Dr. Julie Schell BSc(Hons), DVM, CVA, CVGCH, CVC
It will forever amaze me how good dogs and cats are at hiding illnesses. They can be carrying and spreading so many diseases to other pets and ourselves without anyone knowing. Also, what may seem like a perfectly healthy pet from the outside, may actually be showing signs of disease with symptoms so minor that they may be missed. One example is fecal output, texture, size, color. A puppy’s feces may look firm and formed, but if examined closely, it may have excess mucus around it, or actually be quite soft in the centre or ends. That could mean he actually is housing huge numbers of Giardia parasites!
Even if your pet’s feces look normal, he or she should still be tested for giardiasis and other parasites such as hookworm, tapeworm, roundworm, whipworm and coccidia. This involves the help of your veterinarian and a Giardia Elisa test and a proper fecal centrifugation study. Often I examine puppies and kittens who’s owners feel their feces are normal, however they just have an appearance of looking normal because clumping cat litter can cover feces and make people misinterpret the consistency. Also, sometimes the feces may look formed, but it is actually loose when examined more closely. Feces should remind owners of a firm, round chocolate toffee roll candy, or a round nut-filled chocolate bar. Yes- that sounds slightly gross, however, it is important to monitor your pet’s feces every day. That way, when change occurs, you will notice it and be able to report this to your veterinarian.
Not all dogs or cats will lick their anal area or exhibit “scooting behaviour” or drag their bum if they have worms. Also, not all dogs will automatically vomit if they have worms. Parasites are very good at infecting pets unnoticed because they want their host cat/dog to remain alive. Thus, sometimes only mild clinical signs will be evident on the outside. However, on the inside of the pet, the parasites are creating a war zone and battling with the pet’s immune cells and important organs. Eventually the pet will become sicker and during that time shed the parasite to other animals. If not treated, the pet may never realize optimal health and may be predisposed to other types of illnesses. We must be vigilant at testing and treating pets as soon as possible. Puppies and kittens need to be de-wormed every 2 weeks until they are 4 months of age. Then, puppies and outdoor cats need to be dewormed monthly, year round. This is because some worms can live throughout the winter in protected forms and still be infective. Also, often dogs and cats may catch and eat rodents without us noticing. Dogs often eat other animal’s feces without us noticing. Indoor house cats should be dewormed at least once yearly, because we often unknowingly bring dirt into our homes on our shoes and therefore potentially expose our pets to parasites.
Definitely only use parasite prevention products that have been prescribed by your veterinarian. Over the counter remedies are often not effective and not safe.
Cats adopted from catteries are especially susceptible to easily transferrable diseases such as Tritrichomonas and Giardia that can live in their intestines, cause discomfort, and transfer to other pets in your home. Giardia can even transfer to humans. However, even if you do not adopt from a cattery the kittens can be infected. Therefore, in addition to regular Giardia Elisa testing and fecal centrifuge study, they should all have advanced testing. Pets are susceptible to viruses and agents that can cause respiratory diseases including sneezing, snotty nose secretions, decrease ability to detect odours and decreased appetite. Even dehydration can occur if too much mucus is lost through the nose. There are very effective ways of testing cats and dogs through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, aka DNA testing. Samples of feces and nasal secretions, and conjunctival swab and pharynx swab (all of which can be easily collected by your veterinarian) are sent to special veterinary laboratories. The results arrive quickly- within a few days or less. this will enable your veterinarian to make an accurate diagnosis so the best treatments can be chosen. It is important to cure these diseases quickly before the pet becomes dehydrated and gravely ill.
Because Parvo virus and Distemper virus infections are still unfortunately common, dogs with illness, diarrhea, vomiting, decreased appetite, etc, should also be tested for Parvo virus. Again, there is an excellent PCR panel that is very helpful at detecting these viruses.
All kittens and cats should be tested for Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Viruses and if the results are normal, should be retested again in 60 days. New research by the American Association of Feline Practitioners discovered that just because the result is normal once, does not mean the cat does not have the virus. Resting is important.
Pets can also be harbouring external parasites such as ear mites, lice, ticks, fleas and internal blood parasites such as heartworm, ehrlichia, anaplasma, lyme and Mycoplasma haemofelis. I have seen some pets who do not even scratch their ears, however when looking at ear swab cytology, their ears are swarming with these types of parasites. Thorough veterinary exams and testing are so important.
If you adopt a cat or dog who is positive for parasites or treatable diseases, your other existing pets must also be protected. Sometimes strict isolation and husbandry techniques must be installed to help prevent disease transfer. It is always better to test your new adopted pets and isolate them from your existing pets before introducing them to each other.
Do not be afraid of adopting a new pet however. With proper vaccinations, deworming, testing and monitoring, you and your veterinarian can work hard to enable your pets to be healthy and comfortable and safe. By identifying, treating and preventing parasites in your pets, you’re also protecting yourself, your family and other people’s pets too! For more information, contact your veterinarian as well as www.petsandparasites.org, www.healthypet.com, www.catvets.com and for information specifically on feline Tritchomonas, check out http://www.cvm.ncsu.edu/docs/personnel/gookin_jody.html