Madonna, a three-year-old pit bull mix with a sweet disposition, arrived at the ASPCA last May, part of a group of eight dogs rescued by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). All of the dogs were in extreme stages of neglect and were suffering from skin and ear infections, intestinal parasites, dental disease and other illnesses, but only Madonna tested positive for heartworm.
Heartworm is a serious disease: The spaghetti-like worms, which can grow up to a foot in length, live in the hearts, lungs and associated blood vessels of infected animals. They are carried in a microscopic form (known as microfilaria) by mosquitoes that transmit the worms when they bite other animals. They can circulate in the bloodstream, mature, multiply and can eventually obstruct the flow of blood to the heart and lungs. If not treated, heartworm can be fatal.
While dogs are the most common hosts for this parasite, they can also be found in other species, including cats, ferrets, foxes, even wolves and horses. Dogs can live for years without symptoms after infection, but the heartworms’ long-term effects in an untreated dog may cause lasting damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries. Cats may develop chronic respiratory disease and, unfortunately, the first signs in infected cats can be sudden collapse or death.
Fortunately, the ASPCA caught Madonna’s case early. She was successfully treated for her infection and subsequently tested for both adult heartworms and microfilaria. Today she is in a happy home and takes a monthly preventive medication.
Heartworm treatment in dogs is a multiple-step, three-to-four month process that involves injections and oral medication to kill the heartworms, as well as prolonged periods of exercise restriction. Since it is very challenging to treat cats for heartworm disease, it is essential to prevent the disease in the first place.
“The best way to avoid heartworm disease is to give your dog heartworm preventive, a once-a-month oral or topical prescription medication,” says Dr. Louise Murray, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Hospital in New York City. Prevention comes in several formulations and your veterinarian can advise you as to the best choice for your pet. Heartworm preventives commonly also treat a variety of other internal and external parasites.
Puppies should start on preventives no later than eight weeks of age without a test, but should be tested in six month intervals after the first dose and then yearly after that.
Heartworm infection is harder to detect in cats, because they are less likely to host adult heartworms. Cats should be tested before being put on medication and re-tested as vets deems appropriate to monitor exposure and risk.
Heartworm symptoms in dogs include persistent coughing, fatigue after exercise, decreased appetite, decreased desire to exercise, and weight loss. Heartworm in cats can cause wheezing and respiratory symptoms, as well as vomiting, loss of appetite and weight loss.
April is National Heartworm Awareness Month. Visit our Pet Care section to learn more about heartworm in dogs and in cats.
When Richard C. noticed that his cat, Misha, was drooling and wincing when she tried to eat, he immediately knew something was wrong. He took the green-eyed, orange tabby to the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH), where she was diagnosed with lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis, a severe inflammation of the mouth that can also affect the gums. The chronic, rapidly-progressive condition was making it nearly impossible for Misha to eat.
During Misha’s two-hour procedure, Dr. Maren Krafchik extracted 12 teeth, including molars, incisors, baby teeth, and a fractured front canine tooth before closing the gaps in Misha’s gum tissue with dissolvable stitches. Three teeth remain.
“Cats are highly sensitive and prone to inflammatory reactions,” said Dr. Krafchik, noting that Misha’s condition was not uncommon. But she added that treatment with medications alone will not solve the problem; dental work is needed to relieve animals like Misha from inflammation and pain.
One of the most common maladies seen by AAH staff is dental disease. In 2014, our team performed nearly 850 dental procedures on dogs and cats, ranging from simple cleaning and extractions to treatment for advanced periodontal disease.
“Leaving a sick mouth untreated presents major risks,” says Dr. Janice Fenichel, one of 10 veterinarians at AAH who routinely perform dental procedures. Health risks of untreated dental issues in pets include jaw fractures due to bone destruction and damage to organs caused by chronic bacterial infection in the mouth. Kidneys in particular are often injured by untreated oral disease.
“Many pets have multiple diseased teeth,” says Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of AAH. “Pets with dental disease are often in severe pain—imagine having not just one toothache, but many.”
ASPCA veterinarians frequently find inflamed gums in cats. In 75 percent of adult cats, dental problems require extractions. Fractured teeth and periodontal disease are the most common dental problems in dogs seen at AAH.
She stresses dentals “are not about cosmetics,” but rather, “keeping important teeth in your pet’s mouth and keeping your pet comfortable.”
“So often, clients express fear that if their pet loses all of his teeth, ‘How will he manage?’” she adds. “The truth is, after a much-needed dental, they’re eating a lot more comfortably than when they had a mouthful of awful teeth.”
That’s certainly true for Misha, who these days doesn’t let her almost-empty mouth stand in the way of a good meal.
For more information, check out our “Ten Steps to Dental Health” for cats and for dogs.
At the ASPCA, we encourage all pet parents to spay/neuter their pets. There are so many benefits associated with these procedures, but many pet parents may not be aware that it can be dangerous to not spay their pets until it’s almost too late.
One day last spring, Sandra R. noticed that her eight-year-old cat, Petra, wasn’t eating. Her belly distended, she vomited and was lethargic—far from her normal self. Sandra decided to bring Petra to the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH).
