Tags Posts tagged with "Matthew Kearns"

Matthew Kearns

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Unfortunately, dogs don’t consult the ‘Field Guide to North American Mushrooms’ before choosing which to eat and which to leave alone.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

After a hot, dry August, we’re starting to get some late summer/early fall rain, and the rain brings the mushrooms. Some wild mushrooms are edible (and quite tasty); however, some can be downright toxic. Both classes of wild mushrooms grow right in our backyards and flourish at this time of year.

Names like toadstool, death cap and destroying angel make me want to make sure I don’t eat the wrong type. Unfortunately, dogs don’t consult the “Field Guide to North American Mushrooms” before choosing which to eat and which to leave alone.

The most common toxic genera of mushrooms are Amanita, Galerina and Lepiota. These genera carry a specific toxin called cyclopeptides. Cyclopeptides interfere with the nucleic acids RNA and DNA transcriptase, and these compounds are integral for cell replication. Therefore, cyclopeptides affect organ systems that have a large cell turnover (the GI system, liver and a portion of the kidneys). Other toxic mushrooms can affect the central nervous system, but they are not as common in this part of the country.

Above, the destroying angel mushroom is toxic to dogs.
Above, the destroying angel mushroom is toxic to dogs.

The initial symptoms usually start within 6 to 12 hours of exposure and affect the gastrointestinal tract, causing serious vomiting and diarrhea. The diarrhea many times becomes bloody, but dehydration secondary to vomiting and diarrhea is a bigger concern than blood in the stool. If untreated, the dehydration alone can lead to shock and organ dysfunction.

If the patient recovers from the initial GI signs, they can still develop liver and kidney dysfunction. If the exposure is small (this depends not only on the amount of mushrooms eaten but also the size/weight of the dog), the patient can make a complete recovery over a period of weeks to months. However, if the exposure is large, this can lead to complete liver or kidney failure.

Initial treatment involves hospitalization for decontamination and supportive care. In severe cases it is recommended to lavage (or pump) the stomach in conjunction with activated charcoal (to prevent further absorption) and IV fluids.

When I still worked emergency full time and we had a known or suspect mushroom toxicity, as long as we were able to control the vomiting, administer activated charcoal and support with IV fluids, the patients were discharged without any long-term damage.

How do we prevent mushroom exposure? Mushrooms are fungi and grow better under certain conditions. Some mushrooms require low amounts of light, but many do not. All mushrooms need a lot of moisture and decaying plant material. Therefore, making sure there is adequate drainage and removing any leaves, branches and other debris on a regular basis can reduce the amount of mushrooms grown.

Also, reduce watering (if you water regularly) to portions of your lawn prone to mushrooms. If you see mushrooms, remove them immediately at the base to prevent the aeration of spores. Then use a sharp shovel in an “up and away” fashion to remove the soil. If you can’t do that, use a garden rake or hoe to aerate that area and provide better drainage.

If you know that your dog has eaten mushrooms, bring him or her to your veterinarian immediately and follow their instructions. If your vet recommends hospitalization, IV fluids, inducing emesis (vomiting) and activated charcoal, then follow their instructions. Although it may be a little more expensive, it is better to be more aggressive early than to play catchup later. Also, treat your yard. Remember, “An ounce of prevention …”

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office.

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Raccoons are naturally occurring hosts for the Leptospira bacteria. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

May and June always kick off the annual checkup season and with all our exams, we discuss vaccines. When I talk about vaccines like distemper, rabies, kennel cough and Lyme, I always see a nod of understanding. However, when I bring up the leptospirosis vaccine, the quizzical look on people’s faces always reveals a lack of knowledge on this disease.

I think the reason is that as little as 10 years ago, leptospirosis was limited to very rural areas primarily where dogs had more of a risk of coming in contact with wildlife. The more “suburban sprawl” we see brings us (and our pets) in closer contact with the natural reservoirs of this disease. 

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by various strains of the Leptospira bacteria.  This bacteria is carried by many wild animals. Naturally occurring hosts are raccoons, opossums, foxes, skunks and various rodents. Raccoons and skunks are scavengers as much as hunters, so they will commonly venture into our yards to knock over garbage pails etc., in search of food.

