Sarcoptic Mange

Sarcoptic mange, also called scabies, is an intensely itchy skin disease caused by a Sarcoptes scabei, a microscopic mite that burrows into the skin. Although dogs, cats, and humans all have a similar condition known as scabies, the mites are different for each host. Scabies in dogs is not the same as scabies in people.

Red, crusty lesions are most commonly seen on the ears, elbows and trunk of infected dogs. The lesions are extremely itchy, helping to distinguish sarcoptic mange from other skin conditions like ringworm and demodectic mange. The skin irritation is caused by the burrowing mites, which also release allergens and toxins into the skin. Constant scratching makes the skin susceptible to secondary infections with bacteria.

Although the areas of hair loss may lead the veterinarian to suspect sarcoptic mange, the final diagnosis is made by performing a skin scraping test. The skin is scraped in several areas to loosen cells and mites which are then examined microscopically. Because the mites are difficult to find, repeated scrapings are often indicated. Other tests may be performed to make sure the hair loss is not due to a cause other than mites.

Treatments may include dips or medications given by mouth or by injection. Treatments are usually given every two weeks until the symptoms have resolved and the pet tests negative for mites.

Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious among dogs. Infected dogs should be separated from other dogs until treatment is complete. Most other mammals, including humans, can be infected with a type of Sarcoptes, but the mite is different for each host. Mites from animals may get on people and cause itchiness for a few days, but will not actually cause an infection. However, until the pet is treated, mites may continue causing problems for their owners. People with skin irritations caused by canine scabies should consult their doctor for treatment to reduce the temporary itching sensation.

Cats do not get Sarcoptes, but have a similar disease caused by a different mite, Notoedres cati. It spreads easily among cats. Infected cats should receive prompt treatment and should be separated from other cats until treatment is complete. Like Sarcoptes, Notoedres does not cause scabies in people but may occasionally cause temporary, itchy skin lesions.

True scabies in people is always contracted from close contact with other people. Children, the elderly, and immunosuppressed individuals are at higher risk. Infection is usually the result of prolonged, direct contact between sexual partners or members of the same household. The organism can live for about 72 hours in the environment, so it is possible to spread scabies via sharing of unwashed clothing or bedding.

The video below show a case of severe sarcoptic mange in a stray dog.

Allergic Reactions in Pets

Pets,  just like humans, can have allergic reactions to just about anything. The reactions can range from mild itching, to hives and whelps, or even life-threatening anaphylaxis. Allergies occur when a substance the pet is exposed to triggers an overactive response from the immune system. Allergies can develop slowly over time, or can develop suddenly.

The most common allergic reaction in pets is that to fleas. The flea saliva has a protein component that causes the pet to itch every time they are bitten. Sometimes, you never see the flea because the pet grooms themselves and can ingest the flea. The most common area for the dog to itch is just above the base of the tail. Once the skin is broken, and the dog licks and chews at the area, secondary skin infections set in. Here in Houston, the hot bed of all things allergic and the perfect storm of warm temperatures and humidity, is ideal for growing parasites and pollen. We recommend giving the heartworm and flea control medications all year round to control the fleas.

Allergies can also develop to injections, such as antibiotics or vaccines. Every effort has been made to improve the quality of vaccines and reduce the episodes of reactions, but every dog is different and so is their immune system. The majority of these reactions can occur rather quickly, so waiting around the hospital to check out after an injection is sometimes a good thing because the reaction can be treated quickly.

The other common allergen is food allergies, such as wheat, corn, beef and others. Dogs with food allergies can have intestinal problems and can have itching and swelling around the face and eyes. Food trials or blood tests can help to identify the culprit and then you have to avoid that ingredient in the diet. Special foods that have novel proteins, such as salmon and potato are often fed for a 6-8 week trial to see if the allergies improve. Once the dog is not itching, a protein is re-introduced to the dog one at a time to identify the allergen. Sometimes, the dog needs to stay on the special diet.

