#1 Rabies

You’re scared to death of it and you should be. Rabies kills thousands of people worldwide each year and it is a gruesome way to die. Fortunately in the U.S., that number is usually under two each year because Rabies Vaccinations are mandatory in virtually every county or parish in the country. Rabies is 100% preventable, but once clinical symptoms appear in any animal that has been infected, there is no treatment. Death is a virtual certainty within 5 days of becoming symptomatic, which is why animals are quarantined for 10 days if they bite someone. The Rabies incubation period is generally accepted to be a minimum of 5 days. Animals cannot transmit the disease unless they are showing symptoms, but some initial symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, sensitivity to light or depression could be difficult to recognize. The disease progresses rapidly so by day 3 more obvious symptoms would be apparent, giving you far more than ample reason to begin the vaccination treatment protocol with a good safety margin on the incubation period. If the animal shows no symptoms of the disease more than five days into the quarantine period, it could not have been symptomatic when it bit you. This scenario, where you could decide not to begin the vaccination treatments if the animal shows no sign of the disease after several days of observation, pertains ONLY to dogs which appear to be healthy and can be put into quarantine immediately after the bite. In the United States, the vast majority of rabies occur in wild animals- raccoons, bats, skunks, coyotes, wolves and foxes. In recent years, cats have become the most common domestic animal that is a rabies threat. ANY PHYSICAL CONTACT with a wild animal, or a cat that is not your own, or a dog that is not known to you and cannot be captured and put into quarantine, should prompt an immediate call to your Physician. Give your Physician all the details concerning how and where you were bitten and follow his or her advice. And throw out all the old stories about injections in the stomach and how painful the vaccination regimen is- they’re simply not true. For most adults, the post-bite vaccination shots are now given in the arm and smaller children can be given the shots in the thigh. If you have any questions about Rabies and your pets, please contact your Veterinarian. If you have any questions about Rabies and your family, contact your Physician. There is little doubt that Rabies is the scariest of all the diseases we can get from contact with animals, but it is easily preventable.

#2 Heartworms

If you live in the Mid-South and don’t give your dog heartworm preventative medication, it is a virtual certainty that your dog will be infected, thanks to mosquitos who transmit the heartworms from dog to dog. We are blessed to have so many kinds of mosquitos because our area provides the perfect breeding conditions for several species. Anopheles breed in lakes, ponds and lowland marshy areas. Some species of Aedes mosquitos lay their eggs in drier areas and the eggs wait for the area to flood. One species of Aedes we know well is the Asian Tiger mosquito. It and several other species common to the Mid-South are known as Container Mosquitos. They lay their eggs in water filled containers like old tires, cans, gutters, pots- virtually anything that can hold water. Over 70 species of mosquitoes are capable of transmitting heartworms. They bite an infected animal, sucking in young heartworms called microfilariae which develop into infective larvae in less than two weeks. The larvae are transmitted to another animal- your dog for instance, the next time the mosquito decides it’s dinner time. Once your dog is infected, the larvae settle in the blood vessels of the heart and lungs with the females growing up to a very disgusting 14 inches in length. Depending on the number and size, the worms make it very difficult for your dog to breathe, damage blood vessels and make the heart work much harder. The number of heartworms living in your dog is called the “worm burden”. The average is around 15, but it can reach as high as 250. Eventually, damage to your dog’s heart, lungs, liver and kidneys will result in death. Fortunately, heartworm infection is almost 100% preventable in dogs. There are several FDA approved heartworm preventatives available and your vet can recommend the best one for your pet based on a number of factors. Preventatives do not kill existing adult heartworms but they can kill the microfilariae and possibly some larvae in the bloodstream, triggering a shock-like reaction which could be fatal. That’s why it is vitally important to have your dog tested for heartworms before starting any heartworm prevention treatment.

#3 Canine Parvovirus- PARVO

Highly contagious and deadly, Canine Parvovirus is one virus you do not want to deal with. It is the number one reason that we are total clean freaks at both Barks and Recreation and Barks and Medication. Using a proprietary blend of cleaners, disinfectants, virucides and sterilizers AND a healthy dose of pressure washing AND strict vaccination rules, we have not had (and I knock on wood, look for another penny to pick up, hang another horseshoe and any other thing I can do to keep the streak going) a single case of Parvo in over 5 years of boarding and day care! In the pet-care industry, that is unheard of! Unfortunately, the vast majority of dog owners are unaware of how many different ways their dog can come in contact with this deadly virus. It is easily spread by dog-to-dog contact- at the dog park or on a walk, contact with contaminated feces, food and water bowls and once infected you can expect vomiting, severe diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and lethargy. If your dog displays any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately. The parvovirus can kill in as little as 48 hours. Puppies under 4 months of age and unvaccinated dogs are most at risk. And like many other viruses, there is no specific drug that will kill the virus and cure the dog. Treatment is supportive in an effort to give the dog’s immune system enough time to fight off the infection. In spite of the best supportive treatment possible, up to 30% to 40% of infected dogs may still die depending on age, breed and possible concurrent bacterial or parasitic infections. Vaccination is the key to keeping you dog safe. Puppies should get their first vaccination when they are 6-8 weeks old, then every three weeks til they are 16 weeks old and then a booster shot at 12 months.

