What are the Most Common Summer Diseases in Dogs?
Here we explore the most common diseases that will plague your dog this spring and summer: Heartworm, Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, Parvovirus, Fleas and Ticks.
Dr. Sheldon Rubin delivered sobering news to the owner of a Schnauzer during a recent visit to his Chicago practice. The dog tested positive for heartworm and faced a long, expensive treatment involving painful shots, says Dr. Rubin, DVM, who is president of the American Heartworm Society.
The heartworm parasite in this case was most likely an unwelcome souvenir from last summer, believes Dr. Rubin, who is also a spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association.
A year ago, the affected dog’s owner had decided preventive medicine wasn’t necessary for a city pooch, but he learned the hard way that dogs are at risk no matter where they live.
In this case, heartworm is just one dog disease that is spread by vectors like mosquitoes, fleas and ticks. Vectors spread parasites and organisms by biting an infected animal then transporting the disease when they bite healthy animals. Although your dog can contract a vector-borne illness year-round, summer is a prime time for these diseases.
Summer Trouble for Your Dog
It makes sense that the risk expands exponentially in the summer. Time spent outside frolicking with your pal, whether in the backyard, at the beach or camping, means more potential exposure to diseases such as heartworm and Lyme disease. The same warm summer temperatures that lure us outdoors are the same ones that jump-start mosquito, flea and tick populations. “It only takes one mosquito bite,’’ Dr. Rubin says of mosquitoes carrying the heartworm parasite. “It’s not like it takes a bunch of mosquito bites to infect your animal.”
Dr. Stephen Steep believes yet another factor plays a role in spreading vector-borne diseases among dogs during the summer. We hit the road more at this time, and many of us bring our dogs along for the ride, says Dr. Steep, DVM, an Oxford, Mich., veterinarian and past president of the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association. Unfortunately bug pests can hitch a ride during such trips. “We’ve dramatically increased our exposure,” he says. “If you go to a dog park, a dog there might have visited another part of the country and brought back a parasite.”
He and other veterinarians suggest that all dog owners, whether or not they are planning a summer trip, should educate themselves about these vector-borne diseases.
Heartworm Disease in Dogs
Mosquito. Heartworm is now present in all 50 states, says Dr. Rubin.
Look for loss of breath, lack of stamina or coughing in your dog. By the time your pal shows symptoms, however, the disease is usually advanced. Heartworms infest the chamber of the right side of the heart and the arteries in the lungs. Chances are you’ve seen graphic depictions of the disease at your veterinarian’s office.
Heartworm is easily prevented through topical medication or a monthly pill, says Dr. Rubin. While some pet owners dispense the medication just during the height of mosquito season, Dr. Rubin recommends a year-round program. You’ll see an added bonus, he says. “Almost all of the heartworm medications prevent intestinal parasites.”
Can Heartworm in Dogs be Cured?
Heartworm is easier to prevent than to treat, but the good news is that in most cases, dogs can be cured from the disease. The key to treatment is the stabilization of your dog and then killing all adult and immature worms.
What are the First Signs of Heartworms in Dogs?
In the early stages many dogs show very mild or no symptoms at all. Once they do appear symptoms can include a decreased appetite, weight loss, a mild persistent cough, a reluctance to exercise and fatigue after exercise.
How Long Will a Dog Live With Heartworms?
Heartworm larvae take about 6 months to mature into adult worms. The adult worms can then live between 5 – 7 years inside your dog. Each summer when mosquitoes are active, can lead to more larvae entering your dog. This then increases the number of heartworms living inside your pet.
Heartworms can cause severe damage to your dog’s organs and blood vessels. A dog may live for months or even years with untreated heartworms.
Can Dogs Live With Heartworms?
If left untreated, few dogs survive living with severe heartworm disease.
Lyme Disease in Dogs
Lyme Disease Vector:
Deer tick. Even if you’re a conscientious dog owner who conducts tick checks on your dog, it’s not enough, says Dr. Steep. Deer ticks, the size of poppy seeds, are difficult to detect.
Lyme Disease Symptoms:
Lyme disease is also difficult to recognize, and its symptoms resemble other diseases, says Dr. Steep. Look for muscle weakness, joint pain and limping in one front leg. Your dog will likely run a temperature. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics.
Lyme Disease Prevention:
A vaccine is available to protect against Lyme disease. Consider asking about it during your dog’s next visit to the veterinarian, since some dogs are at greater risk than others because of lifestyle or geographic location.
What are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs?
Symptoms of Lyme disease include loss of appetite, swollen and painful joints, fever, lameness and lethargy.
Can Lyme Disease in Dogs be Cured?
Most dogs make a full recovery post treatment with antibiotics.
How Long Does Lyme Disease Last in Dogs?
Treatment for Lyme disease usually lasts for around one month. Symptoms should ease relatively quickly once treatment begins, however, in some cases, extended treatment may be required.
