Unwanted Canine Guests: Internal Parasites

A few years ago, the Millbrook Hunt Club in upstate New York realized that many of its foxhounds were becoming seriously ill. The dogs, known for their athletic prowess and seemingly limitless energy, appeared to be wasting away. Extensive testing revealed that a rare parasite, leishmaniasis, was to blame.  Public health officials now believe this particular parasite is under control, but other, potentially deadly parasites pose continued health threats to both you and your dog. Internal parasites are of special concern, since they're often not detectable by owners.

The danger lies in the fact that internal parasites live off of their host. This means that they can suck up blood, nutrients, water and other essentials from or your canine - or you. If enough parasites are present, which is likely since a single female roundworm can produce up to 100,000 eggs a day, the host can weaken and even die if left untreated.

Your veterinarian can determine whether or not your dog has a parasite through fecal screening or a blood test. For added good measure, here is a parasite primer to guide you through basic identification and prevention measures for common parasites.

Tapeworms Tapeworms are one of the most common parasites in dogs. They are transmitted by fleas and break off into 1/4-inch sections that can be seen around a dog's hindquarters or in its poop. Tapeworms live in a dog's digestive system and usually do not cause any significant health problems.
Symptoms: Sometimes an infected dog will scoot his butt along the floor in an attempt to relieve the irritation.
Prevention: Keeping fleas under control will keep tapeworms from infecting your dog.
Potential impact on humans: Tapeworms in undercooked pork and beef are among the most common culprits for infestation in humans, so dog tapeworms pose little risk.

Roundworms This very common worm looks like curled spaghetti strands in your dog's stool (yes, you should inspect it occasionally). Roundworms absorb nutrients in a dog's intestines, interfering with digestion. Dogs can get roundworms from eating an infected rodent or through contact with contaminated feces. Puppies can get roundworms in utero, or while nursing.
Symptoms: Puppies with roundworm may have diarrhea and distended bellies, but sometimes no visual signs are apparent.
Prevention: Keep your dog away from the feces of other animals. Yearly deworming should take care of roundworms.
Potential impact on humans: Poor sanitation can lead to spread with deadly results if roundworms migrate to major organs.

Giardia These are protozoan parasites that can be ingested through contaminated water, soil and feces. It can cause digestive disorders in dogs. These may lead to either acute or intermittent diarrhea, sometimes resulting in weight loss.
Symptoms: A dog may have no symptoms or have diarrhea and gas.
Prevention: Promptly clean up feces and prevent your dog from drinking stream or pond water.
Potential impact on humans: People can suffer from giardia, too, with problems similar to those of affected dogs.

Heartworms Heartworm larvae can live in mosquitoes, so when a mosquito carrying this larvae bites a dog, that larvae can enter the canine's blood and develop into parasitic heartworms. These worms then migrate to the heart and lungs and nearby blood vessels. In severe cases, it can lead to congestive heart failure in dogs. Heartworm infection is detected through a blood sample.
Symptoms: Dogs with heartworms can have no symptoms, but may also have a cough, decreased appetite, difficulty breathing and avoid exertion.
Prevention: Talk to your veterinarian about having your dog tested for heartworms with a follow-up on preventive medication, if necessary.
Potential impact on humans: Minimal, since it is rare for people to become infected with heartworms.

Hookworms These reside in the small intestine of dogs and feed on the animal's blood. If left untreated, hookworms can cause canine death. A dog contracts hookworms by ingesting larvae through contaminated water or soil, or by eating another infected animal. Larvae can also penetrate the skin. Puppies may be born with hookworm infection.
Symptoms: An infected dog may be weak, anemic and have diarrhea and vomiting.
Prevention: Vigilant cleanups and annual deworming usually give hookworms the hook.
Potential impact on humans: Hookworms can infect humans through the skin, causing itchy lesions and even lung disease.