The next common allergen is inhaled allergens, such as pollen, dander, dust mites, etc. Yes, I have even had a Bichon that was allergic to human dander. The majority of these dogs present with anything from licking and chewing at their feet, to generalized itching, hair loss and secondary infections. Ear infections are also a common secondary development because the skin is inflamed from the allergy and the warm, dark, moist environment of the ear sets up the perfect growth media for yeast and bacteria.  Cortisone and anti-histamines will help relieve the symptoms for a short time but for real control, the allergen needs to be identified with either skin tests or blood panels. Once the specific allergens are identified, a special “vaccine’ of the allergy causing culprits are mixed up and desensitization injections are given to help reduce the symptoms over time.  Secondary infections are controlled with antibiotics and/or  medicated shampoos. Newer spot-ons have been developed to help heal the integrity of the skin barrier to help it fight off the secondary infections better and omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also help by reducing the allergic response and improving the health of the skin.

Another allergic causing culprit is insect or spider bites. In this scenario, the dog is outside playing, and then comes back in with usually a swollen nose and muzzle. Snake bites can also present with the same signs. If the swelling continues to worsen, a call or visit to your veterinarian is warranted.

The next allergic reaction that can occur is a contact allergy. The reason I am writing this post is because one of my patients had a possible allergic reaction to a common carpet freshener that was applied to freshen the carpet before the holidays. Because we are investigating this product with the company, I am not going to identify the product specifically, but give general recommendations on how to test products before applying them to your carpets.

The story goes as follows, the owners applied the carpet freshener as directed. Later they noticed the dog’ s skin was bright red and the pet had vomited. They bathed the pet in cool water to calm the skin, not knowing what had caused the reaction and the skin improved. The next morning the dog walked across the carpet and broke out in hives and big whelps. The pet was then presented to my hospital where we administered benadryl and some cortisone to relieve the allergic reactions. The owner then recalled that the pet may have had a slight reaction the last time they applied the product.  Now the owners are going to have to steam clean the carpets to remove the product.

Because pets have a lot more skin area exposed to the carpets, they may be at a greater risk for contact allergies or simply irritation. Since their noses are closer to the ground, they can also inhale the products, which may result in allergic reactions.

So, what can you do to see if your pet could have a problem? Just like when ladies have to test the hair dye before applying it to their hair, you may want to test a small amount of the product on the belly of your pet. If a red whelp or a red irritation develops, you may wish to skip that product and stick with steam cleaning.  If you suspect your pet may have had a reaction to a product, take your pet and the product to your veterinarian. Your pet should be bathed to remove any product from the skin and then treated with antihistamines. The product should then be reported to the company for further testing. You should also write down the UPC code and the product batch code. Most of these products have usually been tested rigorously, but a super sensitive pet may still have a reaction to just about anything.

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.

Allergies in Cats

Allergies are a major cause of skin disease, discomfort and distress in cats. Pruritis, or intense itching, is the most characteristic sign of allergies. This itching is caused by the release of histamines from mast cells located throughout the body. Hair loss, redness and skin infections may result secondary to the allergy. Over time, the hair coat may become stained from excessive licking and the skin may become dark and thickened. Ear infections may also result from allergic conditions. The two most common types of allergic conditions exhibited by cats are those of inhalant allergies and food allergies.

Allergies in Cats

The treatment of allergies can be achieved by using three methods; removal of the allergen source, suppression of the itch with antihistamines, or corticosteroid administration and gradual desensitization of the immune system to the specific allergens affecting the pet. The removal of the offending substance is appropriate if the allergen source is a food item, flea saliva or something that is easy to remove from the environment. Elimination of certain diets and food trials are often implemented if food allergies are suspected. If flea bites are the problem, it will be necessary to eliminate fleas on the cat. Your veterinarian will suggest the appropriate flea treatment for your cat. Many allergens, however, are difficult or impossible to remove, such as pollen in the air or dust in the home.

The use of antihistamines or corticosteroids is the second method. Antihistamines act by reducing the release of histamine by the mast cells and are often very effective in controlling allergy symptoms. Corticosteroids act in many ways to suppress the allergic reaction before and after the allergy develops. Steroids are very effective, but must be used with caution. If used excessively, adverse effects can be seen. Because of the often-extensive self-trauma associated with allergic conditions, antibiotics are often administered to control the secondary infections that are frequently present.

