Toxic Mushrooms and Your Dog

by Lisa McIntyre, DVM

As we know, summer and fall bring a unique set of seasonal scares for pet owning families. In addition to an increase in parasite exposure, wild animal encounters, and dog park injuries, exposure to certain environmental toxins also peaks.  Toxic ate in the warm, wet weather of season. Although they don’t do much to harm your lawn, be alert for signs of their growth as symptoms of toxicity can mimic other types of poisons and diagnosis can be challenging!

There are 4 classes of poisonous mushrooms; the classes are based on the type and severity of symptoms they cause. Additionally, mushrooms can be classified into groups, separated by the type of toxin they contain.  Poisonous varieties include false morels, hallucinogenic mushrooms, toamushroomdstool mushrooms, liver toxic mushrooms, and those that cause gastrointestinal signs or are muscarinic containing species.  Identification of the type your dog has consumed can be difficult once they pass your pet’s lips; treat any mushroom ingestion as a poisonous species and call your veterinarian immediately.   Another after-hours alternative is to call the National Animal Poison Control Center hotline at (888) 426-4435.  They are open 24/7 and 365 days a year and charge a nominal fee to advise you on how to manage your pet’s ingestion.   If a sample of the mushroom is available, consider contacting the North American Mycological Association (www.namyco.org) to aid in identification.  1

The deadliest class of mushrooms are those that cause liver failure (hepatotoxic) with signs precipitating in 6-12 hours.  At this point, inducing vomiting with hydrogen peroxide or slowing toxin absorption with activated charcoal given orally is fruitless.  Once an animal has started to show signs of poisoning, it is no longer safe or advisable to try to expel the offending agent.  With names like “death cap” and “death angel”, liver cell death and eventual mortality can occur within a day or two, after being preempted by gastrointestinal upset. These mushrooms are found throughout North America including the Pacific Northwest, parts of California and the northeastern part of the United States. 2

Neurotoxic mushrooms affect the nervous system due to the compounds they contain and include psilocybin (“magic”), hydrazine and isoxazole mushrooms.  Magic or psychedelic mushrooms are often found indoors as part of a pet owner’s “pharmacy”.  Others grow throughout the United States but favor the West and Northeast.  2 Symptoms of ingestion are typically seen within 30-90 minutes, but effects can last hours longer. Varying from initial gastrointestinal upset to weakness, stupor, tremors, disorientation, vocalization and seizures, these mushrooms are typically less toxic but severity of illness depends on the amount ingested and the dog’s size and health status.

Gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea are seen early on after the ingestion of most mushrooms (15 minutes to less than 6 hours). Muscarinic containing mushrooms not only cause mild to severe vomiting and diarrhea, but ingestion can lead to dehydration, excessive salivation, tearing, urination, slow heart rate and difficulty breathing depending on the type and amount consumed. 3

Our last class of mushrooms, the nephrotoxic (kidney) varieties, are thankfully rare with poisoning reported in Europe.  Signs of toxicity are delayed by up to 8 days as the kidney cells are destroyed.  Symptoms of poisoning are typical of a dog in kidney failure and include vomiting, increased thirst, and urination; dogs can succumb if not treated aggressively with fluid therapy and hospitalization.

If caught within the first hours of ingestion, decontamination by inducing vomiting and delaying intestinal absorption, managing symptoms, and blood and urine sample monitoring are often successful at managing mushroom poisoning in dogs.  As always, be on the lookout in your yard for anything unusual underfoot!

1 http://www.namyco.org

2 https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/shelter-health-poison-control/mushroom-poisoning-dogs

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psilocybin_mushroom

Dog Poop and Disease

 

 poop

We fight a battle against hair shedding on a daily basis, our weapons of choice a Swifter and sticky rollers.  I also fight a weekly battle with my 12-year-old son to pick up the dog poop in the minefield that has become our backyard.  With two dogs, the mess is considerable.  “Why do I need to pick this UP?” he whines every Saturday morning.  I’ll give you the explanation I repeat to him… so that you can fight the good fight with your own tweens and teens.

