.

My realization? Dogs are fundamentally pack animals. I know, I know, everybody knows this. But how might I apply that to vet visits? What if, I thought, instead of one person taking one dog to the vet, we made it a family outing? And so it was settled. Both my wife and I decided we’d BOTH make the time to take BOTH of our dogs, even though Zelda (the younger) was the one with the appointment.

And the most amazing thing happened. There was no jittering or shaking. There was no rapid panting, just the regular riding-in-the-car excitement. We were traveling as a pack. I truly think dogs feel like they can handle anything as a complete pack.

Traveling-to-vet
Zelda accompanied by her big little brother/therapy dog Oliver

We arrived 15 minutes early at the vet’s office, and we walked all around the building, taking our time. I think not being in a rush helped too. We entered the office as a united front, and low-and-behold both dogs were fine!

When it was time to go into the patient room, we all went in and hung out on the floor. The vet tech came in and asked us about Zelda’s history as she fed both doggos some of the treats I had brought. We asked that any tests be done while we were together, which they were happy to do. Of course, it helps to have a great veterinary staff, which we’re fortunate enough to have found. When Zelda was getting her exam, we were all nearby and talking calmly and cheerily. And for the first time in nearly four years, she barely even noticed when she got her vaccines or had blood withdrawn. We were all honestly amazed at the difference!

We hope you’ll try this "power of the pack" strategy to make your next vet visits less stressful … maybe even enjoyable! And feel free to submit your own ideas in the comments section below.

For those interested in learning more about the effects of pet stress, be sure to check out Dr. Jane’s insightful post on pet anxiety.

Dave Mattox
Content Editor

Small But Mighty Chihuahuas

They may be the tiniest of puppers, but Chihuahuas have big personalities in spades, as well as a storied history and a loyal following. That's why May 14th has been named International Chihuahua Appreciation Day!

Learn more about the origins of this ancient breed in the fun and handy infographic below. 

Do you have a Chihuahua or Chihuahua mix? Share your stories about this clever little breed in the comments section below! And don't forget to celebrate these tiny tykes on May 14th!

 

Chihuahua Appreciation Infographic

Lessons for Heartworm Awareness Month

Pug

April is National Heartworm Awareness Month, so I wanted to give everyone both a refresher and an update on this disease. Heartworms are transmitted via mosquito bites, meaning it is not transmissible directly from pet to pet. The tiny larvae are injected into the bloodstream, where they mature into fully grown adults. They live in the heart and large blood vessels. The mature worms produce larvae, which go back into circulation and can be picked up by mosquitoes, ready to transmit to another host, thus repeating a vicious cycle.

While dogs make for ideal hosts, cats can also be infected. However, canines experience the most severe form of the disease. If you are unsure whether your cat should be on heartworm prevention, speak with your veterinarian.

As you can imagine, foreign bodies the size of spaghetti strands can do a lot of damage in the heart. As the parasites disrupt normal heart and lung function, pets display signs of heart disease such as cough, low energy and coffee-colored urine. Treatment involves either surgery to physically remove the worms or injections of a drug called immiticide. Once a heartworm dies it can cause an embolus (a blockage) as it travels through the bloodstream, so patients are under strict cage rest to minimize treatment risks.

Bottom line, heartworm disease is a terrible thing and no one wants their companion animal to experience it. 

Here’s the good news … it’s completely preventable. Once the mosquito injects the larva into the bloodstream, it takes six months for them to mature into adult heartworms. During that time the larvae are susceptible to a variety of medications. Heartworm prevention is available in a number of forms: pills, injections and topicals. They are all prescription medications, so your veterinarian can advise you as to which choice is best for your dog or cat.

Buddies

If you have a dog or a cat, here are five important things you need to know about heartworm disease.

1. While heartworm disease is indeed more prevalent in the Atlantic and Gulf states, it has been diagnosed in all 50 states! Even if you live in a state with low incidences of the disease, all states have microclimates where heartworm flourishes. The American Heartworm Society tracks diagnosis information and publishes an incident map every three years. To see how many cases have been reported in your area, visit https://www.heartwormsociety.org/veterinary-resources/incidence-maps.

2. Dogs travel more than ever before. 2005 was a turning point in prevalence of the disease. Why? After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf states, humane organizations rallied together to relocate homeless animals across the nation. Some of those dogs carried heartworm disease. Suddenly veterinarians who had never seen heartworm disease in their careers were diagnosing it for the first time.

3. All-natural remedies simply don’t work. I think by now you all know by know how much I value honesty and transparency. If you want to treat your pet for fleas with natural remedies, I will let you know that they simply don’t work as well as the medications I recommend, but I’m not going to fight you on it. Fleas don’t kill dogs and cats, though. Heartworm does. It is simply too devastating a disease to trust anything but the prescription medications that we know work. Anyone who claims otherwise is, in my opinion, displaying their ignorance and spreading poor advice.

4. Pets need monthly prevention to be adequately protected. A very common question is, "why do I need to give my pet monthly heartworm prevention pills if it takes six months for a larva to turn into an adult heartworm?" As the larva develops into an adult, it transitions through several phases. Not all of those phases are susceptible to our heartworm preventives. If we only dose heartworm prevention intermittently, there’s a chance we will miss our window for catching the larva at the susceptible stage.

5. Pets should be tested yearly. Yes, even pets on regular heartworm preventive. Why? Because sometimes things happen. You are late with a dose. The dog spits out the pill when you aren’t looking. Once your pet has adult heartworms, those preventives aren’t going to work. Will it harm your pet to give preventives with active heartworm disease? No, but it’s not going to cure it either.

Here’s the bottom line: we give you very conservative, comprehensive protocols for heartworm prevention because treating adult heartworm disease is so hard on pets. Some do not survive. Having a patient die during heartworm treatment is one of my more devastating memories. Trust me, better to be safe than sorry.

It’s impossible to give a comprehensive overview of heartworm disease in this short blog post, but that covers the basics. You might have questions about things you have heard about such as heartworm that is resistant to the normal medications, or about different protocols for treating heartworm disease. If you do, congratulations for being such an informed pet parent! Your veterinarian, as always, is the best source of information for you.

Enjoy your summer and maintain that prevention regimen!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Five Reasons Why Pets Eat Grass

Tempted to Graze

It’s a question pet parents routinely ponder. While there are competing theories regarding why dogs and cats consume grass, a conclusive answer has yet to be supported by scientific study. Here’s a brief overview of the current speculation behind your companion animal’s impulse to graze …

1. It’s an ancestral thing. The prey of wild dogs and cats frequently have grasses in their intestinal system, so domesticated dogs and cats still retain a yearning for a spot of grass in their diet.

2. Our companion animals know of some nutritional value in grasses that we have yet to uncover (such as antioxidants).

3. They do it to provoke vomiting if they’ve eaten something that has upset their stomachs.

4. They are augmenting their keen sense of smell with taste to discover more about their environment.

5. They simply like the taste and texture of grass, so it’s just for the sake of satisfaction!

Although we may never know the exact reason why, we do know that this is one of the most commonly asked questions that veterinarians hear from their clients. If you notice excessive grass-eating with either your dog or cat, please consult your vet.