Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Keeping Fido Cool in the Summer Heat

With summer in full swing and our Chihuahua myths series over, at least for now, it is a good time to talk about keeping your Chihuahua cool in this summer heat.  The tips and tricks found here will work well for all breeds of dog.  Small and large breeds alike can be very sensitive to the heat, so no matter what breed you have, please read on! 

Summer temperatures can be very stressful for dogs when they are outside, so there are a few things to keep in mind to protect your dog from the heat, and from heatstroke.  First, remember that small breed dogs should live inside.  They should only go outside to potty or play and should not be left outside for long periods of time, especially during times of extreme temperatures.  Also, you should never leave any dog outside for long periods during summer months without plenty of shade and fresh cool water. 

Keep in mind that watching the temperatures is not enough.  Humidity contributes to the heat index, and it is the heat index that determines the experience that we have outside.  The temperature may be only 85 degrees, but on a humid day, the heat index can be near 100 degrees.  To us, and to our dogs, it feels more like 100 than 85 when we go outside.  So, the heat index is the "effective" temperature, and that is what you should monitor.  The Weather Channel's app does not give the heat index, but the Weather Bug app lists the temperature and the heat index hourly, so it is an excellent app for monitoring the weather for both you and your dog. 

Next, I wish I didn't have to say this, but unfortunately, it keeps happening.  Please DO NOT leave your dog in a car  with windows up and no A/C during the summer.  A car with the windows rolled up amplifies heat, so it can be over 90 degrees inside the car even when the outside temperature is only 75.  Imagine how hot it gets in that car when the outside temperature is in the 90's.  Leaving your dog in the car during the summer, even for just a few minutes, can cause heatstroke and death!  Please don't do it!  If you have a key fob, you can leave the car running with the A/C on and the doors locked, but be careful even doing that.  In my area, people have broken car windows to let dogs out because they didn't realize the car was running.  For a new car that runs very quietly, apparently, it isn't as easy to hear the car running as you might think.  So, if you plan to leave your dog in the car with the car running and the A/C on, you might consider taping a note to that effect to one of the windows! 

Here's another one that I wish I didn't have to say, but I know people do it every day, because I just saw several examples of it at our city's Independence Day celebration.  Please remember that cement and asphalt gets VERY hot during the summer.  It gets hot enough to burn sensitive paw pads very quickly.  Burned and blistered paw pads is an extremely painful condition for a dog and it can take weeks to heal properly.  If you took your shoes off on these surfaces, I promise, you would put them right back on, so keep in mind that your dog's feet need some protection too.  Please be mindful of where your dog is walking when you take him for walks.  If you walk on the sidewalk or on a roadway, please buy your dog some shoes to protect his feet or switch up your walking routine during the summer and walk your dog in grassy areas. 

Keep in mind that the hottest part of the day is generally between 3 and 6 pm, but during the summer, it can be too hot for your dog to stay outside by 10 am in some areas. Limit outside time during the heat of the day to 30 minutes or less.  Early mornings before 10 am and evenings after 6 pm are ideal times to take your dog outside for longer periods. 

Keeping your dog cool during the summer may seem a bit of a challenge, but I have some tips to help with that.  First, ensure that your dog has plenty of shade and fresh cool drinking water when outside.
Next, many dogs love wading pools.  We use hard plastic kiddie pools for our dogs, but you can also buy pools designed for dogs.  If your dog will be outside for a longer period of time, you will want to keep his wading pool in a shaded area because the sun can heat that water up quickly.  Also, during the hottest parts of summer, we will throw some ice cubes in the pool.  Some of our dogs like to bob for ice cubes, so it encourages them to spend some time in the water to stay cool, and and it can be a fun activity for them, as well as keeping the pool water nice and cool. 

In addition to wading pools, I have seen doggie splash pads on the market now.  These are inflatable plastic mats that hook to water hoses and spray water upwards and back down onto the plastic.  If you want to conserve water, there is another product on the market that may be right up your alley.  It is techincally a drinking fountain, but when a dog learns to paw at the pedal on it, it squirts water up and would be ideal way to let your dog cool himself off without constantly running water all over your yard....unless, of course, your dog loves the thing and learns that he can stand on the pedal and keep the water coming! 