Both humans and canines can acquire certain diseases from the waste of dogs.  In humans, diseases transmitted between species are known as zoonoses. Roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms are commonly known gastrointestinal parasites that are shed as eggs in dog feces. Human activities such as gardening, walking barefoot in the yard, or playing sports increase the risk of encountering those eggs and subsequent larvae.  Young children with less than stellar hygiene often go right from the sandbox to the lunchbox, where microscopic eggs can be consumed along with soil on the hands. Likewise, your dog, who by nature greets new playmates with a nose to rear acknowledgement, can acquire a new infection from a contaminated yard or surface. To spell it out plainly, dogs eat poop. Other protozoal parasites often found in dog waste are cryptosporidia and giardia.  These tiny organisms are easily transmitted between animals and people, causing signs of illness common to most parasitic infections: vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, anorexia, poor haircoat, anemia and lethargy. In some cases, healthy adult animals and people exhibit no symptoms at all but can be actively shedding pathogens. Because humans are not the typical “host” for parasites such as roundworms, sometimes larval and adult worms take up residence outside of the gut.  Migration in tissues has caused disease in the lung, eye (which can lead to blindness), and skin. Besides direct hand to mouth transmission and direct skin contact with larvae, bacteria and parasites can be disseminated from a pile of fecal matter on lawn mower blades, the bottoms of shoes, after rainfall to areas of water run-off and nearby streams, and even on the bottoms of tiny fly feet.

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What other diseases lurk in your dog’s poop? Salmonella, E. Coli, and Campylobacter are bacteria that are excreted in the feces of even healthy dogs. The Georgia-based Clean Water Campaign estimated that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, dehydration, and kidney disorders in humans. 1 You can do the math or trust mine; more than 70 million dogs in the United States alone produce over 10 million tons of poop each year. 2

Human and canine disease is not the only reason dog waste is harmful; feces in the water supply contributes nutrients that lead to overgrowth of harmful algae and weeds, killing fish and other wildlife. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency lists dog poop as number three on its list of non-point sources of environmental contamination (meaning it comes from more than one source, millions of dogs!). 3

How can we address the problems caused by the more than 40% of pet owners who do not take pet waste removal seriously? 4 “It’s too much work, “it’s only in my yard”, “my dog isn’t sick” or “my dog is small” are common arguments against scooping poop.  Education is the first step to promoting a healthy environment. Many people erroneously believe that dog waste disappears into the dirt.  In fact, the 200,000 eggs laid by a single roundworm each day can persist for years without treatment from a concentrated bleach solution or flame thrower. 5 Start your pet on an oral or topical parasite preventative dispensed by your vet and insist upon bi-annual fecal screening.  A simple solution to promote safe poop disposal is to create a dog waste dump area near your garage consisting of a small lidded can and shovel and allowing neighbors to drop “deposits”.  Pet waste removal companies such as The Pet Butler take the olfactory assault of poop disposal off owners’ hands.  You can schedule a one-time clean up, or better yet, weekly cleanings to minimize yard contamination and disease transmission. The Pet Butler team disposes of dog poop in a timely and environmentally safe manner; no more excuses!

1 https://cfpub.epa.gov/npstbx/files/cwc_petwastefactsheet.pdf

2  https://detroit.cbslocal.com/2018/04/10/dog-poop-environment-pollution/

3 https://www.epa.gov/nps/coastal-zone-act-reauthorization-amendments-czara-section-6217

