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Pet health: Worms, mites and other gross stuff

Posted on: March 14th, 2011 by

La La the Chihuahua watch dog looks out the window.
By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
For Pets Best Insurance

About two thirds of US households include at least one pet, and it’s no wonder why. Having a pet can provide so much joy, friendship and not to mention laughs!

Studies have even demonstrated that having animals can keep you healthier, by encouraging exercise, providing companionship, and even strengthening your immune system. But when can your pet give you more than just kisses? There are some instances where you can ‘catch’ illnesses from your furry family member.

Zoonosis is word that describes a disease or illness that has the ability to transfer from animals to humans. Some are very serious, like rabies, which is almost always fatal, and others are less serious, like ringworm, which is not a worm at all, but a fungus that causes an itchy rash. Generally it is easy to prevent zoonotic disease with normal common sense hygiene, adequate deworming and routine vaccination.

Internal parasites common in dogs and cats can occasionally be transmitted to humans. The Companion Animal Parasite Council suggests about a third of pets are currently infected with internal parasites, including hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms. You can get sick from these parasites. Children are at increased risk, mostly because they are less discretionary about where they play and what goes in their mouths.

Hookworm larvae can travel through exposed skin leaving visible tracks, called Cutaneous Larva Migrans. A common way for this to occur is by walking barefoot through contaminated sand or soil. While the skin ‘rash’ can be intensely itchy, it is unlikely to cause serious disease, and is easily treated.

Roundworms or ascarids are the most common parasite seen in cats and dogs and can cause more serious problems in people, especially children. In cats and dogs, roundworms are gastrointestinal parasites, they rarely leave the GI tract. In people the worms get confused and can migrate outside the intestines to other parts of the body. Ocular toxocariasis is an eye disease that can cause blindness. It is caused by the microscopic worm entering the eye and causing inflammation and scarring on the retina. More than 700 people each year have permanent partial loss of vision due to this disease. This can be prevented by keeping children from playing in fecal contaminated dirt or sandboxes, and teaching them that eating dirt is dangerous.

There are two types of tapeworms that dogs and cats get, Ecchinococcus and Dipylidium. The one most commonly found in the US is not associated with significant disease or illness in people, but the more rare one, Ecchinococcus can be very serious and even fatal. Cystic Ecchinococcus can cause Hydatid disease, causing cyst formation in various organs, and Aveolar Ecchinococcus (AE), although rare, can cause parasitic tumors in the liver, lungs and brain. If left untreated AE can be fatal.

Scabies is another disease that can transfer between pets and people. Scabies, or sarcoptic mange, is caused by a mite that burrows under the skin. In pets it can cause hair loss, crusts and scabs and intense itching. People have similar symptoms, but the disease is rarely serious and it is very treatable.

Toxoplasmosis is a cat borne zoonotic disease that can be potentially serious. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that can infect cats that hunt small rodents or birds, or come in contact with contaminated soil. Most cats exposed become carriers of the parasite without becoming ill themselves. Toxoplasmosis infects people in the United States with moderate frequency. In fact, approximately 10 to 20 % of the population has this parasite, but it doesn’t generally cause disease. There are two important exceptions.

Immunocompromised people, such as organ transplant patients, or people with HIV can become very ill from this disease because their weakened immune system is unable to control the rapidly multiplying organism. The other exception is pregnant females. There are severe repercussions for a developing baby if the mother is infected for the first time during her pregnancy. This disease is transmitted through feces, so prevention of zoonosis involves good litter box hygiene; clean often and use gloves or a long handled scooper. Women might benefit from letting someone else take over litter box duty while pregnant as an extra precaution!

While learning all this can really be gross, these diseases are VERY preventable with normal good hygiene and preventative medicine. Families with children should always deworm their pets monthly. Deworming is inexpensive and safe for pets, so even though pet insurance doesn’t cover the cost it is still an affordible way to protect your pets and your family.

If you have specific questions about these diseases, ask your family physician or veterinarian for more information. With just a little common sense, your furry family members can continue to be a source of love, instead of illness!

Predator or Prey?

Posted on: March 11th, 2011 by

Arden Moore, a pet insurance advocate, author of the Cat Behavior Answer Book.

Oh Behave!
Q&A with Pet Expert Arden Moore
For Pets Best Insurance

Q. My three cats seem to enjoy batting around toy mice and chasing the feathers on a wand toy. Why is their hunting instinct so strong after they have been domesticated for thousands of years?

A. While we usually think of cats as mighty hunters, they actually fill the role of both prey and predator, depending on the other species involved. Let’s start with the predator part. All cats, from a mighty lion to that sweet kitty on your lap, are genetically programmed to hunt. In keeping with their size, cats focus on small mammals and birds. Interestingly, most biologists regard cats as small mammal experts and bird opportunists because cats tend not to be very good at catching birds unless the birds are sick, young or ground nesting.

Predator behavior is mostly innate, and kittens early on show a tendency to chase moving objects and to pound on littermates. Just like us, they learn through trial and error, and their play sessions help them increase their speed and refine their leaping abilities.

