Lyme disease

posted on November 04, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

While the temperatures have finally turned cold enough that ticks are a fleeting memory, this is one of the times of year where we see our highest prevalence of tick borne illnesses (spring being the other time).  While there are a number of tick borne illnesses, one of the more common ones is Lyme disease.

Lyme disease, or Borrelia burgdorferi, is a common tick borne illness in the Northeastern United States.  It is carried by the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis.  An infected deer tick must bite an animal and attach itself for 24-48 hours in order to transmit Lyme disease, so finding unattached ticks or using a product that kills ticks within 24-48 hours should prevent infection. If an animal does become infected, it takes many weeks to months before signs become apparent.  Animals do not tend to get a target-like rash from the original tick bite like humans do.  When they do show signs, they are often nonspecific such as fever, inappetance, lethargy, limping, especially shifting leg lameness, and just not acting like themselves.  Often this is because of multiple joint arthritis, or joint inflammation and pain.  Since it can take months to see these signs, a bite in early spring before the first dose of tick preventative is applied is usually not noticed until the following fall.

If your pet is showing any of these signs, or is just not acting right, we may recommend performing tick borne illness testing such as the Idexx 4Dx Plus test.  This test looks at a number of common tick borne illnesses including Lyme disease, as well as Ehrlichia (canis and ewingii), and Anaplamsa (platys and phagocytophilum) which can produce similar symptoms in pets.   This test looks for antibodies to the Lyme organism.  Antibodies are produced by the body when it is exposed to an infectious agent, and can remain in the body for months to years.  This means that this test does not indicate an active infection, just that the pet has been exposed to Lyme disease at some point in the past.  However, since there can be serious side effects in rare cases that can cause kidney damage, most veterinarians will use a course of antibiotics to treat a positive result in a pet that is showing symptoms.

There is a vaccine available for Lyme disease.  This vaccine must be given before any exposure to Lyme disease however to be effective.  It should be started as a puppy or at the onset of a lifestyle change that would increase exposure in an adult dog, and must be given every year to keep immunity up.

Tick control is also a very important part of preventing Lyme disease.  Using a product that kills ticks before they have been attached for 24-48 hours is vital.  These monthly topical products should be started in spring once we have reached a temperature above freezing for more than 3 days in a row-this usually means March, and should be continued until we are not getting multiple days in a row that are above freezing-generally November in this area.  Examining your pet after excursions into the woods, brush, tall grass, or up to the cabin for any ticks is also recommended, but deer ticks are extremely small and can be easily missed, so prevention is key.

One last point to bring up is that pets cannot give people Lyme disease, but they can be reservoirs for it, so if a tick bites them and then either completes its life cycle and bites a human or produces eggs which are infected and one of the offspring bites a human, this human could get Lyme disease.

Talk to us today about Lyme disease and your pet.  We can help determine a good plan of prevention, whether that includes vaccination, or just flea and tick preventatives.  Also call us if your pet is showing any signs that may indicate tick borne illness so we can test and implement appropriate therapy as soon as possible.

Posted in: Canine Health

Don’t let a bum knee bum out your pet (Part I)

posted on August 02, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

In this first of two articles about knee injuries and issues, we will be talking about medial luxating patellas (MPLs), or in less medical speak, knee caps that pop out of place.  This condition can be very common in smaller breed dogs, but can also occur in other pets and larger dogs.

Often as a pet owner, the first sign of an issue that you may notice is that a pet may be running around and suddenly skips a step or starts running with only 3 legs, then a few steps later they may be back to running around like normal.  Other times you don’t even notice and issue and the vet is the first to identify the problem.  In severe cases, the knee cap may luxate out of position and remain out, causing discomfort and a lasting limp which may cause you to seek medical attention.

The knee cap, or patella, usually sits in a groove on thigh bone or femur.  In some dogs, this groove is not deep enough, and the forces of moving the leg cause the ligaments and patella to move out of the groove.  About half of the dogs that have one leg affected will have both legs affected.  There are 4 grades of MPLs based on their severity.

  • Grade 1 means that the kneecap can be moved out of place on examination but it goes back into its regular position.
  • Grade 2 means that the kneecap can be moved out of place on examination, and then remains out of place.
  • Grade 3 means that the kneecap is out of place all the time but can be moved back into place, but doesn’t usually stay there.
  • Grade 4 means that the kneecap is out of place all the time and cannot be put back into place.

Depending on the signs, symptoms, and grade, surgery may be recommended.  Grade 3 and 4 usually require surgery, and it may be recommended for grade 2 as well since a knee cap that stays out of place can lead to arthritis, bone deformities, and ligaments that do not function properly which causes a limp or discomfort.  A discussion with the veterinarian and radiographs or x-rays may be beneficial to determine if surgery is the right option for your pet.  Even if surgery is not recommended, short or long term anti-inflammatory pain medication may be prescribed.

If surgery is elected, there are a number of surgical techniques that are used to repair the problem.  Often the groove on the femur is deepened.  The joint capsule may be tightened to provide more stability.  The attachment point of the patellar tendon may be moved to provide proper alignment.  Other techniques may be utilized depending on the case and surgeon’s preference.  We here at Heritage Animal Hospital have an orthopedic surgeon come in to perform the procedure.  More information can be found here.