4 https://www.livescience.com/44732-eliminating-pet-poop-pollution.html

5 https://www.sentrypetcare.com/pet-health/worm-center/

Choosing a Pet Food: Tips, Myths, and Where to Begin

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Choosing a Pet Food: Tips, Myths, and Where to Begin

by Dr. Lisa McIntyre
At 6 pm on a Sunday night, I peered into our dog food bin and saw just a lone kibble sitting at the bottom. No doubt, my teenagers forgot to mention we were low on food. As I stood in the pet food aisle at Meijer, I quickly understood the paralysis my clients feel when it comes to choosing a diet for their pets; the variety of choices on the grocery shelves and refrigerated cases was dizzying.  Let’s address a few common misconceptions and give you some general tips to choose a healthy  food for your own pup or cat.  As always, consult your veterinarian for advice as variations in breed, life stage, body condition, activity level, and health status should affect your purchase.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a regulatory agency that checks to ensure pet foods meet the minimum standard of nutritional adequacy; the AAFCO label should be present on any food you are  buying and includes key information such as identification of product, net quantity statement, manufacturer’s name and address, proper listing of ingredients by weight (including water), the guaranteed analysis,  nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, additional label claims, and calorie statements. If that label doesn’t exist? The company may not have verified nutrient claims with laboratory testing. Call the business to find out.  All pet food companies should be transparent and want to educate the consumer about their product. What is the minimum standard for an adult dog to maintain weight and good health? A food must contain at least 18% protein, 5% fat, and maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. 1 Some  foods guarantee minimum levels of other nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous, sodium, and linoleic acid which are especially important for bone growth. Changes to minimum accepted levels of taurine will likely be included on future dog food labels as a link between low levels of dietary taurine and heart disease in dogs (previously identified only in cats) was recently discovered. 2 Preservatives such as propylene glycol have been shown to cause red blood cell abnormalities in cats.  The industry is constantly evolving!
Let’s talk about pet food manufacturers.  Mars, Purina, and Big Heart make 93% of all pet foods sold today. 3 They invest billions of dollars, employ untold numbers of nutritionists, scientists, quality control experts, and veterinarians, as well as conduct feeding trials and test products for nutritional components to ensure your furry friend receives complete and balanced nutrition for every age and stage of life. Don’t rule their foods out and assume smaller companies make safer and more wholesome diets.  83% of food recalls over the last 5 years, according to DogFoodAdvisor.com, came from small manufacturers. Plan on doing more of your own research should you choose food produced by a mom and pop pet food company. Smaller pet  companies are also more likely to outsource manufacturing and production.  It is key to know where your pet’s food is made in order to monitor for food recalls and determine product safety. 4
What ingredients make up a quality food and from where should they be sourced? Ideally, companies obtain the raw materials for protein, carbohydrate and fat from local or regional sources with whom they have an established relationship and have strict quality control.  Contamination from bacteria such as salmonella and listeria, mold, or toxins such as cadmium, lead and arsenic should be monitored by the supplier and and rechecked  by the pet food company after manufacturing. Surprisingly, diets labelled grain-free were found to contain more toxins that those that contained grain. 5 Brokers on the open market and countries with inferior food quality standards may offer cheap ingredients that can be harmful to your pet but cost considerably less.  Interestingly, many of these same countries make superior quality supplemental vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C that are found in most commercial pet foods. Pet foods with ingredients such as a clean meat source (turkey, beef, bison, duck…) instead of a meat meal which may contain horns and hair, fewer artificial preservatives, like BHT and ethoxyquin, and colors are preferred.  Foods with labelled as “natural” and “super-premium” are not held to any different standards as those without such label claims . While natural may imply the diet was preserved with tocopherols (a Vitamin E source) vs. artificial chemicals, that isn’t necessarily the case; don’t be fooled into paying a higher price for these “superior” products. 
What’s the difference between wet and dry foods?  Which is better for your pet? Increased water content may make wet diets easier to chew for puppies, kittens, and senior pets. They are often more palatable, fragrant, more filling, and can contain fewer artificial preservatives and flavors as they are sealed in air-tight containers.   Often, wet foods contain a  higher protein content and fewer carbohydrates compared to their dry counterparts which may be beneficial for cats, animals needing to maintain lean muscle, or that have medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus and  obesity.  When comparing the nutritional analysis of wet vs. a dry diet, be sure you are comparing them both on a dry matter basis.  The FDA has a guide on how to perform this calculation. 6 Dry foods can assist in the mechanical removal of plaque, improving dental hygiene. They also are easier to store and are usually less expensive. Ultimately, the decision to feed wet or dry food is between you and your veterinarian. 
Get started on your search for the perfect dog food for your pet by referring to:  http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/best-food-for-your-pet/
Best of luck out there and may you never be stuck utterly perplexed at a Meijer on a lovely summer night!
Dr. Lisa