#4 Distemper

Canine distemper is a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of puppies and dogs. The virus can also be found in wildlife such as foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, mink and ferrets and has been reported in lions, tigers, leopards and other wild cats. Distemper is often fatal, and dogs that survive usually have permanent, irreparable nervous system damage. Once infected, dogs will develop a watery or pus-like discharge from their eyes, fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting. As the virus attacks the nervous system, infected dogs develop a circling behavior, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions, seizures, and partial or complete paralysis. Like many other viral infections, there is no cure for Canine Distemper. Supportive treatment to help control the symptoms and dehydration is given to buy time for the dog’s immune system to fight off the infection. Once again, vaccination is key to protecting your dog. Distemper is most often spread thru airborne exposure from an infected dog or wild animal sneezing or coughing. It can also be spread thru shared water and food bowls, which is another excellent reason you should not leave your pets water and food bowls outside overnight. Aside from feeding a variety of varmints nobody wants in or around their home, raccoons routinely eat and drink from pet bowls at night. They can leave behind a number of viruses, including distemper.

#5 Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is transmitted primarily by a very small tick with black legs (one way of identifying them) called a deer tick. Another way of identifying them is that the lower half of their back is red or red-orange while the lower half of the backs of almost all other ticks is black or very dark brown. Not saying you should ignore other tick bites- they can all transmit disease, but if you remove an imbedded, smaller than average, black-legged tick with a red lower back, save it and take it to your doctor when you go to be checked for Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a nasty illness that can cause serious, recurring health problems. Caused by a worm-like spiral shaped bacterium, an early indication of infection is a “bulls-eye”, target shaped rash at the bite site. Symptoms continue on to fever, headaches, fatigue and joint or muscle pain. In dogs, symptoms are very similar and generally include loss of appetite. Fever can obviously be detected in pets, but when they limp or simply are a lot less active than normal, it can be difficult to recognize that both of those symptoms could be the result of joint and muscle pain and/or fatigue- caused by Lyme disease. Antibiotics are usually effective against Lyme disease, but it is extremely important to understand that even though the symptoms have subsided in either you or your pet, following your physician’s or veterinarian’s advice after the first round of treatment is crucial to keep the disease under control and minimize long-term damage. Lyme disease is another great example of the old saw “an ounce of prevention (vaccination) is worth a pound of cure (antibiotics)”. It is important to note that Lyme disease vaccination is not available for people and not indicated for all dogs. In many cases, the vaccination may present more risks that benefits. Your dog’s lifestyle and the area of the country in which you live, or spend time in, can be large factors in the decision. You need to trust your veterinarian on this one.

#6 Leptospirosis

Everyone loves to take their dog to the park- they get to play with other dogs and if the park has a small lake or pond, they can wade around- maybe go for a swim, get a drink when they get hot AND bring the Leptospira bacteria home to your family. If your dog is not vaccinated against Leptospirosis, contracting the disease caused by this very common bacteria is easy- and very likely. And it doesn’t end with your dog. Leptospirosis can be spread from animals to people causing flu-like symptoms and kidney and liver disease. The most likely way this bacteria would be spread to you or your family is thru your dog’s urine and unfortunately, changes in frequency and amount of urination is one of the common symptoms of this disease. Symptoms have an incredibly wide range of severity. Some infected dogs show no symptoms at all. Some become mildly ill and recover quickly with no help. Some suddenly become very ill and die. Signs of leptospirosis may include fever, shivering, muscle tenderness, reluctance to move, increased thirst, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice, or painful inflammation within the eyes. The disease can cause kidney failure with or without liver failure. Dogs may occasionally develop severe lung disease and have difficulty breathing. Leptospirosis can cause bleeding disorders, which can lead to blood-tinged vomit, urine, stool or saliva; nosebleeds; and pinpoint red spots (which may be visible on the gums and other mucous membranes or on light-colored skin). Affected dogs can also develop swollen legs (from fluid accumulation) or accumulate excess fluid in their chest or abdomen. Even with successful treatment and recovery, there is still the possibility of permanent kidney or liver damage. If you have ANY reason to think that your dog might be infected, confine him/her in a crate or kennel, put the crate out of the house (in a climate controlled area) and get your pet to your vet as quickly as possible. Avoid contact with your pet’s urine or feces and make sure you use a disinfectant when cleaning floors or furniture your dog may have contaminated. Vaccinations protect dogs for at least 12 months, so including this vaccination as part of your dog’s yearly exam is a very, very good idea.