You can also use frozen things (other than ice cubes) to help keep your dog cool.  There are many toys on the market designed to be frozen.  Frozen chew toys will help to keep Fido cool.  Plus, you can freeze treats, especially carrots, snap peas and apple slices, to help cool your dog off during the summer.  And, some dogs love to eat ice cubes too, so if your dog is one of them, be generous with his ice cube treats during the summer.  If he doesn't like plain ice cube, I bet he would eat organic chicken broth frozen into cubes, so try that for a healthy, protein packed cool down treat for your dog. 

Now for the less pleasant information.  As a dog owner, you should be able to recognize the symptoms of heatstroke in your dog, because should it happen, your quick action could be the difference between life an death for your dog.  Symptoms include very heavy or exaggerated panting, lethargy, weakness, drooling, vomiting, rapid heart rate, warm dry skin and more.  See the attachment for more information on heatstroke. 

Most importantly, just keep in mind that dogs need protection from the heat as much as people do.  If you are mindful of that and take precautions to keep your dog cool and comfortable during the summer, you will have a happy pup! 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Chihuahua Myths Series - #4 Chihuahuas are Hard to Train

After a short hiatus, I am back to blogging this week with our fourth Chihuahua myth, that these little sweethearts are hard to train.  As with most myths, this one likely got started from at least a partial truth.  Some very stubborn Chihuahuas may be a bit more challenging to train, but stubbornness and difficulty training are not exactly a common characteristics of the breed.  I suspect that there are stubborn, difficult to train examples of every breed.  So, let's consider the truths embedded in this myth and dispel the rest as exaggeration or inappropriate extrapolation. 

One of the most common questions I get is about house training males.  Our poor Chihuahua boys get a really bad rap for marking.  Marking is an instinctual behavior that involves urinating on things in the environment, and it stems from the pack mentality that leads males to designate their own physical territory to keep other males away.  Yes, intact male Chihuahuas will eventually mark, but the truth is, ALL intact male dogs will eventually mark, and once they start marking, it is all but impossible to get them to stop.  So, there is the truth in this myth.  What makes it a myth is that the behavior itself can be completely avoided by simply neutering these boys early, before the marking behavior begins.  That works as well in Chihuahuas as it does in any other breed. 

The little Chihuahua females present a slightly different picture with house training.  This is generally where the stubbornness may come in.  Some Chihuahua girls can be stubborn.  That is the truth in the myth, but every one of them will respond to something...treats or other food, toys, praise....something!  The key to training any dog, even a stubborn one, is to find what that thing is that they respond to and then to be consistent in offering it when they behave properly.  Once you have that figured out, training of any kind, including house training, becomes easy! 

Next, Chihuahuas are VERY smart, and they have the capacity to learn things that you might not consider that they can do.  I strongly recommend training basic obedience, at a minimum, from an early age.  If you have a high energy Chihuahua puppy, that may be a bit tricky.  That is the truth in the myth, but there are some things that you can do to get the training in and minimize frustration.  First, keep training sessions very short at first, until maturity calms your puppy down a bit. If you have trouble keeping your puppy's attention, then keep training sessions as short as 15-30 seconds, several times per day.  You will be surprised what your Chihuahua puppy can learn in that time frame.  If you do several very short training sessions each day, your puppy's skill will sneak up on you and before you know it, you will have a well trained puppy. 

As with house training, you may need to find that one thing that your puppy or dog simply cannot resist.  Chihuahuas tend to be very food motivated, so more than likely, this will be a favorite treat or perhaps a tiny piece of chicken.  Keep training treats really tiny so you don't put unwanted weight on your dog, but keep in mind that food is a powerful motivator for most Chihuahuas.  When you find that one thing that your dog cannot resist, use it ONLY when you train.  Training time has to be the only time that your dog gets that reward.  That usually speeds up the training process considerably and helps your dog to focus on the task at hand.  

