West Nile in Horses and Birds

West Nile virus is an insect-borne disease most commonly spread by infected mosquitoes. A recent sampling of mosquitos in Cedar Park tested positive for West Nile, and 958 mosquito pools in Texas have tested positive this year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

In humans, West Nile can cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord linings (meningitis), brain inflammation (encephalitis) or fever. Approximately 20 percent of those infected develop a fever, but only about 1 in 150 show more serious symptoms, according to the CDC.

Among pets and other animals, West Nile most seriously affects birds and horses, primarily in their brains and nervous systems. In horses, symptoms can include muscle tremors and twitching, hypersensitivity to touch or sound, walking in circles, falling or stumbling. If the disease progresses, more serious symptoms can develop, like seizures, trouble standing, or even death. Birds rarely display any symptoms, though the virus can make them more susceptible to other illnesses.

Fortunately, although dogs and cats can be infected with the West Nile virus from a mosquito bite, they are very resistant to developing West Nile disease. However, in an abundance of caution, if your dog or cat starts to show symptoms of a neurological problem — seizures, tremors, spasms, confusion, or paralysis, etc., Block House Creek encourages you to have one of our veterinarians evaluate your precious pet as soon as possible. Such symptoms most likely are the result of other diseases or issues that may need treatment.

No vaccine exists for West Nile, itself. However, two vaccines have shown to be effective in lowering a horse’s risk of developing encephalitis from West Nile. Initially, the horse is given two doses three to six weeks apart followed by a booster. Talk to one of our vets for recommendations about what might be most effective and appropriate for your animal.

Prevention by avoiding exposure to mosquitos is the first line of defense against equine encephalitis. Stable horses indoors during dawn and dusk, when mosquitos are most active. Using fans can be helpful in keeping mosquitos from landing on your horse. If your horse does become infected, quarantine or isolation is not necessary because West Nile cannot be transmitted from a horse to another animal or person.

As always, eliminate any sources of standing water where mosquitos breed, including troughs, pet water bowls, large puddles, birdbaths, etc. If you have any questions or concerns about possible West Nile in your horse or bird, we will be glad to help.

Keep Your Felines Free of Cat Scratch Fever

Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), often called Cat Scratch Fever, is an infection caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae. Typically, infected cats transmit the bacteria to humans in a bite or scratch. The Bartonella bacteria are found in fleas and wind up in the cat’s mouth or claws when cats scratch or groom themselves.

Most CSD cases occur in the fall and winter and more often are seen in children under 15 years old. If an infected cat scratches or bites you or a member of your family, then you might notice symptoms including fever, swelling in the lymph nodes, and blisters or scabs at the wound sites. The swelling could last from weeks to months along with other symptoms such as poor appetite, headache, fever, and muscle soreness.

Although most people recover from CSD pretty quickly (a few weeks), more serious symptoms can develop in about 5-15% of those infected, with autoimmune-compromised people more at risk. Serious complications can involve the heart, brain, eyes and intestinal tract. Treatment may include antibiotics.

Cats carrying the Bartonella henselae bacteria, however, often show no CSD symptoms. However, if you notice symptoms like fever, swollen lymphs, vomiting, red eyes, and loss of appetite, Block House Creek suggests making a veterinary appointment.

Some studies suggest that, in the U.S., the blood of up to one-third of otherwise healthy cats may be infected. And recent study data suggests a possible connection between CSD and certain chronic inflammatory conditions in cats, such as inflammatory bowel disease, gingivitis, mouth sores, and certain urinary tract and eye problems.

To minimize the risk of your furry feline friend or family member becoming infected, we recommend the following:

1. Keep cats free of fleas. Ask one of our veterinarians about an appropriate flea control product.

2. Clean and trim your cat’s claws.

3. Avoid rough play with your cat, especially kittens, which could result in scratches or bites.

4. Prevent the cat from licking any open wound.

5. Make sure to wash any scratch or bite with soap and lots of warm water, and perhaps use an antiseptic/antimicrobial skin cleanser like Hibicleanse®.

