Infectious Diseases
 
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NJ Veterinary Medical Association
390 Amwell Road, Suite 402
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
info@njvma.org
Phone:  908-281-0918
Fax:  908-450-1286
 

Infectious Diseases
Infectious diseases are not only spread from animal to animal but sometimes from animals to people. Learn more about these diseases and ways to protect your pet and your family.
 


Dear Veterinarian:
I have a four-year-old, male neutered, indoor/outdoor cat. I bring him to the veterinarian for his yearly physical examination and vaccinations including distemper, rabies, and leukemia. My veterinarian has also recommended the FIV vaccine. What is this?

Dear Pet Owner:
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a virus that damages the immune system of cats. Since it is very similar to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), many people refer to FIV as Feline AIDS. Keep in mind that a cat cannot transmit FIV to a person nor can a person transmit HIV to a cat. FIV is usually spread to other cats by bite wounds, from an infected cat. Outdoor cats that may engage in roaming and aggressive behaviors may be at more risk for coming in contact with the virus.

FIV may lie dormant in a cat for months to years and cause no disease. However, it later becomes active and may cause illness. The virus suppresses the ability of the cat's natural immune system to fight off disease and infection. Therefore, a minor illness such as a cold can become more complicated and life threatening because the cat's immune system is not able to respond appropriately.

In 2002, a FIV vaccine was introduced to protect inoculated cats against infection of the virus. It is suggested that cats at risk for contracting FIV receive the vaccine. Cats at risk include those who go outdoors unsupervised and may get bitten by a cat with a virus or cats that live with a known FIV infected cat. The initial series requires three vaccines given 2-4 weeks apart followed by an annual booster. Kittens as young as eight weeks may begin the series. No vaccine protects against any disease 100% but the effectiveness of this vaccine is about 85%.

In your cat's case, it is important to test for FIV infection before vaccinating. If the test is negative, vaccination can begin. If the test is positive, your veterinarian will do a confirmation test. However, in the future, if your FIV vaccinated cat develops symptoms that resemble FIV, your veterinarian may need to do a special test to distinguish natural infection from a vaccine-induced response.

Since your cat spends unsupervised time outdoors, it would we wise to further discuss the FIV vaccine with your veterinarian.

 


Dear Veterinarian:
Every summer, I hear reports about wild animals being found to have rabies. It makes me nervous. How can I protect my pets and my family?

Dear Pet Owner:
With the increased level of outdoor activities, the first step is to keep your pets' rabies vaccinations up-to-date. Pet vaccination is considered the most effective way to prevent human exposure to the rabies virus. Vaccination of cats is particularly important, since cats account for over 90% of the domestic animal rabies cases in New Jersey. Also be sure to license your dog every year. Many towns also have cat-licensing ordinances. Check with your municipal clerk to determine the requirements in your town.

Be sure that you and your pets avoid contact with stray pets and wild animals. Call your local animal control officer for assistance with stray, sick or aggressive animals. Remember, it is illegal to keep wild animals as pets. While incidents involving rabid animals are at their highest level during the summer months, the public should always be on-guard. Although rabid animals may act vicious and aggressive, they can also appear dazed and paralyzed. When affected by the rabies virus, animals display abnormal behavior. Nocturnal animals may become active during the day or they may display a loss of fear of humans and pets, depression, and difficulty walking. Although any mammal can be infected with rabies, raccoons, skunks, cats, foxes and groundhogs account for the majority of animal rabies cases in New Jersey.

If an animal bites you, immediately wash the wound with soap and water and contact a physician and the local health department to evaluate the need for rabies treatment. Rabies can be prevented by treatment administered promptly after the bite or exposure.

Homes, garages and other outbuildings should be “animal-proofed” to prevent access by raccoons, bats, and other wildlife. This can be done by capping chimneys, repairing routes of entry, and removing sources of food by securing garbage cans and not leaving pet food out in the yard.

 


Dear Veterinarian:
I vaccinated my horse for West Nile virus last year upon the recommendation of my horse vet. I have two dogs and one cat and was wondering if I should be concerned if they could get West Nile virus and what can I do to protect them?

Dear Pet Owner:
West Nile virus affects horses, birds and humans and is contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito. West Nile virus was first recorded in New York in the fall of 1999 and has spread to more than 20 states by the end of 2001.