It has also been estimated that approximately 90 percent of rats in major cities carry leptospirosis, so it has become more of an urban threat than previously realized. These hosts shed, or pass, the bacteria in their urine, contaminating both the environment and water sources. Not only can these hosts carry the bacteria without showing symptoms of disease, they also can shed the bacteria for extended periods of time.

Once in the soil or water, the Leptospira bacteria is very hearty and can survive for weeks to months waiting for another host. The bacteria can gain access to a new host through the membranes of the mouth (drinking contaminated water) or through abrasions and cuts on the skin (from the soil). Once in the bloodstream the bacteria travels to the kidneys and starts to divide.  When the bacterial numbers are high enough, the new host will start shedding bacteria via the urine. 

No specific breed of dog appears to be more susceptible or resistant to the infection. However, middle-aged dogs (as compared to young or old) and male dogs (compared to female) appear to be at higher risk. It is theorized that middle-aged male dogs are more likely to wander and get into more trouble (so far as coming in contact with a natural host). 

The most common organ system affected is the kidneys, but the Leptospira bacteria can also affect the liver, lungs and central nervous system.  Once the bacteria reaches the kidneys replication, as well as inflammation, damages kidney cells.

The symptoms of leptospirosis can be quite general in the beginning. Anything from a drop in appetite and an increase in thirst to vomiting, severe lethargy and in some cases death.

The good news is that leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics and other supportive care (IV fluids, IV medications etc.). The bad news is many times the initial infection is cleared but there is permanent damage to the kidneys. 

An effective vaccine is now available to prevent this disease. So, check with your veterinarian if your dog is at risk (dogs that get out of the yard, are in contact with many other dogs, have wildlife nearby and standing water) and should be vaccinated.  Let’s keep our dogs safe this summer.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

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When we hug our dog, we are removing their instinct to flee, which can lead to significant stress. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I was somewhat taken aback when I saw plastered all over the internet that a hug is stressful to dogs. This hullabaloo came from an article published in Psychology Today. I didn’t have access to the entire article but the author, Stanley Coren, stated that in a review of over 250 images on the internet of dog owners hugging their dogs, he noted signs of stress in four out of five dogs. 

Coren is a psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, as well as an award-winning author. He has dedicated his career to researching dog behavior, so I truly believe he knows what he is talking about. 

Coren states that dogs are cursorial by nature. What does this mean? It means that dogs have limbs adapted for running and, as much as they will use their teeth to defend themselves if necessary, their first instinct is to flee. When we hug our dogs, what are we doing in their eyes? We are removing that first instinct to flee. This can lead to significant stress, even the potential for the dog’s perceived need to defend themselves. 

Now, I know that dogs are social beings and do like contact. However, I do agree that their idea of acceptable contact may not be the same as our own.  As much as we see dogs as part of the family, they see us as part of the pack. We may talk to a dog, but a dog will communicate with us as they would other dogs and this communication is mostly through body cues. If these cues are ignored by humans (particularly children who cannot understand the differences between human and canine behavior) or other dogs, the risk of aggression and bodily harm becomes very real. 

When we hug our dogs, we are removing their instinct to flee, which can lead to significant stress.

My own dog Jasmine loves to sleep in bed with my son Matthew. However, much to Matty’s chagrin, she will only sleep by his feet. Jasmine will tolerate Matty pulling her up to sleep next to him but always eventually moves back to his feet. If he tries too many times to change her position, she will jump off the bed and find another place to sleep. 

Jasmine’s reaction is nonconfrontational, but what if she were not of such a laid back temperament?  She would be face to face with my son where he is restraining her movement. Therefore, I think it is important to look for more subtle cues so we can intervene before disaster occurs. 

What are cues of stress in dogs?  In general terms a relaxed dog will have its ears forward, mouth open and a general look of happiness. A worried dog has its mouth closed, ears back or down, wrinkles around the eyes or forehead and is usually shrinking back.

Beyond these body cues are what are called “stress signals.”  Stress signals are signs that a dog is very worried and trying to communicate to others (another dog, a human) that, “I am not a threat.” However, if these stress signals are ignored (by other dogs or children), the dog may feel it has no option other than act aggressively to defend itself.

