Health Needs

Keeping your pets in good health makes them happier and can save you a lot of time and money. Learn more about how spaying and neutering, heartworm prevention, veterinary care, and parasite protection can help your pets.

This section is intended to provide basic pet health information. It is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. You should discuss your pet’s individual health needs with your veterinarian.

Spay/Neuter

Each year in Greater Houston, more than 85,000 animals are surrendered to local shelters and untold numbers of homeless pets live on the streets struggling to survive. Through local adoptions and the tireless work of animal welfare professionals and volunteers, many of these pets are rescued. Sadly, thousands are not so lucky and are “humanely euthanized” or live a difficult life on the streets despite the fact most would have made wonderful family pets.

To stop this cycle and reduce the number of homeless and unwanted pets in the shelters and on the streets, it will take everyone working together. Slowing the number of new births through reproduction control and spaying/neutering (also called fixing, altering or sterilizing) is one critical part of this solution. Not only does it help the community, but it can improve your pet’s health and behavior. 

Spaying and neutering (also called fixing, altering or sterilizing) is a veterinary procedure that involves removing the reproductive organs of the pet — the ovaries and uterus of a female pet or the testicles of a male pet. This prevents the pets from being able to make babies.

Spaying and neutering (also called fixing, altering or sterilizing) is a veterinary procedure that involves removing the reproductive organs of the pet — the ovaries and uterus of a female pet or the testicles of a male pet. This prevents the pets from being able to make babies.

Spaying and neutering offer many health benefits for pets. Male pets are less likely to fight, urinate to mark their territory or try to escape to find romance with a female in heat. Many pets also see an increase in lifespan and a decrease in the risk of some cancers, such as testicular and prostate. 

Spayed females will not go into heat, which can last between two and three weeks twice a year. During this time, the female will bleed, urinate more and have behavioral changes. In addition, spayed females have a reduced risk of breast cancer and of diseases in their reproductive system. 

In addition to providing better overall health for pets, the community also benefits as now there are fewer animals having babies and adding to the total number of pets in the community. Pet parents will also benefit as it takes time and focus to properly contain “unaltered” pets. Owners of female dogs can also breathe a sigh of relief that they will not have to pay and care for unexpected litters of puppies, which can get quite expensive.

Your veterinarian will provide instructions for your pet. Generally speaking, pets should not run or jump around for about two weeks after surgery. Keeping your pets separate and indoors during this process will help. You should look at the incision a couple of times a day to make sure there is no major swelling, bleeding or pus. Watch your pet to make sure they are not licking or biting at their incision (sometimes veterinarians will send pets home with an “e-collar” or “cone” to ensure that they leave the area alone). Do not bathe your pet or let them swim until they are fully recovered or as instructed by your veterinarian. 

No. Most veterinarians agree that it is best for your female to get spayed before she goes into heat for the first time, which usually happens between five to six months of age. This provides the most health benefits for her, and prevents dozens more babies from being born. Just imagine, if your pet has one litter and each of those females has one litter and so on. There are hundreds of extra animals being born and all of those pets are now at higher risk for uterine and mammary cancer than if they had been spayed before giving birth.

There are some risks to performing any surgery on a pet. Spaying and neutering are among the most common surgeries veterinarians perform, and the rate of complications is low. Talk to your veterinarian about any concerns you have about your pet’s surgery. If it is medically necessary to postpone surgery, owners should be vigilant about making sure their pets do not have sex with other pets.

Costs for the surgeries vary depending on your pet and the provider. A neuter surgery is generally a faster procedure than a spay, so those tend to cost less money. Cats usually cost the same regardless of the size, but dogs will often cost more based on their weight. Overall, costs can be as low as about $40-$65 at a low-cost provider performing a male cat neuter up to several hundred for the spay of a large female dog. 

Greater Houston has many low-cost spay/neuter providers plus some periodic programs offering free spay/neuter surgeries or vouchers. Sometimes it can take a while to get a surgery scheduled in these programs. If you have funding available, having the surgery performed through a private veterinarian can often be faster. 

