What does it mean when your pet has an autoimmune disease like immune-mediated thrombocytopenia?

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Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (IMT) is a condition in which the animal’s immune system attacks and destroys blood platelets. Without platelets, blood cannot clot effectively, leading to internal or external bleeding. This can cause anemia, and is dangerous in times of injury or surgery. IMT can be a primary condition or it can be caused by another illness (including cancer, certain tick-transmitted diseases as well as some viral and bacterial infections). IMT generally responds to treatment, but it can be fatal. Relapses are common.

About Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (IMT)

IMT is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases result when the body’s immune system has become unrecognizable/does not recognize itself. In these cases, cells that normally attack invading viruses and bacteria begin attacking the body’s own cells, resulting in damage.

In dogs and cats with IMT, the body’s platelets are attacked and destroyed, resulting in reduced numbers of platelets in the blood vessels. Platelets (also called thrombocytes) are cells that are needed to form blood clots and repair damaged blood vessels. Thrombocytopenia occurs when there are too few platelets in the blood.

Adequate numbers of platelets are essential for survival. Platelets help repair obvious injuries, such as open wounds, as well as microscopic injuries that occur in day-to-day life. If platelet numbers are too low, uncontrolled bleeding can occur. If treatment is unsuccessful, the patient can bleed to death.

IMT can be a primary condition or it can be caused by another illness or event. The underlying cause of primary IMT is rarely determined. Female dogs are more likely to be diagnosed with IMT, but there is no corresponding gender predisposition in cats. Secondary IMT can be associated with certain cancers (including lymphoma); exposure to certain drugs (including some antibiotics); tick-transmitted diseases (such as ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis); and some viral and bacterial infections, including canine distemper virus in dogs and feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV, or feline AIDS) in cats.

Symptoms and Identifying IMT

Platelets are responsible for helping form blood clots and repair damaged blood vessels, which is why the most common sign of IMT is spontaneous bleeding or the inability to stop bleeding. If IMT is caused by another illness, additional clinical signs can result from the underlying condition. Clinical signs of IMT can vary in severity and include:

  • Weakness

  • Lethargy (tiredness)

  • Appetite loss

  • Vomiting blood

  • Bloody diarrhea or melena (digested blood that appears in feces)

  • Bruising on the skin

  • Bleeding from the nose

  • Bleeding from the gums

  • Bloody urine or bleeding from the penis or vulva

  • Coughing blood or difficulty breathing

Bleeding can also occur within the brain, causing seizures; within the eyes, causing blindness; or within the abdomen or chest cavity. Severe bleeding can be fatal, especially if it occurs rapidly. If significant blood loss occurs, additional clinical signs (such as pale gums, weakness and even collapse) may be associated with anemia (inadequate numbers of red blood cells).

Owners may also notice other evidence of bleeding, such as minor cuts and scratches that continue to bleed, a heat cycle that seems prolonged or excessive, or skin bruising after playing or grooming.

There is no specific test to diagnose IMT. Your veterinarian will likely recommend blood testing to help confirm a suspected diagnosis of IMT and rule out other conditions that can cause low platelet numbers.

Some veterinarians can perform initial testing at their offices. In other cases, tests are sent to a diagnostic laboratory and results are available in a few days. If your veterinarian suspects an underlying illness (such as FeLV or ehrlichiosis), he or she may recommend more testing.

Who is predisposed for IMT?

Certain dog breeds, such as German Shepherds and Old English Sheepdogs, may be genetically prone to developing primary IMT.

Treatment for IMT

Because IMT is caused by an overactive immune system, initial treatment is aimed at suppressing the immune system and stabilizing the patient. Steroids (given at high doses) are the most common medication prescribed. Additional therapy may include intravenous fluids and supportive care. If the underlying cause of IMT can be treated, such therapy is also generally initiated.

Some pets don’t respond adequately to steroids. In these cases, additional medications can be given to manage the condition.

During treatment, frequent blood testing is required to ensure an adequate response to therapy. Once a pet responds to treatment, medication dosages are gradually adjusted and blood tests are repeated periodically to monitor for relapses.

IMT generally responds to treatment, but it can be fatal. For pets who survive, relapses commonly occur. Your veterinarian may recommend periodic recheck examinations and frequent repeat bloodwork for the life of your pet to help identify and treat relapses early.

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Tread Lightly: Snake Season & Pet Safety

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With summer in full swing, snake bites are on the rise—but understanding the reptiles’ behavior can help people and pets stay safe.

Cases of snake bites in emergency rooms are on the rise, and it will only become more prevalent as the season progresses. Snakes’ seasonal behavior is down to physiology. Like other reptiles, snakes depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature.

