Common Intestinal Parasites & Symptoms

The threat of parasites and worms are a reality for your dog and cat. Affecting particular breeds and pets that have access to the outdoors, parasites and worms can cause small ailments like stomach upset, up to extreme cases of death. The most common type of parasites and worms that affect pet dogs and cats are hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, and tapeworms. The effects of worms are particularly pervasive, as they can lay dormant in your pet’s system for quite some time before physical symptoms manifest. If your pet is experiencing rapid and random weight loss, diarrhea that isn’t remedied via diet modification, anemia, scratching of the anal opening, unexplained vomiting, severe bad breath that can’t be cured by regular brushing, or severe coughing, then it is recommended that you take your pet to a veterinarian – it is a very real possibility that your pet is experiencing some sort of parasitic invasion.

Why Is a Stool Sample Required?

Some parasites are very evident, with adult roundworm and tapeworm being very visible in stools. However, once they are observable with the naked human eye, then usually your dog or cat is experiencing advanced stages sickness. A stool sample will be able to analyze feces to check for worms as well as for disconnected segments. A stool sample is also required to discover eggs, which tend to be microscopic in size.

Learning about the Common the Parasites and Worms That Affect Your Pets

Whipworms tend to affect dogs, but it is not unnatural for cats to be infected by whipworms. Looking like small pieces of thread, whipworms tend to occupy your pet’s intestine. Whipworms do not lay many eggs, so several stool samples need to be examined to determine if whipworms are the potential culprit. Stool that is encased in mucus or extreme weight loss is usually attributed to whipworm infestation. Fortunately, whipworms hardly cause deaths.

Roundworms tend to affect puppies, especially puppies living in close quarters. Puppies that come from puppy mills and pet shops tend to be inundated with this parasite. Roundworms tend to be very common in puppies and kittens due to the way it is spread. The roundworm larva can migrate between the mother and the developing fetus. It can also be spread during nursing time. Once the larva migrates, they grow up to 5 inches in the dogs or cats intestine. There they start to absorb nutrients from the intestinal tract, then it will start laying eggs. Roundworms can lay up to 1 million eggs over the span of a couple of weeks. Due to this number, many kittens and puppies with advanced stages of infestation tend to have large bellies and mid sections. Severe infestations can cause a blockage, killing the host. Not only are puppies and kittens in danger of roundworm infestation, but an adult can be exposed as well.

Hookworms are also much more common in dogs and puppies. Hookworms secure themselves to the small intestines, sucking up blood for nourishment. Puppies and dogs get exposed to hookworms via stool that has been contaminated by it or ingesting the eggs by other means. Puppies can also be exposed to the parasite by nursing on an infected mother. Due to the loss of blood, advanced stages of hookworm infestation tend to cause anemia. Poor weight, loss of interest in favorite foods and treats and low energy are all hallmarks of a hookworm infestation.

Tapeworms come from fleas, putting dogs and cats in danger. Cats and dogs that have access to the outdoors – especially outdoor areas where tall grass tends to grow – are all exposed to fleas that are infected with tapeworms. Tapeworms look like several pieces of tape secured together, with distinct tiny brick like sections. Although tapeworms can grow up to 5 to 6 inches in length, the first visible signs of tapeworm infestations typically manifest in tiny segments attached to the fur around the pet’s anus. Looking like small pieces of rice, these tapeworm segments move when agitated. The segment also contains tapeworm eggs. Tapeworm infestations tend to be aggressive, and that most over-the-counter medications cannot help. It is important that you visit a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Preventing Parasites and Worms in Your Pets

The key to a long canine and feline life is prevention. Make sure that your cat and dog visits a veterinarian on a regular basis. Most seemingly healthy pets can go with yearly visits.

To reduce your pet’s exposure to fleas that may have parasites clinging to them, it is recommended that you do not allow them to wonder in marshes and areas with tall grass. These tend to be breeding grounds for parasites, worms, and bacteria that can infect your pets.

In many places, it is required by law that pets are vaccinated before they are able to go to dog parks and other places where dogs congregate. Even though most pet owners follow this rule, it is still important to be able to pinpoint symptoms. You do not want a sick dog to potentially expose your pets to illness. A dog that looks particularly lethargic, dirty, and look like they have excessive bloating around the midsection; are all potential signs of a dog that is infected. For outdoor cats, consider converting them to indoor cats. Outdoor cats are exposed to the elements, predators, aggressive cats, and parasites. An outdoor cat generally lives a much shorter life than an indoor cat.


Limber Tail in Dogs

My 10 year-old Labrador retriever suddenly stopped wagging his tail. It was really droopy, and my veterinarian says he has “limber tail.” What is that?