The final treatment option is the process of desensitizing the patient over time. This densensitization process begins by identifying the allergens that the cat is sensitive to through specialized intra-dermal tests or blood evaluation. Once the allergens are identified, specialized mixtures of these substances are combined into an injectable form that is given at regular intervals. With time, the cats immune system response to these allergens diminishes and many cat owners note measurable improvement in their pets.

When ingestion or food allergies are suspected, a food trial lasting 6-12 weeks may be done. This involves changing the diet in an effort to eliminate possible allergens that may be present in the current diet. Complete compliance to the trial diet is needed for the trial to be of any value. Your veterinarian will likely be assessing your cats allergy symptoms and will form a therapeutic plan that suits your cats needs. A combination of the different therapies discussed is often needed. The management of highly allergic pets can be a very challenging undertaking, but the results obtained dramatically improve the quality of life for both you and your cat.

Canine Distemper

DistemperCanine Distemper is a serious viral disease. Widespread vaccination has reduced its incidence, but dogs that get it often die. Canine distemper can also infect pet ferrets.

How Dogs Get the Virus
Susceptible dogs are infected by inhaling the Distemper virus, which is found in secretions and feces from infected dogs. Puppies under six months of age and unvaccinated dogs are most vulnerable.

What the Disease Does
Canine Distemper infects the immune cells and spreads throughout the body via the lymph and the blood. The immune system is weakened, making the dog susceptible to other infections. The virus also directly attacks some tissues, particularly the nervous system. Signs of distemper include fever, cough, nasal and eye discharge that is usually thick and green, pneumonia, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, thickening of the toe pads, muscle twitching, seizures and blindness.

How Canine Distemper is Diagnosed
Often veterinarians can diagnose Distemper by taking a careful medical history and performing a thorough physical exam. Laboratory tests are available to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for Canine Distemper
There is no specific treatment that kills the virus, but sick dogs are hospitalized and treated for secondary infections and to reduce the symptoms. The disease is fatal in approximately 50-90% of cases. Survivors often suffer permanent nervous system damage. Seizures or other nervous system problems may occur even years later.

Preventing Canine Distemper
The key to preventing Canine Distemper is a good vaccination program. Puppies should be vaccinated starting at 6-8 weeks of age. Sometimes, young puppies are vaccinated with measles, a related virus that also protects against Distemper. Distemper vaccines are repeated every 3-4 weeks until the puppy is at least 16 weeks old. After that, boosters are given every 1-3 years depending on the type of vaccine. Its especially important for female dogs intended for breeding to be current on vaccinations. This allows them to provide immunity that protects their puppies until they are old enough to receive vaccinations.

Adult dogs that have never been vaccinated before may only need a single vaccination, followed by re-vaccination every 1-3 years. Check with your veterinarian to find out the best vaccination protocol for your dog.

Dogs with distemper should be isolated from other dogs since the disease is contagious. Fortunately, the virus is killed by most household disinfectants.

Canine Parvovirus

Puppy Vet Visit

Canine Parvovirus is a serious, highly contagious disease that affects the digestive system. It is most common in puppies.

How Dogs Get Parvovirus
Susceptible dogs are infected by swallowing the virus, which is found in the droppings of infected dogs. The virus is difficult to kill with ordinary disinfectants and can survive in the environment for years. People can inadvertently spread it on their hands, shoes, or inanimate objects.

Not every dog exposed to Parvovirus will get sick. Puppies, especially those that have not completed their vaccine series, are most vulnerable. Those born to mothers that were not vaccinated are at extremely high risk. Other factors that influence susceptibility include stress, genetics, parasite infection, and general health. Some breeds, such as Doberman Pinschers and Rottweilers, seem to be more likely to become seriously ill.

What the Disease Does
Parvovirus infects the bone marrow and lymph system, weakening the dogs immunity. It simultaneously destroys the lining of the intestinal tract, preventing absorption of water and nutrients. The damaged intestine can leak bacteria into the body. In newborns the virus also damages the heart. Signs of Parvovirus include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and dehydration. Dogs can die from dehydration or from bacteria in the bloodstream.

How Parvovirus is Diagnosed
Diagnosis begins with a physical exam but also includes laboratory testing of the feces. Other tests that can help the veterinarian treat the disease more effectively include a blood panel and a fecal test for parasites.

