Whether your dog stays outside for hours at a time or is primarily an inside dog, all dogs are at risk for Chagas disease, a potentially fatal disease that affects the heart and other organ systems.
Chagas disease is caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is spread to dogs through insects in the Reduviidae family, also commonly known as cone-nose or kissing bugs.
“Kissing bugs are blood-sucking insects that often hang out in or around places where sources of blood are readily available, such as dog kennels, woodrat nests, and, unfortunately, sometimes in human dwellings,” said Dr. Sarah Hamer, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “The parasite is transmitted to dogs when they are exposed to the feces of the bug or when they eat the bugs. About 60 percent of kissing bugs across Texas are infected with the parasite.
“Many dogs can be infected with the Chagas parasite and show no signs of disease, while others may develop life-threatening heart complications,” Hamer added.
Chagas symptoms can appear within weeks of infection (acute) or months to years later (chronic). Typically, dogs that are younger than 2 years old are more likely to develop acute disease, with possible symptoms of diarrhea, lethargy, seizures, swollen lymph nodes, fluid retention, and heart failure. Symptoms that occur during chronic disease are those of congestive heart failure, including lethargy, fainting, increased heart rate or abnormal heart rhythm, and fluid buildup in the abdomen or lungs.
Although there is no vaccine or veterinary treatment for Chagas disease, pets can be protected through insect control.
By reducing the amount of outdoor lighting at night, kissing bugs may be less attracted to an area. If you keep your dog in a kennel outside at night, consider installing a protective screen on the kennel. In addition, try to keep your backyard free of woodpiles and other brushy areas, because these areas can serve as a breeding ground for infected insects. Hamer added that licensed pest control operators can help recommend a pest control plan to combat the bugs.
To better protect humans and animals from Chagas, Hamer and a team of researchers have been coordinating a special project since 2013.
“We run a 'Kissing Bug Citizen Science' program to engage the public in Chagas research and provide resources for people to better protect themselves and their pets,” Hamer said. “Our program accepts kissing bugs encountered by the public across the southern United States. Submitters provide important data, including the location, time, and behavior of the bug when it was encountered. Each bug provides a wealth of information for our research—we’ve received over 4,000 kissing bugs since the start of our program.”
Hamer added that her research helps to characterize the natural cycle of Chagas transmission and determine risk factors for human and animal exposure.
A kissing bug app is also available on iTunes and Google Play. Through the website and apps, Hamer said the public can submit photos of bugs if they are unsure if they are kissing bugs.
With no vaccine or treatment available, prevention is key in protecting your pet from Chagas. Fortunately, Hamer and her team are working to learn more about Chagas and how to better protect you and your pets.
Preventing Lyme Disease In Pets
We all know that pets are prone to getting fleas and ticks, but did you know that these pesky parasites could transmit dangerous diseases to your pet?
Maria Esteve-Gasent, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained everything pet owners need to know about Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness.
“Lyme disease can affect both humans and companion animals,” Esteve-Gasent said. “Lyme disease is caused by the bacterial pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by Ixodes ticks—also known as blacklegged or deer ticks. The ticks feed on infected animals—mostly wildlife—and, incidentally, feed on humans and companion animals, which spreads Lyme disease.”
One of the most common signs of Lyme disease in humans is a “bull’s eye” rash on the skin. People who are infected commonly experience flu-like symptoms, including fever and muscle and joint pain. Pets (mostly dogs) that are infected with Lyme disease experience transient fever, anorexia and in some instances arthritis, and can go asymptomatic for long periods of time.
“If left untreated, Lyme disease in people can progress into more chronic and serious disorders, such as carditis (inflammation of the heart that can affect the heart’s ability to function) and arthritis,” Esteve-Gasent said. “In dogs, we can observe kidney failure and heart and neurological complications. Thus, if left untreated in both humans and pets, Lyme disease can be fatal.”
How can we protect ourselves and our pets from Lyme disease? By preventing tick bites, Esteve-Gasent said.
Luckily, for our furry friends, there are a number of successful products that prevent ticks from biting pets. There are also vaccines available for dogs.
However, horses and humans are left with minimal alternatives for prevention.
“Consequently, we must use tick repellents to prevent tick bites,” Esteve-Gasent said. “People can also protect themselves by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors. Taping socks to pants can help prevent ticks from accessing human skin.”
Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease in both humans and animals. It may take several weeks of treatment to eliminate the bacteria from the infected person or animal.
You may be wondering, “With spring right around the corner, should we be extra cautious of Lyme disease?” Esteve-Gasent said the answer depends on where you are.