Stress signals include: a raised paw, yawning (when they are not tired), licking their nose, tail tucked, slouching or slinking, barking and retreating or hiding. If a dog is restrained (hugged) when showing these body signals or cues, things could get out of control quickly. 

I hope this article is helpful in not only explaining the differences between how dogs view certain behaviors compared to how we humans view them, as well as signs of stress to avoid conflict.  Now go give your dog a . . . scratch behind the ears!

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office.

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Consult with your veterinarian at your dog’s annual exam as to which tick preventative is best for them. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

The weather warms and the ticks are hungry. There are many new options available for tick control: topical preventative, newer and more effective collars, and, most recently, oral tick preventatives. Also, many of the older products that used to only be available by prescription are now over the counter.

Which is most effective for our pets?   Although there are tick-borne diseases (infections and diseases specifically passed through the bite of a tick) in cats, we do not see them in this part of the country. This article will focus on tick-borne diseases in dogs.

Ticks feed during each stage of their life cycles, and it is during feeding that the tick will ingest a variety of bacteria that cause tick-borne diseases. The bacteria is then able to stay in the tick’s gut, the mouthparts or both until it feeds again. Each time a tick feeds, the tick attaches its mouthparts to the host and injects saliva directly into the skin. In the saliva is a sort of topical anesthetic to alter the host’s immune and inflammatory response during feeding.

During feeding, the tick not only ingests blood (its main source of nutrition) but also takes large amounts of fluid. In order not to explode while feeding, the tick is forced to intermittently regurgitate fluid. It is during the injection of saliva and intermittent regurgitation that the tick will transmit bacteria that cause disease. 

The big question is how long does a tick need to feed to transmit disease? This very much depends on the tick itself.

Ixodes scapularis, the deer tick, which can carry Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) and Anaplasmosis spp (the bacteria that causes anaplasmosis), will definitely transmit within 72 hours but could be as short as 24 hours.

Dermacentor variabilis, the American dog tick, and Amblyomma americanum, the Lone Star tick, which can carry Rickettsia rickettsii (the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever), will definitely transmit within 48 hours but could be less than 24 hours.

Rhipicephalus sanguineus, the brown dog tick, which can carry Ehrlichia spp (the bacteria that causes Ehrlichiosis), and Babesia spp (the bacteria that causes babesiosis) can be transmitted within 24 hours or less.

First and foremost for almost all of the pet owners that walk through my doors their main concern is not only how effective each product is but also how safe is it to themselves, their family members and other pets in the household. Questions I recommend when choosing a preventative to your dog are:

• Is the tick preventative a repellent or does the tick have to attach and feed to be killed?  If so, how long does the tick have to feed before it dies?

• How long does the product work before I need to administer again?

• Do I need to isolate my dog from other pets and members of my family?  If so, how long?

• Is this product safe if I have cats in my household?

• Is this product safe if my dog has special health needs such as seizures?

It is nice to have more options, but this also can raise more questions. Consult with your veterinarian at your dog’s annual exam as to which tick preventative is best for them.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office.

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Beware of low quality pet supplements at local pet stores and wholesale clubs. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I was watching the movie, “The Big Short” and could not believe what many of the participants of the subprime mortgage and derivative market were able to get away with. I was wondering if there was some sort of parallel in veterinary medicine, and veterinary supplements best fit the bill.  Veterinary supplements are a very big business.  Are we getting what we pay for?

Veterinary supplements can be divided into pre- and post-1994. Supplements, or nutraceuticals, were first coined by human physicians in the 1980s. A nutraceutical referred to any oral compound that is neither a nutrient, “nutra,” nor a pharmaceutical, “ceutical.”

Before 1994 all dietary ingredients not marketed as a supplement were subject to strict premarket safety evaluation by the FDA to prove the compound did not present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury. However, in October of 1994 human nutraceutical special-interest groups (lobbyists) were able to persuade Congress to pass the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. This act restricted the FDA’s ability to regulate these products by no longer requiring premarket safety evaluation. What this means is, although the manufacturer is still responsible for premarket safety evaluations, the manufacturer is also able to decide what constitutes an assurance of safety.   