Treatment for Parvovirus
There is no specific treatment that kills the virus, but sick dogs are treated for secondary infections and to reduce the symptoms. Hospitalization is usually required. Treatment may include IV fluids to help with dehydration, IV electrolytes and nutrients, antibiotic injections, medications to control vomiting, and drugs that stimulate immunity. Up to 90% of puppies recover with treatment.

Preventing Canine Parvovirus
The key to preventing Canine Parvovirus is a good vaccination program. Puppies are vaccinated starting at 6-8 weeks of age and boostered every 3-4 weeks until the puppy is at least 16 weeks old. In highly susceptible breeds, boosters are given as old as 22 weeks of age. After that, vaccinations are given every 1-3 years depending on the type of vaccine. Its especially important for female dogs intended for breeding to be vaccinated. This allows them to provide immunity that protects their puppies until they are old enough to receive vaccinations.


Adult dogs that have never been vaccinated before are given one or two vaccinations initially, followed by re-vaccination every 1-3 years. Ask your veterinarian about the best vaccination protocol for your dog.

Dogs with Parvovirus should be isolated from other dogs since the disease is highly contagious. Contaminated objects should be disinfected with a dilute bleach solution.

Because puppies that have not yet received their entire vaccination series are susceptible to Parvovirus, veterinarians recommend minimizing their likelihood of exposure. Avoid taking them to parks or other public, outdoor areas where soil may harbor the virus. If possible, choose puppy socialization and training classes that require the puppies to have started their vaccines. The classes should be held in places that are disinfected regularly. It is also preferable to avoid boarding very young pups.

Keeping your puppy healthy will reduce his susceptibility to Parvovirus. Be sure he receives regular veterinary checkups, gets all recommended vaccines on time, is treated to control parasites, and enjoys a healthy diet.

Urinary Problems in Cats

Bladder problems in cats

Problems of the bladder and urethra are all too common in pet cats. The lower urinary tract can be a site for inflammation, infection, stones, and obstructions. Together, these conditions are referred to as Feline Urological Syndrome (FUS) or Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Signs that your cat may have lower urinary tract disease include difficulty urinating, blood in the urine, or urinating in inappropriate locations.

Feline Cystitis
Cystitis means inflammation of the bladder. In dogs, its often due to an infection. Although infection does occur in cats, up to 60% of cases of feline cystitis are idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. Possible causes such as viruses and stress are being researched by major veterinary colleges.

Cats with cystitis urinate frequently, producing small amounts of blood-tinged urine. They may cry or appear to be in pain when urinating. Cats with any of these signs should see the veterinarian for a physical examination and urinalysis. The urinalysis can detect infection and other problems. If an infection is found, a urine culture will help identify the best antibiotic to treat it. In cases of chronic or recurrent cystitis, x-rays may be taken to get more information about the condition of the bladder.


Infections of the bladder are treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for idiopathic cystitis. Changing the diet so that the cat takes in more water and alters the urine pH is often helpful. Reducing stress is also a good idea. Medications are often given to ease discomfort and manage secondary infections. Most cats recover from idiopathic cystitis within a week or so, but recurrence is common.


Urinary Stones
Urinary stones (uroliths) can be a serious, even life-threatening, problem. Uroliths are composed of crystallized minerals, such as struvite, oxalate, urate, or cystine. They can be found anywhere in the urinary tract. In the bladder, they cause irritation, increasing the likelihood of cystitis or bacterial infections. In the urethra, they can cause an obstruction, making urination impossible. The resulting accumulation of urine in the bladder prevents the kidneys from continuing to cleanse the blood. Death can result within days. Male and female cats get uroliths with equal frequency, but urethral obstruction is more common in males due to their narrower urethras.

Cats suffering from uroliths have signs similar to cystitis. However, cats that are obstructed also strain to urinate, without producing urine. It may appear as though the cat is constipated. As time goes on, the cat may vomit, have a tender abdomen, and become comatose. A cat straining to urinate but producing no urine should be seen by your veterinarian immediately.