Coccidia This is a protozoan parasite that dogs can pick up by eating an infected rodent or some other infested critter. Coccidia can live and multiply in a dog's intestines. Dehydration and other problems related to coccidia can lead to death in severe cases.
Symptoms: A dog may experience mild to severe diarrhea, a painful abdomen and vomiting.
Prevention: Cleaning up immediately after your dog can prevent the spread of contamination.
Potential impact on humans: Zero, because the coccidia species found in dogs, as well as in cats, does not infect humans.

As indicated, both you and your dog could be targeted by one or more parasites in your lifetimes. But fear not. A one-two-three punch could knock this dog and human health problem out cold.

Keeping It Clean Staying clean is the first line of attack for preventing most internal parasite infestations. Be sure to clean up after your dog as soon as you can. Then, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after such cleanups in order to prevent possible parasite spreads to other dogs, animals and humans.

Children are at special risk, since they tend to not be as vigilant with the washing (little fingers have a tendency to wind up in little mouths). As a result, keep kids away from any pets that may be infected. Teach them the link between illness and hand-dirtiness. Maybe remind them of their last tummy ache, pointing out that something similar could happen if they don't wash up.

Pay Attention to Number Two Step two might be easy to remember because it's also "number two." According to Lisa Hsuan, DVM, at the Long Beach Animal Hospital in Long Beach, California, diarrhea provides a key clue. "This is the first sign of an internal parasite," she says. Diarrhea, of course, has many causes, but internal parasites are definitely one of them. If your dog has this problem, talk over the possibilities with your veterinarian.

Deworm Regularly Over-the-counter dog wormers are available, but your best bet is to consult with your veterinarian. That's because each country and region has its own special parasite concerns, due to weather patterns, local species, environmental considerations and other factors. Your dog's doctor should know what is right for your pet. Additionally, all dewormers contain potentially harmful chemicals , so they should be used with care. Less toxic preparations are now available, such as a product called Prazi, which treats parasites in humans, as well as in pets.

Parasite Protection
These parasites may be strong, but the treatment to get them out of your dog's body -- and your own -- is stronger. Give your dog the best chance for a long and healthy life by taking him to your veterinarian regularly to be checked for both internal and external parasites.

If you and your pet frequent dog parks, deworming should perhaps be higher up on your "to-do" list. "Dog parks are a breeding ground for parasites," says Dr. Hsuan. "This doesn't mean you shouldn't take your dog to dog parks, but that you should be aware of parasites and get your dog checked for them more frequently."

Dog Depression: Causes and Cures

George and Fritz -- two canine littermates -- spent their entire lives together. In the mornings they squabbled over the tastiest bowl bites. Sufficiently fueled, they then seemed to collaborate on clever schemes, like stealing tennis shoe laces or sneaking into forbidden places. They went on walks together, played and napped side by side.

This went on for 14 years until Fritz died. Suddenly, George no longer acted like the same dog. He slept more, withdrew from social activities and lost interest in his food.

At that point, a visit to the vet was in order. "In such cases, I always begin by looking for a physical cause," said Dr. Raymond Van Lienden, DVM, a veterinarian at The Animal Clinic of Clifton, Va. "I conduct a full examination, do the blood work, run x-rays and analyze the dog's complete health history to see what may be wrong." He added that for dogs like George, no physical malady might show up in the barrage of medical tests. "It's then that we have to look at other possible causes, including grief and depression."

Is Dog Depression Real?
Dr. Van Lienden says that no study has yet unequivocally proven that depression exists in dogs, but he is convinced animals have emotions. "When you come home, your dog may appear happy and excited to see you, and when you scold it, it may slink away with apparent guilt," he said, adding that dog's appear to suffer from physical as well as emotional pain. A recent University of Portsmouth study further found that pet owners observed emotions like pride, embarrassment, shame and even jealousy in cats, pigs, horses, rabbits, rats and hamsters, as well as dogs. Since mammals appear to experience comparable emotions, depression could be added to the list.