#7 Canine Influenza

Every year, the annual flu epidemics have up to 20% of the population sniffling, aching,, and running fevers. You read and hear about H1N1, or H3N2, two subtype combinations that routinely cause people to “have the flu”. The “H” and “N” stand for proteins on the surface of the virus. There are 18 different H subtypes and 11 different N subtypes and that makes possible almost 200 basic combinations. Other factors make the number of combinations run into the thousands. Each year, the CDC makes a highly educated guess at which 2, 3 or even 4 strains are likely to cause problems during the flu season and these are the strains for which vaccines are developed and manufactured for that year. If the guesses are correct, the vaccines work well and those protected are much less likely to become ill. If the guess is wrong, the vaccines can be ineffective and even though you got your vaccination, you weren’t protected against the strain that ultimately caused the most serious illnesses. Fortunately for dogs, we haven’t seen much change in the H3N8 (first identified in 2004 in Florida) or H3N2 (first found in the U.S. in Chicago in 2015) strains that cause “dog flu” and the Canine Influenza vaccine has remained very effective in protecting your dog. Dog Flu is highly contagious and almost 100% of dogs exposed to it will become infected. Over 80% develop flu-like illness not unlike those experienced by people. The mortality rate is less than 10% but that is a frightening number when you consider how contagious this virus is.

#8 Canine Enteric Coronavirus

Enteric means having to do with the intestines. You’ve seen “Enteric Coated Aspirin” for example. That is aspirin coated with a material that allows the aspirin to pass thru the stomach before it is released in the small intestines. All viruses work in basically the same way: they attach to cells in the victims body, get inside them, use those cells to make copies of their RNA (or DNA, depending on the virus type) and the newly copied virus can go on to infect other cells. Basically, the specific kind of cell the virus can attach to determines what kind of illness they produce. Rabies viruses attach to, and destroy neural cells, ultimately reaching the brain, killing the victim. Sars, Mers and Covid-19 viruses attach to cells in the victim’s lungs. Canine Enteric Coronaviruses attach to cells in the victims small intestine and result in diarrhea and painful abdominal cramping. Puppies seem to be the most at-risk along with dogs who live in crowded, unsanitary conditions. The virus is easily spread by contact with infected fecal matter, eating or drinking from contaminated bowls, or direct contact with an infected animal. As with most viruses, there is no specific treatment for this disease. Vaccines against Canine Enteric Coronavirus are available.

#9 Bordetellosis

You probably haven’t heard of Bordetellosis, but you probably have heard of “Kennel Cough”. While most cases of kennel cough are caused by the bordetella bacterium, kennel cough has become a catch-all name for a group of symptoms that can be caused by a number of other bacteria or conditions. It’s like you ask for a Kleenex, someone gives you a Puffs, but it’s OK- you just wanted a tissue. The namesake symptom of the disease is a strong distinctive cough, which often includes a “honking” sound, sneezing, a low-grade fever and a runny nose. Regardless of any other symptoms, if your dog develops a consistent cough, you need to contact your veterinarian. Here’s the problem: canine influenza, distemper, bronchitis, asthma, some forms of heart disease or a collapsing trachea all can cause consistent coughing. So, while kennel cough cause by bordetella is easily treatable, coughing can be a sign of a far more serious disease. Normal kennel cough is highly contagious and left untreated, can lead to pneumonia. On its own, kennel cough is rarely life-threatening, but it can be a serious problem for older dogs, puppies and dogs with compromised immune systems. Dogs usually contract kennel cough at places where you have large groups of dogs, boarding and day care facilities, dog parks or training classes. It is spread via airborne droplets from sneezing or coughing, touching noses, eating or drinking from contaminated bowls or coming in contact with any other contaminated surface. An effective vaccine is available and is required at most training, boarding and day care facilities. Thanks to all of the same things that have made it possible for Barks to avoid a single case of our #3 threat, Parvo, we can proudly say we have not had a single case of kennel cough in our five+ year history. If your dog develops a consistent cough for any reason, see your vet- and use a harness instead of a collar. Pulling against a collar can easily aggravate the cough or cause damage to an already irritated trachea.