Although there are some costs for surgery now, there are cost savings by not having litters of puppies and kittens and possibly avoiding some cancers and health risks later in life.

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Heartworms

Heartworm disease is a very common and serious disease that infects and kills thousands of pets in Greater Houston every year. For about $10 per month you can give your pet a pill to prevent them from getting this painful condition. If your pet already has heartworms or you adopt a pet with heartworms, you can have the disease treated to help your pet have better health.

Unfortunately, heartworms are exactly what they sound like – worms that live in the heart. When a mosquito infected with heartworms bites a dog or cat, those little worms enter the bloodstream of your pet. The worms travel to the heart where they will begin to live. They grow bigger and longer, and eventually become like strands of spaghetti (see photo here). These worms mate and then more baby worms are created and grow inside of your pet’s heart until the heart is so full of worms it can no longer beat properly and carry oxygen to other parts of the body.

Although heartworm is less common in cats, the American Heartworm Society says it does occur. The more infected dogs there are in an area, the more likely cats are to get it. Being an indoor cat is not a guarantee that your cat is safe as mosquitos can find their way into your home. The best plan is to talk to your veterinarian about heartworm prevention for your cats and any other household pets.

At first, your dog may not show symptoms – that is why heartworm testing is so important. Over time, they will develop an ongoing cough, fatigue after activity, difficulty breathing or rapid breathing, decreased appetite, weight loss and swollen belly. If you notice these signs, see your veterinarian as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more damage the worms can do to your pet’s heart.

When our heart beats, it pumps blood with oxygen throughout our bodies. As you can imagine, if a heart is full of worms, it won’t work very well. Over time, it becomes more difficult for the heart to beat and for oxygen to get to the lungs and other parts of the body. If you don’t get your pet treated, he or she will get heart failure and organ damage, and eventually die.  

The good news is that heartworms are VERY preventable. For about $10 per month, your pet can take a tasty pill that should keep worms from being able to grow if an infected mosquito bites him or her. There are also prevention medications that can be put on your pet’s skin or injected.

If your pet already has heartworms, you can get treatment to help get rid of them. The longer the worms are in the heart, the more damage they do. So, the sooner you get your pet treatment, the better. Sadly, some owners don’t get their pets tested to see if they have heartworms and ignore the symptoms. Sometimes, too much damage is caused and the pet cannot be treated and is left to die a painful death from this disease. 

There are a few treatment options – your veterinarian will recommend which is right for you and your pet. One common approach is to have your pet take an antibiotic for a month to prepare for the treatment, which consists of a series of shots over a period of weeks. It is critical that pets rest for several weeks after treatment to prevent complications as the worms die.  

Heartworms are spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, so they are not directly passed from one dog or cat to another animal.

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Vaccines

There are many diseases that can harm or kill your pets. Fortunately, there are core vaccines for cats and dogs that can keep your pets from ever becoming sick in the first place. Your veterinarian will make recommendations for your puppies or kittens and adult pets. If you do not have a regular veterinarian, there are several  low-cost clinics in the area to help you stay in compliance with the rabies vaccination requirements and to keep your pets protected from other dangerous diseases.

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Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that is deadly to pets, wildlife and humans. The virus is spread through saliva, usually from a bite by an infected animal. The rabies virus impacts the central nervous system that controls most functions of the body and mind. Once rabies symptoms appear, the person or animal usually dies.

According to Texas state law, owners must have their cats and dogs vaccinated against rabies by 16 weeks of age. Booster shots are required every year or every three years, depending on the specific vaccination given.

Not all animals show signs of rabies. Some animals may appear to be aggressive or overly excited, may drool excessively, have difficulty swallowing, stagger or lack coordination. Others may appear affectionate or appear to behave normally.