Their moms also teach them by example. Outdoor cats often bring home a dead mouse or bird to their litter and eat it in front of the kittens to demonstrated needed behaviors. She will then present a dead animal to the kittens to eat themselves, and finally, will bring home a nearly dead creature for the kittens to finish off. These experiences hone their hunting and killing skills. For indoor cats, the prey happens to be a store-bought toy or perhaps your pink slipper. But the lessons learned are the same, and many cats who never see a mouse or a bird until adulthood quickly figure out how to catch and kill their prey.

When the tables are turned and cats become the prey, they tap into their survival skills and the fight-or-flight mind-set. Outdoor cats are at risk not only from neighborhood dogs; even in suburban areas they often fall victim to coyotes, hawks, and other predators. Their first response is usually to flee if at all possible, either diving into a hiding place or scooting up a tree. A cornered cat can fight fiercely, however, as many a startled (and scratched) dog has discovered. The very tools that make them effective predators become their best defense. That must be where the phrase, “to fight tooth and claw” comes from!

Confounded by your canine? Frustrated by your feline? Relax. Pet expert Arden Moore is here to deliver the real truth about cats, dogs…and you with her column appropriately called, “Oh Behave!”

Arden Moore, a pet insurance advocate, sits with her pets.

On a regular basis, Arden will unleash excerpts from her two award-winning books, The Dog Behavior Answer Book (named the top training and behavior book by the Dog Writers Association of America) and The Cat Behavior Answer Book (named the top training and behavior book by the Cat Writers Association). Learn more about Moore, who hosts the “Oh Behave!” show on Pet Life Radio ( – the No. 1 pet podcast in the world — by visiting her Four Legged Life website (

Pet health: When your pup’s breath isn’t so sweet

Posted on: March 10th, 2011 by

Posted by: HR
For Pets Best Insurance
A puppy with dog insurance lifts a paw.

Do you sometimes joke about your dog’s “puppy breath?” It’s fun to joke about, but proper pet health care should include dental health, too. Remember how your dog’s breath smelled when he was a puppy?

One of my favorite quotes about dogs is from Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM (better known as Dr. Tom Cat), a veterinary consultant who practiced all over the world: “Of all the things I miss from veterinary practice, puppy breath is one of the most fond memories!”

Despite all the treats and kibble that claim to clean our dog’s teeth, after a few years puppy breath can still go from sweet to sour. This odor can signify potential bigger problems, like periodontal disease and an infection that can travel through the bloodstream from the gums to other areas of the body. But cleaning a dog’s teeth doesn’t need to be difficult!

Having dog insurance can make annual or bi-annual vet visits and teeth cleanings more affordable when routine care coverage is added. In between those visits, yummy doggie toothpaste often means brushing your dog’s teeth isn’t hard. Watch the video by Dr. Fiona Caldwell for a quick doggie tooth brushing demonstration.

Teeth cleanings performed by your vet can often begin with an appointment for a simple scraping and polish, and then become a surgical extraction of bad teeth performed under anesthesia. This surgery may be necessary to keep your dog healthy, but pet insurance with wellness coverage can help keep costs down and tails wagging.

Making the Switch from Puppy Food and Dog Soft Spots

Posted on: March 9th, 2011 by

Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. I’m at home today answering questions from the Pets Best Facebook page.

The first question is, “At what age should I switch my young dog from puppy food to dog food?” I like this question because every dog is a little bit different. If you’ve got a bigger breed dog, like a Great Dane or a Labrador, or something that grows really quickly, it’s pretty important that they be switched earlier than you might think.

Growing too fast with rich puppy food can sometimes cause some orthopedic problems in these bigger dogs so switching as early as four, five, or six months of age in the really fast growing breeds can be safe. A smaller breed dog, like a Chihuahua or Shih Tzu, can typically stay on puppy food longer, but remember that they stop growing quicker than big dogs do and so will likely need to be switched to adult food before one year of age.

The next question is, “My Chihuahua has a soft spot on the top of her head. She’s almost four years old and it doesn’t seem to bother her. Is this common and can it be problematic?” This is really common in Chihuahuas. We’ve bred them to have this sort of cute, domed forehead. Unfortunately, that makes them predisposed for the plates of the skull to not come together 100%. Most of the time it doesn’t cause a problem. If it’s small it should be fine, but do know that the soft spot is basically an area where there’s a little less bone covering the brain so it is important to make sure it’s protected as best you can that from trauma or anything like that.

Dog Heartworm Prevention and Cat Hair Loss

Posted on: March 8th, 2011 by

Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. I’m at home today answering questions from Pets Best Facebook page.

The first question is, “What’s the best defense against heartworm for those living in the South?” This is a great question because heartworm disease is really prevalent in the South or anyplace that has a lot of mosquitoes. The best defense is going to be going to your veterinarian and get a prescription heartworm medication. Generally, these medications are given once a month and are really quite effective at preventing heartworm disease. Over-the-counter products or mosquito repellents are not going to be as effective.

The next question comes from Sarah. She asks, “My 13½-year-old cat had his teeth cleaned last weekend and now he has lost hair above his right eyebrow. He still has his lashes but I thought this was odd. Should I be concerned?”

It’s hard to say without seeing your cat, but I would bring it up to your veterinarian. Sometimes when there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the mouth, the head may be positioned in such a way that it possibly rubbed on the table or came in contact with something. Call your veterinarian and see if they’ll do a follow-up. A lot of times veterinarians are happy to follow up after a procedure to make sure everything went smoothly.