A Non-trivial Concern for Serious Pet-lovers

We take for granted that we ought to do fecal screenings for intestinal parasites in puppies and kittens – the presence of worms in the darling little boops is fairly ubiquitous, and we want our new friends to be healthy and happy. But how often do we consider the potential threat to our own health, when worms are on the loose?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of Americans are affected by parasite infections every year; from the 300,000 people – many unknowingly – infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease, to the estimated 1.1 million new Trichomonas infections each year. Roundworms infecting humans can cause a nasty rash or even blindness, often in children. Toxoplasma gondii is present as a chronic infection in more than 60 million people. Hookworms can penetrate the skin and cause cutaneous larva migrans, although in rare instances visceral larva migrans can also occur, as well as skeletal muscle or intestinal involvement. The most common tapeworm found here is not zoonotic, but there is growing concern regarding Echinococcus multilocularis, whose range is spreading, and causes alveolar hydatid disease, which can be fatal.

Eek! And also Ew! (If you really want to gross yourself out, do an image search on cutaneous larva migrans, or ocular larva migrans. Only for the strong of stomach.)

Prevention, as usual, is much easier than the cure. Preventative deworming of puppies and kittens should be started early and repeated often – every two weeks per the CDC – until 8 to 10 weeks of age; ask your veterinarian what’s right for your pet. Dogs and cats who hunt should be routinely treated. Dogs on raw meat diets can harbor salmonella even if they are without symptoms, indeed according to the CDC such dogs should be considered carriers of zoonotic parasites unless proven otherwise. Pig’s ears, cow hooves and other similar chews can also be infected with salmonella.

Hand washing is key! This gets banged on about all the time, but it really is important, as most of the ickier bugs are transmitted via the fecal-oral route, and we’re talking about microscopic boogilies, so just because we can’t see anything doesn’t mean it isn’t there. (And little kids put everything in their mouths, right? Yep.) It’s a good idea to keep human food away from animal handling or bedding areas.

Pets with diarrhea should be isolated from other animals – testing and retesting pups and kittens with diarrhea is important since if the parasites are in the adult stage they may not be shedding eggs and things that can be found in fecal examinations.

What’s the best way to bring in the poo? Full HAZMAT suits not required, no matter what you smell. The fresher the better, same day at least, but if that’s not possible, be sure to double bag that package and keep it in the fridge – being careful to keep the outer container clean so as to not contaminate anything!


Chagas disease may be making new headlines, but it’s been around for a long time. Discovered in 1909 by Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, the tripanosomes – the microscopic organisms that cause the disease – have existed since before the continents separated. Cases in the southern United States have been documented for decades, though new areas are beginning to harbor the insect carriers, and lately there has been concern not just for humans contracting the disease, but dogs as well.

Dogs seem to be getting it from eating the triatomine – also called kissing or conenose – bugs that carry the protozoan. Most of them are pets who live and/or sleep outside, near brush piles or stacks of wood, with a light that stays on at night. The bugs hide in crevices in wood, and are attracted to light, especially white light. The little boogers are blood-suckers, who generally bite several times in an area and then defecate, and it is the feces that carry the disease-causing protozoan. The bites are itchy, and so the infected feces get scratched into the wounds, or, in humans, are sleepily rubbed into eyes or noses.

Prevention is once again easier than the cure. In fact once the disease has progressed to the chronic phase, it cannot be cured. Dogs in the early phase may display lack of appetite, weakness, fever, swollen lymph nodes, swelling of the liver or spleen, and even sometimes early heart disease. Later they may develop cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle weakens and the chambers balloon to abnormal size. Pregnant dogs can pass the disease to unborn puppies, which can be fatal. Long-term prognosis for dogs is usually guarded, with no cure, and treatment aimed at sustaining the weakened heart and general supportive care. There is no vaccine, and while transmission from dogs to humans doesn’t appear to have occurred, the increase in infection rate in dogs indicates an increased presence of the protozoan in the insect population, which could lead to greater exposure to humans as well.