First, wash the wound with soap and water. Then quickly contact your doctor or a public health professional to discuss your risks and the best plan of action for your situation.

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Parvo

Parvo (Canine Parvovirus) is a highly contagious virus that affects a dog’s gastrointestinal tract, which includes all of the organs in the digestive system. It is most prevalent in puppies younger than six months of age, but can affect unvaccinated adults, as well. For the best chance of survival, a sick puppy must see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Vaccinations are key to keeping your puppy healthy – remember: no paws on public ground until they’ve had all three rounds. You’ll also want to keep your dog current on Parvo booster shots, which veterinarians usually recommend every year.

Parvo (Canine Parvovirus) is a highly contagious virus that affects a dog’s gastrointestinal tract, which includes all of the organs in the digestive system. It is most prevalent in puppies younger than six months of age, but can affect unvaccinated adults, as well.

The Parvo virus spreads very easily. Your puppy doesn’t have to come in contact with a sick dog as the virus can live on the ground or surfaces for several months after the sick dog has gone. A dog or person can come into contact with the virus on grass or a sidewalk or on the surface of items like a water bowl or shoe. That virus can be tracked into the area where the puppy is living and can make them sick. If you suspect your puppy has come into contact with the virus or if they are showing symptoms, you should isolate the dog immediately.

To protect your puppy, you should keep it off the ground until it has been vaccinated, which usually happens through a series of three shots given around 6 weeks, 9 weeks and 12 weeks. All three shots are necessary to get maximum protection. If you get a puppy and it’s had one round of vaccines, it still should not walk on the ground.

After a dog is exposed to Parvo, it typically takes three to seven days before Parvo symptoms start to show.

Most deaths occur two to three days after the onset of symptoms, so it is critical to have your pet treated as soon as possible. Talk to your veterinarian if you suspect your puppy  With treatment, the survival rate is about 80 percent; however, without treatment, it is around 10 percent.

There is no cure for Parvo, so veterinarians will provide supportive care. Typically, puppies with Parvo are treated with a combination of medications including IV fluids for dehydration, several medications to address vomiting and diarrhea, antibiotics to treat infections and vitamins and electrolytes help restore their health.

The virus can live on the ground or on surfaces for many months after the Parvo virus has been brought to the area. A sick puppy doesn’t even have to be there. The virus can be spread by people on their shoes or on other items such as blankets, kennels, furniture and more.

Parvo is very hard to kill. Most household cleaners like Lysol and Bleach Wipes are not strong enough to kill Parvo. Specialty products are usually required and there is a recommended protocol to follow for your best chance at killing this virus.

Although puppies have some immunity to Parvo when born, it wears off after birth.

According to CanineParvovirus.org, several dog breeds frequently found in Greater Houston are at especially high risk, including: American Pit Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers. Dogs that already have a medical issue that compromises their immune system are also more at risk.

You should isolate any dogs with Parvo symptoms or diagnosis and keep them separated until they test negative. Take great care not to spread the virus to other pets by carefully sanitizing.

Yes. Usually, annual vaccinations for adult dogs include prevention for Parvo.

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Feline Panleukopenia

Also called feline distemper or feline parvo, Panleukopenia (also called Panleuk) is a highly contagious but very preventable disease that strikes cats, especially kittens. The numbers of infected cats has been increasing in recent years.

Panleuk is highly contagious. It can be spread through feces, vomit or other fluids from the sick cat. The sick cat does not need to be present to infect other cats. Surfaces can become contaminated and an animal or person can spread the virus. Caretakers or owners may accidentally spread the virus on their hands, contaminated shoes or clothing, or by using items that have not been properly sanitized, such thermometers, cat carriers or even pens. The Panleuk virus is very hard to kill and can live in the environment for up to a year. Only specific products are able to kill the virus.

Any unvaccinated cat, young or old, could get Panleuk, but kittens aged three to five months are at most risk. Kittens can be infected while still inside their mothers or after their birth, which could lead to permanent damage to the nervous system which includes the brain and nerves in muscles.