In the spring and fall, snakes are most active during the heat of the day. In the heat of the summer, however, they are going to be active during twilight and overnight hours, but will seek out shade and water to cool off during the daytime. Because of this, there is no time that is off limits to when your pet may encounter a snake. Weather is just one piece of the equation. With more free time and time spent outdoors in the summer, there are more opportunities for interactions.

While not all snakes are venomous, even nonvenomous snakes can bite when provoked.

Err on the side of caution. When we see a snake, we tend to be distracted or find difficulty in identifying the animal. It’s better to be safe than sorry. To minimize the chances of a snake encounter, it is important to understand what attracts snakes in the first place and what motivates them to bite.

Identifying snakes in Florida

There are several resources for identifying the common and uncommon snakes of Florida.

What attracts snakes?

Anywhere that has ample food (small rodents, birds, bugs, other reptiles), shade, and places to hide are likely going to have snakes. They try very hard to stay away from us, and only bite when they feel threatened.

Keeping Pets Safe From Snakes

When it comes to pets, the issue is that dogs and even cats tend to be curious about snakes—from cats swatting at a snake to dogs putting their faces a little too close— all of which can lead to a bite. Consistent precautions can help keep pets out of harm’s way.

Turn on flood lights, make some noise, and supervise your pets when they are let outside in the yard (especially at night). When taking your pets for a walk on a leash, keep them away from shrubbery, landscaping timbers, and vehicles parked on grass.

We do not suggest the aid of snake repellents, but rather make ones’ property less hospitable to snakes by clearing shrubs, brush, leaves, as well as removing hiding spots like wood piles or cars that have been sitting awhile.

When You Are Face to Face with a Snake

Snakes play a larger role in our ecosystem. Realize that they are not looking for a fight with humans. Without snakes, we would have an abundance of small rodents and other pests. Do not kill the snake!

Snake bites occur when people fail to keep their distance. Rather than approaching or attacking a snake, contact animal control for assistance. Animal control officers can safely capture and contain a snake before moving it to a safe habitat away from humans.

So what can YOU do? Simply keep an eye on the snake, so that you are able to help animal control locate the animal.

Did you know even a dead snake could present a threat? Although not common, it is still possible for some snakes to deliver their venom even after they have died. If you believe the snake to be dead, leave it alone for an hour and then use a tool like a shovel or a broom handle for removal.

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Removal Resources

Bradenton Wildlife Control:

(941) 404-8859

Sarasota Wildlife Control and Nuisance Wildlife Removal:

(866) 263-9453

Manatee County Animal Services:

(941) 742-5933

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Disease Prevention Quick Tips for Outdoor Enthusiasts

  • Avoid camping/backpacking/hiking if you are feeling ill or if your animal companion is ill. People and animals are more prone to disease if their immune systems are weakened by other illnesses or conditions.

  • Keep your outdoor gear (including tents, netting, sleeping bags, etc.) in good condition and repair or replace damaged items.

  • Take precautions to minimize insect bites.

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer immediately after handling animals, soil, equipment, or food.

  • Wash tools, cooking equipment and working surfaces (including tables and cutting boards) thoroughly with soap and water after use. If contamination with soil or animal feces (stool) is suspected or known, disinfect the equipment and surfaces immediately. Adding a minimum of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water is usually adequate for use as a cleaning/disinfecting solution.

  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.

  • In the United States, campers and hikers/backpackers should report any signs of sick wildlife or wild bird die-off to the state's game and fish agency or wildlife agency.

  • Make sure your animal companions are up-to-date on their vaccines, especially rabies, prior to camping/hiking season.

  • Consult your veterinarian about proper preventive treatments for your animals, such as heartworm prevention for dogs and cats, and use the products as recommended.

  • Consult your veterinarian about regular stool exams of dogs to check them for parasites, including those that can be passed to people.

  • Do not allow your dog to eat dead wildlife.

  • Outdoor enthusiasts who regularly travel with animal companions should consider getting some basic training in human and animal first aid techniques. In addition, carrying a first aid kit with supplies for humans and animals is extremely important.

To protect your dogs, you should consult your veterinarian, but basic guidelines include:

  • Apply topical or systemic tick-control treatments. Consult your veterinarian about the appropriate product for your dog.

  • If possible, limit access to tick-infested areas.

  • Check dogs frequently for ticks or, at a minimum, at the end of each day's activities. The ticks should be promptly and carefully removed.