The Unwanted “Kiss” of Canine Chagas

Chagas is a serious disease caused by a parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi or “T. cruzi.” Though chagas afflicts both humans and animals, dogs are especially susceptible to infection.

The t-cruzi parasite is transmitted by the bite and feces of “kissing bugs.” Also known as chinches or cone-nose bugs, they feed on blood during the night. The nickname “kissing bugs” comes from their preference to bite humans around the mouth or eyes. These bugs have migrated into Texas and other border states from Mexico, Central America and South America.

Adult kissing bugs are about ¾ to1¼ inches long, and most species have a very characteristic striped band with orange or red markings around the edge of the body.

According to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, chagas symptoms can be acute or chronic. Among the acute symptoms (mostly in younger dogs – under two years old) are lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, swollen lymph nodes and seizures, as well as an increased heart rate. Chronic symptoms may include fatigue and weakness, fainting, and an elevated heart rate.

Some dogs may not show any symptoms of chagas. However, if present, the unnoticed parasitic infection may cause significant inflammation and heart damage over months or years. A heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy can develop and result in congestive heart failure. Sometimes, infected dogs may die suddenly without ever developing symptoms of heart disease.

A blood test for chagas is available, and a positive result indicates that the dog has been exposed. Unfortunately, no vaccines yet are available to prevent chagas and no medications have been found to treat chagas itself effectively, but researchers are working to develop new treatment approaches.

Make an appointment with us at Block House Creek if your cuddly canine shows any symptoms, especially if you think it came into contact with a kissing bug or an infected animal like a rat or mouse. In addition to a blood test, our veterinarians can provide medication to relieve symptoms, help dogs feel better and extend their life.

For now, the only real prevention is avoidance. The best thing you can do for your precious pup is prevent it from eating bugs or potentially infected animals, and keep it indoors after dark.

If you have any questions or concerns about possible chagas symptoms, speak with one of our veterinarians.

Learn About Leptospirosis – After the Flood, Dogs Risk Infection

The flooding from Hurricane Harvey put many pets at risk. As animal lovers, we empathize with concerned pet owners who go to often-heroic lengths to evacuate and rescue their animals from rushing and rising waters. But the dangers posed to pets from floodwaters do not end once our furry companions are back on dry land.

Floodwaters tend to infiltrate and lift up whatever is underneath. That includes anything in the soil — pesticides, fertilizer/feces, and bacteria. One of those bacteria (Leptospira) can cause a disease called Leptospirosis, or “lepto” for short.

The bacteria like wet and warm climates and stagnant or slow moving water. Commonly found wildlife in Texas, such as mice, rats, raccoons and opossums, can pass the bacterial organism in their urine. That bacteria can survive for extended periods in the soil or water. Animals, and particularly dogs, can become exposed through contact with that water and soil. That potential exposure increases where floodwaters linger and with the heightened risk of direct contact with the urine of infected critters fleeing the flooded areas.

Symptoms range from increased thirst and urination (for dogs that are carriers) to a severe infection with vomiting, diarrhea, fever and yellowing of the skin. Left untreated, lepto can lead to sometimes-fatal kidney and liver infection.

Cases of canine leptospirosis have been reported in the U.S. for more than 100 years, and its prevalence appears to be increasing. From 1983 to 1998, the rate increased by 1.2 cases/100,000 dogs annually. While veterinarians would expect to see increased leptospirosis in the coastal and low-lying areas flooded by Hurricane Harvey, cases are not uncommon in greater Austin’s urban areas.

For dogs, prevention through vaccination is the key. Here in the Hill Country and Central Texas, where we live with the risk of flash flooding and hurricanes, Block House Creek urges you to consider vaccinating your dog against leptospirosis, particularly if it has not been vaccinated previously. Dogs older than 12 weeks that live in an area close to wildlife — woods, farms, creeks, ponds, and lakes — probably should be vaccinated. If you have any questions or concerns, speak with one of our veterinarians.