Finally, if you find that you have a really stubborn Chihuahua on your hands, there is one more thing that you can do to make training easier.  You may need to assert your place in your dog's pack.  The technique for that is a whole other blog, but basically it involves making your Chihuahua understand that everything good that he or she gets comes from you, and he/she has to make you happy to get it.  That is a powerful message for a dog, and it establishes you as your dog's pack leader.  You will be surprised how pliable your Chihuahua will become once he/she recognizes you as the leader. 

In a nutshell, the notion that Chihuahuas are hard to train is a myth, despite the elements of truth in it, because for some dogs, a bit more work has to be done to determine what your dog's best motivator is.  Some need tasty food, others need a strong leader or something else.  However, once you have figured that out, training becomes easy, and Chihuahuas are no harder to train than any other breed. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Chihuahua Myths Series - #3 Chihuahuas are Barkers.

I'm back for a week or two after a short hiatus while I had carpal tunnel surgery on my left hand.  The right one is up next, so there will be another break at the beginning of June. 

Today, I want to consider the myth that all Chihuahuas are barkers.  That, of course, is not the case.  In fact, I would say that anytime you use the words "all" or "none", you can bet that you have an untrue statement.  In this case, Chihuahuas as a breed have gotten a bad reputation because of a few of them.  Yes, some Chihuahua do bark a lot. However, most do not.  What is the difference?  As is usually the case with Chihuahuas, socialization and training are the keys. 

I really cannot stress enough how important socialization is in Chihuahuas.  It can make all the difference in the temperament of a Chihuahua, but training is just as important.  There is a phenomenon that I see happen all the time that is very detrimental to the breed's reputation, but is not the fault of the dogs.  Chihuahuas are small and cute, so people have a tendency to treat them like babies rather than like dogs.  That is the quickest way to ruin the temperament of your Chihuahua. 

You must remember that Chihuahuas are dogs just like any other dog, and they must be treated as such.  They understand pack mentality, and in fact, they may require a strong human alpha more than many other breeds do because they tend to have strong personalities themselves.  Pack mentality is a topic for another day, but here, it is sufficient to say that being the alpha of your pack is essential for ensuring that your Chihuahua is well behaved.  Why?  Because once you establish yourself as the alpha, you will have a much easier time teaching your Chihuahua about appropriate behavior, and your Chihuahua will be much more likely to engage in appropriate behavior because he/she understands his/her place in the pack. 

Now, back to the barking question.  The truth is, many Chihuahuas are naturally quiet dogs.  Little to no bark training is necessary for those dogs. Yes, that is a true statement.  Chihuahuas are not born barkers.  They do not all bark without training...but some do.  The good news is, bark training is possible with these dogs, especially if you recognize that your dog is a dog and not a furry human baby! 

Bark training does start with socialization though.  Socialization with people and other animals is key here, because barky Chihuahuas are usually nervous Chihuahuas.  They are nervous because of new or unfamiliar people, animals or situations.  So, if you familiarize your dog with those things, he/she will be less nervous and less likely to bark.  However, this may not prevent all unwanted barking, and specific bark training may be necessary.

There are many ways to address bark training, as is the case with most any training.  Clicker training has worked in many cases.  Obedience training may be effective as well, and should definitely be a part of your Chihuahua's training either way.  Of course, treat training may work as well.  However, my favorite tool for bark training in Chihuahuas is the squirt bottle.  Chihuahuas do respond to positive reinforcement, but the more stubborn ones may respond better to subtle negative reinforcement provided by a squirt bottle that holds nothing but water.  A quick squirt over your dog's head while saying "quiet" or "no bark" in a firm tone has proven a safe and effective method to curb unwanted barking.  Just keep in mind though that this method alone may not be sufficient without socialization and obedience training. 