It’s best to clear brush piles and keep pet beds and kennels away from stacks of firewood, and out from under lights that may attract the triatomine bugs. Remove rodent nests within 300 feet of the house, and consider changing outdoor bulbs to yellow. Make sure weather-stripping and caulk around doors and windows provides a tight seal, repair window screens if they are damaged, and use caulk or silicone seal to close off any cracks or crevices.

There are two species of conenose bugs here in northern California that carry the parasite: the western bloodsucking conenose bug, Triatoma protracta, and the conenose bug, Triatoma rubida. The western corsair looks similar, but has an orange spot on each wing – corsairs bite but don’t carry the Chagas parasite. Conenose bugs usually bite at night, and in late spring to early summer.

Halloween Pet Safety Tips

Halloween Pet Safety Tips

Halloween will be here in a couple of days and it can be a dangerous time for pets. With that in mind here are 7 tips from the AVMA to keep your pet safe:

  1. Don’t feed your pets Halloween candy, especially if it contains chocolate or xylitol (a common sugar substitute found in sugar-free candies and gum).
  2. Keep lit candles and jack-o-lanterns out of reach of pets.
  3. If you plan to put a costume on your pet, make sure it fits properly and is comfortable, doesn’t have any pieces that can easily be chewed off, and doesn’t interfere with your pet’s sight, hearing, breathing, opening its mouth, or moving. Take time to get your pet accustomed to the costume before Halloween, and never leave your pet unsupervised while he/she is wearing a costume.
  4. Keep glow sticks and glow jewelry away from your pets. Although the liquid in these products isn’t likely toxic, it tastes really bad and makes pets salivate excessively and act strangely.
  5. If your pet is wary of strangers or has a tendency to bite, put him/her in another room during trick-or-treating hours or provide him/her with a safe hiding place.
  6. Keep your pet inside.
  7. Make sure your pet is properly identified (microchip [the implant is a one-time insertion, very much like a vaccine injection], collar and ID tag) in case s/he escapes through the open door while you’re distracted with trick-or-treaters.

Holidays Tips

Ah, autumn coolness, and the rains have returned at last – with hope of more in a strong El Niño year. Thus begins the holiday season, full of gatherings and remembrance, decorations and good food and celebration. Our pets are part of the family and so we like to include them in all these things, but there are some hazards to our furry friends that we should keep in mind amid the whirl of preparations.

Eating All the Things

“It’s just a little bone.” “She loves pumpkin pie!” “We don’t want him to feel left out.” We mean well when we feed our cats and dogs from the table, we really do! But the rich, fatty or spicy foods we love, as well as sweets, can do a number on a pet’s digestive system. Pancreatitis isn’t fun for anyone. The toxicity to pets of grapes and raisins and things sweetened with Xylitol have been in the news a lot lately, but be sure to remember onions, garlic (turkey stuffing might include these, so be careful) and chocolate on the to-avoid list. Turkey bones – poultry bones in general, when cooked – can break into sharp pieces and cause gastrointestinal perforations, or even if whole, obstructions, necessitating surgery. Not how you or Fido want to spend a holiday. There are a number of nutritious snacks you can feed your pet instead. Remind your guests not to feed table scraps, too. Also make sure there is plenty of fresh water available – Christmas tree water can contain fertilizers and/or bacteria. Ick!

On the Foreign Object front, crinkly wrappers on candy, aluminum foil, tinsel and ribbon can also cause obstructions if swallowed, as can Styrofoam “berries” or “candy” in wreaths or other decorations.

Holly and mistletoe can cause vomiting. Lilies can be fatal to cats. Poinsettias are not especially poisonous, despite their reputation, but can cause mild stomach upset.

Decorative Hazards

Hide or tape down electrical cords – for lights, train sets, etc. – so puppies and kittens can’t chew on them. Aside from that one scene in A Christmas Story, electrocution isn’t fun. If your cat or kitten likes to climb, it might be prudent to make sure the Christmas tree is secure and stable, anchoring it – high up on the tree – to the wall with wire or high-test fishing line if necessary. Avoid tying yarn or ribbon around a pet’s neck. Spiffing them up for the festivities is easier and safer with a colorful holiday collar that has Velcro or a breakaway clasp.


