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Ehrlichiosis: What You Should Know About This Tick-Borne Disease

Posted: 2019-05-03 Permanent Link
Ehrlichiosis: What You Should Know About This Tick-Borne Disease

Ehrlichiosis is a disease caused by bacteria of the Ehrlichia family. Several species of the Ehrlichia bacteria are known to exist, some of which can infect humans. Ehrlichiosis (whether it occurs in dogs or humans) is transmitted through the bite of a tick, most typically the brown dog tick.

How It’s Spread
Three tick species are known to spread the organism that causes Ehrlichiosis. The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)(See image beside), found throughout the United States and Canada, is the primary culprit, but the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) (New Specie in Canada), can also transmit the bacteria that cause disease. You might think lone star ticks would be limited to the Lone Star State (Texas, of course), but they are found up from the southeastern U.S. and Texas through the Mid-Atlantic Seaboard all the way to New England, and since last year, it’s being identified as a new specie in Canada.
American dog ticks reside east of the Rockies, mainly in areas such as grassy fields, walkways and trails. They can survive for two or more years without a host.

Symptoms and Identification
Ehrlichiosis causes three distinct clinical phases of illness: acute, subclinical, and chronic.

In the acute phase, clinical signs occur about one to three weeks after an infected tick bites a dog.Symptoms associated with this phase can include lethargy (tiredness), fever, appetite loss, and enlarged lymph nodes. In some cases, clinical signs can resolve without treatment. However, if the infection is not treated, it progresses to the subclinical phase.

In the subclinical phase, the dog may appear completely normal because clinical signs are not observed. This phase may last many months or even years, but eventually the bacteria can reactivate and start to cause illness again.

In the chronic phase, the dog may again show vague signs such as fever, lethargy, and appetite loss.However, as the Ehrlichia organism affects the blood cells and bone marrow, clinical signs may include bleeding problems and anemia (an inadequate number of red blood cells). At this point, the bacteria may also affect the brain, causing seizures and poor coordination.

Other clinical signs associated with Ehrlichiosis can include joint pain and swelling as well as autoimmune disease in which the dog produces antibodies that damage its own cells. If Ehrlichiosis causes severe complications, death can result.

It can take as little as three to six hours for ticks to transmit the bacterial invaders. Once the bacteria enter the blood cells, they thrive, multiply and spread throughout the body. The disease is diagnosed based on a history of tick exposure, presence of signs, a platelet count and a positive blood test result for the bacteria that cause the disease: Ehrlichia canis (the primary cause in dogs), Ehrlichia ewingii (seen in dogs and humans) and Ehrlichia chaffeensis (the primary cause in humans). Ehrlichiosis isn’t always easy to diagnose, because it can take time for antibodies to develop, but response to treatment with antibiotics can be a clue that your veterinarian has found the cause of your dog’s signs.

Many veterinarians diagnose ehrlichiosis using a SNAP test either when they suspect the disease or as a simple annual screening. SNAP tests are a group of quick, convenient, blood tests that can be performed at your veterinarian’s office. The available SNAP tests include:

The SNAP Heartworm RT Test screens for Heartworm infection.
The SNAP 3Dx Test simultaneously screens for heartworm disease, Lyme disease, and Ehrlichiosis.
The SNAP 4Dx (We have available this test at our clinic). This test can diagnose four diseases at the same time: Heartworm disease, Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis (which is another disease that is transmitted to dogs through a tick bite).

In some cases, veterinarians will recommend additional testing to follow up a SNAP test result or to look for other evidence of illness related to heartworm disease or one of the tick-borne infections. This testing may involve sending additional blood samples to a laboratory for further analysis or performing other diagnostic tests to gain more information about a patient’s condition.

Prevention
There is currently no vaccine against Ehrlichiosis. Appropriate tick-control methods combined with routine periodic testing is the best way to help protect those dogs inevitably exposed to ticks, and frequently checking your dog for ticks and safely removing them is an important daily routine, particularly during tick season.

This blog was written by McQueen Animal Hospital, an animal clinic (vet hospital/vet clinic) in Brampton committed to providing only the highest level of veterinary care to our beloved pets.