After being exposed to the virus, it can take between two days and two weeks for a cat to begin showing symptoms. The infected cat can begin spreading the virus to other cats days before they show symptoms. 

The first signs of Panleukopenia include loss of appetite, depression, high fever, lack of energy, vomiting, severe diarrhea, nasal discharge, dehydration or sudden death.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if you believe your cat or kitten has been exposed to Panleuk or is showing symptoms. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that without supportive care 90 percent of cats will die of the virus, with the youngest being most at risk. The sooner you can begin care, the better.

If your pet is showing signs of Panleuk or you think they may have been exposed, isolate them and take precautions not to spread the virus by thoroughly sanitizing the area.

Providing supportive care for your cat, including keeping them hydrated, reducing pain and preventing secondary infections.

Vaccinations provide the best protection for your cat. Your veterinarian will provide recommendations based on your cat’s needs. Generally, kittens will receive their first vaccination at four to six weeks old and will receive additional rounds of vaccine every two weeks until they are four to five months old. Adult cats will often receive an initial shot with one booster two weeks later and every year afterward.

The Panleuk virus is very hard to kill and can live in the environment for up to a year. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, bleach (1:32 or half cup of bleach per gallon of water) has had some success in killing the virus on some surfaces, but does not work as well on porous surfaces and can discolor furnishings. There are some specialty products such as Accel/Rescue or Trifectant that are better suited for surfaces such as carpet or furniture. Speak with your veterinarian to get more information.

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Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a contagious and serious disease that attacks many important systems in your dog, including respiratory (lungs and airways), gastrointestinal (esophagus, stomach, liver, intestines, pancreas rectum and anus) and central nervous (brain, spinal cord and nerves throughout the body). For the best chance of survival, pets need immediate care. Many survivors have permanent damage, but can still have a good overall quality of life. 

Canine distemper is a virus that impacts a dog or puppy’s respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems.

The virus is often spread through the air when a sick dog sneezes or coughs, but can also be spread through sharing water bowls, food, toys or other infected surfaces. Some wildlife, such as raccoons and skunks, also carry and spread the virus.

Early symptoms of the disease include coughing, eye or nasal discharge, head tilt, circling, loss of energy, reduced appetite, fever and vomiting. Sometimes owners may confuse these symptoms with kennel cough, so it is important to call your veterinarian if you see these symptoms, especially if your dog is not current on vaccinations. The virus may attack the central nervous system and can cause twitching, seizures, head bobbing and a range of other neurological issues. Distemper can be fatal and may affect your dog.

Yes. Vaccinations will protect puppies and dogs from getting distemper.

There is no treatment for distemper, but veterinarians will often provide supportive care to prevent other infections and treat symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. Dogs can survive distemper but often have nervous system damage.

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Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a contagious respiratory infection caused by bacteria and viruses

Kennel cough is similar to a human cold and can be caused by different viruses. Sometimes it is called Bordetella as this is one of the more common causes. 

Yes, our canine and feline pets are both at risk for getting this virus. They can even spread the virus to each other and other pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs.

Many dogs and cats with kennel cough will have a loud hacking cough and may also have sneezing, eye discharge, runny nose, low energy, loss of appetite and/or a low fever.

Kennel cough can go away on it’s own, but sometimes antibiotics are prescribed by the veterinarian to speed up the process. Many owners find that placing a humidifier in the room will make breathing easier for their pet. It is also important to wash any bedding or toys that may have the virus.

Bordetella vaccines are available to reduce the risk of your pet getting kennel cough. Many boarding facilities and doggie daycare centers require the vaccine in order for your pet to visit their facility.

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Wellness Exams

It’s much easier (and cheaper!) to take steps to keep your pets healthy rather than to treat illnesses. Wellness exams are one way to help monitor your pets’ health and quickly address problems. This is important throughout your pet’s life, but especially as they age or if they develop health problems.

