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Frequently Asked Questions -

Infectious Diseases

 

What is parvo?
How can parvo be treated and prevented?
What is canine distemper?
How can canine distemper be treated and prevented?

What is valley fever?
What is tick fever, or canine ehrlichiosis?
What is kennel cough?
How can kennel cough be prevented?
What is feline distemper or panleukopenia?
How can feline distemper or panleukopenia be diagnosed, treated and prevented?

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What is parvo?
Canine parvovirus infection (parvo) is a disease caused by a virus most commonly found in the feces of infected dogs. Susceptible dogs become infected by ingesting the virus which then invades the intestinal wall and causes inflammation. Unlike most other viruses, parvo is stable in the environment and is resistant to the effects of heat, detergents, alcohol and many disinfectants. Due to its stability, the virus is easily transmitted via the hair or feet of infected dogs, contaminated shoes, clothes and other objects or areas contaminated by infected feces. Direct contact between dogs is not required to spread the virus. Dogs that become infected with the virus and show clinical signs will usually become ill within six to ten days of the initial infection. It is important to note that there is no evidence that canine parvovirus is transmissible to cats or humans.

The symptoms can vary, but generally they include severe vomiting and diarrhea. The diarrhea often has a very strong smell, may contain mucus and may or may not contain blood. Additionally, affected dogs often exhibit a lack of appetite, marked listlessness and depression, and sometimes fever. It is important to note that many dogs may not show every clinical sign, but vomiting and diarrhea are the most common and consistent signs; vomiting usually begins first. Parvo may affect dogs of all ages, but is most common in dogs less than one year of age. Young puppies less than five months of age are usually the most severely affected, and the most difficult to treat. Any unvaccinated puppy that has vomiting or diarrhea should be tested for canine parvovirus. The diagnosis of canine parvovirus infection requires the demonstration of the virus or virus antigen in the stool or blood serum.

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How can parvo be treated and prevented?
There is no treatment to kill the virus once it infects the dog. However, the virus does not directly cause death; rather, it causes loss of the lining of the intestinal tract, and destroys some blood cell elements. The intestinal damage results in severe dehydration (water loss), electrolyte (sodium and potassium) imbalances, and infection in the bloodstream (septicemia). When the bacteria that normally live in the intestinal tract are able to get into the blood stream, it becomes more likely that the animal will die. The first step in treatment is to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. This requires the administration of intravenous (IV) fluids containing electrolytes and different medications. Most dogs recover if aggressive treatment is used and if therapy is begun early on.

The best method of protecting your dog is proper vaccination. Puppies receive a parvo vaccination as part of their multiple-agent vaccine given initially at 6 to 8 weeks of again and boostered every three weeks until the pup is over 16 weeks of age. After the initial series of vaccinations, all dogs should be given a booster vaccination at one year. It is also important to properly disinfect contaminated areas. This is best accomplished by cleaning food bowls, water bowls, and other contaminated items with a solution of 1/2 cup of chlorine bleach in one gallon of water. It is important that chlorine bleach be used because most disinfectants, even those claiming to be effective against viruses, will not kill the canine parvovirus.

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What is canine distemper?
Distemper is a highly contagious viral disease of domestic dogs and other animals such as ferrets, skunks and raccoons. It is a contagious, incurable, often fatal, viral disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems. Distemper is caused by the canine distemper virus. The disease is spread mainly by direct contact between a susceptible dog and a dog showing symptoms. Coughing and sneezing can spread the virus over short distances.

The main clinical signs are diarrhea, vomiting, a thick yellow discharge from the eyes and nose, cough and in some cases seizures and neurological signs, though signs can vary. Dogs that recover from the disease are often left with persistent nervous muscle twitches and recurrent seizures.

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How can canine distemper be treated and prevented?
As with most viral infections, there is no specific treatment. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, but do help in controlling the secondary bacterial infections that often occur with distemper. The treatment for distemper is aimed at helping reduce the signs and symptoms. This is accomplished with hospitalization providing rest and intensive nursing care, intravenous (IV) fluid therapy and symptomatic treatment for the vomiting, diarrhea, cough, etc.

There highly effective vaccines to use against canine distemper. These are given to puppies along with other routine vaccines. An annual distemper-parvo vaccination booster is important. Canine distemper is seen worldwide but because of the widespread use of successful vaccines, it is much less common than it was in the 1970’s. It is essential to keep vaccinating our dog population to prevent canine distemper from returning as a major killer of dogs.

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What is valley fever?
Valley fever is caused by a fungus that lives in desert soil. When the soil is disturbed - by digging, walking, construction, high winds – strands of cells break apart into tiny individual spores that are inhaled. Animals primarily contract valley fever in the low desert regions of Arizona, New Mexico and southwestern Texas and the central deserts of California. Only about 30% of animals who inhale the spores contract valley fever, a disease which can range from very mild to life threatening. Valley fever is not contagious - it cannot be spread from animal to animal or animal to human by coughing.

The most common early symptoms of valley fever are:

  • coughing
  • fever
  • weight loss
  • lack of appetite
  • lack of energy

When valley fever spreads almost any organ may be affected, and symptoms can vary widely. Bones and brain are common sites of spread.