Diagnosis of urolithiasis is based on a physical exam and urinalysis. X-rays, ultrasound and blood tests may also be beneficial. For proper treatment, the veterinarian must identify the mineral content of the stones, either by finding crystals on the urinalysis or by collecting stones via urinary catheterization or surgery.

big cat

Some stones can be dissolved with special diets or flushed out of the bladder through a urinary catheter, but others require surgical removal. Urethral obstruction is an emergency condition requiring hospitalization. A surgery called a perineal urethrostomy is sometimes recommended for male cats that become obstructed repeatedly. This surgery widens the cats urethra, making blockage less likely.

Around 60% of uroliths in cats are composed of struvite. Cats with a history of struvite urolithiasis should be fed diets that are low in magnesium and that create urine with an acid pH. No other foods or treats should be given. The second most common type of urolith is calcium oxalate. Cats with a history of oxalate urolithiasis are fed diets with reduced levels of protein and oxalate. These diets create urine that is less acidic.

It is also a good idea to encourage cats to urinate regularly by providing adequate numbers of clean litter box.

For the Nutritional Management of Cats with Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) caused by struvite uroliths or urethral plugs, calcium oxalate uroliths, or feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC).

FLUTD is often associated with inflammation of the urinary bladder and urethra. It is characterized by clinical signs such as urinating outside the litter box, frequent attempts to urinate, and/or straining to urinate. Prescription Diet® c/d® Multicare Feline is formulated to provide nutritional management of cats with the 3 most common causes of FLUTD including FIC, struvite uroliths or urethral plugs, and calcium oxalate uroliths.

Feline c/d Prescription Diet® c/d® Multicare Feline pet food contains controlled levels of magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and oxalate to reduce building blocks of crystals and uroliths, as well as enhanced vitamin B6 to help decrease oxalate formation and excretion in the urine. c/d® Multicare Feline also generates an environment that is unfavorable for the development of uroliths due to the addition of antioxidants, Vitamin E and beta-carotene. c/d® Multicare Feline is formulated to avoid excess sodium and has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil that help break the inflammatory cycle associated with the most common causes of FLUTD.

Dr. Debra Garrison

Dr. Debra Garrison

Bladder Stones in Dogs

The occurrence of bladder stones is not uncommon in our canine friends and can lead to serious discomfort and even secondary problems if not treated. These stones are rock-like minerals that form in your dogs urinary bladder. There can be several small gravel-sized stones or large single stones in the bladder. In this handout, we will discuss the symptoms, treatment, and prevention of bladder stones in dogs.

It is normally not difficult to detect that your dog is experiencing discomfort related to their urinary tract. The two most common signs of bladder stones are hematuria and dysuria. The former symptom involved the presence of blood in your dogs urine while dysuria is a term to describe when your dog is straining to urinate. If you notice that your dog is having difficulty urinating, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian. If possible, try to collect a fresh urine sample in a clean plastic cup to bring with you to the veterinary practice. Although these symptoms are good indicators, dogs with bladder infections (without stones) can exhibit hematuria and dysuria.

The build up of bladder stones can lead to serious pain and your pet may even cry out when trying to urinate. It is important to catch this condition early, so that surgery or secondary infections can be avoided and additional stones will not form. Your veterinarian will want to perform a laboratory evaluation of your dogs urine and will also palpate the urinary bladder to see if stones can be felt. In many cases, your veterinarian may want to take x-rays or ultrasound your dog to search for bladder stones.

If it is determined that your pet has bladder stones, your veterinarian will recommend the appropriate treatment. In serious cases where larger stones are involved, or stones that are unlikely to dissolve with other therapies, surgery may be necessary. Removing bladder stones involves opening the abdomen and urinary bladder and it will take your dog several days to recover. Certain types of bladder stones can be dissolved with special prescription diets and your veterinarian will notify you if this is an option. If diet therapy is chosen, it is very important that you follow the exact diet regiment as outlined by the veterinary staff. It can take several weeks to months to fully dissolve bladder stones and your veterinarian will want to follow-up with your dogs treatment until the stones are eliminated.

Once you have eliminated your dogs bladder stones, there are steps that can be taken to prevent future occurrence. Maintaining your dog on a special diet may be indicated and your veterinarian may want to perform follow-up urinalysis, x-rays or ultrasound to detect recurrence. Non invasive investigation and careful monitoring can detect this problem early helping to avoid surgery!