Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial disease spread by ticks. While it is most prevalent in the Northeastern U.S., it has been found in all but a few states as well as other parts of the world. The name has nothing to do with fruit, but comes from the place where the disease was first reported, Lyme, Connecticut. Lyme Disease affects people and dogs. It is rare in other domestic animals.
Lyme Disease
How Lyme Disease is Spread
Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted to people and dogs by the bite of ticks, most commonly the black-legged deer tick. Wooded, brushy areas outdoors are likely locations for these ticks. The tick lives by attaching to a host and feeding on blood. While attached, it can spread Lyme disease through its saliva. Research has shown that in most cases, the disease is not transmitted until the tick has been attached for 48 to 72 hours. Lyme disease is not spread directly from one person to another or from a dog to a person. However, new research has shown that birds have been responsible for spreading ticks. View the video below to learn more!

The first symptom in people is usually a red, bulls-eye shaped rash, which appears a few days to a week after exposure. The rash may be accompanied or followed by fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. Without treatment, the disease can progress and cause swollen and painful joints, meningitis, and heart problems. Doctors can often diagnose Lyme disease based on a physical examination, but laboratory tests can be helpful.

Symptoms in Dogs
As in humans, a rash may appear around the tick bite soon after infection. Unfortunately, this is much less noticeable since it may be hidden by fur. Other symptoms are fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, and limping. Some infected dogs do not show any symptoms. The disease can cause inflammation of the kidneys, especially in Labrador Retrievers, and can damage the heart and nervous system in later stages. Some cases of Lyme disease in dogs can be detected on a physical exam, but tests of blood or joint fluid are often needed.

Both people and dogs are treated for Lyme disease with antibiotics like Doxycycline. Additional medications may be prescribed to help with pain and inflammation. Treatment may take a month or longer, and is most successful when started within a few weeks of infection. It is possible for the organism to remain in the body long-term, leading to periodic flare-ups.

Preventing Lyme Disease
Whenever possible, avoid areas likely to be infested with ticks. If you do enter tick-infested areas, wear a long-sleeved shirt and tuck your pant legs into your boots or socks. Light colored clothing can make it easier to spot ticks. Tick repellents are beneficial to protect people and pets just be sure to read the label carefully and follow all safety precautions. Your veterinarian can recommend some excellent tick control products that are safe for dogs. After leaving a tick-infested area, check yourself and your dog carefully for ticks.

Attached ticks can be removed using tweezers or inexpensive tick removal tools. To remove a tick, it should be grasped as close to the skin as possible and pulled straight out. Applying insecticide or a hot match to the tick is not a good practice because it may actually increase the amount of disease-carrying saliva released by the tick. After the tick has been removed, cleanse the area with antiseptic soap and wash your hands thoroughly. Let your doctor know if you have been bitten by a tick. Some physicians recommend antibiotic treatment of tick-exposed people even before any symptoms occur.

A vaccination against Lyme disease is available for dogs. It is recommended for dogs living in areas where the disease is prevalent. Check with your veterinarian to see if your dog should be vaccinated. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine currently available for people.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus – FIV

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a serious viral disease of cats that is similar to HIV/AIDS in humans. About 1 3% of cats in the United States are infected. It does not affect other animals or people. Secondary infections caused by FIV can  be treated and the cat can live for an extended time, but FIV cannot be cured and the cat remains infectious.

How Cats Get the Virus
FIV is spread mainly through bites that occur when cats fight. Rarely, mother cats pass the virus to their kittens during pregnancy, birth or nursing. Blood transfusions are another potential, but uncommon, source of infection. FIV does not survive outside a cats body, so the disease is not spread by casual contact or by sharing food bowls.

What the Disease Does
When cats first become infected, there are few if any symptoms. Some cats develop a fever, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea or anemia. Once infected, almost all cats harbor the virus for life but many remain healthy for years. At some point the virus attacks the immune system, leaving the cat unprotected against other diseases and parasites. Microorganisms that do not ordinarily harm healthy cats can make FIV infected cats severely ill.

Signs of FIV infection include loss of appetite, severe gingivitis (gum disease) and sores in the mouth, diarrhea, vomiting, anemia, eye disorders, nervous system disorders, chronic fever, and chronic infections of the skin, ears, and respiratory system.

How to Find Out if Your Cat Has FIV
Your veterinarian can perform a simple blood test to check for FIV. Its a good idea to test all new cats, especially if you already have other cats in your household. Cats that go outside should be tested every year. If your cat tests positive, follow-up tests can double check the accuracy of the first one. This is especially important for kittens under six months of age, in which positive results are often caused by immunity from the mother. If these cats test negative later in life, they likely were never infected with the virus.

Caring for FIV-Positive Cats
Although there is no cure for FIV, there are several steps owners can take to keep their FIV-infected cats as healthy as possible. To protect him from secondary infections and to prevent the spread of the virus, keep your FIV-positive cat indoors. It is preferable to separate him from uninfected cats. Keep him up to date on his routine veterinary care and vaccinations. Checkups are recommended every six months. Although FIV is incurable, treatment is given for secondary infections and to reduce symptoms. Immuno-modulators and antiviral drugs may also help.

Preventing FIV
Because FIV cannot be cured, prevention is crucial. Keeping cats indoors is the best method because it prevents exposure. Cats that do go outside should be spayed or neutered to reduce the likelihood of fighting. When adding a new cat to a household, test it before it meets its housemates. Infected and uninfected cats can live side-by-side without transmitting the infection as long as they don’t bite each other. However, there is always a risk.