To protect your horses, you should consult your veterinarian, but basic guidelines include:

  • Apply topical insect repellent products. It is likely you will have to reapply the products regularly, especially if you are traveling through areas with high insect activity.

  • If possible, limit access to tick-infested areas.

  • Check horses frequently for ticks or, at a minimum, at the end of each day's activities. The ticks should be promptly and carefully removed. Be sure to check the tail, mane and ears thoroughly for ticks.

  • Consider the use of insect nets designed to be worn over horses' eyes and ears to minimize insect bites, but do not consider them 100% effective. If you use these products, you should still check your horses regularly for ticks.

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Toxoplasmosis & Cat Owners

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What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. More than 60 million people in the United States carry the Toxoplasma parasite. Toxoplasmosis can cause severe illness in infants infected before birth (When their mothers are newly infected during pregnancy), or in persons with a weakened immune system.

What role do cats play in the spread of Toxoplasmosis?

Cats get Toxoplasma infection by eating infected birds, rodents, and other small animals, or anything contaminated with feces from another cat that is shedding the microscopic parasite in it's feces. After a cat has been infected, it can shed the parasite for up to two weeks. The parasite becomes infective one to five days after it is passed in the feces of the cat. The parasite can live in the environment for many months and contaminate soil, water, fruits and vegetables, sandboxes, grass where animals graze for food, litter boxes, or any place where an infected cat may have defecated.

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How are people infected with Toxoplasma?

There are several ways in which people may become infected with toxoplasosis.

  • Eating food, drinking water, or accidentially swallowing soil that has been contaminated with infected cat feces (think: homegrown produce that feral cats may have access to!).

  • Eating raw or undercooked meat from animals (especially pigs, lamb, or wild game) that have been infected with Toxoplasma.

  • Directly from a pregnant woman to her unborn child when the mother becomes infected with Toxoplasma just before or during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis?

Individuals with a healthy immune system:

Most people who become infected with Toxoplasma do not know it and have no symptoms. However, when illness occurs, it is usually mild. Some may feel like they have the “flu”, with swollen lymph glands, or muscle aches and pains that last for several weeks or more. Although rare, eye disease may also occur.

Individuals with weakened immune systems:

People with weakened immune systems may experience severe symptoms. The most common symptoms in people with HIV infection are headache, confusion, and fever. Other symptoms include seizures, poor coordination, and nausea or vomiting.

Infants infected before birth:

Most infants infected with Toxoplasma before birth show no symptoms at birth. However, many are likely to develop symptoms later in life. These include vision loss, mental disability, and seizures.

How can I protect myself from toxoplasmosis?

Several steps can be taken to protect yourself and others from toxoplasmosis.

  • Change your cat litter boxes daily. Toxmoplasma takes more than one day to become infectious. If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, ask someone else to change the litter box. If this is not possible, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards.

  • Cover any outdoor sandboxes when not in use to keep cats from defecating in the them.

  • Avoid adopting stray cats, especially kittens, off the streets (go through an agency such as our local Cat Depot to assure a happy & healthy stray). Younger cats are more likely to be releasing Toxoplasma in their feces.

  • Do not eat undercooked meat. Cook meat until the internal temperature reaches 160° Fahrenheit.

  • Wash all kitchen supplies (such as knives and cutting boards) that have been in contact with raw meat.

  • If you have a weakened immune system, it is important to talk to your health care provider about getting a blood test to determine if you have been infected with Toxoplasma.

How can I protect my cat from toxoplasmosis?

Protecting your cat from toxoplasmosis may also help to protect you from toxoplasmosis.

  • Feed your cat commercial dry or canned food.

  • Never feed cats raw meat because this can be a source of Toxoplasma infection.

  • Keep indoor cats indoors so they do not become infected by eating small animals.

Do I have to get rid of my cat?

No, you do not have to give up your cat. Owning a cat does not mean you will be infected with the parasite. It is unlikely that you would be exposed to the parasite by touching the infected cat, because cats usually do not carry the parasite on their fur coat. In addition, cats kept indoors (that do not hunt prey or feed on raw meat) are not likely to be infected with Toxoplasma. But, if you are pregnant, or have a weakened immune system, it is important to protect yourself from infection.

Can toxoplasmosis be treated?

Yes, most certainly. There is treatment for toxoplasmosis. In an otherwise healthy person, mild symptoms typically go away within several weeks to months and treatment is not needed. However, treatment may be recommended for an otherwise healthy person with eye disease due to toxoplasmosis. A woman who becomes infected during pregnancy can be treated with medication that may protect her unborn child from toxoplasmosis. Mother and baby should be monitored closely during the pregnancy and post-birth.

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