You're probably seeing a pattern in these posts by now.  When it comes to Chihuahuas, socialization is of the utmost importance and solves many of the stereotypical issues for which the breed has developed a difficult reputation! 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Chihuahua Myths Series- #2 Chihuahuas Are Not Good With Children

The myth that I will bust this week is that Chihuahuas are not good with children.  That could not be further from the truth!  Chihuahuas are very loyal dogs, and they love their humans more than anything.  This includes the tiny human members of their families. I have seen Chihuahuas snuggle with newborn babies, tag along beside toddlers learning to walk and chill with teenagers and their friends.  Chihuahuas are very much family dogs, and they can bond with all members of the family.  In fact, I have known (actually, I raised) Chihuahua puppies that loved their children so much that they saved a newborn's life one time!

So, Chihuahuas definitely do not deserve the designation as "bad dogs to be around children", but they are labeled as such all the time.  Why is that?  As with most things having to do with Chihuahua temperament, the answer is in the socialization.  Chihuahua puppies must be socialized from birth.  That is just a simple fact of the breed, but sadly, not all who raise Chihuahuas understand the breed.  They don't socialize from birth, and they don't educate their puppies' owners about the importance of continuing that socialization after they go home.  As a result, there are far too many Chihuahuas in the world who have not been properly or completely socialized, and those Chihuahuas can have issues with people in general, but are more likely to have problems with children because children are unpredictable.

There is another issue associated with how Chihuahuas get along with children that many people consider taboo, but it is a very real issue.  That is, if you want a Chihuahua to be nice to children, you must also teach the children to be nice to the Chihuahua.  In most cases where children and well socialized Chihuahuas do not get along, the cause is that the children were not taught how to properly handle the Chihuahua as a puppy.  Children who pull on ears and tails, carry puppies around by their necks and engage in other similar actions are probably not going to be well liked by the family Chihuahua, or any family dog, for that matter.  Granted, there are those select few breeds that don't seem to mind that, but small breeds cannot tolerate such physical handling.

So, the answer to having a Chihuahua that bonds well with your children is first to ensure that your puppy comes from someone who understands the necessity of socializing from birth.  Then, you must continue the socialization process throughout your puppy's first year.  This includes gentle and supervised socialization with your children.  You must teach your children how to properly handle the puppy and monitor their interactions with the puppy to ensure that they practice what you taught them.  If your children and your puppy get off to a good start, you can be assured that your Chihuahua will bond with and protect your children just as he/she does for you and the other adults in your home. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Chihuahua Myths Series - #1 Chihuahuas Are Not Good With Other Dogs.

Now that we have completed our parasite series, I want to start a series that will be a little less unsavory!  Let's get to work debunking the myths about Chihuahuas.  This series is specifically about Chihuahuas as a breed, though some of it might ring true for other dog breeds as well.  While each topic in this series is labeled a myth, some truth may be inherent in some of the topics, but in those instances, I will explain how to ensure that is remains a myth for your particular Chihuahua. 

The first myth that we will tackle this week is that Chihuahuas are not good with other dogs!  This is one of those topics that does have a pinch of truth to it in certain circumstances, but your Chihuahua does not have to be the Cujo type with other dogs.  As you read on, you will understand the key to preventing that unwanted behavior.

Chihuahuas have always been considered a clanish breed.  It's widely accepted that Chihuahuas recognize their own "kind" and stick with them, shunning all others.  I have found that to be very untrue.  While Chihuahuas usually do great with other Chihuahuas, there are some exceptions to that rule.  There are also a great many exceptions to the idea that Chi's don't do well with other breeds of dog....many many exceptions to that, in fact.  The simple fact is this...if a Chihuahua is socialized properly from the start, he will likely do well with all other dogs....and most other animals in general.  We have successfully placed our puppies in home with all other breeds of dog, including Great Danes, as well as cats, pet goats and pigs, ferrets, rabbits and many others.  Our babies bond with anything that doesn't eat them first!