So what happens when the nutraceutical industry is allowed to self-regulate?  In a study performed at the University of Maryland in 2000, one particular supplement, chondroitin sulfate, was mislabeled in 9 of 11 products (about 84 percent of the time). The range of 0 percent (could not find any of the product as compared to what was labeled) to 114 percent (there was more than labeled) was found. The products that were the cheapest to produce (less than $1 per 1200 mg of chondroitin sulfate) were the worst of the bunch with 10 percent or less of what was actually on the label.

So the industry learned its lesson, yes?  Well … let’s flash forward to 2015.  In 2015 the New York State Attorney General’s Office brought suit against GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart. Why, you ask? An investigation into these top selling supplements found that four out of five did not contain any of the herb on the label.

What was in there, you ask? Ground up rice, asparagus, radish and houseplants. OK, so the supplements were not top quality but there was no danger, correct?  Well, unfortunately these supplements also contained soy and peanut fillers that could be a real danger for those individuals with allergies.

That’s not to say that all supplement manufacturers are shady. There are plenty that are of very high quality and are very safe. These supplements are usually found through your veterinarian and are more expensive. So, before you brag to the veterinarian that you can get the same supplement at the local pet retailer or wholesale club ask yourself this — “If some of these companies show little concern as to what is in a human supplement, what do you think these same companies will put in pet supplements?”

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office.

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Puppies and older dogs are especially susceptible to contracting the Canine Influenza virus. Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

There has been a lot of media attention recently about outbreaks of the canine influenza virus (CIV), the H3N8 strain, which was first reported in racing greyhounds in Florida in 2004.  Rather than the typical respiratory infections (both viral and bacterial) that were limited to mild upper respiratory signs (coughing, sneezing, etc.), many of these dogs developed a sudden onset of severe pneumonia and death.

Later that year similar cases were documented in shelters and veterinary clinics in the New York City area. Dogs that recovered were tested at the Cornell Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University and tested positive for the  CIV H3N8 strain. In 2011, there was another outbreak in the NYC Metro area (three cases in NYC, three in Nassau County but none in Suffolk County) of the CIV H3N8 strain.

Fast forward to 2015 — an outbreak of the CIV occurred in the Chicago area that affected more than 1,000 dogs and led to eight deaths. Another outbreak shortly after the Chicago incident occurred in the Atlanta area affecting approximately 80 dogs (no deaths). In December 2015, another outbreak occurred in the Seattle area affecting approximately 80 dogs (again, no deaths).

Interestingly, none of the cases in 2015 were caused by the CIV H3N8 strain, but rather an H3N2 strain. The H3N2 strain was previously only seen in Asia (first diagnosed in 2006-2007). It is believed that this Asian strain gained entrance to the United States through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport inside a dog from Korea.

CIV is passed from dog to dog via aerosolized respiratory secretions from coughing, barking, sneezing, contaminated objects (food and water bowls, kennel surfaces) and people moving between infected and uninfected dogs. Dogs that stay at kennels, groomers, doggy day care, parks etc. are more at risk.

Approximately 80 percent of dogs exposed to CIV will show symptoms of the disease and the other 20 percent will not. This is unfortunate because this 20 percent may not show symptoms, but they can still shed virus and spread disease.  Symptoms will start three to five days after exposure and can be very mild to severe. 

Mild symptoms include a low-grade fever, runny nose and cough. Severe symptoms include pneumonia and in some cases death. Risk factors include age (the very young and very old are most severely affected), pre-existing disease or genetic susceptibility. There is no evidence at this time that CIV poses any health risk for humans.

Treatment for CIV is supportive in nature. Less severe cases where the patient is able to eat and drink are self-limiting in nature and symptoms resolve within three to seven days. More severe cases require hospitalization, IV fluids/medications, nebulization treatments and, in some cases, supplemental oxygen.

Two vaccines against the CIV H3N8 strain (the first was approved by the FDA in 2009) are available for dogs at this time. The goal of the vaccine is to expose the host (in this case dogs) to a weakened or inactivated form of the virus and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies against it. Then, if the host is exposed to the virus naturally, the immune system will respond rapidly and fight the infection before signs of disease will occur.

At this time there is good news and bad news. The good news is there have been no reported cases of either strain of CIV in Suffolk County. The bad news is there is no evidence at this time that the vaccine currently available will protect against the new Asian strain (it may, but the veterinary community just doesn’t know at this time).

