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.
It’s officially spring! If you’re anything like us, you’re eager to trade in your snow shovel for a garden shovel. But pet parents should note that while gardens and yards are great spots for relaxation on a spring day, many of our favorite spring flowers and planets may be toxic to our cat and dog companions. This year, whether you’re getting ready to plant your garden or you’re just looking to add a little bit of green to your home, be wary of these popular but poisonous plants so you’ll keep your pets happy and healthy this season.
Steer Clear of Lilies and Oleander. Lilies may look pretty, but they are considered especially toxic to cats. Even ingestions of very small amounts can cause severe kidney damage in our furry friends. Oleander can cause serious health problems including gastrointestinal tract irritation, abnormal heart function, hypothermia and even death.
Be Careful with Tulips. These popular spring bulb plants add much to our gardens, but can cause significant stomach problems when ingested by our pets. The bulb portion contains toxins that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation, drooling, loss of appetite, depression of the central nervous system, convulsions and even cardiac abnormalities.
Say No to Azalea and Rhododendron. These favorites contain substances known as grayantoxins, which can produce vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, weakness and depression of the central nervous system in our furry friends. Severe azalea poisoning could ultimately lead to coma and even death.
Avoid Sago Palm. All parts of this common house plant are considered poisonous, but the seeds or “nuts” contain a large amount of toxin. Even ingestion of just one or two seeds can result in very serious effects including vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and liver failure.
Pass on the Cocoa Mulch. Popular for its attractive odor and color, cocoa mulch attracts dogs with its sweet smell—and like chocolate, it can cause problems for our canine friends. Depending on the amount, ingestion of cocoa mulch can cause a range of clinical signs from vomiting and diarrhea to muscle tremors, elevated heart rate, hyperactivity and even seizures. Consider using a less-toxic alternative such as shredded pine, cedar or hemlock bark.
If your pet likes to stop and smell the flowers, it’s important to not leave him or her unsupervised where these plants may be present. Want more information or have greenery in your home or garden that you’re not sure is toxic or not? Please visit our full list of toxic and non-toxic plants.
As always, if you suspect your pet has ingested something poisonous, please contact your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center’s 24-hour hotline at (888) 426-4435.
1. Be a Cautious Cleaner. Some cleaning products can cause burns in your pet’s mouth or esophagus, while others can lead to liver or kidney damage. To keep your pet safe, store all cleaning solutions out of their reach and keep animals out of the way while cleaning and rinsing. A dog may choose to drink old dirty mop water over fresh clean water!
2. Bait-er Safe Than Sorry! Place baits for rats, mice, ants, roaches, etc. in areas inaccessible to your pets. Some baits contain ingredients like peanut butter that may attract a pet. Don’t forget that some pests—like mice and rats—may move bait into an area your pet can easily reach.
3. The “Don’t Even Try It” Diet: Never give human food to your pet without checking with your veterinarian. Grapes can cause kidney failure in dogs. If too much garlic or onion is ingested, red blood cells can be destroyed, causing anemia.
4. Steer Toward Safety: Automotive products such as gasoline, oil, antifreeze, tire cleaners and windshield antifreeze should be kept where pets do not have access. Clean up spills immediately, even if you don’t think a pet would go in the garage.
5. Rx Only. Pets metabolize and eliminate some medications differently than humans. Only give your pet medication recommended by your veterinarian. The wrong medication can cause severe illness or even death.
6. Prudent Planting. Identify plants in your house and yard and remove those that can cause severe or life-threatening clinical signs (a few examples include oleander, yew, sago palms and lilies). Check to see if plants are toxic before landscaping.
7. The Pest Test. Discuss flea and tick control with your primary care veterinarian. Always read the label before applying a product to your pet and follow the directions. Never apply products to a species if the product is not labeled for that species. If you have both dogs and cats, double check that you are applying the correct product to the correct animal every time.
8. Be Home Aware. When work is being done at your home (like pest control, cleaning or painting), be sure you know what products are being used. Knowing the correct name of products (or even better, the EPA registration number) will assure that your pet is receiving the right medical advice should ingestion occur.
9. Pill Protection. Keep all prescriptions and medications out of your pet’s reach, preferably in closed cabinets. Keep your pet’s medications in an area away from the family’s medications. This will help prevent a pet accidentally ingesting a human’s medication (and vice-versa!).
10. Be App-solutely Sure. Download the free ASPCA APCC mobile app for information about the toxicity of hundreds of products. The app provides pictures for easy identification, and tools like our “Chocolate Wheel” can calculate the severity of toxicity depending on factors like your pet’s weight and the amount ingested.
In recent months, the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH) has seen an increase in cases of pets with matted coats—many of which have necessitated surgical procedures, and in severe cases, amputations. One such case involved Chia, a one-year-old female Shih Tzu who was surrendered to the ASPCA last November.
When ASPCA staff opened Chia’s carrier for the first time, they found that she was encased in a severely matted coat. They were unable to even locate Chia’s ears or neck in order to place a lead around her. In order to help Chia, a licensed veterinary technician at AAH began to shave off her coat. Her matting was so severe—and coated with feces, urine, and foreign debris—that the vet tech was able to remove the majority of the matting in one large, intact piece, which weighed more than one pound.
Beneath the matted coat was a gentle, loving 12-lb. dog. After receiving treatment for some skin issues and undergoing a spay procedure, Chia was adopted and is now a cherished family member.
We’re so glad we got to Chia in time to help. According to ASPCA Veterinarian Dr. Julie Horton, matted hair can lead to severe medical problems for pets:
Even very mild hair mats can cause skin irritation and progress to infected lesions. A wound left unattended can accumulate maggots.
Fleas and ticks can live deep in the hair mat—out of the owner’s sight—and infest the animal.
Mats around the hind end can cause an accumulation of feces and in severe cases impede defecation.
More severe hair mats can cause strangulating wounds, most often seen on an animal’s limb. The mat can grow around the leg in a circumferential fashion causing blood supply to be cut off. In severe but reversible cases, the mat cuts into and sometimes through the skin which can be surgically and medically treated over a long period of time typically weeks to months. In severe but irreversible cases, the mat can cut down to the bone and /or become so tight that blood supply is cut off on that limb requiring amputation.
Dr. Horton provides the following tips for preventing your pet’s hair from matting:
In general, mats are extremely uncomfortable for your pet and should be avoided. Owners should be aware of grooming needs based on hair type and breed of the animal. Pets with medium-to-long hair require frequent brushing, some even once daily. Speak with your groomer or veterinarian regarding appropriate brush types for your pet’s hair. Early mild mats can be brushed out. Mats which have progressed require clipping the hair.
If you notice a mat which cannot be easily brushed out, your pet should visit a groomer or veterinarian. They can safely clip the mats out and provide instant relief. If a pet is severely matted he may require sedation and full body clipping.
NEVER cut mats out with scissors. Your pet can unexpectedly move or jerk resulting in a severe laceration or puncture.
While much of the country is dealing with sub-freezing temperatures and the promise of more ice and snow to come, we’ve created a handy cold weather infographic so you can keep your pets safe and warm this winter. From paw care to bathing tips, we’ve got your furry friends covered.
Check out our guide below, and be sure to share with your friends on your social networks using the hashtag #staywarm and tagging @aspca.