#10 Canine Adenovirus 2

Adenovirus 1 (CAV-1) causes Infectious Canine Hepatitis which can cause liver damage and death, while Adenovirus 2 (CAV-2) generally causes relatively mild respiratory illness. CAV-1 is one of the viruses vaccinated against when your puppy gets its first set of shots, the DHPP round, for Distemper, Hepatitis, ParaInfluenza and Parvo. But because the vaccine made for CAV-1 can cause many side-effects, the vaccine made for CAV-2, which causes far less side-effects, is used for both. That works because both viruses are able to confer cross-protection, meaning that when your dog’s immune system produces antibodies against either one, they work against the other as well. CAV-2 can be spread very easily thru animal to animal contact, or thru exposure to saliva, feces, urine or respiratory secretions from an infected canine. I say canine because any of the 36 member species, including foxes, wolves and jackals can contract and spread CAV-1 and CAV-2.

#11 Canine Parainfluenza

CANINE PARAINFLUENZA is a respiratory virus and one of the many viruses that can cause kennel cough in dogs. It is highly contagious and commonly develops in situations where a lot of dogs are in close proximity to each other. Although the symptoms may resemble those of Canine Influenza, they are unrelated viruses and require very different vaccines. Anytime the phrase “where a lot of dogs are in close proximity to each other” is used, you automatically think of Boarding and Day Care facilities- and that is a great example. But other large risk factors have to be considered: shelters, rescue centers, breeding kennels, pet stores, groomers, dog parks and show events or competitions. Vaccination against parainfluenza is normally included with the vaccines given for Bordetella.

#12 Intestinal Worms

INTESTINAL WORMS are parasites and are fairly common among pets. Some are much more dangerous than others. Most of these common parasites are contracted by ingesting infected soil, water, bodily waste, or an infected host such as a bird or rodent. Once your vet has determined the type(s) of worms your pet has, it’s fairly simple to control the situation. Hookworms, Roundworms, Tapeworms and Whipworms are generally the most common. The medicines given vary depending on the specific type of parasite and how bad the level of infection. Pet owners often decide to administer

de-wormers on their own, without understanding that many parasites, including tapeworms, are not curable with generic, over the counter treatments. Symptoms include diarrhea, bloody stools, pale tongue and gums, itching around the anus or the obvious- visible worms in your dog’s stools. Some heartworm preventatives, like Sentinel Spectrum, come with the added benefit of preventing all four of the most common worm parasites. Roundworms and tapeworms can cause serious problems for humans and require immediate attention. Roundworms can infect lungs as well as the intestines causing a variety of symptoms including coughing, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Tapeworms will not develop into adults in human hosts, but tapeworm larvae can produce cysts in the lungs, liver or brain leading to serious illness.

#13 Coccidia

Doesn’t even sound good, does it? Another intestinal monster, but this one is super small- microscopically small- and causes BIG problems. A single-celled organism called a protozoan, these parasites can be found in the large and small intestine and they can cause bloody diarrhea, which left untreated can cause dehydration and death. Puppies and dogs with compromised immune systems are the most likely to show symptoms. Once the dogs develops a mature immune system- generally by six months of age, its body may keep Coccidia under control and may ultimately clear the infection on its own. Prior to that time, Coccidia should be treated with one, or more, of several different drugs available thru your vet. Coccidia is usually spread thru fecal-oral ingestion or thru eating something that contains the parasite like a small rodent or the rodent’s feces. Reinfection can occur thru self-cleaning and swallowing the cysts that are stuck to the hair. Cleanliness is key to controlling this parasite. Quick removal of all doggy poop and cleaning the kennel area with disinfectants that contain ammonia and steam cleaning are both effective. Treatment of all animals the puppy or puppies come in contact with should be ordered as they can be a source of recurring infection even though they are not showing symptoms themselves.

#14 Giardia

Giardia is another protozoan parasite that in many ways is like the Coccidia protozoan parasite just described. There is one major difference that can determine the severity of the infection and the amount of damage done. Giardia live inside the intestines but do little damage to the intestinal wall. Coccidia reproduce inside the cells of the intestinal wall and as they reproduce they kill the cell by becoming so large they rupture the cell wall as they are released back into the intestines. The cell ruptures cause severe inflammation and irritation which results in diarrhea. Giardia rarely causes severe symptoms while Coccidia is very capable of causing enough intestinal damage and dehydration to require hospitalization. Only your vet can tell the difference between the two infections and prescribe the appropriate (and different) treatments. There are no vaccines available for Giardia or Coccidia and monthly medications for control of other parasites are not effective. Both are very treatable and hygiene is the key to preventing both. Tests for both should definitely be included in your dog’s yearly exam and sooner if you see any of the symptoms we’ve described.

If you have questions about anything in this article, consult your veterinarian. As stated in the article, many of descriptions of how viruses or diseases affect you or your pet were extremely over-simplified, as much for the sake of space as anything else.

If you have questions about whether or not you should take the time, or go to the expense, needed to protect your dog from all of these conditions or infections, just ask yourself if you would like to have any of them personally.