The challenge in diagnosing depression is that symptoms mimic those for many other health problems. These symptoms may include lethargy, weight loss, lack of interest in food, drink and social activities, and a tendency to sleep more. Medical examinations are critical to rule out health problems that may include anything from a chemical imbalance to a thyroid-related condition.

Causes for Depression
According to Dr. Van Lienden, change is usually at the root of canine depression. As for George, the change could be a sudden death, or other disappearance, of a valued dog or human companion. It might be an unwanted change of scenery, such as when the owner moves from one location to another. Or it could be an unwanted addition, like a new baby, pet, or housemate that has altered the dog's routine in some way.

Dr. Van Lienden offered these suggestions for preventing and treating depression in your dog:

  • If some kind of major change is forthcoming, try to gradually transition your dog by maintaining its usual schedule and keeping familiar toys and objects at hand/paw. Then slowly introduce your dog to the new person or place, allowing it to sniff and investigate as much as possible.
  • If another dog in your family dies, consider replacing it with a new dog, as studies suggest canines enjoy having same species companionship.
  • Once your vet rules out medical conditions as a cause for your dog's problems, say something like, "Humor me, doctor. Could my dog be depressed?" Some vets are more open to the possibility than others, so you may have to step in as your dog's mental health advocate.
  • In severe cases, consider medications that your veterinarian could prescribe, such as Prozac, which can "buy some time" to get your dog through the worst period.

The good news is that, unlike humans, dogs live more for the moment. Although grief and depression can linger for weeks or even months in canines, the feelings and related symptoms are usually temporary. "Most dogs will overcome the problems on their own," said Dr. Van Lienden. "It may just take a bit of time for them to cope and adjust."

Canine Coughing

Your dog makes all sorts of noises, and a lot of them probably sound like human coughs. In fact, a flu-afflicted person is often described as having a "barking" cough. But dogs can actually cough too, often sounding like you do when you're congested and have a cold, or as though they are sneezing in reverse, since they may try to draw in a lot of air instead of forcing it out in a loud "Ah choo!" There are many possible causes for doggy coughing, according to Lynelle Johnson, DVM. She is an associate professor at the University of California at Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. Here is her canine coughing compendium, which includes some of the primary causes for dog coughs, along with associated conditions.

  • Kennel cough This illness often results from a combination of viral and bacterial intruders in canine airways. If your dog has a dry, hacking cough, sometimes accompanied by a white, foam-like saliva, it could have kennel cough. The most common airborne bacteria linked to kennel cough tend to spread in close quarters, such as dog kennels, boarding facilities, dog parks or other similar areas. This condition generally lasts one to two weeks and is treated with antibiotics and other prescription medications. Confine your dog until it's recovered to avoid infecting other animals. And if you must go out during your dog's recovery period, try using a harness instead of a collar and leash to discourage coughing reflexes.
  • Chronic bronchitis This illness is characterized by excessive mucus in the airways that is triggered by inflammation. Smoking can cause canine bronchitis, so if you smoke, never do so near your dog. Pollution, dust and grains in the environment can also lead to inflammation. Ask your vet about corticosteroids to treat symptoms.
  • Tracheal collapse This tends to occur in miniature and toy-size dogs that have a flat trachea, instead of a round or "C-shaped," one. "When pressure changes within the airway during respiration, it collapses. Sometimes dogs can get infections or bronchitis in addition to airway collapse," Dr. Johnson says. Treatment may include medication, surgery, or a combination of both.
  • Heart disease Congestive heart failure can cause dogs to accumulate fluid in the lungs, which could lead to coughing, especially at night. Heart enlargement may also cause coughing. Dobermans, Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, and small dogs seem to be more vulnerable to heart disease and related coughing.
  • Fungal infections Fungal infections can cause coughing, breathing difficulty, weight loss and fever. Your dog may require antifungul medications for extended periods, according to Dr. Johnson. Keep canines away from bird coops and droppings, as these can be fungal breeding grounds.
  • Parasites Parasites, such as heartworm and roundworms, may also cause your dog to cough. These may be treated with dewormers, preventative pills and topical medications that your vet can provide.
  • Foreign bodies Dogs can ingest a variety of substances and objects, like sticks or foxtails, which can lead to bouts of coughing. These plants may lodge in the gums or rear of your dog's throat. If that happens, usually a vet's help is needed to remove them.
  • Lung cancer Coughing can be a symptom of this type of cancer, but it is rare in dogs. Nevertheless, it is good to have your veterinarian rule it out as a possibility. Canine lung cancer frequently will metastasize, or spread, from a tumor elsewhere in the body. If your vet suspects that your dog may have this disease, you could be referred to an oncologist, who can provide more specialized treatment.
  • Pneumonia This serious illness is marked by "soft" coughing, heavy breathing and mucus. Pneumonia requires immediate attention, including antibiotics and fluids.
  • Influenza A virus causes the flu, which is a relatively new disease in dogs. It is a very contagious respiratory infection that in its mild form includes coughing. In severe form, signs of pneumonia are present.
  • Distemper Again, coughing may be a sign of this devastating, highly contagious viral disease that is transmitted from an infected dog's respiratory secretions, urine or feces. It is easily prevented by vaccination.