What Happens if Lyme Disease goes Untreated in Dogs?
If left untreated Lyme disease may cause life-threatening kidney inflammation and dysfunction in your dog.
Ehrlichia in Dogs
Tick. The tick carries an organism that can infect the white blood cells of your dog.
Erlichia, as for other parasitic ailments, can resemble different diseases. Look for spots of bleeding on your dog’s gums, lethargy or a loss of appetite. Erlichia develops in stages. The prognosis is good if the disease is diagnosed before the chronic stage. Because it is hard to recognize in its earliest phases, veterinarians will sometimes treat ehrlichia with antibiotics before they make a firm diagnosis.
Tick control is the key. Don’t settle for a flea and tick collar, advises Dr. Steep. Collars often provide protection, but only for the region near your dog’s neck. Use prevention such as Frontline, Advantage or Revolution, which work systemically and provide whole-body protection.
Can Ehrlichiosis in Dogs be Cured?
Ehrlichiosis if caught early can be cured. Treatment needs to last for several weeks even though improvements can usually be seen after a few days.
What are the Symptoms of Ehrlichia in Dogs?
Symptoms of Ehrlichia can include poor appetite, fever, lethargy, lameness, and abnormal bruising and bleeding. Symptoms usually last for 2 – 4 weeks before abating. Most dogs eventually enter the chronic stage of the disease after some months or even years after onset. Treatment is particularly difficult in the chronic stage, and needs to be sought early for the best prognosis for your dog.
Prevention is Better Than the Cure for Your Dog
Fortunately, West Nile virus and encephalitis, two other troubling vector-borne diseases, do not often affect dogs, says Dr. Rubin. For those diseases that do pose summertime threats, just a little work on your part can help prevent the debilitating and sometimes life-threatening health problems that could impact your tail-thumping pal. Your efforts carry an even greater reward, since many of these ailments, such as Lyme disease, can affect humans as well.
Think prevention, says Dr. Steep. Talk to your veterinarian, and educate yourself about which diseases are prevalent in your part of your country. Your veterinarian is also likely to know which medicines and products will work best in your area. Year-round prevention efforts are advised, says Dr. Rubin.
“Don’t put this off. Know that the potential exists,’’ says Dr. Steep. “Ask your veterinarian. It’s on our radar, and we’re thinking about it all the time.”
Parvovirus in Dogs
When seven dogs in the same county die of the same thing within two and a half weeks, people tend to take notice. That’s what happened recently in Lancaster County, Pa., as multiple cases of canine parvovirus proved lethal. According to Dr. Katy Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va., parvovirus can pop up in bunches, especially in summer.
Why is Parvovirus More Common in Summer?
“Our pets become more active in the summer, and parvovirus can live longer in a warmer environment,” says Nelson. “I’ve seen multiple animals at a time present similar signs, for example, multiple puppies of the same litter, multiple unvaccinated dogs from the same environment and multiple unvaccinated dogs exposed to an infectious source.”
How Does a Dog Get Parvovirus?
Parvovirus transmits from dog to dog mainly through direct or indirect contact with the feces of an affected canine, which is why being outdoors often can raise your pet’s chances of getting it. But according to Dr. Patricia Joyce, an emergency clinician at NYC Veterinary Specialists in New York City, it’s not just an “outdoor disease” since dogs can track it inside and leave microscopic yet live traces of it all over the floor. “If one dog is affected in a household or kennel where there are several other dogs, it would be easy to spread,” says Nelson.
What are the Symptoms of Parvovirus?
Like other viruses, parvovirus has mutated over the years since it first appeared in the 1970s. And although the strains can vary from year to year, they’re fairly indistinguishable when it comes to testing and symptoms. The most common symptoms of the virus show up in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as severe vomiting and diarrhea, as well as a sudden loss of appetite. Left untreated, it can progress to bloody diarrhea, overall weakness, fever, pale mucous membranes, coma and eventually death. Puppies are particularly vulnerable.
“This virus not only affects the GI tract, as most people know, it affects all rapidly dividing cells within the body – the bone marrow, the GI lining, the myocardial tissues, and the lymph tissues,” says Nelson. “Severe disease can develop rapidly, and may or may not be reversible with appropriate therapy.”
Prevention of Canine Parvovirus
Prevention is simple and relatively inexpensive. “Only unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated dogs are at risk,” says Joyce. “It’s part of the standard vaccine protocol given as three shots to puppies, and as an annual or every two- to three-year booster to adults.” If your dog is up to date on its DAPP vaccine (distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, parainfluenza), he or she is safe. The cost of the vaccine may be about $30, with variations depending on which part of the country you live in, according to Nelson.
Aside from vaccination, Joyce points out a few other control measures:
- Clean contaminated areas with a household bleach solution.
- Regularly disinfect food bowls, water bowls, toys and bedding.
- Disinfect clothing and shoes.