Please consult with your veterinarian as to whether your dog is at risk for the CIV virus (H3N8 or H3N2 strain) and whether vaccine is warranted for your own dog.  I will keep everyone posted through Times Beacon Record Newspapers as new information becomes available.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

February is National Pet Dental Health Month and I thought this would be a good time to discuss pediatric dental health in pets. So, how young is too young to start evaluating the teeth? The evaluation actually starts on the first exam.

The first thing we veterinarians look for is occlusion. Occlusion refers to how the teeth contact each other. Proper occlusion is necessary not only for prehension (the chewing process where food is grabbed and brought into the mouth), but also mastication (the chewing process where food is crushed and ground by the teeth). If the teeth on the maxilla (upper portion of the jaw) and mandible (lower portion of the jaw) do not line up properly this not only makes the chewing process more difficult, but also leads to issues with your pet’s teeth later in life.

Why does it lead to problems? Well, just like us humans, dogs and cats plaque on their teeth. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria, saliva, and food will accumulate on the enamel of the tooth within 24 hours of last cleaning. If plaque is not removed it will mineralize within 10 days. (This is called tartar or calculus.)

Once tartar takes hold, a shift develops from aerobic bacteria (bacteria that need oxygen to survive) to nasty anaerobic bacteria (those that need little or no oxygen to survive). These anaerobic bacteria secrete toxins that inflame the gums and lead to small abscesses or pockets under the gums. If left unchecked, these bacteria start to destroy the periodontal ligament and perialveolar bone. This is very painful. I have seen many a pet where I could see that they were chewing on one side of their mouth by the amount of tartar and gingivitis on the other side. I have also had patients that go back to eating hard food after diseased teeth were extracted.

A mouth with normal or appropriate occlusion is like a self-cleaning oven. When your dog or cat is grabbing at food with the more rostral teeth (the teeth closer to the nose) it cleans the incisors, or front teeth, and canines, fang teeth; the friction removes plaque before it can develop into tartar and progress into more advanced periodontal disease. Ideally, the maxilla is slightly longer than the mandible. If the conformation of the jaw does not match this, there are options that can be discussed with your veterinarian.

The second thing we look at is proper eruption. Proper eruption of teeth refers to when the teeth first appear above the gumline. In puppies the deciduous, or temporary teeth, erupt between 4-6 weeks and kittens between 3-4 weeks. Adult teeth erupt in puppies between 4-7 months and, in kittens, between 4-6 months. The eruption of adult teeth triggers the resorption of the deciduous roots causing those teeth to spontaneously fall out. Unfortunately, in some cases that either does not happen in a timely manner, or at all.

Conditions such as delayed eruption, supernumerary (extra) teeth, or persistent deciduous teeth can occur for a variety of reasons but need to be diagnosed and treated early on. If not, these conditions not only lead to pain, but also lead to dental malocclusion and other problems (dental cysts, etc.).

Diagnosis of malocclusion, delayed eruption, and retained deciduous teeth early on (especially in severe cases) opens the discussion to early intervention, a key to preventing disease. So, get your pet to show their teeth (and hopefully not use them on the vet) at your next visit. SMILE!!

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Not sure how many families received a puppy as a gift this holiday season but I love to see appointments that say “New Puppy” on them. One of the most common topics discussed is how to potty train the newest member of the family.  Crate training is a wonderful way to give the puppy the guidance it needs.

The idea of using a crate to train a puppy comes from a “den theory” in dogs.  Although wild dogs are nomadic by nature, they do settle down for part of the season to mate and raise pups. The males will hunt and the females will search out a den. This den is a safe haven away from other predators and the elements, and  residents instinctively go to the bathroom outside the den. 

If the crate is treated the same way, it can be a nice, safe area for the puppy. They will usually sleep and allow you to sleep. You can go out to run errands knowing that the puppy will not go to the bathroom, destroy things, or get into anything dangerous. The primary goal of the crate is to always, ALWAYS, make it a “safe area” for the puppy. Do not isolate the crate away from the rest of the family and never use the crate as a form of punishment.

When you (or other family members) are home, the door to the crate should be left open to allow your puppy to go in and out as they please. Give your puppy a favorite toy or a treat when you put her in the crate before you leave the house.  Although a crate is most effective, a crate does not always have to be a crate. You can baby gate off a portion of the kitchen, give a room, etc.