Most veterinarians recommend an annual exam for healthy pets. The veterinarian will likely ask about your pets’ eating and nutrition, bathroom habits and exercise. They will also look at pet’s ears, eyes, nose, mouth and teeth, and skin. They will provide vaccinations and take any necessary tests, such as for heartworm or other parasites. In between wellness visits, watch your pets for any changes in appetite, bathroom habits, hair coat, energy levels or behavior. Unexplained changes could be a sign that your pet is sick.

There are many ways owners can help keep pets healthy, including spaying/neutering pets to prevent some cancers and dangerous behaviors, providing vaccinations, keeping your pet free of parasites, protecting them from extreme weather conditions, preventing escape from your yard, providing appropriate food and keeping your pet at a healthy weight,

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Care When Sick or Hurt

Animals are often able to hide pain – it is a survival technique from when they were in the wild and did not want to appear weak to other animals who might hurt them. Just because our pets don’t appear to be in pain, doesn’t mean they feel well. Regularly monitor your pets and contact your veterinarian about any concerns or changes to their eating, drinking or bathroom habits, energy level or behavior.

There are several signs that indicate your pet needs to see a veterinarian right away, including: pale gums, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, loss of consciousness, heavy bleeding, broken bones, inability to walk because of pain or loss of balance, contact with something known to be poisonous to pets, seizures, or bleeding from the mouth, nose, rectum or genitals to name a few.

Work with your veterinarian to create an after-hours plan for your pets. There are several 24-hour emergency clinics in the Greater Houston area and many national veterinary telemedicine and poison control call centers who can help your pet, (fees vary with some offering monthly subscriptions to keep costs down). 

Take the time to learn some basic first aid skills in case your pet is bleeding, chokes, cannot breathe or if his/her heart stops beating. American Red Cross offers a Dog and Cat First Aid Online course and a pet first aid mobile app that will provide . Keep a pet first aid kit or supplies in your home to care for your pet.

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Parasite Protection

There are many diseases that can harm or kill your pets. Fortunately, there are core vaccines for cats and dogs that can keep your pets from ever becoming sick in the first place. Your veterinarian will make recommendations for your puppies or kittens and adult pets. If you do not have a regular veterinarian, there are several  low-cost clinics in the area to help you stay in compliance with the rabies vaccination requirements and to keep your pets protected from other dangerous diseases.

Fleas

Fleas are very annoying to our pets and to us as owners, but more importantly, they can be dangerous.

Yes! Fleas feed off the blood of their hosts, drinking up to 15 times their body weight each day. Puppies and kittens don’t have a lot of blood, so when fleas drink the blood our pets can become anemic. If left untreated, your puppy or kitten could die without a blood transfusion.

Fleas cause a lot of distress in cats and dogs. Fleas live off the blood of animals; they bite the skin and inject a tiny bit of saliva into the area and start to feed. The bite of the flea is annoying to animals and some cats and dogs are even allergic to the flea saliva. The itching and allergies caused by flea bites are very irritating to pets and cause them to lick, bite, chew, and scratch at their skin. The most commonly affected areas are around the base of the tail and along the back. Some pets will scratch and bite so bad they will cause sores on their skin and hair loss. Commonly, they will get a skin infection which requires antibiotics to heal. It can be very expensive to treat ongoing skin issues caused by fleas, it is much easier and less expensive to prevent your pet from getting fleas in the first place.

Not all pets scratch when they have fleas. Pets with flea allergies are more likely to scratch or lose hair, so it may not be possible to tell if your pet has fleas without looking closely. A “flea comb” is a comb with very narrowly spaced metal teeth that trap fleas, flea eggs and flea dirt (flea feces and dried blood that looks like pepper). Comb your pet, especially around the neck, tail, back of the rear legs and the belly to see if you find signs of fleas. Even if you only see flea dirt, it means fleas have been there and could still be in the environment.