- Immediately clean up and dispose of waste outdoors.
- Prevent your pooch from having contact with other dogs’ feces outdoors (no sniffing).
Treatment of Canine Parvovirus
The cost to treat an affected dog, however, can be significant. Nelson says she has seen it run into the $7,000 to $8,000 range. And it’s not the kind of illness where you can wait and consider your options. “When these dogs hit the doors of your hospital, everything must shift into overdrive. A diagnosis needs to be made quickly and efficiently, severity of the disease needs to be assessed immediately, and treatment needs to be initiated as soon as possible,” she says. “Delaying therapy is in general considered hastening death.”
For those who do lose a dog to parvovirus, Nelson says most veterinarians advise not getting a new puppy for six months. By then, it’s assumed the virus will be cleared from the environment, if proper cleaning and disinfecting procedures have been employed.
The biggest message that both she and Joyce stress is that this is an easily preventable illness. Vaccination protocols have been extremely successful in controlling the spread of parvovirus. If your dog is not up to date on the vaccine, you should aim to correct that immediately.
Can a Dog Survive from Parvovirus?
Your dog has a good chance of surviving parvo providing treatment by your veterinarian is sought early.
Is Parvovirus Contagious to Humans?
There are many forms of parvovirus. Generally canine parvo is limited to canines, and human parvo is limited to humans. So although humans do not develop canine parvo, they do play a major role in its transmission by handling infected dogs and objects, before touching unaffected dogs.
How Do You Treat a Dog with Parvovirus?
Dogs are administered intravenous fluids and antibiotics. Plasma transfusions may be required if the case is severe.
Fleas and Ticks in Dogs
Chances are your dog has had fleas and ticks, which have been bothering animals, including humans, since time immemorial. They are out in force this spring, which exterminator Alan Pendarvis of Texas credits to weather changes that are speeding up the parasites’ life cycles.
However, your dog doesn’t have to suffer this spring and summer. New products and a better understanding of how to combat flea and tick infestations can help your dog to steer clear of them.
Why Fleas and Ticks Are Bad News for Dogs
Aside from the yuck factor, both fleas and ticks can spread diseases from dog to dog, and from dogs to humans. Nancy Hinkle, a University of Georgia entomologist, notes that fleas can transmit tapeworms. “An infected flea can pass on tapeworm if a dog happens to swallow a flea while using its teeth to scratch, but the tapeworm is not transmitted if the flea only bites the dog,” says Hinkle. “Some animals are also highly sensitive to flea saliva, which can lead to secondary infections and dermatitis from incessant itching.”
Ticks are equally awful, burying their heads into the skin of your dog and then sucking blood for survival. This too can spread infectious diseases.
Plan of Action: Flea and Tick Avoidance and Removal
New pest control products abound this spring, with many major manufacturers introducing new and improved versions of their already popular lines. Thanks to a clever plastic gizmo, topical liquids for some lines are easier to apply, helping to keep owners’ hands away from the skin-penetrating product.
A number of natural and/or organic alternatives are also on the market now. In addition to shampoos, you can find electric flea traps that attract fleas with heat and light and then zap them. Food-grade diatomaceous earth, a chalk-like powder that clings to the bodies of insects, works by cutting into their waxy coating and then gradually desiccating them. A drawback is that it can be a bit dusty and messy to use.
Buying Over-The-Counter Medications Doesn’t Mean You Should Forget Your Veterinarian
With so many products on the market, why did a recent pet health survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital find that flea infestation is one of the top 10 reasons owners bring their dogs to the vet? “I think this might result partly from pet owners buying preventive medications at retail outlets and not talking with their veterinarian about which product is best for their pet, how to apply it and how to avoid environmental contamination from fleas and flea eggs,” says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, veterinarian, senior vice president and chief medical officer for Banfield.
He and other veterinarians can provide fast-acting medications that may provide quick relief. Nitenpyram, usually administered in pill form, starts working in 30 minutes and can eliminate fleas within three to four hours. Spinosad, a chewable tablet, works in about the same amount of time and prevents infestation for a whole month. These are just a few of the possible remedies.
No product is free from potential side effects, however, so follow user guidelines carefully. Kimberly Chambers of VetDepot offers this additional advice:
- Consult your veterinarian first. Even if you plan to purchase an over-the-counter remedy, talk to your veterinarian beforehand.
- Pay attention to age and weight guidelines. Failing to allow for these “could result in a dangerous overdose.”
- Do not use a cat product on your dog, and vice versa.
- Avoid getting topical flea-control products in your dog’s eyes and mouth.
“Flea protection is an important part of pet ownership,” says Chambers. “It not only saves pets from suffering from an itchy and uncomfortable infestation, but also protects pets from the dangers associated with fleas, including anemia.”
Finally, keep your home clean. Be sure to wash your pet’s bedding regularly and vacuum affected areas, including curtains, furniture and mattresses.