The truth is, Chihuahuas form bonds with one another similar to the bonds they form with their human caregivers.  That is a fact...no denying it.  But if a Chi isn't ever around other animals, he's not any more likely to love a strange Chi than he is a strange dog of any other breed. 
By the same rule, if a Chihuahua has been introduced to any animal from a young age, he is very likely to accept that animal as one that he can bond with, even if it's a cat, goat, ferret, pot-bellied pig or whatever.  The key to that is early socialization, but if you have an adult Chihuahua that did not get that early socialization, don't panic.  You can still work to socialize him/her and make great strides in terms of behavior with other dogs.  More on that later!

However, if you bring an older Chihuahua into your family, don't be surprised if he doesn't get along with other pets well, at least not at first.  If that dog was an only pet, as many Chihuahuas are, he has not had the opportunity to be in contact with other animals and he may be timid and downright rude when it comes to the animals wanting to have contact with him.  With some effort on your part and a lot of patience, though, you should be able to change that.  Chi's are very social animals and they have the desire to be social with other animals as well as people.  You may just have to put a little work into bringing that out in them.

For starters, limit a timid Chihuahua's contact with other animals at first, and make sure it is always supervised.  If your Chihuahua comes running back to you as soon as another dog sniffs him, don't pick him up and cuddle him.  This reinforces his idea that he should stay away from that dog.  Instead, gently tell him it's alright and perhaps invite the other dog over to sniff the Chihuahua near you, where the Chi feels more comfortable.  Treat the other animal as you normally would, but don't ignore the Chi...try to make him a part of a cuddle session with all three of you.  Make this attempt a few times a day and you should see some improvement, though it may take a little while for your Chi to be comfortable in his surroundings enough to want another furry friend.

Another tactic that seems to work very well is to use positive reinforcement.  With this method, you teach your Chihuahua to associate other dogs or animals with something that your Chi loves very much.  That is usually a special treat but may also be a favorite toy, a specific game that you play with him or anything that your Chi really loves.  When another dog is around, and your Chihuahua is polite to the dog, he gets his favorite thing.  When he is rude to the other dog, his favorite thing is withheld.  Chihuahuas are very smart.  You might be surprised how quickly your dog will catch on to this.

As time goes on, gradually increase the requirement for getting the treat.  For example, at first, you might give a treat if your Chi simply allows the other dog to pass by him without growling.  As he learns to associate good behavior with the treat, you will increase that to include the requirement for your Chi to actually interact with the other dog just a bit.  This interaction might be a small as a polite sniff at first, but should increase to being able to sit next to each other, and hopefully to actually playing with the other dog eventually.  This process may take some time and patience, but it will be time well spent.  Plus, it also helps you bond with your Chihuahua. 

In the end, most Chihuahuas, if exposed to other animals from an early age, do very well with them, no matter what the animal is.  If yours doesn't, just use your patience and training skills to change it.  All dogs can learn, no matter what their age!

Monday, April 15, 2019

#6 Parasites - Heartworms

All dogs can get them, but they also can all be protected from these nasty and potentially deadly parasites.  Heartworms are definitely not a dog's best friend. 
There isn't a great deal to say about this type of worms.  Mature heartworms live in the hearts of their hosts and lay eggs, which are swept away with the blood pumping through the heart.  The eggs circulate throughout the body until they are mature, and then they come to rest in the heart.  Heartworms are passed from dog to dog by mosquitos.  When a mosquito bites an infected dog, it carries the heartworm eggs from that dog to the next one that it bites. 

The part that makes these worms deadly is their numbers.  The heart of a dog, especially a tiny breed like Chihuahuas, can only handle so many heartworms clogging it up before the heart begins to have to work overtime to keep up with the demands of the body.  Too many worms blocking off heart valves, filling up the chambers of the heart and clogging up major arteries and veins can lead to disastrous consequences for your dog.  Dogs with heartworms most often die from what is essentially congestive heart failure.

The worse news? Often the treatment that vets use carries just as deadly a consequence.  The only way to kill heartworms is to poison them.  It takes large doses of Ivomectin to kill adult heartworms, which in turn, means that you're also administering large doses of this poison to your dog, and sometimes the dog's system cannot withstand it. Dogs can die from heartworm treatment. 

