Healthcare Tips & Alerts

Behavioral Concerns - Mental or Physical?

A BEHAVIORAL ISSUE MAY BE LINKED TO A MEDICAL CONDITION!  Poor behavior can be a result of prior emotional trauma, the lack of socialization or proper handling, or other reasons. It can also stem from a physical condition such as a tumor, neurological, sight or hearing problem. If you feel that your pet has a behavioral issue of any kind, regardless of severity, it is important that the cause be immediately and correctly diagnosed by a professional (veterinarian and/or animal behaviorist) so that it may be properly addressed. Most “issues” can be resolved with the proper diagnosis and treatment or rehabilitation.

Millions of pets are needlessly surrendered to shelters and ultimately euthanized because of “behavioral” issues which could have easily and permanently been resolved.  There are resources available for pet owners which offer assistance.  Often your local community center offers training classes at affordable prices or even at no charge.  HEART offers socialization and training assistance in group and private sessions.  Even spending a few minutes with our trainers can greatly assist you in understanding how and why your pet acts and/or reacts in certain ways.  Correction of “problems” can often be achieved in a matter of minutes.

Physical & Dental Exams

Regular health exams are important to maintain your pet’s good health, and so are regular dental exams. Just as humans, pets can have tooth aches as a result of infections, abscess, a loose or broken tooth, or for other reasons.  Routine dental exams, brushing your pet’s teeth, and when needed, teeth cleaning by your veterinarian, can help prevent harmful tartar build-up and periodontal disease.  Keep in mind that as your pet ages, other dental problems can arise such as root loss which may require more extensive treatment.   

Geriatric work-ups are important for pets over the age of 7 years and can mean the difference of good health for your pet for many more years … or not.   


Keeping your pet clean and well-groomed, including keeping it’s nails trimmed, serve as a good foundation to a healthy and happy pet.  Long nails can cause a pet to walk unevenly and can cause soreness in the toes and paws.  Even hair mats can ultimately cause pain to a pet, as the entanglement can eventually involve the skin which causes the skin to pull and even tear with the pet’s movement.

Product Recalls

Regardless of how long or how often you use a product, it is always good practice to check for product recalls, as ingredients and the manner in which products are produced and handled often change.  Check with your local veterinarian, local pet store, and conduct an internet search.  Most importantly, contact the manufacturer for updates. 

Bones are Unsafe for Your Dog!

The idea that it’s natural for dogs to chew on bones is a popular one. However, it’s a dangerous practice and can cause serious injury to your pet.

“Some people think it’s safe to give dogs large bones, like those from a ham or a roast,” says Carmela Stamper, D.V.M., a veterinarian in the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the Food and Drug Administration. “Bones are unsafe no matter what their size. Giving your dog a bone may make your pet a candidate for a trip to your veterinarian’s office later, possible emergency surgery, or even death.”

“Make sure you throw out bones from your own meals in a way that your dog can’t get to them,” adds Stamper, who suggests taking the trash out right away or putting the bones up high and out of your dog’s reach until you have a chance to dispose of them. “And pay attention to where your dog’s nose is when you walk him around the neighborhood—steer him away from any objects lying in the grass.”

Here are 10 reasons why it’s a bad idea to give your dog a bone:

  • Broken teeth. This may call for expensive veterinary dentistry.
  • Mouth or tongue injuries. These can be very bloody and messy and may require a trip to see your veterinarian.
  • Bone gets looped around your dog’s lower jaw. This can be frightening or painful for your dog and potentially costly to you, as it usually means a trip to see your veterinarian.
  • Bone gets stuck in the esophagus, the tube that food travels through to reach the stomach. Your dog may gag, trying to bring the bone back up, and will need to see your veterinarian.
  • Bone gets stuck in the windpipe. This may happen if your dog accidentally inhales a small enough piece of bone. This is an emergency because your dog will have trouble breathing. Get your pet to your veterinarian immediately!
  • Bone gets stuck in the stomach. It went down just fine, but the bone may be too big to pass out of the stomach and into the intestines. Depending on the bone’s size, your dog may need surgery or upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, a procedure in which your veterinarian uses a long tube with a built-in camera and grabbing tools to try to remove the stuck bone from the stomach.
  • Bone gets stuck in intestines and causes a blockage. It may be time for surgery.
  • Constipation due to bone fragments. Your dog may have a hard time passing the bone fragments because they’re very sharp and they scrape the inside of the large intestine or rectum as they move along. This causes severe pain and may require a visit to your veterinarian.
  • Severe bleeding from the rectum. This is very messy and can be dangerous. It’s time for a trip to see your veterinarian.
  • Peritonitis. This nasty, difficult-to-treat bacterial infection of the abdomen is caused when bone fragments poke holes in your dog’s stomach or intestines. Your dog needs an emergency visit to your veterinarian because peritonitis can kill your dog.