Begin by washing your pets’ bedding, sweeping or vacuuming your home and mowing or raking your yard. There are many sprays and powders that are safe to use in and around your home to treat fleas. Read and follow all instructions carefully.

Start by using a flea comb to remove as many fleas as possible from your pet. Ask your veterinarian about what flea shampoo may be best for your pets given their ages and health conditions. Some people use the original blue-colored Dawn dish soap to bathe pets, but it can irritate your pet’s skin if used too frequently so this may not be the best long-term option.  

The best solution is prevention. Your veterinarian has many choices for oral and topical medications for cats and dogs, some of which are available at stores without the need for prescriptions. Be sure to read instructions carefully. Note: Many flea medications for dogs are dangerous to cats, so do not assume you can use one product for all of your pets. 

Not necessarily. Medications for dogs should not be used on cats unless the product specifically says it is safe for both, some dog flea products can be fatal to cats. Pets who are young, old, pregnant or who have compromised immune systems may not tolerate some medications as well as others. Talk to your veterinarian about what is right for your pets. Be very careful if using any natural remedies as not all of these have been tested for effectiveness or safety. You should also discuss these with your veterinarian.

DO NOT USE DOG FLEA PRODUCTS ON CATS!

Your veterinarian can recommend oral or topical flea prevention options, which are available at a variety of prices and are the best solution to preventing fleas.  Use a flea comb to monitor your pet for signs of fleas and remove fleas and flea eggs. Wash pet bedding often and vacuum or sweep regularly. If possible, limit the amount of time your pet spends outside. Prevent fleas in your yard by keeping grass short and removing debris.

 

Even if your pet doesn’t go outside at all it is important to keep them on flea prevention, especially in areas like Houston where the climate allows fleas to live year-round. Fleas can be brought into the house on shoes and animals like possums and raccoons can bring them into yards. Even cats and dogs in apartments need flea prevention.

You should never put motor oil or any petroleum products on your pets. Motor oil can burn or irritate pets’ skin and be absorbed into the skin causing poisoning symptoms. If dogs lick the oil off, it can make them sick and cause vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite.  

Yes! Fleas can spread bloodborne diseases (similar to mosquitoes) and some of these diseases are transmissible to people. For instance, typhus fever is a parasite carried by fleas which can infect people causing a high fever and rash. If left untreated can cause permanent organ damage. Some of these flea-borne parasites can cause significant disease in dogs and cats.

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Ticks

Similar to fleas, ticks are also bloodsuckers that can cause pets and people harm. Ticks can ingest up to 100 times their weight in blood and can cause anemia, making the host feel weak or tired.  They are found in grass, shrubs, trees and piles of wood or leaves.

You should check your pets (and yourself) for ticks regularly, especially after spending time outdoors. Ticks will bite the skin and attach to the host, while the body remains unattached. Look for small spots or feel for small bumps.

Ticks prefer being in dark, moist areas on the body but can be found anywhere so check thoroughly. Common areas for ticks include under pet collars, under their legs in the “armpit” area or on the elbow, on the groin or genitals, in between toes, in or near ears, around the eyes or on the eyelids or near the tail.

If you find a tick on your pet, you will want to remove it as quickly as possible to reduce the chances your pet can get a disease from the tick. You should always wear gloves when possible to remove ticks as they can carry diseases which can infect people as well as dogs. Use tweezers or a tick removal tool to help remove the tick.

 

Grasp it gently near the head (closest to the skin) without pinching the skin. Firmly but slowly/steadily pull the tick until it comes out of the skin. Going slow and steady will help to make sure the head comes out of the skin as well. If the head remains in the skin of your pet it can cause an infection. Be sure to clean the area with rubbing alcohol or pet safe disinfectant after removing the tick. Place the tick in a jar or container with a lid or a sealed Ziplock bag. This way if your pet develops any signs of a tick-borne disease you can show the tick to your veterinarian.