The good news is, it's easy to prevent your dog from getting heartworms.  There are many monthly heartworm preventatives on the market now, including Heart Guard and Revolution.  Your dog must be tested for heartworms to ensure that he is negative, and you must have a vet's prescription for these preventatives, but they are well worth it.  Also, there are topical flea and tick treatment for dogs that have mosquito repellant in them, such as Frontline Plus and K-9 Advantix.  Those are effective in keeping the heartworm carrying mosquitos off of your dog.    

It is very important for the health and safety of your dog that you get him on heartworm preventative and have him tested at least yearly for heartworms.  Keep in mind though, most vets won't test for heartworms or start heartworm preventative until six months of age.  You will still want to try to keep the mosquitos off of your puppy until then though.  In puppies, a flea and tick spray that also works on mosquitoes is the best bet. 

See the link below for more information.


Monday, April 8, 2019

#5 Parasites - Ear Mites

Ear mites are a parasite that many dogs owners have probably already dealt with.  They are very common and quite contagious. Ear mites are a fairly simple parasite and there isn't a great deal to say about them.

Ear mites spend their entire life cycle on their host. They irritate the linings of the ear, down in the ear canal and can cause some pretty intense itching.  The most common signs of an ear mite infection are a black, waxy build up in the ear and an animal that pays more than normal attention to it's ears, such as scratching at the ears or shaking it's head more than normal. 

Treatment of ear mites usually involves a pyrethrin and mineral oil solution that is massaged into the ear.  Treatments may not be effective if the ears are not cleaned thoroughly before treatment, or if the treatment is discontinued too early.  Treatment is often recommend in 3 cycles, one week apart, with a cleaning of the ear prior to each cycle.

Because pyrethrin can be toxic if administered incorrectly, it is best to ask your vet if you see signs of ear mites. 

For more information on ear mites, visit the link below.  


Monday, April 1, 2019

#4 Parasites - Fleas and Ticks

This week I will continue my series on parasites with a discussion about flea and tick control. 

Fleas are the most common external parasites for dogs, followed closely by ticks.  Each of these parasites comes complete with a unique set of problems that they cause their host.  But the good news is, they are easily controlled. 

Fleas are most commonly associated with itching, but they carry other problems as well.  For instance, fleas transmit tape worms, and some dogs have allergies to fleas that can cause major skin irritations.

Ticks are a little different.  There are several different types of ticks and they carry several different types of diseases which can be very problematic for dogs and humans alike.  Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever and Lyme Disease are among these diseases and are possibly the most common. 

Luckily for dog owners, fleas and ticks are easy to control in dogs. In my experience, it is easiest to control fleas and tick in your yard rather than putting chemicals on your dog.  Go to any Wal-Mart or hardware store and you should find a variety of granules or sprays that will handle fleas and ticks in the yard. 

If you prefer spot-on treatments, there are numerous products on the market to control fleas and ticks.  Canine Advantix, Revolution, Bio Spot, Zodiac, Adams and several others are effective spot on treatments, which are a single application per month, applied to the skin between the shoulder blades.  We have found in recent years that it is best to stay away from Frontline because it is less effective now than it was.  Also, do not, under any circumstances, use Hartz or Sergeant's brands of spot-ons or sprays.  They can cause sever reactions and large, painful sores. 

I do have one word of warning about the spot-on treatments though.  Keep in mind how they work.  It is administered onto the surface of the skin, but it then gets absorbed and collects in the dog's lymphatic system to be secreted out through normal secretions.  That is how it works across the dog's body and throughout the month that each treatment is designed to cover.  However, I have to wonder how good it is for the dogs to be actually absorbing these chemicals its body. That is why, for my dogs, I prefer keeping the yard treated and using a spray for temporary control in the event that we do see fleas. 

There are a number of sprays that are effective in controlling fleas and ticks. My personal favorites are Zodiac, Adams and Vet's Best.  Again, stay away from Frontline.  Vet's Best is an all natural spray, but it is not quite as effective, in my experience.  Though these sprays are effective, they wear off quickly (most in about 7 days).  Also, be aware that dogs cannot lick the spray while it is wet.  Sprays are chemicals similar to spot-on treatments, so you must keep your dog from trying to lick it off until it dries. 