Be careful how long you leave your puppy in the crate so that they do not become used to soiling in the crate (they will if left no choice).  Most pet owners purchase or adopt a puppy between 8 and 12 weeks of age. This is good because it is a very impressionable age and allows you (as the puppy’s “parents”) to help them make good choices.

Remember that puppies can only physically “hold it” for so long at that age. A good rule of thumb is count the number of months old the puppy is and add one to come up with the number of hours the puppy can hold it. So an 8- week (2-month) old puppy can hold it for 2 + 1 = 3 hours. Some puppies can hold it longer at night. However, when you first get a puppy, it would be a good idea to get out of bed to let them out (or even set an alarm clock) to take them outside, SUPERVISED, to go to the bathroom and praise them when they do.

Also remember that eating and drinking will stimulate the puppy to go to the bathroom. Therefore, allow extra time to bring them back outside after they eat and drink to give them the opportunity to go again. If for some reason you get there too late or an unexpected accident occurred, just clean it up. Remember, the crate must be a safe area away from punishment if it is to be effective. 

Some puppies that have been in a pet store or shelter situation for too long can be negatively conditioned as well. If a puppy is left in a crate from five or six at night (when the shop or shelter closes) to eight or nine the next morning, they will get used to eliminating in the crate (cage) and come to believe that is normal. Those are exceptional cases and will require the guidance of a veterinarian that specializes in behavior or a Certified Animal Behaviorist to re-train.

Do not try to automatically force older dogs into a crate. I can’t tell you how many broken teeth and nails I’ve seen in my career because a dog owner decides they are going to put a young adult dog in a crate at 8 months to a year old because the dog has become destructive when the owner is not home. That is going to be like jail, and if it were me I would freak out also. That is not to say that you cannot crate train an adult dog, but it takes time, patience and the guidance of a behaviorist (that means extra moolah as well). It is much easier (and less expensive) to start at a younger age, remain patient and consistent.

Congratulations on your new puppy and good luck!!!!!

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 17 years and is pictured with his son Matthew and their dog Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Flea allergic dermatitis was something that I used to only warn pet owners about in the summertime. However, with warm spells in the fall and winter, as well as the flea’s ability to set up shop in our homes, we really have a year-round problem.

Before we can address the problems fleas cause and how to treat/prevent them, we must understand the life cycle of the flea. The flea has four stages in its lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

An adult female flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs in a lifetime and eggs will usually hatch in one to six days. Once the eggs hatch, a slender, white, segmented flea larva forms; it looks similar to a maggot but, luckily, is too small to see with the naked eye. These larvae are not blood suckers, but rather feed on organic debris in the environment. The organic debris can be outside — leaves, dirt, etc. — or inside — carpet fibers and fibers from furniture or bedding.

After five to 11 days, the larvae will spin a whitish, loosely spun, silk-like cocoon, where they develop into pupae. The pupal stage, because of the outer cocoon, are very resistant to the environment and insecticides. The pupa is usually fully developed at seven to 14 days. However, the pupa can develop into an adult flea as quickly as a few days, or slowly, for many weeks, up to 180 days, depending on environmental conditions.

Once the adult flea emerges from the cocoon, it immediately starts looking for a host — our dogs and cats — for a blood meal. Fleas find hosts via various stimuli: body heat, movement, and exhaled carbon dioxide. Once a host is found, the flea feeds through a long, slender mouthpart called a proboscis. Before feeding, the flea pumps anticoagulant-containing saliva into the wound to prevent the blood from clotting. It is suspected that the anti-coagulant proteins in the saliva may be responsible for what is called Flea Allergic Dermatitis.

Luckily, fleas do not carry many parasites or organisms that cause significant disease in our pets. The most common parasite associated with fleas, in my experience, is tapeworm. This parasite is significant in younger pets but I will usually take tapeworms, seen on the fur, or in the stool, as a clue that there is an undiagnosed flea infestation in adult dogs and cats. More commonly, fleas lead to FAD.

Now, I understand that any dog or cat that has a flea infestation is going to be itchy. However, dogs or cats with FAD will break out with a rash that is much more severe from very few, or even a single, flea bites. More specifically, cut your pet in half — just kidding!