At this time, dogs and cats do not appear to be susceptible to West Nile virus therefore no vaccination has been developed. However, mosquitoes can carry other diseases such as heartworm disease, which can affect dogs and cats alike.

Because mosquitoes can carry viruses and other agents, which can affect humans and animals, diligence to decrease mosquito habitat should be employed. Homeowners can play an important role in reducing mosquito populations by eliminating standing water essential for mosquito breeding sites. Getting rid of old tires, turning over buckets or containers, and changing the water often in bird baths are some suggestions. Many mosquito species feed at dawn and dusk so bringing pets into the home or barn can help reduce risk of exposure. If you have further questions of how you can reduce mosquito breeding sites on your property, contact your local mosquito control agency for more information.

 


Dear Veterinarian:
I am expecting my first baby and my husband says we need to get rid of our cat because of toxoplasmosis. What do you think?

Dear Pet Owner:
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that can infect all mammals. Cats can get it from eating raw or uncooked meat as well as mice. People also can be infected and approximately 50% of us have already been exposed from eating raw or undercooked meat. For healthy individuals, toxoplasmosis poses little risk. It may cause fever and flu-like symptoms in cats or people, but these are usually gone in several days. In pregnant women, it can severely harm the developing fetus, therefore the concern for pregnant women. In immunosuppressed people or cats, it can cause other severe problems such as fever, weight loss and ocular inflammation. Infected cats can pass oocysts in their stool for some time. These become infective to people after 24 hours. Infection to people can be avoided by not handling cat feces, avoiding raw or undercooked meat and washing hands and cooking surfaces. Outdoor sand boxes should be covered. Women gardeners should wear gloves when working in the soil. Blood tests can be performed to see if cats or people have been infected previously, but it is difficult to ascertain whether an active infection is actually underway. A positive test usually desirable. It most likely indicates that exposure has already occurred. Active reinfection is unlikely after an initial exposure.

So, even though the risk is very low for you, tell your husband that he can clean the litter box (you deserve the break for 9 months!)

 


Dear Veterinarian:
I've heard a lot about Lyme Disease in both people and pets. My family goes camping a lot and we bring our 5-year-old Labrador retriever, Jasper. What can we do to protect him?

Dear Pet Owner:
You are wise to be concerned. Lyme disease is caused by a type of bacterium known as a spirochete. Infection is first established in the animal's skin only after the tick is engorged 24-48 hours after initial contact. The adult ticks are the main source of infection for dogs, deer, people, and large animals. Prime Lyme disease season is from April-September. However, people and pets can still contract the disease anytime, including during mild winters. The most common sign of the disease in dogs is recurrent acute arthritis and lameness. Also noticeable is decreased appetite and depression. It is very rare for a bulls-eye rash to appear around the site of the tick bite in pets. Untreated, your pet can develop heart, nervous system and /or kidney complications including fatal kidney failure. If your dog is experiencing symptoms, a blood test can be performed in your veterinarian's office to check for Lyme Disease. If your pet's test comes back positive, treatment generally consists of four weeks of antibiotics. Although antibiotics do not always eliminate the infection, they do improve symptoms in 2-3 days. The best prevention is to utilize tick repellents year-round and to groom dogs daily and inspect for ticks, which are most commonly found about the face and ears. When selecting a tick-repellant, check with your veterinarian. Using the wrong insecticides could make your pet very ill. Currently, there are vaccines available for dogs through your veterinarian. If you see a tick attached to your pet's skin, grab it as close as you can to the skin using tweezers. Swab the area with alcohol once the tick is removed.

 


Dear Veterinarian:
I am devastated by the death of my Pit Bull puppy. The veterinarian told me it could have been prevented. Please tell me what I need to know about Parvo before I get a new dog?

Dear Pet Owner:
Parvo virus infection is an acute, often fatal disease in unvaccinated dogs, usually puppies. It is characterized by a brief period of lethargy followed by vomiting and diarrhea leading to shock. There may be blood in the diarrhea. The virus affects the rapidly dividing cells of the intestinal lining, as well as the white blood cells (which fight infection) that are produced in the bone marrow.

The virus gets into the environment by being shed in the feces. A dog can then get the virus on his feet and lick them, ingesting the virus. Parvo virus is common in environments where dogs live, walk and play. Mature dogs can shed the virus without appearing ill. A dog who has had parvo virus will shed the virus for up to 6 months.