A vaccine is available to protect against FIV, but the effectiveness of this vaccine is still questionable and most veterinarians do not recommend it (including myself), Also, there is no test to distinguish between a vaccinated cat and an infected cat. This creates a serious dilemma, since infected cats require special care. Worse yet, FIV-positive cats are commonly euthanized by animal shelters. Until new tests are developed, the decision whether or not to vaccinate will be a difficult one you need to discuss with your veterinarian.

Glaucoma Can Affect Dogs Too

Glaucoma is a disease that causes an increased pressure inside of the eye. There are many causes of glaucoma including a heritable condition in certain breeds. As the eye pressure increases, blindness results from the progressive death of the retinal cells. Early detection with tonometry and treatment of the underlying causes may preserve the dog’s sight.
Signs of acute (sudden onset) glaucoma can include pain in the eyes, rubbing at the eye, increased blinking and tearing. There may be an increased redness, a discharge from the eye, a bluish discoloration of the cornea, a dilated pupil or sudden vision loss.glaucoma
Chronic glaucoma can include any or all of the fore-mentioned signs plus an enlargement of the globe, cataract, lens subluxation and small white lines on the cornea resulting in breaks in the cornea from the increased pressure.
Diagnosis is made by the veterinarian by examination and measurement of the internal pressure of the eye with tonometry. Treatment will depend on the cause and the extent of the glaucoma. Some can be treated with medications while some may require surgery. In severe, chronic cases, removal of the globe will relieve the pain and will make the dog more comfortable.

Ask your veterinarian if your dog is among the breeds most susceptible to glaucoma and include an eye exam with your dog’s annual check-ups. Cats can also be affected by glaucoma

Fire Safety for Pets

Each year in the United States, thousands of people lose their lives to fire. Tens of thousands are injured and the financial costs can reach into the billions of dollars. Almost forgotten in these tragedies are the hundreds of thousands of family pets who suffer death or injury as well.
Fire is a very scary thing! We use controlled fires to heat our water, cook our meals and power our cities, but for most people, fire is a wild, ravaging beast. And, despite educational programs that start in pre-school, every year more than three thousand people die in house fires. Sadly, those who survive a house fire often lose cherished four-legged family members to the smoke and flames.

According to the US Fire Administration’s website (, more than 1.7 million uncontrolled fires occur annually in the US. The Fire Administration does not keep tally, but other groups have estimated that more than 500,000 pets are killed by house fires each year. Why are we so good at saving human lives, but our pets seem to perish?

One potential answer is the presence of smoke alarms in our homes. For more than 30 years, laws have required the presence of these life-saving devices in any home or apartment. In fact, the Public/Private Fire Safety Council has called for an elimination of residential fire deaths by the year 2020 and smoke alarms figure prominently in their plan. But the high pitched alarm that saves so many human lives is not helpful for saving our pets.
Pet Alert - 2 Decal Window Clings

We all realize that it’s time to evacuate when the alarm sounds, but our pets don’t know that. Worse yet, the unknown sound could scare a pet into hiding, increasing our own risk for harm as we search for the missing kitty or pup.

And, the sad fact is that many pets will die in house fires because they are unable to get out of the home. This often happens when the family is away. Rescue personnel are frequently unaware of pets needing help.

The heroic efforts of firefighters may save some pets from the flames, but damage from smoke or carbon monoxide inhalation can overwhelm many. Life-saving equipment, such as oxygen masks, is usually designed for people meaning some animals may die en-route to the veterinarian.

Fortunately, many diverse groups are working to improve the survival chances of pets caught in fires. Many concerned groups, from alarm monitoring companies, like ADT Security, to local veterinarians and humane organizations are looking to save the half a million pets lost each year

As with many tragedies, preventing the occurrence is the best first step. Pet owners are urged to “pet proof” their home and look for potential fire hazards. Always extinguish open flames before leaving your home and consider keeping younger puppies and kittens confined to prevent them from accidentally starting a fire.

Firefighters are trained to look for window alert signs and make attempts to save pets. These “window clings” are often available from the American Kennel Club or visit ADT’s website ( to obtain a free one. Beyond using the signs, you should always update them as new pets arrive in your family!

If you return home to a burning building, you should not attempt to enter, trying save your pets! This is difficult but you need to let the professionals do their job and rescue your animals.

As mentioned, working smoke alarms are helpful to the humans, but if you aren’t there to hear the alarm, your pets could be trapped inside. According to Bob Tucker, PR Director of ADT Security, pet owners should consider monitored smoke detection services as an extra precaution. By alerting the fire department more quickly, these services increase the chances that your pets will get out safely.

NEW! American Red Cross Deluxe First Aid Kit for Pets

Finally, due to the efforts of local veterinarians and animal volunteers, many rescue services across the nation now have access to “animal-appropriate” oxygen masks. These devices help deliver life-saving oxygen more effectively and will increase the chance of your pet’s survival. Other veterinarians teach courses on effective animal CPR techniques to first responders.

Saving pets from the horrors of fire will be easier thanks to dedicated fire fighting professionals, alarm companies, veterinarians and humane organizations all working together. To keep up to date on all pet related news, be sure to visit or for the latest and most trustworthy pet health information.

Debra Garrison, DVM