Don't rely on guesswork. If your dog's bark sounds more cough than "ruff," seek an expert's opinion. Your vet can probably help to clear the cough so that soon both you and your dog may breathe a sigh of relief.

Serious Abdominal Health Warning

Bloat is a life-threatening condition that acts rapidly and can lead to the death of your dog within hours if the condition is not recognized and treated immediately. Unfortunately, the cause of bloat remains unknown at this time, but you can learn to identify its symptoms before it may follow its deadly course.

It first helps to understand exactly what this condition is and how it can hurt your dog.  Dogs first experience a rapid and abnormal expansion of the stomach with gas. If this happens to your dog, the pressure can be so intense that its stomach could actually rotate. The rotation may then close both the entry to and exit from the stomach. That would put your dog in very serious jeopardy, since blood flow might also be restricted.

What could follow is an increase in pressure inside your dog's stomach, and compression of its surrounding organs. Eventually, shock could occur as a result of the restricted blood flow. Here are a few key facts about bloat:

  • You should always treat bloat as a medical emergency.
  • Bloat can kill your dog within hours after onset.
  • The cause of bloat is unknown.
  • Bloat affects 36,000 dogs in the United States each year; 30% die as a result of this condition.
  • Bloat can occur in dogs of any age.
  • Certain breeds are more susceptible to bloat, particularly deep-chested dogs. Dogs at particular risk include the following breeds: German Shepherds, Bouvier de Flandres, Great Danes, Boxers, St. Bernards, Doberman Pinschers, Bloodhounds, German Shorthaired Pointers, Irish Setters, Gordon Setters, Borzois, Irish Wolfhounds, Dachshunds, Labrador Retrievers, and Basset Hounds.

Early Warning Signs
Since bloat is a true medical emergency, early identification and treatment is critical to your dog's survival.

If your canine is in the early stages of bloat, it will be feeling a lot of discomfort. You may see your dog pacing and whining and trying unsuccessfully to get into a comfortable position. It may seem anxious, and it may lick or keep staring at its stomach. Your dog may also attempt to vomit, but probably without success.