Your Pet’s First Aid Kit

 

It’s 7 pm on a Sunday evening and you walked into the kitchen just as your retriever polished off a bag of chocolate chips snatched from the counter.  You think, “Isn’t chocolate supposed to be poisonous for four-legged critters?”.  What do you do? Who do you call? In your haste to help your dog, you are unable to summon a rational thought. If only you had taken the time to put together the pet first aid kit your veterinarian had recommended, you could have had all the supplies and information you needed at your fingertips!

So you don’t have to experience the angst that accompanies the above scenario, I recommend assembling a basic first aid kit filled with the supplies and information you need to deal with any dog emergency.  Most of these tools are available online or at your local pharmacy. For dosing recommendations, check in with your veterinarian as species, breed, size, and pre-existing conditions may determine a safe amount to administer.

Most animal medical emergency kits should include a list of important phone numbers.  You’ll always want to be in contact with an animal health professional before taking matters into your own hands; a knowledgeable voice can be a great reassurance. The phone numbers at the top of your list should include: your regular veterinarian, a local 24/7 emergency clinic, and the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center (1-800-426-4435) or the National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-4ANI-HELP (888-426-4435), the Emergency Disaster Information Line (1-800-227-4645), and the Pet Travel Hotline 1-800-545-USDA before travelling across state lines. You should have your pet’s medical records readily available, so you can answer questions about previous reactions, currently administered medications, and vaccination status.

I also like to add the addresses of a few online sites where you can reference emergency dosages, toxicity calculators, and other information needed to perform basic first aid.  https://vetcalculators.com/chocolate.html will allow you to determine an appropriate action to take should your dog ingest various types of chocolate,  https://www.petmd.com/news/topics/alert-recalls?icn=petMD-utility_bar&icl=6_alerts updates pet owners on current food recalls, and https://www.avma.org/public/EmergencyCare/Pages/default.aspx has a wealth of information on CPR basics, travelling with a pet, basic first aid procedures, and handling injured pets.

A few necessary items in your pets’ first aid kit should include: a flexible digital thermometergauze for wrapping open wounds or to use as a muzzle for painful animals, non-stick bandages and adhesive white tape for covering wounds (or a self-adhesive bandage material), a blanket as well as a rigid board or stretcher for transporting an injured pet, a leash, an eye dropper or needless syringe for administering medication, 3% hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting, baby aspirin, adult or children’s Benadryl (diphenhydramine), saline eye wash, and activated charcoal for absorbing toxins.  Tweezers as well as good old soap and water can be used to remove a tick or foreign object from a paw and to flush wounds.
I like to keep a gallon of nursery water on hand for that purpose, as well as to help rehydrate an animal or cool a pet suffering from heatstroke. Pedialyte or another electrolyte solution will replace salts and minerals that are important for proper hydration, blood pH and nerve conduction. Simple sugarssuch as honey or maple syrup can be rubbed on the gums of dogs given too much insulin, having a seizure due to low sugar, or to puppies that may have a difficult time maintaining blood sugar due to illness or stress and are lethargic.

Sterile lubricant helps to cover a break in the skin barrier or ease passage of the rectal thermometer.  Cornstarch or quik-stop used with cotton tipped applicators (Q-tips) can stop an actively bleeding nail and a nail clipper (Miller’s Forge, orange handle at Petco.com) to trim a torn nail back to healthy tissue is needed. Most creams and ointments as well as Band-Aids or other small adhesives are easily consumed by dogs.  It’s better to keep an E-collar handy to prevent self-mutilation. Clippers aid in the removal of hair around a cut or laceration. Be sure to apply lubricant to the area to prevent the introduction of additional debris and clipped hair into the area.