“Talk with your veterinarian about alternatives to giving bones to your dog,” says Stamper. “There are many bone-like products made with materials that are safe for dogs to chew on.”


“Always supervise your dog with any chew product, especially one your dog hasn’t had before,” adds Stamper. “And always, if your dog ‘just isn’t acting right,’ call your veterinarian right away!”


This article appears on 2010 FDA’s Consumer Updates page 4, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

Zoonotic & Vector-borne Diseases

Zoonoses or zoonotic diseases, are those diseases that can be transmitted directly or indirectly from animals to humans.  For example, some worms can be transmitted in the environment.

Vector-borne diseases are those transmitted by fleas or ticks among other parasites that infest dogs and cats.  They can affect pets and people.  Ticks can transmit a large number of “vector-borne” diseases in North America including ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, relapsing fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.  Rickettsiosis (infection with Rickettsia) can be transmitted directly by ticks.  Bartonellosis (infection with Bartonella) is transmitted between cats by fleas and then may spread to people.  Also, fleas serve as an intermediate host for tapeworms, which can infect both your pet and humans.

A number of intestinal worms can infect dogs and cats, varying according to species.  These include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms, and they are very prolific.  One worm can produce more than 100,000 eggs per day, which are then passed in the pet’s feces and spread throughout the area the pet roams.  Once in the environment, some of these eggs can remain infective and present a health risk for your pet and humans for years.

Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite of pets and the most likely to be transmitted to humans.  Humans can accidentally ingest infective worm eggs that have been passed through the pet’s feces and left in the environment.  Eggs can then hatch in the human’s intestinal tract, and the immature worms can travel to various tissues in the body, including the eyes and brain, potentially causing serious infections.

There are many parasites that may affect your pet such as Coccidia, Ear Mites, Giardia, Mange Mites, etc.  The information provided herein is to serve as general information and assistance and does not provide information on all parasites.  It is extremely important that you discuss preventive parasite control with your regular veterinarian.

You can reduce the risk of parasitic infection to your family by eliminating parasites from pets; restricting access to contaminated areas such as sand boxes, pet “walk areas”, and other high-traffic areas; and practicing good personal hygiene.

Disposing of pet feces on a regular basis can help remove potentially infective worm eggs before they become distributed in the environment and are picked up or ingested by pets or humans.

Use a preventive flea and/or tick treatment year-round.

Only feed pets cooked or prepared food (not raw meat).

Administer de-worming medication as recommended by your veterinarian.

Toxoplasmosis and Cats

Toxoplasma gondii is a tiny parasite that infects people as well as birds and other animals.  Domestic Cats, Bobcats, Mountain Lions, and other wild cats shed Toxoplasma in their feces.  Cats may shed the parasite for 7 – 21 days the first time they become infected with Toxoplasma.  If they are allowed outside, pets can also become infected when they catch and eat wild animals.

Humans can get Toxoplasma several ways, including not washing hands after cleaning the cat litter box.

Severe illness can occur from Toxoplasmosis if a person’s immune system is not working well.  In these cases, the body’s defenses may not be able to control the spread of Toxoplasma, and the parasites may cause brain disease.  Pregnant women should take extreme precautionary measures being around cat litter boxes.  Babies born to a mother who is infected while pregnant can have birth defects, blindness and brain damage.  Pregnant women who are infected are also at rick of miscarriage.

Tips to prevent infection during pregnancy:

  1. Eat only well-cooked meat and drink only safe (non-contaminated) water.
  1. Wash your hands well after any exposure to soil (gardening), sand boxes, or raw meat.
  1. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables to reduce soil contamination.
  1. Cover sand boxes and play areas to prevent wildlife and stray cats from contaminating these areas.
  1. Keep cats indoors to minimize their risk of infection.
  1. Feed cats only commercial cat food or well-cooked meat.
  1. Choose adult cats as pets.
  1. Have an adult friend, or a spouse or partner change the litter box.  If changing the litter box by yourself is unavoidable, wear gloves and change it daily.  Be certain to wash hands well after changing the litter or touching the scooper.
  1. Have cat feces picked up from the yard daily.
  1. Take your cat to your veterinarian regularly and have it tested for parasites at least annually.