Other signs of bloat can include weakness, swelling of the abdomen, and even symptoms of shock, such as increased heart rate and abnormally rapid breathing. Here are the warning signs to watch for, and if your dog demonstrates any of these, call your veterinarian immediately:

  • Whining
  • Inability to get comfortable
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Pale gums
  • Unproductive attempts to vomit
  • Abnormally rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Pain, weakness
  • Swelling of the abdomen (particularly the left side)

Prevention Pays
There are several steps you can take to help decrease the incidence of bloat in your dog. Feeding management offers the best method available for reducing risk until the exact cause of bloat can be identified. Try these proactive strategies:

  • Avoid having your dog exercise for one hour before, and two hours after meals.
  • Don't allow your dog to drink large amounts of water just before or after eating or exercise.
  • If you have two or more dogs, feed them separately to avoid rapid, stressful eating.
  • If possible, feed at times when after-feeding behavior can be observed.
  • Try to avoid abrupt diet changes.
  • Feed your pet small amounts of food frequently, two to three times daily.

Canine Skin Cancer Overview

Just because your dog has fur doesn't mean it is immune to the diseases of the skin, such as cancer. To get the latest information on this pervasive disease, we contacted three top veterinarians who specialize in canine cancer. Here are their answers to your most pressing questions.

The Dog Daily: How common is skin cancer in dogs?
Expert Insight: Skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer found in dogs, says Kevin A. Hahn, DVM, PhD, director of oncology services at Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists in Houston, Texas. In fact, nearly one-third of all dogs diagnosed with cancer have a tumor that originated on the skin or from the tissues of the skin.

The Dog Daily: What are the most common forms of skin cancer?
Expert Insight: Dogs tend to be diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma or mast cell tumors, says Dr. Hahn. Squamous cells are the cells that make up most of the skin, so squamous cell carcinoma refers to an abnormal growth of these cells. Basal cells line the deepest layer of the skin, so that's what is affected with basal cell carcinoma. Mast cells are a bit different because they can be found in other parts of the body. They are specialized cells involved with your dog's immune system.

The Dog Daily: If a dog spends a lot of time in the sun, is it more vulnerable to skin cancer?
Expert Insight: Of all the skin cancers, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are often due to sun exposure. Mast cell tumors usually tend to occur in specific breeds, says Dr. Hahn.

The Dog Daily: So it's true that certain breeds get skin cancer more than others?
Expert Insight: Yes. Skin cancer is one of the most common tumors in dogs with shorter hair, says Gregory K. Ogilvie, DVM, who specializes in internal medicine and oncology at California Veterinary Specialists Angel Care Cancer Center in San Marcos, California. In addition, dogs with thin hair and fair skin are at greater risk for squamous cell carcinomas. Boxers, Boston terriers and pugs seem to be more susceptible to mast cell tumors of the skin, while poodles, cocker spaniels and other breeds can suffer from different types of skin cancer.

The Dog Daily: What's the best thing an owner can do to protect a dog from skin cancer?
Expert Insight: Pay attention, says Michael R. Moyer, DVM, director of shelter animal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia. Routinely check your dog's skin everywhere, and not just in the areas you usually pet. This means under the dog's belly, on the bottom of its paws, in between the foot pads, and so on.

The Dog Daily: What should you do if you've found a lump that might be suspicious?
Expert Insight: Take your dog to a veterinarian right away for an evaluation, suggests Dr. Moyer. Not all lumps are cancerous, but your doctor might suggest medical procedures such as a fine needle aspirate (a type of minimally invasive biopsy), a biopsy sample or a complete removal to be safe. Additionally, learning whether the tumor might have spread is vital in cases where a malignancy is suspected. This means that X-rays, blood tests and ultrasound procedures might be recommended.

The Dog Daily: Are there any tips for figuring out which lumps are benign and which are more serious?
Expert Insight: Any lump or bump should be considered suspect, says Dr. Hahn. Sometimes cancer goes undetected because it can resemble other less-serious skin ailments. It may look round, smooth and be slow-growing, like a wart. Or it could occur rapidly, compromising the health of the skin and looking like a nasty bug bite or wound. That's why many veterinarians will say "when in doubt, check it out." The best approach is the active approach. If the cyst or mass is changing in size or character (such as soft to hard), begins to bleed or is painful to the pet, then your doctor will probably suggest surgery as a course of action for treatment.