As gentle and loving as your dog may normally be, an injured pet will often react out of fear and pain towards a caregiver. Using a muzzle when handling pets (except for those that are vomiting) is always prudent. An improvised muzzle can be created using gauze, a necktie, or strips of fabric and bandage scissors and should be considered when assembling your dog’s emergency kit. Latex gloves and Purell hand sanitizer can help protect your pet’s wound from human contamination. Towels or blankets can help to restrain a pet comfortably. You can only help your pet by staying healthy, calm, and safe.

Always remember that any first aid administered to your pet should be followed by immediate veterinary care. A portable carrier for smaller dogs will aid in safe transportation. First aid care is not a substitute for veterinary care, but it may save your pet’s life until it receives veterinary treatment.

Dr. Lisa McIntyre

 

Dog vs Lawn: Keeping the Your Yard Peaceful, Not in Pieces

urine spot

 

Many pet owners are frustrated when, despite countless hours of fertilizing, weeding, and seeding, their lawn is riddled with brown spots, holes, and severely “pruned” plants. Unfortunately, many dogs cause destruction just by doing what comes naturally.

Digging: The word terrier comes from Latin and means “earth dog”.  A common behavior of this group of dogs is burrowing underground to energetically hunt vermin and rodents.  They are tenacious and excellent diggers, and were bred to eliminate mice, rats and other furry pests from farms.  Hounds, such as the beagle and dachshund, use their exceptional sense of smell to root for groundhogs, voles, and rodents.  When they can’t reach their prey underground, they can track a rabbit above ground, sometimes digging under the fence to catch a rascally critter. While we see their destructive behavior as naughty, digging holes was once a dog’s job; it’s hard to fight the genetic code! Other dog breeds will dig holes to find a cool spot.  Malamutes and huskys are known to dig under the shade of a bush or tree to find the chilled soil underneath.  Border collies and other herding dogs are active pups who need alternate “jobs” if they are not out corralling sheep.  Without an occupation, they may take it upon themselves to become landscapers.  Beware the bored border collie.

How can you deter this canine bad habit and inbred behavior? Stop them from digging holes in undesirable locations by burying bricks or chicken wire with the edges well-protected and re-cover the area with soil.  After a few unfruitful attempts and scraping of the nails, they will move on to another activity.  Mulch beds with pinecones which is an unfavorable substrate for dogs to walk upon. Better yet, reinforce their natural tendency to dig by designating a sand pile or corner of the yard as an appropriate excavation site.  Place hidden toys or treats in these locations; training your dog to head to these locations isn’t hard if they are rewarded!

Plant Chewing/ Grass Eating:

Some dogs chew leaves and grass to relieve nausea, so it’s always best to rule out a medical problem with the vet.  Planting thorny bushes such as barberry, holly, or roses will discourage chewing, as will showcasing fast-growing shrubs like viburnum and euonymus   Unless you have a water-loving retriever, Havahart Spray Away or Contech ScareCrow are two motion activated sprinklers that may keep pets away from vegetation.  By placing them near tender new plants, a dog that attempts to nibble will get a squirt in face.  Gotcha. A product sprayed on plants that imparts a bitter flavor such as Liquid Fence or Lambert Kay’s Boundary spray may also eliminate chewing.  Repeated applications may be necessary to “remind” pets that the plant still tastes bad.  These same products can be used on rabbit pellets to deter snacking.  Rabbit poop is pretty irresistible, I am told; you may have more success installing rabbit fencing buried a foot deep near your yard’s perimeter to discourage them from taking up residence.