“In the Northeast and Midwest, the time of the year for Lyme disease is spring and summer, with fewer cases early in the fall,” Esteve-Gasent said. “In southern regions, or warmer regions, the risk of infection might be higher late in winter, spring, early summer and in the fall. However, if summers are too hot, ticks are not very active. Overall, if you go outdoors, keep the ticks off, regardless of whether it is summer, spring, or fall.”
A good thing to keep in mind is that if the weather is nice for you and your pets, it is also nice for ticks. If you spend the day outdoors, be sure to dress appropriately and make sure your pet is protected from troublesome ticks.
And be sure to check out the Modern Dog e-store for some great flea and tick prevention and remedies!
Therapy Pets Spread Love Through the Community
Therapy pets are similar to the average pet because they offer stress relief, comfort, and affection. However, therapy pets differ because they are specially trained to travel to and remain calm in various environments, such as nursing homes, hospitals, and college campuses.
Because therapy pets must be able to tolerate potentially stressful situations, such as a crowded room of people, only pets that have been properly trained and temperament tested should be certified as a therapy pet. Once certified, volunteering with your therapy pet and helping community members can be a fun and rewarding experience.
Kit Darling, an infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said a lot of evaluation goes into certifying therapy pets.
Potential therapy pets must pass a temperament test, which evaluates the animal and its owner as a team and consists of the animal meeting a person it does not know and demonstrating basic obedience commands. Passing a temperament test is extremely important for the safety of the animal and those interacting with the animal during visits.
Other training, such as remaining calm during loud sounds and while being touched in different areas of the body, comes in handy while going on visits. Darling, who volunteers with Aggieland Pets with a Purpose (APWAP), often takes her therapy dogs to provide emotional relief for people in nursing homes or hospitals. In this case, Darling’s therapy dogs must be comfortable around wheelchairs, walkers and canes.
With all the places a therapy pet may travel, it’s easy to see why not all animals are fit to be therapy pets. However, if the animal does have a calm and patient temperament, it can be introduced to different people, including children and older adults. Visiting diverse settings, such as parks, outdoor venues, or outdoor restaurants is also a good way to socialize your animal.
“It is also helpful to attend obedience classes,” Darling said. “Socialize your dog or cat with other animals and work with your pet so that they tolerate being touched by you and others.”
If you want to take the steps to certify your animal as a therapy pet, Darling recommended finding a local organization to volunteer with, such as APWAP. Serving the community and spreading love through therapy pets is really rewarding, Darling said.
But remember, not all animals are fit to be therapy pets. Darling reminds pet owners that potential therapy pets must have a calm and stable temperament. They should enjoy interacting with people, even in large crowds, and be tolerant of other animals.
“Overall, therapy pets should tolerate stressful situations without becoming distressed, aggressive, or exhibit any behavior that could be dangerous,” Darling said.
Many of us know someone whose life has been impacted by cancer. Unfortunately, cancer can also occur in our pets. As part of Pet Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, associate professor, and Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, a fellowship-trained surgical oncologist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discussed everything owners need to know about cancer in pets.
One of the most common types of cancer in pets is skin cancer, Wustefeld-Janssens said. Primary care veterinarians can usually treat cancerous skin tumors without referring the pet to specialty care. However, more serious types of cancer—including tumors that appear in the bone, mouth, glands (such as anal sacs), or lymph nodes—may require surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy.
In some situations, Wilson-Robles said a combination of treatments may be necessary to prevent the cancer from relapsing. For example, an animal may undergo surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, but that doesn’t mean the animal is free of cancer cells. The animal may still need chemotherapy to remove remaining cancer cells from the body, which can help prevent the cancer from developing again.
One thing to consider when looking for a cancer treatment is finances. Though pets are often considered family, cancer treatment for our furry friends can get expensive. Wustefeld-Janssens suggested working with your veterinarian to find the most cost-efficient treatment plan.
In addition, Wilson-Robles suggested looking into pet insurance (when you first get your pet) to help cover the cost of cancer treatment. There are also clinical trials you can find at vetcancertrials.org or the American Veterinary Medical Association’s online database. Clinical trials are partially or fully funded programs that determine the effectiveness of a treatment.
“Ultimately, clinical trials are an experimental therapy,” Wilson-Robles said. “If we knew everything about it, we wouldn’t need to do the trials. However, your animal could be getting cutting-edge medicine that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.”
