Pet care

1. Why do I have to get my puppies and kittens a series of vaccines instead of just one?

When puppies and kittens are born, they are able to share some of their mother’s antibody protection against diseases such as parvo virus and distemper through nursing milk. As time goes on (over the next few weeks to months from birth), the young pet’s own immune response kicks in and the mother’s protection decreases. A series of two vaccines are needed at any time a vaccine is started(except for the Rabies vaccine) to formulate a strong immune response, but the question is- When should those vaccines be given? If given at too young of an age, the mother’s immunity blocks the vaccines from being effective. If given too late, there is a risk of the mother’s protection being too weak or gone and the pet is exposed to a virus before the immune protection benefit of the vaccine. To manage this immune delemma, we vaccinate puppies and kittens every 3-4 weeks starting at 8 weeks of age until 16-20 weeks old.
Do you have a cat or dog that is not a youngster but never vaccinated? They still need a set of two vaccines 3-4 weeks apart to be protected (again, the Rabies vaccine is a single booster and an exception to this rule). Some vaccines last 6 months, some are good for 3 years. It is up to your veterinarian to set a schedule of reminders so that you can keep track of your pet’s preventive needs.

2. Why do should I have my dog tested for heartworm disease if I have given preventative monthly year round?

Our standard in-house heartworm test is more like a blood parasite screen because it tests for heart worm disease and exposure to three other common tick diseases (Lyme, Anaplasmosis, and Erlichia). The heartworm portion is sensitive to an infection that is six months old or older. Therefore, a single screening may miss an early exposure. Each year there are a few documented cases of dogs becoming infected with a strain of resistant heartworm while on a monthly preventative as recommended. Annual testing can identify any resistant infections and allow for treatment before significant long-term damage to the heart and lungs has been done. The tick disease aspect of the screening can identify exposure to debilitating tick born diseases and, hopefully, treatment of symptoms if present before significantly effecting the dog. It’s a win-win screen for the dogs!

So why give the monthly preventative at all if there is some occasional resistance to the medication?  With our pets, it is not that they are infected by one mosquito and done. Dogs especially, can be infected again and again by carrier mosquitoes and get increasingly heavier loads of circulating worms that can live in the heart and surrounding blood vessels. Any option that can reduce this stress on the heart and lungs will benefit our pets.  Treatment for heartworm disease is an injectable form of arsenic. Most of us don’t want to have to give our beloved dogs arsenic if we can prevent it with a monthly treatment.

3. Why do I have to buy the prescription hypoallergenic food? Can’t I get just it at the pet store ?

Grain free, all natural, no preservatives, hypoallergenic- all labels that we are being bombarded with as pet owners and consumers. We want to feed our pets the best food but why is it so difficult to find a veterinarian recommended hypoallergenic diet that is not a prescription food? First, it is getting harder and harder to find unique novel diets that our pets have not been exposed to for a food allergy trial. For a pet to be on a true hypoallergenic food, they need to eat a balanced diet that has a protein/carbohydrate combo that they have never eaten before and been able to develop antibodies to. It used to be duck, then lamb, then salmon/fish, not to mention rice and sweet potato. These ingredients are now mainstream in commercial food and treats. Newer hypoallergenic diets are moving to hydrolyzed protein sources so that the protein is broken down to such small building blocks, the body doesn’t recognize it as a potential issue and does not form an allergic response. This way, the nutrients do not have to be novel, just unrecognizable enough to avoid a negative biological response.

Over-the-counter- pet store hypoallergenic labeled diets may appeal to an owner because of natural ingredients and savvy marketing. The reality is that these foods are produced on equipment that also processes other non-hypoallergenic diets so cross contamination is a huge possibility. Any cross-contamination can negate the potential positive effects of the diet. Just because a pet food label claims to be hypoallergenic, it doesn’t mean that is actually is. Again, this is where a conversation with your veterinarian can eliminate food confusion and clarify what ingredients and brands to look for. Another concern at our practice, is that the marketing media is diagnosing what your pet may ( or may not ) be allergic to-corn, chicken, GRAIN. To get to the bottom of a real food allergy, you should consult a qualified professional (veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist) to develop an elimination diet that will fit your pet’s needs and set goals on how to determine if the trial is working or not.

Home-made allergy friendly diets are an option for the health conscious pet owner that would prefer a more natural approach. The key is balance of nutrients and ingredients so that your pet can get the right mix of vitamins and minerals with their novel, healthy food. Calcium deficiency is probably the number one issue with most cooked meals. Many veterinary universities have a nutritionist on staff that can design a balanced home cooked hypo-allergenic diet for a minimal fee.

4. My pet is indoors. Why do I need to keep up with their Rabies vaccine?

Rabies is a scary virus. It can hide for up to six months after exposure and is almost always fatal (99.9% of the time). Pets (any mammal actually) can be vectors that bring exposure from wildlife into the household. This is why it is so important to keep our dogs and cats up to date on their Rabies vaccine. Can indoor pets have potential exposure? Absolutely! Bats are a common culprit that find their way into attics and chimneys. Any mammal can be a potential carrier of Rabies-squirrels, skunks, fox, an so on. Why take that chance with your family if a single vaccine every 1-3 years can keep everyone (pets included) safe? What happens if a pet who is unvaccinated/not up-to-date on their Rabies vaccine has any exposure to an animal (domestic or wild) resulting in a break of the skin? In most states (Delaware included), animal welfare officials get involved and the potentially exposed pet needs to go into quarantine for up to six months. Not enjoyable for anyone.

5 Why is a bacterial culture necessary? Can’t you just give me some antibiotics?

We all are living on a budget of some sort. Extra expenses such as pet care can really put a strain on an already stressed budget. A bacterial culture is one of those expensive veterinary tests that has an important place in our animal care protocols. Antibiotic resistant bacteria is a troubling issue in the veterinary field as well as in human medicine. Bacterial cultures allow us to determine if antibiotics are even needed and which ones would be the best ones to eliminate the infection altogether. In the veterinary world, reoccuring ear and urinary tract infections are common sources of cultures with a close third being skin/wound lesions. It can be very frustrating for an owner to justify the expense of a bacterial culture if the round of antibiotics cleared up the infection the last time. The bigger issue is that there is yet another infection in the same place after treatment. Why did it reoccur and how can we do better with this round of treatment so that it does not come back again? Killing some of the bacteria but not eliminating the infection is a great way to create resistant infections. Not just resistant in general, but resistant in your specific pet. This means that their pesky ear infection has the potential to one day grow out a resistant strain of super bacteria that will not respond to any known treatment. Scary but possible. Even scarier is the potential for resistant strains of bacteria to transfer back and forth between pets and their owners.