Lawn Burn/ Urine Scald: Brown spots of dead grass can be the bane of a dog owner’s existence.  Both volume and concentration of pet urine contribute to lawn burn-out. Urine contains high levels of nitrogen, a by-product of protein metabolism.  In small amounts, nitrogen can be a great fertilizer, hence the lush green ring of grass that can be found surrounding the brown spot. Though not exclusively a female dog issue, males do tend to urinate on shrubs or vertically growing plants in smaller bursts, especially if they are marking. So, the problem may be more noticeable if you have a female dog. What does not work to protect your grass? Adding pH modifiers to your dog’s diet such as tomato juice or baking soda has no proven benefit and may even harm your pet’s kidneys or digestive system. Modifying your dog’s body chemistry can have other unintended consequences such as encouraging the production of bladder stones.  What does work to eliminate or reduce the dog urine spots? The solution to pollution is dilution! I can’t remember if I learned this gem in chemistry class or when treating contaminated wounds… but it holds true. Watering your lawn within 8 hours of elimination dilutes the nitrogen in waste products.  The market is flooded with sprinklers that can be set on a timer if you don’t have an in-ground programmable sprinkler system.  Promote the consumption of clean, fresh water (tap is fine) by refilling your dog’s bowl often and offering ice cubes or watering down kibble.  Your dog’s urine won’t be as concentrated, and your lawn will thank you! Training your dog to eliminate on mulch or pea-gravel will also stop lawn burn.  This can be accomplished by repetition using a leash and an immediate reward.  Fescue and rye grass are species that are more resistant to burn than Bermuda or bluegrass and can be used when reseeding bare patches or as part of your overseeding lawn maintenance protocol.

By following these tips, man’s best friend won’t become your yard’s worst enemy!

 

 

Jump Around, Jump Around, Jump Up, Jump Up and Get Down! Fleas and Ticks, that is.

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Fleas and ticks. Makes my skin crawl just thinking about them.  I regret to say, we have had both find their forever homes on my dogs over the years. Prevention has come a long way with topical products that can be applied as often as monthly or oral pills that are both tasty and effective at eliminating many life stages of the flea and tick.

I’m going to share some important facts regarding these creepy crawlies and hopefully convince you that year-round pest prevention is important!

Fleas are tiny parasites that require the blood meal of a mammal or bird to survive and reproduce.  While they need warm, humid temperatures to thrive (our friends in the south have particularly bad flea problems), the larvae and pupa can overwinter in the house or on animals like coyotes and rabbits and their dens, extending their life cycle from several weeks to many months. Fleas tend to hang out in the same areas that are popular with your dog and other wildlife: shady areas out of direct sunlight and direct foot traffic. The flea life cycle is complex, consisting of four stages: egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. Because some of these life stages occur off the host (your dog or cat), prevention and treatment targeted at several of these stages works best.

First off, we want to treat the environment and make it an inhospitable place for fleas to live.  Clearing brush, keeping grass cut short, and raking leaf piles are great at eliminating flea hide-outs. Inside, frequent vacuuming to stimulate egg hatching and laundering bedding daily is important if you suspect a flea infestation. Next, you’ll want to utilize one of the many products available from your veterinarian to kill adults, larvae, and eggs.  Some popular preventatives include Nexgard, Simparica, Revolution, Bravecto, Advantix, or Frontline.  Over the counter products can not only be ineffective (think flea collars), but dangerous to pets. Flea preventatives work by sterilizing the adult flea (flea birth control, if you will), others work via overstimulating the flea central nervous system.  Treated hairs can also work to kill larva and eggs in the environment. Because new eggs shed into the house or yard are constantly hatching, it is important to treat consecutively every month to kill emergent fleas. An adult flea can produce 500 eggs in just a few weeks!

A flea comb can be utilized to find live fleas on your dog, though most pet owners aren’t fast enough to catch a hopping flea. Tell-tale signs of a flea problem are itching or biting near the tail base and evidence of a black pepper-like granule (flea poop) in the fur that turns reddish on a damp paper towel.  That red coloration is digested blood.  Fleas can cause an allergic response to their saliva in some dogs; one bite can cause severe hair loss and scratching.  A heavy infestation can lead to low red blood cell count, transmission of tapeworms, or diseases such as the plague or typhus.