However, Wilson-Robles added that in some situations, there are no good options for cancer treatment. This may be because the animal is not strong enough to ensure cancer treatment or the cancer is too complicated and dangerous to treat.
“(Instead,) you may consider taking your pet home and keeping him comfortable,” Wilson-Robles said.
This includes providing the pet with any veterinarian-prescribed medications, clean bedding, any comfort items (such as toys), and food and water. If desired, you can even look into hospice care.
You may be wondering, “How can I know if my pet has cancer?” There are signs that may indicate cancer, but these symptoms can also be associated with other diseases and conditions. Report any abnormalities, such as a lump or a bump on the body, unexplained weight loss, limping or lameness, swelling, or bleeding to a veterinarian. The sooner you do this, the better.
“Early intervention is important,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “If you notice something abnormal, do not wait to show it to your veterinarian; a tumor the size of a grape is a lot easier to treat than one the size of a football.”
Keeping your pet in general good health is the best way to help prevent cancer, Wustefeld-Janssens added. This includes regular exercise, feeding your animal a well-balanced diet, and seeing the veterinarian for regular (at least once-a-year) checkups.
Though a cancer diagnosis can be scary, there are many treatment options available. However, the best treatment is preventative care. Remember to practice healthy habits with your pets and report any abnormalities to your veterinarian in a timely manner.
Keep your Pets Safe this Halloween
Children and adults may love the spooky traditions of Halloween, but our pets are less likely to appreciate the costumes, masks, and parties associated with Halloween night.
Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, recommended a few tips to keep your pet safe this Halloween.
“Keep candy secure from pets,” Darling said. “Many candies are toxic to pets, such as chocolates. Candies and gum containing the sugar-free sweetener xylitol are also toxic.”
Additionally, lollipops and other candies with plastic wrappers can cause intestinal blockage if ingested, Darling said. Be sure to clean up candy trash and store candy on a high shelf to prevent pets from reaching it.
Other items to keep away from your pets include candles, pumpkins, pumpkin seeds, corn, lights, and electrical cords. These objects are a hazard if consumed or chewed on by your pet. If you suspect your pet has ingested a dangerous item, Darling recommended contacting the Animal Poison Control Center, at (888) 426-4435, or your veterinarian.
Pet owners may want to dress their pet for Halloween night, but this may not be the best idea. Darling said pets shouldn’t be dressed in costume unless you know they are comfortable wearing the outfit. Make sure the costume does not restrict your pet’s movement, hearing, sight, or breathing. Additionally, costumes with lights or batteries are a safety hazard and should be avoided.
Keeping pets in a secure location will ensure they are protected from pranksters who may steal, tease, and injure them. Black cats should be kept inside for several days before and after Halloween because they are at risk for being the target of a Halloween prank. Trick-or-treaters or party guests also may startle your pets, which is another good reason to reserve a safe and secure place for your pets to stay on Halloween night.
“Continuous doorbell ringing and people at the door in costume may stress your pet,” Darling said. “Put your pet in a secure location, such as a crate or room away from the front door. This will help minimize stress and will keep your pets from running out the front door.”
Although pets should have a form of identification on them at all times, it is especially important on Halloween night. Human and vehicular traffic may frighten animals and cause them to run from the safety of your home. If you are going to take your pet trick-or-treating with you, walk them on a leash and provide them with a reflective collar or tape so they are more visible at night. Darling also recommended a form of identification that could not come off, such as a microchip.
Halloween is a fun night for people of all ages, but it is important to keep in mind your pet’s safety when planning parties and participating in other Halloween traditions. Nobody wants to spend Halloween night searching for a lost pet or sitting in the emergency room of a veterinary hospital, so be sure to put your pet’s safety first.
Proper Pet Hygiene
Like humans, pets can experience skin conditions that may cause redness, itchiness, odor, and even wounds. Fortunately, many skin conditions can be prevented with routine bathing and grooming. Dr. Alison Diesel, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained the importance of pet hygiene for both dogs and cats.
On one hand, most cats do not usually require a bath to maintain a healthy skin and coat, Diesel said. However, she added that older or obese cats may benefit from bathing to help keep their coat and skin healthy. On the other hand, dogs require regular bathing and grooming with a frequency that depends on their skin and coat health.
“Dogs without dermatological abnormalities benefit from a bath a couple of times a year or when they get dirty,” Diesel said. “However, dogs with skin problems often require more frequent bathing and sometimes benefit from specific kinds or medicated shampoos. If your dog has a skin problem, you should discuss bathing recommendations with your veterinarian.”