If you think you have been exposed to Toxoplasma, especially if you are pregnant, talk to your doctor.

Fleas & Ticks

Fleas are probably the most common ectoparasite (external parasite) of dogs and cats worldwide.  In addition to just being a nuisance, fleas are responsible for flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) in dogs and cats, which is estimated to account for over 50 percent of all the dermatological cases reported to veterinarians.

Fleas can carry and transmit several potential serious illnesses to humans, including typhus and plague, and can transmit “cat scratch disease” (infection with Bartonella) among cats who can then spread the disease to humans.  Additionally, fleas serve as an intermediate host for tapeworms, which can infect your pet and also humans.

Ticks are also ectoparasites.  Ticks are important vectors of a number of diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, relapsing fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia and tick paralysis.  Ticks are second only to mosquitos as vectors of human disease, both infectious and toxic.  Control and prevention of ticks is extremely important in reducing the risk of disease associated with ticks.

Speak to your veterinarian for recommendations on the best flea and tick control for your pets.


Heartworms are known to occur throughout the U.S., and though they have been 100 percent preventable for decades, they are still common in dogs and cats.  Transmitted by mosquitoes, they are among the most damaging canine and feline parasites.  Heartworms are transmitted by feeding mosquitoes and, once mature, take residence in the heart and large vessels of the lungs.

Heartworms can be a very serious problem for both dogs and cats, especially those in mosquito-infested areas.  Because heartworms live in the bloodstream, lungs and heart, they can kill or seriously debilitate pets that are infected with them.

Your veterinarian can conduct a simple blood test to determine if your pet has heartworms or heartworm disease.  Diagnosis in cats can be more challenging. Feline heartworm disease can differ significantly from canine heartworm disease.  Cats with clinical heartworm disease usually show respiratory signs such as coughing and/or difficulty breathing, or even intermittent vomiting not associated with eating.  Other signs include weight loss and/or diarrhea without accompanying respiratory signs.  The respiratory signs are difficult to differentiate from those observed with feline asthma.

All dogs and cats are at risk, even those animals that primarily live indoors.  However, heartworms are preventable. A year-round preventive program is recommended by authorities and is most effective to keep pets free of heartworms.  Preventive treatment should begin at six or eight weeks of age in puppies and after tests have been conducted in older dogs to determine if your dog has already been infected.  If your dog does have heartworms, your veterinarian can advise you about treatment options.  In dogs over six months of age, a blood test is necessary before starting medication.

Tick-borne Diseases

Public health officials are urging the public to take extra precautions with their pets and surroundings due to incidents of illness and death of people who contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which is a tick-borne disease.  

Whether or not you are in an area which is considered “heavy” infestation, there is a possibility that your pet can contract Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme Disease from one single tick.

A tick control product for your pet is strongly recommended to be used on a consistent basis. 

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii and is potentially fatal when contracted by humans.  The brown dog tick has been identified as a reservoir of R. rickettsii.  Many cases of RMSF in the Southwest have occurred within communities with a large number of free-roaming dogs; however, it can be contracted anywhere by animals and humans from ticks which travel from one host to another.  

Check your pets regularly for ticks, especially after they spend time outdoors. If a tick is found on a pet or on you, remove it right away.  It is important that the head of the tick be removed because it can easily detach from the rest of its body when feeding, as it burrows its head under the skin.  If you are unsure if the head of the tick has been removed, seek the assistance of a doctor (MD or DVM respectively), to ensure that the entire tick has been removed.

Often there are multiple ticks on the body, so make sure that your pet is thoroughly examined for any other potential ticks.  Seeking the assistance of a veterinarian is recommended.


To reduce tick habitat in one’s yard, keep your yard free of leaf litter, tall grasses, weeds and brush around your home. Mowing the lawn frequently and removing old furniture, mattresses and other items stored in the yard will decrease the amount of areas in which ticks love to hide.  


If you or your pet have been bitten by a tick, it is strongly recommended that you seek advice from your doctor and/or veterinarian immediately in order to receive specific information and instructions for treatment and care.