The term “limber tail” is one of several slang terms that apply to a condition that is technically called acute caudal myopathy. Some of the other terms you might hear that apply to this include:

  • Swimmer’s tail
  • Cold water tail
  • Dead tail
  • Broken tail
  • Limp tail
  • Rudder tail
  • Broken wag

Working dogs and active hunting dogs seem to be at greatest risk for developing this condition, but it can happen to any breed — to any dog with a tail!

Is this a true medical condition?

Yes. Acute caudal myopathy typically results from overuse of the tail, causing trauma to the bony vertebrae of the tail or the surrounding muscles and ligaments. Possible scenarios leading to limber tail include hard/vigorous play within the previous 24 hours, swimming in cold water, or active hunting within the past few days. Your dog may act fine immediately following activity but will wake up in pain the next day. The key risk factors appear to be overexertion and/or exposure to very cold water or cold weather.

“The key risk factors appear to be overexertion
and/or exposure to very cold water or cold weather.”


 How is limber tail diagnosed?

Typically, limber tail is diagnosed by connecting the dots between your dog’s symptoms and recent high activity, in addition to a careful evaluation of your dog’s tail by your veterinarian.

Your dog may have difficulty rising because dogs use their tails for balance. Likewise, your dog may have difficulty finding a comfortable position in which to sit and you may see him shifting his weight from side to side. The tail may droop limply between your dog’s rear legs, as though he is “ashamed.” or it may stick straight out behind him for a short distance before drooping. Your dog may be so distracted by his pain that he might not eat, and he could be reluctant to squat to defecate.

The veterinary examination will include a careful palpation of the tail starting at the base (up by the pelvis) and proceeding down the entire length. The goal is to locate the discomfort and rule out any other problems that might explain the symptoms.

What else can explain these symptoms?

Other medical problems that resemble limber tail include:

  • Tail fracture
  • Lower back pain from a diseased intervertebral disk or osteoarthritis
  • Infection or inflammation of the anal glands
  • Prostate disease

The fact that other medical problems can look similar to limber tail reinforces the need for a thorough examination by your veterinarian.

How is limber tail treated?

Uncomplicated acute caudal myopathy is treated with rest and anti-inflammatory medication.  There is nothing in the home medicine cabinet that is safe for you to give, so please only use medication that has been prescribed by your veterinarian. Most dogs are back to normal within a few days to a week. Just because your dog developed limber tail once does not mean that it will happen again when he returns to his favorite activities. You do not need to prevent your dog from doing the things he loves!

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CRPP

© Copyright 2016 LifeLearn Inc.

Abscesses in Cats

My cat was diagnosed with an abscess- what exactly is an abscess?

The simple description of an abscess is a “pocket of pus” located somewhere in the body.  Abscesses are typically described anatomically by where they are located- for instance, a tooth root abscess occurs at the tip of a tooth root, and a subcutaneous abscess occurs under the skin.  Typically, an abscess appears suddenly as a painful swelling (if it is not located inside a body cavity or deep within tissue) that may be either firm to the touch, or fluctuant like a water balloon.  The abscess may be large or small, will often cause redness if it is under the skin, and may cause local tissue destruction.  Some abscesses will rupture, discharging a foul-smelling secretion.

A cat with an abscess will often have a fever, even if the abscess has ruptured and drained to the outside of the body. Should the abscess be located inside the body- in the liver, for instance- fever would be expected, and there may be the additional complication of a disseminated internal infection, or bacteria in the bloodstream, if the abscess has ruptured internally.

What causes abscesses?

There are many potential causes of abscesses in cats.  One of the most common causes is a bite from another animal.  The bite injury introduces bacterial into the wound, the wound becomes infected, and depending upon the bacteria involved and how deep the bite is, an abscess can result.  Penetrating injuries from inanimate objects like sticks and grass seeds can also lead to abscesses, as can having had a previous infection in the site.

Certain bacterial species are often involved in abscess formation, and these include:

  • pus-forming bacteria like Staphylococcus, Escherichia coli, certain Streptococcus species,Pseudomonas, Mycoplasma, Pasteurella multocida, Corynebacterium, Actinomyces,Nocardia, and Bartonella
  • bacteria that can only live and grow in the absence of oxygen including Bacteroides,Clostridium, and Fusobacterium

Are there any particular risk factors for abscess development?

There are certain tissues and organs that are fairly commonly affected by abscesses. A generalized blood-borne infection may result in a liver abscess. Damage to a tooth may result in a tooth root abscess. A bite wound can result in an abscess under the skin.  An inhaled foreign object or severe pneumonia may case a lung abscess.  Finally, an inner ear infection, severe sinus infection, or infection deep in the mouth can result in a brain abscess.

How are abscesses treated?

Abscess treatment depends on the location and the severity of the infection. Most abscesses are treated on an outpatient basis, rather than in the hospital. The key is to remove the pocket of pus, either by surgical removal, or by draining and flushing. If a foreign object has been the cause of the abscess, it is critical to ensure that it has been fully removed or the abscess will return.