Petra was suffering from a pyometra, an infection of the uterus that that can be fatal in cats and dogs. Pyometra usually occurs in older females, with about 25 percent of them suffering from pyometra before the age of 10. Radiographs showed Petra’s distended belly containing a greatly enlarged uterus filled with pus. Once removed by Dr. Maren Krafchik, the uterus weighed almost three lbs.—a third of Petra’s total weight. Fortunately, Petra has since made a full recovery.
Dogs are equally susceptible to pyometra infection. Gershon C., a retired sanitation worker who lives in Queens, took notice when his 10-year-old Rottweiler, Princess, had not eaten for several days and was drinking water excessively.
He brought her to the ASPCA, where veterinarian Dr. Marisa Altieri suspected a pyometra. Her diagnosis was spot on, and an ultrasound showed that Princess’s uterus had ruptured in two places. Dr. Altieri set about surgery immediately, removing the uterus, which weighed 20 lbs.
Princess underwent treatment for a pyometra infection at the ASPCA Animal Hospital.
While pyometra is preventable, it is one of the most common maladies treated at AAH. Our veterinarians performed 145 surgeries to remove pyometras in 2014 alone—nearly three per week.
It’s best to spay a pet before she goes into heat; around four months of age is ideal. If your unspayed female shows signs of lethargy, poor appetite, excessive water drinking, vaginal discharge, excessive urination, pale mucous membranes (gum color), vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, or abdominal enlargement, take her to a veterinarian immediately.
Courage, a 10-year-old Dachshund with a graying muzzle, is usually fast on her feet—active and frisky despite her age. But soon after Thanksgiving, her family—siblings Michael and Donna and their parents—noticed Courage, or “Curry” for short, was drinking more water than usual, urinating more often and moping around the house.
Curry’s symptoms are common among pets with diabetes, a disease that occurs when a body does not make enough or respond normally to insulin, a hormone manufactured by the pancreas that controls blood sugar levels.
The precise frequency of diabetes in dogs and cats is not known and can vary depending on the breed, but it is seen in both species. In dogs, diabetes is more common in females; in cats, it’s slightly more common in males.
“Most diabetic dogs are similar to humans with Type 1 diabetes; their pancreas is unable to make enough insulin,” explains Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of AAH. “In dogs, the most common causes are a dysfunctional immune system that damages the pancreas, or pancreatic injury that occurs due to an inflammatory condition called pancreatitis.”
Dr. Murray says canine diabetes can also occur as a side effect of medication, particularly steroids. It can also result from certain diseases like Cushing’s or an excess of certain hormones, which sometimes happens when a dog is not spayed.
Diabetes in felines, on the other hand, is more similar to Type 2 diabetes in humans. Its most common causes in cats: obesity and an excess of carbohydrates in the diet, which exhaust the pancreas. It can also occur in cats with pancreatitis or who are given steroids.
Feline diabetes can be reversible with insulin administration, a high protein/low-carb diet and maintenance of a healthy weight, allowing the pancreas to rest and regain the ability to manufacture adequate insulin. But diabetes will recur if cats go back to an inappropriate diet.
Unfortunately diabetes is not curable in dogs, and the vast majority of diabetic dogs require insulin injections for life once diagnosed. However, addressing underlying causes, as well as spaying females and treating Cushing’s disease, can allow the diabetes to be more easily and successfully controlled.
“Diabetic pets can have a wonderful quality of life if their owners commit to giving them twice-daily insulin injections and monitor them closely,” says Dr. Jill Pomrantz, an internist at AAH.
After her diagnosis, Curry began receiving treatment is back to being her bubbly, high-spirited self. Donna, who has had experience with diabetic pets, administers Curry’s twice-daily insulin shots and monitors her glucose levels.
“I know this process is not fixed overnight, but she looks much better and is more energetic,” Donna says. “The hardest part is not caving in to her pleas for treats all the time.” Curry loves celery, however, so that’s often provided as a substitute.
Please visit our Pet Care section to learn more about diabetes in dogs and cats.
If you come across a stray or lost dog or cat in your area, it’s best to take the animal to your local shelter as soon as possible. But, what should you do if you find an orphaned or injured bird, squirrel or rabbit? It’s natural to feel compelled to help in these situations, but your local shelter may not have wildlife rehabilitators on staff.
ASPCA Animal Care Technician Jessii Parham has provided care for injured and orphaned squirrels in New York City. She notes that if you come across a baby squirrel, it is best to leave him alone unless he looks malnourished, dehydrated or covered in fleas. Those are usually signs the baby has been away from his mother for an extended time period. If the squirrel looks healthy, he most likely fell out of his nest and will soon be retrieved. If the baby squirrel is still on the ground after one hour, regardless of being healthy or looking sickly, it is best to step in to help.
Keep the baby squirrel or squirrels warm—around 91 degrees or higher. Brush off fleas with a towel, but do not bathe the squirrel entirely. Once the squirrel warms up a bit, you may try to feed him a tiny amount of flavorless Pedialyte for rehydration, and a puppy milk replacement for nourishment, until a wildlife rehabilitator can take over his care.
Have you ever come across an orphaned or injured animal? How did you respond? Please share in the comments.