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Canine Heartworm Testing

Posted: 2019-04-26 Permanent Link
Canine Heartworm Testing

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition that affects dogs, cats, and up to 30 other species of animals. It is caused by parasitic worms (heartworms) living in the major blood vessels of the lungs and, occasionally, in the heart. These worms are transmitted (as microscopic larvae) through the bite of an infected mosquito. The scientific name for the heartworm parasite is Dirofilaria immitis. Heartworm disease can cause a variety of medical problems affecting the lungs, heart, liver, and/or kidneys. Any of these problems, alone or in combination, can lead to death. Although a safe and effective treatment is available, it can be a costly and complicated process depending on how long the dog has been infected and how severe the infection is.

How Is Heartworm Testing Performed?
Heartworms are spread through the bite of a mosquito. When a mosquito bites an infected dog, it withdraws blood that contains immature heartworms (called microfilariae [pronounced micro-fill-air-ee-ay]). These microfilariae mature inside the mosquito to become infective larvae. When the mosquito bites another dog, the larvae enter the dog and (in many cases) mature to become adult heartworms, which produce more microfilariae and continue the heartworm’s life cycle.
Current testing practices can detect several stages of heartworm infection:

Testing blood for microfilariae: Using a small blood sample, we can detect heartworm microfilariae in your dog’s blood.

Antigen testing: “Antigens” are proteins that the body can recognize as belonging to a foreign organism. By identifying certain antigens that are found in adult female heartworms, researchers have developed tests that can detect these antigens to tell if a dog is infected with adult heartworms. Many veterinarians use a rapid-result test called a “SNAP” test to diagnose heartworm disease in dogs. The SNAP test is very accurate, can be performed in your veterinarian’s office using a very small amount of blood, and takes only a few minutes to complete. There is even a combination SNAP test that can detect heartworm disease as well as three tick-associated diseases (Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis) at the same time.
If your veterinarian obtains a questionable result on the SNAP test, additional testing may be recommended.

Other tests: Over time, heartworms can start to cause damage to the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels. If this damage has occurred, your veterinarian may recommend additional testing to determine the extent of your dog’s illness. Additional tests may include radiographs (x-rays) to check your dog’s heart and lungs for evidence of damage; ultrasound studies to check for specific injuries to the heart; and additional blood work to check the liver, kidneys, and other major body systems for evidence of damage.

No test is accurate 100% of the time, and sometimes your veterinarian may recommend performing tests more than once, or performing additional tests to learn more about your dog’s overall health.

When Should My Dog Be Tested for Heartworm Disease?
Dogs should be tested for heartworms before beginning a heartworm prevention program, or when changing from one heartworm preventive to another. Dogs that are already on heartworm preventive medication should also be tested periodically.

The “prepatent period” for heartworm disease (the amount of time it takes for microfilariae to be produced) is approximately 6 months in a dog. During this time, heartworm tests will be negative even if a dog is actually infected. Therefore, puppies younger than 7 months old are generally not tested for heartworms. Instead, puppies should be started on heartworm preventive medication (usually during their puppy checkup visits) and tested when they are older than 7 months. Ask your veterinarian about the recommended heartworm testing schedule for your dog.

What are the Benefits and Risks of Canine Heartworm Testing?
There are very few risks associated with heartworm testing. Drawing blood takes only a few seconds, and your veterinary team will take precautions to ensure that your pet is not injured during this procedure. Once blood is obtained, all further processing is performed at the veterinarian’s office or at a diagnostic laboratory, so there is no risk of harm to your pet.

The benefits of heartworm testing are enormous. If your dog is infected with heartworms, early diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to help ensure that the infection is cleared before permanent damage is done to the heart, lungs, or associated blood vessels. Heartworm disease can be fatal if left untreated, so early diagnosis and treatment can literally save your dog’s life! Be sure to keep your dog on heartworm preventive medication and follow your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding heartworm testing.

This blog was written by McQueen Animal Hospital, an animal clinic (vet hospital/vet clinic) in Brampton committed to providing only the highest level of veterinary care to our beloved pets.