“It is also important to ensure
adequate pain relief during
treatment of an abscess.”

Appropriate antibiotic therapy is a critical component of the successful treatment of abscesses, no matter the location. The antibiotic will be chosen based on the bacteria involved, and the length of treatment will depend upon both the bacteria and the location. It is important to give the antibiotics for the entire time they are prescribed. It is also important to ensure adequate pain relief during treatment of an abscess. Your veterinarian may prescribe an appropriate pain medication to be given alongside the antibiotic. Your veterinarian may also talk with you about maintaining adequate nutrition to ensure proper healing, which may involve a temporary dietary modification. Finally, it will be important to restrict activity during recovery to allow the tissue involved to heal properly. If a surgery was involved to remove the abscess, then keeping the cat appropriately quiet and contained is absolutely mandatory.

Is there any follow-up for my cat that I should be aware of?

While your cat is healing from an abscess, it is important to monitor for any increased draining from the abscess site (if the abscess is superficial), or any evidence that the cat is not improving (if the abscess is more internal). Avoiding a future recurrence depends on where the abscess occurred, and what tissues are involved. For instance, in the case of repeated anal sac abscesses, surgical removal of the gland may be recommended. In the case of a prostate abscess, neutering may prevent a recurrence. For bite wound abscesses, avoid fighting or play-fighting situations that may cause a recurrence.

Delayed or inadequate treatment may lead to chronically draining tracts in the tissue or even to organ system compromise, so it is important to follow all treatment instructions from your vet to the letter.  Adequate draining or removal of the abscess, followed by appropriate follow-up care and delivery of antibiotics, pain medication, and nutrition should result in a complete recovery!

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CRPP

© Copyright 2016 LifeLearn Inc.

Valley Fever in Dogs & Cats

Valley Fever, properly called Coccidioidomycosis, is a disease caused by the  fungus Coccidioides immitis, which lives in the soil in the desert areas of the southwestern United States.  The disease occurs in humans and domestic animals as a result of inhaling the fungal spores, and is not considered contagious.  Hot, dry conditions and events that stir up the soil (such as earthquakes or construction) increase the likelihood of getting the disease.

Once inside the body the spores progress into spherules which can multiply.  It can stay within the lungs and cause progressive lung disease, or may cross into the blood stream where it goes to other organs such as bones, skin, or even the brain.  Not every person or animal develops disease after exposure to the fungus.  The disease cannot be transmitted from animal to animal (or to human), with the possible exception of skin lesions that release more spores. The symptoms of Valley Fever depend on which organs are affected.  Cough, fever, weight loss, limping, and seizures are all common signs.

Diagnosis of Valley Fever is based upon history, clinical signs, x-rays, and screening blood work, including a blood test for antibodies that the body produces against the disease.

Treatment for Valley Fever involves long term (generally 6 months or more) therapy with Fluconazole or another drug in the ‘azole’ class.  These drugs inhibit growth of the fungus, and then rely on the animal’s immune system to resolve the disease.  If the animal has a compromised immune system, it may be difficult or impossible to cure the disease.  Some animals are on medication for their lifetime. When to discontinue medication should be determined by the veterinarian, based on response, physical assessment, and blood work.  Do not discontinue medication without veterinary evaluation.  Possible side effects of medication may include decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or liver toxicity.  Animals on long term therapy should have blood work to evaluate their liver on a regular basis.

To learn more, please visit the website for the University of Arizona Valley Fever Center for Excellence at

Signs of a Fearful Dog

Signs of a fearful or stressed dog:

  • Head down/held low (may be turned away from other dogs/people)
  • Tail low or tucked between legs (may wag weakly)
  • Mouth closed/may see wrinkles at corners of mouth
  • Ears held back/low (if tall ears: they may stick out to the sides or be folded against the head)
  • Hair on the back may be raised (esp. near the tail)
  • May roll on his back with belly exposed
  • May urinate while crouching or on his back
  • May “freeze” and be stiff all over/glassy eyed or will show body tension and stiff movements
  • May try to run away (usually with tail tucked and head low)
  • May growl, snap, show teeth or whine
  • May repeatedly bark with a short, high-pitched yap or yelp
  • May be constantly moving, restless or have decreased activity levels
  • Won’t sleep or rest
  • May try to hide in or behind things
  • Quick yawning (looks nervous, not tired)
  • Excessive drooling, “ropes”
  • Trembling
  • Feet sweaty (leaves paw prints that evaporate quickly)
  • Disinterested in food
  • Shallow or rapid breathing
  • Excessive and/or sudden hair loss
  • White rim of eye showing more than usual
  • Muscle ridge visible around the eyes or mouth
  • May show calming signals like lip licking, ground sniffing, shaking (like when wet) or
  • scratching (like he has an itch).