Similarly, ticks love to live in outdoor areas such as wood piles, yard clippings, or attached to hosts such as mice and deer. True opportunists, they wait to attach to an unsuspecting mammal as they brush past.  Ticks become most active as the temperatures rise above freezing.  This fools many dog owners into thinking they can forgo preventatives from December to March.  Unbelievably, and this time of year it is VERY hard to believe, we had 16 days above freezing in January!  Ticks don’t typically leave tiny poop calling cards like fleas.  Many times, they are not discovered on your dog until they have been attached for days to weeks and are engorged with blood. I’ve pulled many a tick off a client’s pet in February.

Ticks also have a four-part life cycle and other than the egg, each stage including the larva, nymph and adult needs a blood meal to survive.  The complete life cycle can take two years to complete and an adult tick can produce up to 3,000 eggs.  Frighteningly, the larva stage of the tick which will attach to a host animal is no bigger that the size of the period at the end of this sentence.  Imagine finding that in your dog’s fur!  Ticks are tremendously dangerous to dogs and humans because they transmit devastating and sometimes hard to treat diseases.  The deer tick is most commonly known for its ability to spread Lyme disease.

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Because it takes 24 hours of tick attachment to infect a host with disease, prompt identification and removal is critical.  If you spend time outdoors with your pet, do a tick check of the skin and hair coat after returning home.  Ticks especially love to set up shop on a dog’s ear flaps.  If you see an imbedded tick, grasp its head as close to the skin as possible with a pair of tweezers. Pull the entire tick out in one swift movement.  It’s ok if you get a bit of dog with your tick… just clean the area with soap and water and apply a triple antibiotic ointment to the bite.  I like to flush the tick or perform evil experiments like dipping it in Frontline…don’t judge. Many of the same preventatives we use for flea control are also effective at repelling and/or killing ticks during that 24-hour window of attachment.  Consistent use is important and recognize if your dog is boarded or groomed, it can pick up parasites from other doggie friends. Yard treatments are also available to kill ticks and fleas.  It’s best to consult a company that specializes in such treatment as some chemicals can be harmful to humans on pets.

We wish for spring desperately this time of year.  With the proper precautions, you can make sure your furry buddy is safe from the external parasites sure to be jumping!

The Scoop on Poop

Why must inspiration always strike in the wee hours of the morning? Perhaps it is because we have had a dearth of calls regarding unusually colored stool and, let’s just say it, diarrhea.  Perhaps it is because I am dreading the dog waste to be revealed after the great snow melt this weekend. Or maybe I’m awake because of residual nausea after sifting through a retriever’s poop one of Barbie’s appendages …

barbie

Regardless, let’s get to the heart, or colon, of this article.  Poop.  What does the poop of a healthy dog look like? How do you know if your pet is in distress and needs medical attention? What are some common causes of loose or hard stools and what can you do to help? Is color of a dog’s poop related to their overall well-being?

 

Fecal consistency is primarily a function of the amount of moisture in the stool and can be used to identify changes in colonic health as well as other medical problems. Ideally, in a healthy animal, stools should be firm but not hard, pliable, segmented, and easy to pick up. One to two bowel movements daily are ideal. As a veterinarian, I identify poop based on a scoring system.  A healthy dog should have a Score of 2 on the poop scale.

dog scooping

 

Score 1

  • Stool very hard and dry
  • Much effort required to expel feces from body
  • No residue left on the ground when feces picked up
  • Often expelled as individual pellets

Score 2

  • Stool firm but not hard
  • Pliable and segmented in appearance
  • Little or no residue left on ground when picked up

Score 3

  • Stool log-like
  • No segmentation visible
  • Moist, shiny surface
  • Leaves residue but remains firm when picked up

Score 4

  • Feces very moist (soggy)
  • Distinct log shape
  • Leave residue and loses form when picked up

Score 5

  • Feces very moist
  • Loses shape (piles rather than log shape)
  • Leaves residue and loses form when picked up

Score 6

  • Feces has texture but no defined shape
  • Occurs in piles or looks like spots
  • Leaves residue when picked up

Score 7

  • Feces watery, flat, with no texture
  • Occurs as a puddle
  • Leaves residue when picked up

If you google “purina fecal scoring chart”, you will find some visual images of the poops mentioned above.  GOOD MORNING!