Though your veterinarian can examine your pet’s skin during a routine check-up, sometimes skin abnormalities can develop between appointments. If you notice any abnormalities while bathing or grooming your pet, you should have your pet examined by a veterinarian. Some noticeable changes might be increased odor and dander and may result in discomfort or itching in the animal. In addition, animals with long hair coats are prone to matting. This can irritate the skin and result in wounds when removed or clipped out, Diesel said. Furthermore, pets with long hair coats are at higher risk for fly strike and acquisition of maggots hidden within the mats and under the hair coat. These creatures can further damage the skin, causing wounds, infections, sepsis and potentially death, Diesel explained. More severe or persistent skin conditions may benefit from examination by a boarded specialist in veterinary dermatology.
Another important part of proper pet hygiene is keeping your pet’s ears clean. Most pet owners regularly bathe their pet to maintain their coat, but clean ears are just as important and should be part of your pet’s normal hygiene routine. When cleaning your pet’s ears, Diesel recommended saturating a cotton ball with a veterinarian-approved ear cleanser.
“Gently place this in the dog or cat’s ear canal and massage to help deliver the solution along the length of the canal,” Diesel said. “An additional cotton ball can be used to wipe out excess fluid after the animal shakes their head. Q-tips should never be used to clean a dog or cat’s ears as this can lead to potential damage of the ear canal.”
Diesel added that ear problems often manifest with scratching or rubbing at the ears, redness, discharge, and a foul odor. Some animals, such as dogs that swim a lot, are more prone to ear problems than others and should be monitored more closely. Additionally, Diesel said pet owners should discuss recommendations for appropriate ear cleaning with their veterinarian.
Poor hygiene in dogs and cats can result in severe consequences if not addressed appropriately, Diesel said.
Though it may seem like Fido hates his routine bath, proper hygiene for both dogs and cats is necessary to keep your furry friend healthy. If you have any concerns about your pet’s grooming and bathing routine, consult your veterinarian.
Obedience Training For Dogs
If you’ve recently added a puppy or dog to your family, consider obedience training to help build a healthy relationship between you and your pet. Though training your dog requires patience and commitment, the positive benefits of obedience training are worth it.
Kit Darling, Infection Control Coordinator for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said there are many benefits of obedience training, including building a closer, positive relationship with your dog, teaching your dog life and social skills, and helping prevent your dog from developing unwanted behaviors. Additionally, Darling said a dog that will come when called may help avoid life threating situations, such as being hit by a car or having a bad encounter with another animal.
Though obedience training has many benefits, dog owners may wonder how long the training process can take. According to Darling, the answer depends on what your goals are for the dog. To teach your dog basic manners, such as to sit, come, or stay, a basic level obedience class may be the best choice.
“Most of the basic level obedience classes are six to eight weeks,” Darling said. “Each class is about an hour long, and training sessions at home may be as short as five to 10 minutes a couple times a day, four to five times a week.”
In addition to basic level obedience classes, there are also intermediate and advanced classes, Darling said. But in order to teach your dog even the most basic commands, positive reinforcement is a must. Giving your dog treats is one of the most common ways to motivate your dog to learn new commands, but other forms of positive reinforcement, such as clickers, can be used as well.
“It is important to find out what motivates your dog and to use it as a positive reward during training,” Darling said. “Clickers may be used to mark the wanted behavior and then the dog can be rewarded with treats, a toy, or praise.”
Additionally, Darling said if you choose to use food or treats as a reward, it is best not to feed your dog close to training time. Your training lesson will be most effective if your dog has an appetite so they can choose a treat they really like.
If you decide to enroll your dog in obedience training, it is important to choose a trainer and training program that you are comfortable with. This could require some research, but Darling said your friends, veterinarian, humane society, groomer, and boarding facility may have good recommendations.
Some questions you should ask yourself when searching for a good obedience trainer and program include: What type of training is offered? Do they train the dog with or without you? Are there group classes, private instructors, or both? What type of training methods are used? What are the trainer’s credentials? Furthermore, if it is a training facility, be sure to check for cleanliness and vaccination requirements before enrolling your dog into class. If possible, Darling said to observe a class to see if the trainers, dogs, and clients are happy during training.
If you have recently adopted or purchased a new dog, or want to polish Fido’s basic obedience skills, obedience training is a great way to train your dog while also building a healthy relationship. Though obedience training requires patience and dedication, the benefits of a well-behaved dog are endless.
“One of the best things you can do for your puppy or dog and yourself is obedience training,” Darling said. “The experience is worthwhile and can help you raise a happy, well-adjusted companion.”
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