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Fleas: What You Need to Know

Posted: 2019-04-18 Permanent Link
Fleas: What You Need to Know

Fleas are everywhere. Even the cleanest, most pampered pets can get fleas and once inside your home, fleas can spread rapidly. Depending on where you live, the risk of flea infestation diminishes somewhat in colder months because freezing temperatures kill off many outdoor pests, but infestation remains a year-round concern as there are many warm places where fleas can thrive. The good news is that there are effective products to help prevent your pet from becoming infested.

Overview
These small, wingless insects are common pests of wildlife such as raccoons and rabbits. As wild critters crawl around your yard, they deposit flea eggs that grow into adult fleas seeking a home. Wandering pets offer the new crop of fleas a safe haven, a source of food (blood), and a good place to raise a family. In addition to these sources, pets can pick up fleas from other infested dogs or cats.

The scratching caused by fleas can lead to skin damage and secondary infection. Fleas can also pass on diseases such as tapeworm, cat scratch disease, and blood parasites. Getting rid of fleas from your pet and your home can be a major chore in some cases, so it is best to focus on preventing them.

Life Cycle
Adult fleas usually spend their entire lives on a host animal, where they feed, mate, and produce eggs. Once laid, flea eggs drop to the ground, hatch, and develop into larvae that feed on organic material. The bedding of infested pets is often loaded with eggs and larvae that are too small to be noticed. After a while, these larvae spin a cocoon and develop into pupae and then into adult fleas that hatch out and seek another pet (or the same one) on which to live.

In the winter, freezing temperatures can kill off eggs and larvae in the environment, but not those living in sheltered havens such as nests, burrows, and your living room. It’s easy to see how even a single pair of fleas can lead to a massive household infestation over a period of weeks to months.

Signs and Identification
Fleas are very small and difficult to find because they hide within the thick hair coats of dogs and cats. Adults look like small reddish-brown sesame seeds. They can occasionally be seen scurrying in the hair coat, especially around the neck and ears, along the rump and tail head, and in the underbelly and groin areas (where thinner hair can make them easier to see). But often, the only sign of a flea problem is your pet’s scratching and biting, which can produce raw areas of skin infection.

In many instances, pets can become allergic to fleas, so that even a single bite sets off intense itching and red, sore, infected “hotspots.”

Sometimes, you may also see “flea dirt,” which is dried-up flea excrement. If you brush this gritty material out of the hair coat onto a white sheet of paper or paper towel, you’ll notice individual, reddish brown crusts that look like tiny commas. If you add a drop of water, you’ll see a brown ring around the “dirt” as the digested blood leaches out into the paper. If an area is heavily infested, you may even see bites on people, usually around the ankles, from newly emerged adult fleas seeking their first blood meal.

Treatment
Many products are available to kill fleas and prevent their reproduction. These products are generally safe and effective, and many last for a month or longer after a single application. Most monthly preventives are topical products that are applied to the skin between the shoulder blades or along the backline of dogs and cats, but some products come in pill or collar form. Your vet can help you decide which one is most appropriate for you and your pet.

Monthly treatments have largely replaced sprays, powders, dips, and flea collars that were mainstays of years past. If desired, some insecticidal sprays and shampoos can be safely applied in combination with monthly treatments. Ask us to be sure these pesticides are safe when used in conjunction with monthly topical or oral medications. Always make sure to read labels carefully and heed all directions and warnings! And never use a canine flea product on a cat!

Judicious, consistent use of the most effective treatments will eventually eliminate flea infestations over time. To speed up the process, you can also use indoor and outdoor insecticides to kill off fleas around the home. Similarly, thorough washing of pet bedding and vacuuming carpets and upholstery will help remove many immature flea stages before they can turn into adults that jump onto your pet.

Most pets have no side effects when flea treatments are used correctly. If you’re worried about using man-made chemicals, ask your vet about “natural” flea control. But be warned, some so-called natural products are much less effective and can in some cases be more toxic than their man-made counterparts.

This blog was written by McQueen Animal Hospital, an animal clinic (vet hospital/vet clinic) in Brampton committed to providing only the highest level of veterinary care to our beloved pets.

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