Actually, make an imaginary line dividing your pet into two halves: toward the head, and toward the tail. If the rash is primarily in the half of your pet towards his or her head, it is probably not FAD. If it is toward the tail, which would include the ventral (lower) abdomen, inguinal (groin), base of tail, and back legs, then one should put FAD at the top of the list.

Previously, we had to not only treat our pets with foul smelling, and even dangerous, shampoos, powders and dips, but also many times expose ourselves to noxious chemicals to treat the environment, like “flea bombs.” More recently, we found that although fleas need a host and will bite humans, they cannot live on us. More specifically, by treating our pets, we can treat the entire environment.

Nowadays, there is a large selection of flea preventatives that are much safer and treat the pet specifically. Some of the older products, and still best advertised, are now available over-the-counter. This is a double edged sword — the products are much safer and readily available without a prescription, but these products are ones in which I personally see significant failure and suspect resistance.

If you are seeing a specific rash that resembles FAD, even if you are using flea preventatives, see your veterinarian to not only get relief for your pet, but also to discuss alternative flea preventatives.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Whew!! Hurricane Joaquin has drifted out to sea! Unfortunately, we have become all too familiar with natural disasters — think Superstorm Sandy. If another disaster were to occur, would I be prepared not only for myself, but also for my pet? What about for everyday emergencies?

Believe it or not, many of the same precautions and treatments we would use on ourselves we can also extend to our more “furry” family members: a basic first aid kit specifically for our pets, an emergency plan available in advance, etc. A basic first aid kit for your pet should include a blanket, thermometer, pen light, sterile 4×4 gauze pads, sterile dressing (small, medium, large), roll gauze, 1 and 2 inch white tape, Telfa non stick bandages, triangular bandages and safety pins, cloth strips, betadine or triple antibiotics, scissors, tweezers, instant cold pack, hydrogen peroxide, splint, veterinarian’s phone number, local animal emergency clinic’s phone number, Poison Control’s phone number, Glucose concentrate (e.g., Karo Syrup or other syrup), canned dog or cat food and bottled water.

Once you have your first aid kit prepared, you will be ready for most emergencies at home. Here are some tips on handling most general emergencies:

*If an animal is frightened or in pain, it may bite, even friendly dogs or cats. Consider using something like a small piece of rope or a tie to muzzle your pet, or throw a large thick blanket over the pet to pick it up. Please do not get yourself hurt trying to help a scared, injured, potentially dangerous animal.

*Anything makes a good stretcher — a flat board, an old door, etc.

*If an animal is vomiting for whatever reason, do not offer any food or water for at least three hours. We know there is a concern of dehydration, but many times that is the time an animal needs to rest the stomach, if it is a less serious cause of vomiting, and giving any food or water too quickly may make things worse. If you are very concerned, it is better to check with or visit your regular veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital before considering food or water.

*For bite wounds or penetrating wounds, try to keep the wound clean and moist until the animal can be transported to your regular veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital. Moistened clean cloths, gauze, etc can be used. If there is excessive bleeding, direct pressure should be applied; consider an ACE bandage. Do not try to remove anything that is impaled into the pet.

*Bone fractures can be immobilized with a splint. A splint can be made of rolled up magazines or newspapers, cardboard, a metal hanger, or wood. If it is an open compound fracture, cover it with a clean moistened dressing. If the animal cannot or will not allow a splint, just try to keep them confined until you can transport them to either your regular veterinarian’s office or an emergency veterinary hospital.

*If you suspect your dog has ingested poison, call a veterinary emergency poison hotline. If possible, have both the trade name and the generic name of the poison.  Do not try to get the animal to vomit before speaking to a veterinary emergency poison control representative or licensed veterinarian. Certain poisons, particularly those that are caustic, may cause more damage on the way back up, and if your pet is disoriented from the poison, you risk aspiration and aspiration pneumonia.

The emergency clinic I work for recommends the National Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 299-2973. They are staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with veterinary toxicologists. There is a $45 consult fee, but it is well worth it. I hope this information helps to make us all better prepared for emergencies.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years and is pictured with his son, Matthew, and his dog, Jasmine.