Diagnosis is usually made by a combination of clinical signs, x-rays and blood work. Treatment involves long-term use of antifungal drugs and symptomatic treatment of other problems. If the infection is only in the lungs, the outlook is good. Infections that have spread to other areas will require longer treatment and some may need treatment for life because relapses are common. Infections in the brain are particularly life threatening. Medication should only be stopped bases on labwork, not because your pet seems to be doing well. Relapsing animals are often harder to get back under control.

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What is tick fever, or canine ehrlichiosis?
Ehrlichiosis is an infectious disease of dogs. The organism responsible for this disease is a rickettsial organism. Ehrlichiosis is transmitted to dogs through the bite of infected ticks. Humans cannot get ehrlichiosis from dogs, but they can get the disease if bitten by an infected tick. Ridding the dog’s environment of ticks and applying flea and tick preventives are the most effective means of prevention. 

In the acute stage of ehrlichiosis, the early stage, infected dogs may have fever, swollen lymph nodes, respiratory distress, weight loss, bleeding disorders, and, occasionally, neurological disturbances.  This stage may last two to four weeks. Next, the subclinical phase represents the stage of infection in which the organism is present but not causing any outward signs of disease. During this stage, the dog may eliminate the organism, or it may progress to the next stage.The final stage is chronic ehrlichiosis, when the immune system is not effective in eliminating or controlling the organism.  Dogs are likely to develop several problems: anemia, thrombocytopenia (decreased platelets, the blood clotting cells), bleeding episodes, lameness, eye problems, neurological problems, and swollen limbs. The dog may become unable to manufacture any of the blood cells necessary to sustain life.

Ehlichiosis is diagnosed with blood tests. To treat the disease, certain antibiotics are quite effective, but a long course of treatment may be needed.

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What is kennel cough?
Kennel cough is a broad term covering any infectious or contagious condition of dogs where coughing is one of the major clinical signs. Several viruses and bacteria can cause kennel cough, often at the same time. Because the infection spreads when dogs are housed together, it is often seen soon after dogs have been in kennels, hence the name “kennel cough”.

Clinical signs may be variable. It is often a mild disease, but the cough may be chronic, lasting for several weeks in some cases. Common clinical signs include a loud cough often described as a “goose honk”, runny eyes and nose, swollen tonsils, wheezing, lack of appetite and depressed behavior.

There is no specific treatment for the viral infections, but many of the more severe signs are due to bacterial involvement which antibiotics can combat. Most infections resolve within one to three weeks.

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How can kennel cough be prevented?

Bordetella vaccination is highly recommended as prevention for dogs that are boarded, groomed or interact with other dogs in areas such as dog parks. Bordetella vaccination is given either by injection or as nose drop. A booster vaccine every six months is recommended to ensure maximum protection.

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What is feline distemper or panleukopenia?
Feline distemper, or feline panleukopenia, is a severe and highly contagious disease found mostly in unvaccinated kittens. It is caused by feline parvovirus, and it affects all body tissues, especially in the digestive tract. The feline parvovirus can infect all unvaccinated cats, both domestic and wild, as well as raccoons, ferrets and mink. It is frequently fatal. Fortunately, the feline parvovirus does not infect dogs or people.

Feline parvovirus, the cause of feline distemper, attacks the gastrointestinal tract and can attack the blood system, nervous system, eye tissues, reproductive system and lymphatic system. It can alsoattack the fetus during pregnancy and cause problems in the fetal brain. Secondary bacterial infections are also common and can be the actual cause of death in infected cats.

The virus is shed in the feces or other excretions of affected animals for up to 6 weeks after infection. Feline parvovirus is very resistant to most disinfectants and can survive in the environment for months or even years. Cats become infected by contact with infected feces, saliva or viral particles on objects like shoes, food and water dishes, towels, clothing, etc. The virus can also be transmitted from infected pregnant cats to unborn kittens or to newborns.

In most cases of feline distemper, cats show no signs of disease. When symptoms do appear, mortality rates are quite high. Signs can include:

  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (may be yellow and/or streaked with fresh blood)
  • Dehydration  
  • Abdominal pain (cat may be hunched up and in obvious discomfort)
  • Plaintive crying
  • Fetal death
  • Abortion
  • “Fading kitten” syndrome
  • Mental dullness
  • Lack of coordination, wobbly gait, tremors
  • Sudden death (can happen before clinical signs appear; can resemble death by poisoning)

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How can feline distemper or panleukopenia be diagnosed, treated and prevented?
Feline distemper is not easy to diagnose. In most cases, physical examinations, symptoms and routine blood tests are used.

Once clinical signs of feline distemper develop in cats, the chance of a complete recovery is not good. There is no cure for feline distemper once the cat is infected, but the effects of feline distemper - vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, depression and dangerous secondary infections – can be managed with intensive supportive care, including intravenous (IV) fluid therapy. Started early, intense supportive care can increase chances of recovery. Unfortunately, feline distemper in kittens does not always have a good outcome. Older cats have a better chance of surviving the disease. If a cat survives feline distemper, it normally will have no permanent adverse side effects and will acquire life-long immunity to the disease. However, it will continue to shed the virus in bodily secretions for several weeks.

To prevent feline distemper, vaccination is highly effective. Kittens should be vaccinated initially between 6 and 8 weeks of age, then boosters must be given every 3 weeks until the cat is older tha 14 weeks, followed by a booster one year later and then every 3 years. The feline parvovirus is extremely hardy and can live in soil, cracks between tiles, carpets and furniture for months to years. The most effective way to eliminate it from the environment is through thorough disinfection with diluted bleach.

 

 

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