 

In general, a pet that has acute, chronic, or even intermittent diarrhea should be examined and some basic labwork run.  Especially concerning is the pet with diarrhea, weight loss, and/or lethargy; concurrent vomiting also necessitates a call in to your pet’s doctor.  Your vet (me) will want a detailed history of your pet’s activities, diet, stresses, frequency and consistency of stool, difficulty in passing stool, blood or mucous in the stool, and any other predisposing factors such as exposure to parasites or eating from the garbage can (you know who you are).  I like to talk about your pet’s bowel movements as much as you do, so share!  And speaking of sharing, when I ask for a fresh fecal sample, just a marble-sized amount will do.

The causes of diarrhea are many and in deducing the reason for distress I am reminded of a wonderful saying I learned in veterinary school: GOOD MEDICINE IS NOT FAST MEDICINE.  This can be difficult to remember if your pet doesn’t feel well and you have just replaced your carpeting.  Or are hosting a baby shower.  Or forgot to put on slippers while on the hunt for your morning coffee.

 

There are two general categories of diarrhea: Acute (sudden onset) and Chronic (long term).

 

ACUTE (sudden onset) DIARRHEA: diet change (including eating poopsicles or part of a rope toy), drug or toxin induced diarrhea (Halloween chocolates look better going in than out), parasites, viral or bacterial infection.  Occasionally an extra-intestinal problem such as pancreatitis, bloat, or liver disease will lead to acute diarrhea.

 

CHRONIC (long lasting) DIARRHEA: the causes may include some of those mentioned above as well as a host of other diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, fungal disease, pancreatic disease, food allergy, protozoal diseases (toxoplasmosis), bacterial overgrowth, cancer, liver and kidney disease, irritable bowel syndrome, many more.

These cases can be very challenging to diagnose and even more difficult to treat.  Chronic diarrhea is often managed, not cured, and relapses during times of physical or emotional stress, dietary indiscretion, or just ‘cause are common.

 

A color change in your dog’s poop can be indicative of a problem, even if the consistency is normal.  Light brown to dark brown is normal based on your dog’s diet.  Black and tarry poop may indicate the presence of digested blood in the stool, fresh blood with mucous is common with large bowel disease, and white stool can occur if there is a problem with bile excretion or liver disease.  Yellow or orange poop can also be present with liver disease or if the stool is moving too quickly through the GI tract. Certain antacids or medications can affect the color of the poop. Dogs that like to eat grass or have ingested certain toxic mouse baits can have green-blue colored stool.

 

What can you do if you suspect a poop problem?

Keep an accurate history of your dog’s habits including appetite, frequency and effort of bowel movements, and environmental changes such as boarding.  You should have a Pet Butler technician (or your teenager) frequently scoop poop to minimize spread of disease and yard contamination as well as to monitor your pet’s poop for spaghetti or rice grain type parasites, color, or consistency change. For acute causes of diarrhea (i.e. Grandma gave the dog some Thanksgiving leftovers), we often recommend fasting for 24 hours with access to water only if your pet is not lethargic or vomiting.  Then, we gradually resume feeding limited amounts of a bland diet which can include boiled chicken or ground turkey, scrambled eggs or cottage cheese and a bland carbohydrate source like rice or pasta in a 1:4 ratio.  To get the gut back on track, small frequent meals are best with a gradual return to the pet’s normal diet.

 

Fiber is fabulous!  It is the great poop regulator and is as close as the plain canned pumpkin at Trader Joe’s. Because it contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, it can bind some of the excess water in the intestinal tract, bulking up the stool and slowing digestion. The insoluble fiber in pumpkin can benefit those suffering from constipation, but it is best to avoid feeding too much insoluble fiber since it can act as a natural laxative.  Helpful if you are constipated, not if the stools are already loose!

 

I hope this helps clear up some of the deeper, darker mysteries of your pet’s gastrointestinal system. Keep that yard clean!

 

Dr. Lisa McIntyre

The Welcome Waggin’