If your pet seems to have a bum knee, give us a call and we can help find a proper diagnosis as well as come up with a treatment plan that works for your pet.  Stay tuned for next month’s article about ACL injuries to learn about other knee issues.

Posted in: Canine Health

Autumn Aches and Pains

posted on October 15, 2012 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As colder weather sets in, our pets may feel it in their joints too.  According to the Arthritis Foundation 1 in 5 dogs in the United States is estimated to have arthritis.

So what is arthritis?  Arthritis is a chronic, degenerative disease of the joints which occurs when the cartilage of the joint is damaged by trauma or injury, wear and tear, or congenital abnormalities such as hip dysplasia.

Signs that your pet may be suffering from arthritis include:

  • Reluctance to take walks of usual length
  • Decreased interest in play
  • Stiffness, which may disappear as pet “warms up”
  • Difficulty climbing stairs, getting into the vehicle, or jumping on the bed or other furniture
  • Difficulty rising from rest
  • Limping or abnormal gait or posture
  • Licking a single joint
  • Acting withdrawn and spending less time with the family
  • Soreness to touch, which can in some instances lead to aggression
  • Decreased range of motion
  • “Slowing down”

If your pet is exhibiting any of the above signs, they may be suffering from arthritis.  While there is not a cure for arthritis, there are many treatment options aimed at preventing the disease from progressing and minimizing the impact of the changes that have already occurred.  In other words, we want to help keep your pet comfortable and acting like their younger self!

Treatment options may include things such as:

  • Weight reduction
  • Controlled exercise
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements
  • Omega fatty acids
  • Physical therapy
  • Veterinary therapeutic diets
  • Prescription anti-inflammatory and pain medications
  • Joint injections
  • Acupuncture and massage therapy
  • Surgical options

Your pet does not have to live with the pain of arthritis, so give us a call today!

Posted in: Uncategorized

Obesity as an Epidemic

posted on August 03, 2012 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As the calendars turn to August, one thought enters my mind-food on a stick!  August brings the state fair, and while I know a deep fried candy bar on a stick is not healthy for me, as an occasional, once a year treat, it is okay to indulge.  While many people realize watching what we eat is important for a number of health reasons, these same people may not realize watching what our pets eat is just as important.

You may think an extra pound or two can’t hurt that much, but a pound is not just a pound.  While two or three additional pounds may have very little effect on you or me, they can be quite serious for your pet.  Three extra pounds on a 15 pound dog is equivalent to a 150 pound person gaining 30 extra pounds, and  3 extra pounds on a 10 pound cat is equal to 45 extra pounds on a 150 pound person!

Obesity and overweightness is the #1 health condition affecting American pets today.  Purina estimates that 58% of cats and 45% of dogs are overweight or obese.  This equals 35 million dogs and 54 million cats!

This is a serious epidemic as being overweight has been linked with a higher incidence of a number of health issues including oral (mouth) disease, skin disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, thyroid disease, joint diseases such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, hepatitis, urinary tract disease, asthma, torn ligaments such as ACLs, liver disease, heart disease, kidney disease, exercise intolerance, slower wound healing, increased anesthetic risk, and cancer.

Even more importantly, it has been found that being overweight can significantly decrease lifespan.  Purina did the first life-long study in dogs regarding diet and its effect on pets.  Half of the dogs were fed free choice, meaning they were allowed to eat as much as they liked.  The other half of the dogs were fed 25% less than what the free fed dogs ate.  The differences were amazing!

Dogs that were allowed to free feed had an average body condition score (BCS) of 6.7/9 (4.5/9 being ideal), whereas dogs that were slightly restricted had a BCS of 4.6.  The control fed dogs lived 15% longer-almost 2 years, with an average of 13 years in the control fed dogs versus 11.2 years in the free fed dogs.  Lastly, the control fed dogs didn’t start needing treatment for medical conditions until a median age of 12 years, whereas the free choice pets started needing treatment at a median age of 9.9 years.

What does this mean for your pet?  Simply put, a pet kept at a healthy weight throughout life is a healthier pet, and has a longer average lifespan.

How can you help keep your pet healthy?  Veterinarians use something called the body condition score to assess a pet’s weight, as there can be quite a range of “normal” weights for a specific dog breed.  Body condition score is a way to judge how much fat or muscle is on an animal and is more accurate than weight in judging an animal’s body composition.  It is based on a 1-9 scale, with a 4-5 being a healthy weight.

To score body condition, a couple areas are looked at:

  • Are the bones visible?  Bones such as the ribs, spine, and hip bones should not be visible in most dogs and cats.  Some breeds are naturally leaner and in them it may be normal to see the bones.
  • How easily are the ribs felt?  They should feel as though you are running your finger over the back of your other hand’s fingers.  There should be a slight fat covering, but you should not have to push hard to be able to feel the ribs.
  • Is there a tuck of the abdomen visible from the side of the animal?  There should be a nice tuck visible.
  • Is there a waist visible when viewing the animal from above?  There should be a waist visible.


If you think your pet may be overweight or obese and would like help formulating a diet plan, or if you would like to prevent your pet from becoming overweight, please contact us to discuss calorie requirements and feeding guidelines for your pet, or visit our website for more information.

Posted in: Obesity