There are many topical and oral medications available to prevent ticks. Talk to your veterinarian to confirm which is best for your pet. Also, remember that some chemicals used in dog medications are unsafe for cats, so be sure to read and follow all instructions carefully.

Yes. There are a number of diseases that ticks can cause when they bite or are eaten by pets, which usually occurs when pets are grooming themselves. The most common is Lyme Disease, which can cause fever, weakness or trouble walking. In the most serious cases, it can cause problems with the heart, kidneys or nervous system. Studies show that it can take 48 hours for a tick to transmit Lyme Disease, so this is why it is so important to check pets often. In addition to Lyme Disease, there are a number of other serious tick-borne diseases which can cause significant illness in your pet.

Pet owners need to be very careful if they consider using natural remedies for their pets. Many of these are not tested for safety or effectiveness. Many well-meaning owners use home- or natural-remedies they learn about on the internet, but not all information is accurate or complete. In fact, each year the ASPCA Poison Control Center receives numerous calls relating to use of essential oils for ticks. Our pets can lick the oils or have oils absorbed into their skin, which (depending on the oil) can lead to serious illness and even death. Talk to your veterinarian and proceed with caution if you choose to try one of these remedies.

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Worms

Most pets will have worms at some point in their lives. As with the other parasites mentioned, having worms can make your cats and dogs sick. Worms will not go away on their own, so it is important to talk to your veterinarian to find out the best medication for your pets.

Note: Heartworms are such a serious issue in Greater Houston the topic is addressed separately. Be sure to review the Heartworm information to protect your pets.

Dogs and cats are most commonly impacted by the following worms: roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms, and coccidia. Heartworms are also a very common and serious problem, but have been addressed in a separate section of this website.

Pets can get worms from feces, contaminated soil or water, fleas, houseflies and rodents. Mother cats and dogs can also pass along worms to their newborns through their milk and during pregnancy. Some types of worms can be shared between cats and dogs, and can be passed to humans causing significant disease. 

Some worms are present in feces or vomit, but many times the worms are not visible. Your pet may lose weight, vomit, experience diarrhea or bloody stool, appear bloated or potbellied, and/or have a loss of appetite. If your pets’ gums are pale instead of pink, if they show a loss of energy or experience unexplained weight loss or have difficulty breathing, call a veterinarian right away.  Owners should assume that puppies and kittens have worms and plan on having them “dewormed,” which means giving medication to kill the worms.

Yes. Worms can be a serious problem if left untreated, even leading to death. Depending on the worm, pets can experience a range of issues including bleeding ulcers, blindness, blockage in the intestines, breathing problems and death. Puppies, kittens and pets that already have an illness are at increased risk.

Yes. People can get worms by walking barefooted on contaminated ground, gardening without gloves in contaminated soil, not practicing good hygiene and handwashing when cleaning up after pets, or by allowing children to play in areas that may have feces. Hookworms can cause an itchy, painful rash. Roundworms can spread once in the body, travelling to the eyes, lungs, liver and brain. Every year in the U.S., people, including children, go blind or die from roundworm infections they get from dogs and cats. You can help to prevent this through handwashing, picking up after pets, having pets dewormed when needed, and teaching children not to eat dirt or play near pet feces.

For the best results, talk to your veterinarian about testing to see if your pets have worms and, if so, which ones. With this information, you can be sure to provide your pets with the right treatment.  

Despite the name, ringworm is not a type of worm, but rather is a fungal infection, like athlete’s foot in people. Ringworm is highly contagious and can be spread by direct contact between dogs, cats or humans. It can also be spread through items that have the fungal spores on them, such as bowls, bedding, carriers, brushes or carpeting, to name a few. Ringworm may cause hair loss and skin irritation. If you suspect your pet has ringworms, talk to your veterinarian about the right combination of oral medication, topical treatment and supply/home cleaning to help you and your pet.