Whether by plane, train or automobile, millions of Californians travel for the holidays, and many take their pets along; so here are some tips to make a trip safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

  • If you’re going to be driving more than a couple of hours, remember to stop every 100 miles to let your pet walk around, drink, and eliminate if necessary.
  • Have water, food and clean-up materials ready to hand. Pets can get carsick too.
  • Never leave your pet alone in a car.
  • Airlines require a rabies certificate and a health certificate signed by your veterinarian within 10 days of departure. Other requirements may vary by airline, so call well ahead to make sure of restrictions and guidelines.
  • Make certain your pet’s ID is current. Consider getting them microchipped. Crowded and strange surroundings may lead even mellow pets to try to bolt out doors or windows. Take your pet’s leash, collar or harness, license and ID tags, any medications they may be on, favorite toys and blanket, a photo of your pet, current shot records and your veterinarian’s phone number.
  • Take plenty of your pet’s regular food as changing diets suddenly can be upsetting to their digestive system. Have lots of fresh water available. Indoor heating can really dry out the air and your pets can get dehydrated as much as we do.
  • It’s a good idea to have a quiet space where your pet can retreat from the holiday bustle. Bring a crate from home, or block off a room with a baby gate.
  • Some hotels are “pet friendly”, while others do not allow pets. When you call to make your reservation, let them know you are bringing an animal with you. Some hotels may require that the pet not be left alone in the room and/or may have an added fee.
  • On the morning of the holiday, try taking your dog for a brisk walk to wear him or her out before the party gets going. (This is also good at home, for before guests arrive.)

If you decide to board your pet, ask to tour the facility first. Note cleanliness, how the pets are handled, whether or not there is a veterinarian on-site, and whether they can accommodate a pet’s special needs. Ask about services they offer, like structured playtimes or other activities. If your pet hasn’t been boarded before, it could be helpful to board them for a night or two as a trial first, before going on an extended vacation.

If you prefer to have someone come in to house-sit/pet-sit, search for certified, insured, professional sitters, and ask for references. Have them come over several times per day or stay in the house with the pet. Make sure they have your emergency contact numbers. A written permission to seek emergency veterinary care letter can be a good idea, if you are comfortable doing that.




Rattlesnakes are out to bask in the sun and help keep the world from being overrun by rodents, but they do not enjoy being surprised or stepped on by dogs or humans. This is generally not enjoyable for the pets or humans either. The best strategy is to avoid encounters altogether, but here are some tips if you don’t feel that walling yourself into a stone tower, or moving to Ireland or Alaska, is a valid option.

When out on walks, avoid areas near woodpiles, with tall grass or rocks, especially during peak season, from April to October. Keep pets on-leash and stay on trails. If you do see a snake, keep your pet away – bearing in mind that rattlesnakes can strike half their length. You might want to use a walking stick to rattle bushes along the trail to alert snakes to your presence.

To discourage snakes from taking up residence in your yard, you need to remove the resources they find desirable. Exterminate rodents and remove hiding places like old sheds, woodpiles, and dense underbrush. Mow grass frequently, and consider underground fencing. Use wire mesh to block small holes, and update worn weather-stripping under doors to keep snakes from seeking shelter in garages. Do not use lye, or other advertised substances such as gels, powders, ropes, etc. to deter snakes. These are ineffective and can harm your pets.

If a snake bites your pet, keep calm. Wash the bite with clean water and soap. Keep your pet quiet. Do not apply ice, cut bite area, suck venom out or use a tourniquet. Keep the bitten area immobile and lower than the heart. Seek veterinary help immediately; call ahead if possible, so they can prepare. Remove snug collars and choke chains, etc. before swelling begins.

The rattlesnake “vaccine” – Crotalus atrox toxoid – for dogs, can give you more time to get to the vet if your dog is bitten. The current protocol is 2 initial doses given 3 to 6 weeks apart, with boosters every four to six months for dogs at high risk. Large dogs over 100 pounds may need a third initial dose. If a vaccinated dog is bitten this is still an emergency; they will need antivenin and other forms of supportive care.