Treatment requires a hospital stay on intravenous fluids, to correct the shock or dehydration. There is no cure for parvo, but supportive care is critical. Rottweilers, Dobermans, English Springer Spaniels and Pit Bulls are reported to be at exceptional risk of severe disease. Pups less than 4 months of age are at a higher risk of severe infection, especially if unvaccinated.

The disease is best prevented by isolating pups until they have been fully vaccinated. Immunity passed from the puppy's mother may block the vaccine, so a series of vaccinations is needed, ending at a time when maternal immunity is sure to be gone. Most vaccine protocols recommend parvo virus vaccines at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age, and also at 20 weeks for highly susceptible breeds. One ounce of bleach in a quart of water destroys parvo virus. So disinfect thoroughly before you get a new pup.

 


Dear Veterinarian:
When I board my dog, she is required to have a vaccine/nasal spray for kennel cough. What exactly is kennel cough and how contagious is it?

Dear Pet Owner:
Kennel Cough Disease, or Infectious Rhinotracheitis, is a canine contagious upper respiratory infection that dogs acquire from contact with infected dogs or areas where sick dogs have recently been. The most common complaint is a gagging hacking cough that causes many owners to fear their pup has something caught in its throat. Some pets will sneeze or have a runny nose as well. Occasionally, dogs run a fever and are lethargic with a decreased appetite, while others stay peppy and active despite their choking cough. It may take more than two weeks for the condition to clear. Pets that are fun-down by parasites or other medical problems may be a t risk for pneumonia, but this is rare in healthy dogs. Your veterinarian can diagnos4e this disease and prescribe antibiotics and cough suppressants to make your dog feel better and prevent secondary infections.

Infectious Rhinotracheitis is not just a kennel condition. It can be acquired wherever dogs come in contact with the airborne bacteria and viruses that cause the infection. Dog shows, pet stores, groomers, obedience classes and even the neighborhood park are all grounds for exposure. Symptoms usually develop about a week after exposure and most dogs in the household will be affected to some degree. Cats and humans will not catch it.

Many boarding facilities require their clients to be vaccinated against Kennel Cough. Your veterinarian can give your dog a nasal spray or injection. Immunity may take a few weeks to develop and a d booster shot may be required. The vaccines are not 100% effective as there are many strains of virus and bacteria and not all can be incorporated in the serum. However, vaccinated pets tend to get less ill and recover faster than unvaccinated animals. Most annual vaccines administered by your veterinarian contain viral Kennel Cough protection while an extra inoculation is needed to confer bacterial resistance. You should discuss the risk of exposure with your dog's doctor and establish a vaccination plan that is best for your pet.

 


Dear Veterinarian:
Jasmine, my cat was just diagnosed with feline leukemia. Can you tell me more about this disease and how it will affect her quality of life?

Dear Pet Owner:
Feline Leukemia virus is a retrovirus that is spread from cat to cat through saliva, urine, tears, milk, and the placenta. A blood sample must be done to test for this disease. The test should be repeated in a few months to prove the positive result. The virus can infect the bones causing bone marrow suppression. The bone marrow is the source of all blood cells. If it is affected, abnormal amounts of white blood cells (leukemia) or absent red blood cells (anemia) can make the cat weak and more prone to infections. It can cause tumors such as lymphosarcoma or osteochondromas. It can affect the kidneys, the eyes, the spleen and the reproductive organs. It is hard to predict which part of the body will be affected by the virus. If a cat shows severe signs of illness such as not eating, laziness, nasal discharge, paleness of gums, etc., he can die from this viral infection.

Some cats can be positive and carriers of the virus and may never get sick. Some cats may eventually fight the infection and show negative on a blood test. There is a vaccine for feline leukemia. This vaccine should only be given to cats that test negative to the virus. Although the vaccine works well, it is not 100% effective. A leukemia positive cat could theoretically still spread the disease to a vaccinated cat. Typically, leukemia positive cats are either euthanized so as not to spread the disease any further or are kept isolated from other cats. Any cat with leukemia must be watched closely for any future illness and treated accordingly by your veterinarian if a problem develops. The quality of life for a feline leukemia cat depends on what signs of sickness develop and how severe the illness is.

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