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Mites / Mange

Cats and dogs can both be irritated by mites that can infect skin and ears. Three of the most common mites are demodectic, sarcoptic, and ear. Many people will describe any mite infection as “mange,” which is characterized by intense itching, scaling, hair loss, and skin infections. Your veterinarian can diagnose the type of mites your pet has and prescribe treatment.

All pets and people normally have a small number of demodectic mites in their hair follicles. The immune system in a healthy pet or person keeps the number of mites to a very low number. If the immune system is not able to keep the right balance, the number of mites can get too high and cause itching, hair loss and scaly skin. Demodectic mange is not contagious but the secondary skin infections can be very uncomfortable.

Sarcoptic mange (also known as scabies) may look the same as demodectic, but it is contagious to other animals and humans. Severe scabies infections can cause skin blistering and infections so bad they can resemble burns. It is important to clean all bedding and areas associated with a pet with scabies as they get re-infected or spread the infection to others.

Your veterinarian will look at the mites under a microscope to see which type your pet has and what treatment is best.  

As you might imagine, having something crawling in your ears would be very annoying. Pets with ear mites will often shake their heads or scratch at their ears. You may also see swelling, dark flakes or oozing in and around the ears. Your pet may also have trouble hearing if their ears are blocked.

Mites are very treatable. Your veterinarian will look under a microscope to determine which type of mites your pet has and to determine what treatment is best. Often, veterinarians will prescribe an oral medication along with a topical medication or shampoo.

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Other Insects

Parasites aren’t the only threats to your pets. As Greater Houstonians know, this area is home to a number of Insects that can be annoying or harmful to your pets, including ants, bees, spiders and scorpions. Monitor your yard and other spaces where pets spend most of their time to ensure the area is safe. If using insecticides in your yard, be sure they are safe for pets and follow all instructions to prevent accidental poisoning.

Anyone who has been bitten by a fire ant or spider can confirm that bites are often painful and itchy. Our pets feel the same discomfort when they are bitten.

If your pet seems uncomfortable after being bitten or stung by an insect, you can apply a cool rag to the affected area or give them an oatmeal bath to help reduce swelling and itchiness. Making a paste of baking soda and water is also helpful. You can wrap a sock or t-shirt over the paste to keep your pet from licking off the paste. An ice pack can also be helpful, but put a protective layer of fabric, such as a towel, between the ice pack and your pet’s skin. In more severe cases, Benadryl can provide relief. Talk to your veterinarian first to confirm it is safe for your pet and to confirm the correct dosage.

Pets who are more sensitive to bites and stings may experience life threatening illness. Symptoms include areas of swelling, sudden diarrhea, vomiting or urination, trouble with coordination, breathing problems, fast heart rate or weak pulse, excessive drooling, pale or bluish gums or tongue, seizures and coma. Your pet can die if not treated quickly, so contact your veterinarian if your cat or dog shows these symptoms.

Pets who are more sensitive to bites and stings may experience life threatening illness. Symptoms include areas of swelling, sudden diarrhea, vomiting or urination, trouble with coordination, breathing problems, fast heart rate or weak pulse, excessive drooling, pale or bluish gums or tongue, seizures and coma. Your pet can die if not treated quickly, so contact your veterinarian if your cat or dog shows these symptoms.

Fly strike, also called myiasis, is a condition that occurs when a fly lays eggs on a pet’s open wound or on matted hair that has been contaminated with feces. The eggs hatch creating maggots that will seek out and eat the dying flesh of open wounds on the animal. Signs of fly strike include presence of maggots, sores, swollen areas with pus, bloody open wounds, loss of energy, unwillingness to eat or drink, foul smell, or shaking of the head (if ears are irritated). Without treatment, pets can become very ill or die. Contact your veterinarian to have them diagnose, clean and treat the wounds.

You can help to prevent fly strike by keeping your home and yard clean to reduce the number of flies, removing feces or garbage that may attract flies, ensuring your pet is clean and does not have matted hair, and keeping pets indoors as much as possible.

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