If you have a strong infestation, it is best to spray the dog with a spray, allow it it sit for a few minutes to kill active insects and then bathe the dog.  Then, you can use a spot-on until you can get the infestation in your yard under control. 

Please note: for puppies, you should not use a spot-on until at least six months of age.  Prior to that, you should not treat for fleas and ticks unless there is a need.  In that event, spray a clean cloth with a flea and tick spray and wrap the puppy in it for about ten minutes.  Then bathe the puppy.  Repeat daily until the infestation is under control. 

You can also use flea and tick shampoos.  Some of them claim that they last a month, but my experience is that they only protect for about a week. Still, it is a good alternative to spot-on treatments when there is not an active infestation. 

For information on flea and tick control click the following links


For information on Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick fever in dogs, click the link below

For information on the types of ticks click the link below

For information on Lyme Disease in humans click the link below

Monday, March 25, 2019

#3 Parasites - Mange! Yuck!

In my parasite series this week, I will tell you everything you never wanted to know about those lovely skin parasites...mange mites! 

Mange, what an ugly word.  Nobody likes to deal with it.  Mange can be a difficult and messy thing to treat.

Mange is caused by a parasitic mite that burrows into the animals skin or nestles into the hair follicles, which is what causes the itching.  There are two primary forms of mange, sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange.  These two forms are very different. They are caused by different mites, present with different symptoms and deal the animal varying amounts of misery. 

Sarcoptic mange usually centers around the face and ears, but can also appear on the legs, especially at the joints, and even on the feet.  Sarcoptic mange is contagious, even to people, though in people, usually the only symptom is a slight itching that goes away without treatment.  Itching and hair loss are the primary symptoms of this parasitic infection in dogs.  It is sarcoptic mange that causes the intense itching.  Infected animals will scratch themselves raw, allowing secondary skin infections to take hold.  It is those infections that will make an animal with sarcoptic mange ill.  The good news is, sarcoptic mange usually responds well to treatment.  The primary form of treatment for this parasite is weekly injections of Ivermectin.  Some breeds of dog do not do well on this treatment though, and they will be treated with a weekly Lyme Sulfur dip.  BEWARE: Small dog owers take note...this dip is VERY toxic and has been known to do small breeds more harm than good. 

Demodectic mange is a little different.  The mites burrow into the hair follicles, which causes the hair loss.  Dogs with demodectic mange rarely have a great deal of itching, which helps to keep the secondary skin infections from setting in.  The primary symptom of this parasitic infection is hair loss.  However, the hair loss can vary from one very small patch, to complete hair loss over the entire body. 

There are two types of demodectic mange, and they get get their names from the amount of hair loss associated with the infection.  Localized demodex is confined usually to one or a few small patches of hair loss, and is generally seen on the torso, but may also appear around the ears or hauches.  Generalized demodex is the term for the wide spread hair loss.  There is a higher risk of secondary infections in the generalized form. 

Demodex is usually considered the "puppy mange" because it is not often seen in healthy adult dogs. Unlike sarcoptic mange, all dogs carry the mange mites for demodectic mange.  They contract them from their mother shortly after birth.  In most dogs, the immune system keeps these mites in check, but in animals with underdeveloped (in puppies) or weakened (in animals who have been ill) immune systems, the mites are able to flourish. Treatment of demodectic mange is usually the same as in sarcoptic mange, but demodex does not usually respond quite as easily to it.  This form often requires a longer treatment cycle.  However, the good news is, a great many cases of demodex will clear up without treatment.  As the immune system gets stronger, the dog's body will once again be able to bring those mites under control. 

So, if you see patches of hair loss on your dog, or if your dog begins to constantly and sometimes violently scratch himself, you should suspect mange and take him to the vet for a skin scrape test.  These tests are not the most pleasant, and will leave a little sore for a few days, but they are the only means for detecting mange.  Sarcoptic mange must always be treated, but if you have a small breed dog with localized demodectic mange, my recommendation is to do nothing unless it becomes generalized or fur doesn't grow back on its own after a couple of months.  For small breeds, the cure really can be much worse than the disease! 

