Useful information: How many pet cats live in the United States? What about feral (stray) cats?
Q: I moved to this area from New Hampshire last year and heard about heartworm disease in dogs. How do dogs get heartworms? Can they be prevented or treated?
ON: Heartworm disease is a blood parasite that is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Dogs are the natural host animal, but cats are also at risk in endemic areas, especially if they live in places with a pond or stagnant water where mosquitoes live and breed. When a mosquito feeds on an animal with heartworms, they ingest microscopic heartworm larvae (called microfilariae) in the blood.
The larvae mature in the mosquito’s body, and when that mosquito bites another animal, the heartworm larvae crawl out of their mouth parts and deposit under the skin. They eventually make their way to the heart, where they grow into adults (some can get a foot long!) And begin to reproduce on their own. With a significant number of worms, the dog may show symptoms such as coughing, lethargy, and decreased appetite. A simple blood test is used for diagnosis.
Heartworm disease can be treated, but it is much smarter, cheaper, and easier to prevent. There are several excellent preventive drugs on the market, and once a dog has been shown to be negative by a blood test, one of them can be given. The most common preventive agents are monthly chewable tablets, which have the added benefit of preventing intestinal parasites as well.
Some of the most commonly prescribed drugs are Sentinel Spectrum, Heartgard, and an injectable drug called Proheart. Trifexis is another preventive pill that offers flea control as well. Heartworm disease is far more common in the southeastern region of the United States, but veterinarians in West Virginia diagnose multiple cases of this parasitic infection each year. It is important that all dogs in West Virginia take heartworm prevention medication year round. For more information, please contact your local veterinarian.
Q: What can I do about my old Beagle, who is almost 13 years old and has recently had accidents in the house? He hasn’t done this since he was a puppy. Sometimes we just see him staring into space and he even starts barking at night for no reason. Do Dogs Get Alzheimer’s?
ON: Age changes in animals, especially dogs, can loosely be equated with senility in humans. The technical term is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) and basically means a disorder of normal mental function. The most common complaint is a loss of home education where the dog can have accidents indoors, sometimes even in front of the owners. Other patients stare blankly, walk to the wrong side of the door, get stuck in corners, or generally lose interest in everyday activities. In certain cases, drugs can be used to improve alertness and activity. Unfortunately, we cannot turn back time.
I’ve seen this phenomenon occur in dogs over the age of 12, but it usually occurs in dogs over the age of 14. It seems to be more common in small breeds, which seems logical as they live longer. If your dog is found to be showing these symptoms, you will need to have your veterinarian examine him and have a full exam and blood test. If everything is fine, consider taking him out for more walks and trying to make him interact more with new dogs and new people. It would also be helpful to come up with unique methods to break the otherwise routine nature of things in your dog’s life, and maybe even teach an old dog new tricks!
Worth knowing answer: It is estimated that there are 88 million pet cats and perhaps around 50-60 million wild cats in the United States.