Monday, March 18, 2019

#2 Parasites - Protozoal Parasites of the Digestive System.

This week, I continue the series on parasites with some information about intestinal protozoa parasites, coccidia and giardia. 

The two most common intestinal parasites in canines, besides intestinal worms, are coccidia and giardia.  Both of these organisms are protozoal and both can wreak havoc on the digestive system, especially of young puppies. 
Coccidia and giardia usually present with almost identical symptoms.  The beginning symptom is diarrhea, which usually will progress to a very watery stool and often will be bloody or blood streaked. Then you may begin to see some depression and fatigue, which are often the results of hypoglycemia and dehydration, brought about by the diarrhea.  Some pups with coccidia or giardia will refuse food and water and some won't....usually though, it's those affected with giardia that refuse food and water because giardia often causes severe abdominal cramping.

Giardia infection usually takes place as a result of a contaminated water source, however, both coccidia and giardia cysts can live in the soil for quite some time, so it is possible for puppies to pick up the cysts in the soil and ingest them that way. Both protozoa can be passed from other infected dogs in feces as well. 

Coccidia and giardia infect the host in similar ways.  Cysts are picked up from soil or passed in fecal matter from infected animals and any animal that comes into contact with the cysts can become infected by picking up the cysts on it's paws and ingesting them when it cleans itself. 
Once inside the host, giardia and coccidia begin to differentiate in how they act upon their hosts.  For an indepth look at how these two protozoal parasites behave inside the host, click on the links below.




Another area where these two protozoal organisms differ is how they are diagnosed.  There is a snap test available for giardia, which tests for the protien that the organisms use to encyst themselves.  Because of this, the snap test is not always reliable, as there will not be those protiens present in every stool.  The protozoa will encyst when changes in the digestive tract indicate that they are about to be expelled.  Once encysted, the protiens will dwindle and eventually there will be none left to create a positive test.  Fecal float testing can, at times, be used to diagnose giardia, but it has a very low success rate as the organism is very very difficult to see, even under a microscope.
Coccidia, on the other hand, is usually diagnosed with a fecal float test.  Still difficult to see, it is usually possible to find coccidia oocytes in the stool.  Alternatively, a blood test may help to diagnose coccidia. 

And these two parasites are also different in how they are treated.  Coccidia is treated with Albon or Ponazuril, and often an antibiotic to ensure that no secondary infections set in.  Giardia is treated with Panacur or Safeguard (a common wormer) and metronidazole, an antibiotic that not only helps to prevent secondary infections, but also appears to have some effect on the giardia organisms themselves. 

There was a controversial vaccine for giardia on the market at one time.  It was called Giardia Vax and was made by Fort Dodge.  The controversy surrounded the debate over whether or not this vaccine actually benefits the animal.  It did not prevent infection, and did not claim to.  The vaccine claimed to reduce clinical symptoms and the amount of time the animal will shed the cysts.  If the vaccine actually did this, it would be very beneficial to the animal because reduction of diarrhea would eliminate a whole host of problems associated with it, such as hypoglycemia and dehydration.  Also, reducing the amount of time the cysts are shed may also help to reduce the risks of other animals becoming infected.  However, research suggests that the vaccine has no effect on the presence of giardia in the stools of infected but asymptomatic dogs.  Further, the vaccine is now very difficult to find, so it appears as though it may have been taken off the market.   

In the end, there is no absolute cure for either of those parasites, unfortunately, except for the animal's body's own defenses.  Dogs naturally carry coccidia in their digestive systems, but what makes the animal sick is the overwhelming rapidity with which these protozoas reproduce. This happens in puppies becaue of immature immune systems.  Adult dogs rarely become ill from giardia or coccidia, but they may be carriers of the protozoa.  If given time and a little help with the medicines mentioned above though, most animals will be able to rid themselves of these organisms.