Fleas, Ticks, and Worms, Oh My!

Fleas, Ticks, and Worms, Oh My!

Parasites and dogs Annex Animal Hospital

We love our pets but we don’t love the little critters that might be sharing them. Not only are  they unappealing but they can also cause health problems both for our pets and for us so it’s important to keep our pets free from parasites.

In outdoor cats we mainly see fleas, ear mites, and tapeworms, although indoor cats can also pick up fleas (and fleas transmit tapeworm!). Check out this great site for more information on cats and fleas.


dogs playingBecause dogs tend to be outside more often and in many different locations – local park, dog park, daycare, hiking trails, etc – they tend to pick up a wider variety of parasites. Fleas are common on dogs, and ticks are becoming ever more common, even in downtown Toronto! Dogs frequently pick up roundworms and  giardia here as well. And of course we can’t forget heartworms which your dog can pick up from infected mosquitoes.

As the weather gets warmer parasite numbers start increasing so it’s important to have your dog checked in spring for exposure to heart worms and tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease,and then to put both dogs and cats on preventive medications. 

We’ve come a long way from the time that flea baths and dusting powders were the state-of-the-art pest control. There are several safer and more convenient options available now, from drops that go on your pet’s skin to tasty little chews. It’s important to speak to your vet about the best option for your pets.

cat parasites Annex Animal Hospital

The Most Important Thing You Should Know About Dental Care for Your Pet

The Most Important Thing You Should Know About Dental Care for Your Pet

Every February the veterinary community focuses on the oral health of pets and on educating clients about the importance of pet dental care. At some point, your veterinarian has probably explained to you what she looks for when she examines your pet’s mouth (gingivitis, damaged/loose teeth/bad breath) and why what she finds is important. The explanation usually contains something to the effect of bad breath is an indicator of problems in the mouth,  gingivitis is harmful and needs to be removed, and damaged and loose teeth need to be extracted. Sometimes, we get caught up in the medical nuts and bolts and forget to give you the bottom line reasons for providing your pet with excellent oral care.Annex Cat

So, what are the reasons for keeping up on your pet’s oral health? To eliminate bad breath? Nope. To remove damaged teeth? Nope. To remove tartar from their teeth? Nope.

Well, if the most important reasons aren’t any of the above, what are they? The answer is hiding in plain sight and it all comes back to why you have a pet. Take a moment to think about that – why do you have a pet?

Do you like having a furry friend that greets you when you get home, lies on your lap, lies at your feet, keeps you company when you’re watching your favorite TV show, gets you outside, snuggles with you at night, looks at you with love, comforts you when you’re upset, goes jogging with you, protects you?

We form deep, long-term, emotional relationships with our pets. They are our friends, our surrogate children, our comforters. They bring out the best in us. Studies have shown that we grieve equally for pets as we do for our relatives.

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This is why we, the veterinarians and staff of the Annex Animal Hospital, focus on dental care for pets every February: because we know how important your pet is to you. We also have pets so we understand how much joy s/he adds to your life, because we feel the same about our pets.

Proper dental care means your pet won’t lose weight because her mouth is too painful to eat. It means your pet’s kidneys, liver, and heart won’t be attacked by bacteria flowing into her bloodstream from infected gums and teeth. The most important thing you should know about dental care for your pet? Preventive care and appropriate dental treatment means your pet will experience less pain and be healthier throughout her life which means you get to enjoy spending more time with her doing the things you both love.Annex Pic 3

Check out our YouTube channel Dental Care playlist for more information.

Welcome to Autumn

Welcome to Autumn!

Here are some tips for keeping your pet healthy this season.

As the temperature gets cooler mice, rats, and other rodents start looking for a warm place to spend the winter and end up in people’s homes. No one wants to share their home with these critters, but it’s important to keep your pets safe if you decide to use poisons or traps. All rodenticides are harmful to dogs and cats, and can be fatal if eaten. Talk to your veterinarian about the pest control methods that are safe for your pet.

Just because fall is here it doesn’t mean that ticks aren’t hiding close by. In fact, many species of ticks, including the one that carries Lyme disease, are active when temperatures hover around 4C and up – even in the dead of winter! Be tick-savy: clean up leaf and garden litter – two of their favourite places to over-winter; frequently check your pet for ticks; continue using tick control and repellent products especially if you enjoy activities such as hiking and camping. Check out this link for more info (and check out the Ticknado!)

Annex autum pic 1This time of year fungi are sprouting up everywhere! While some are safe others are highly toxic and lethal. Contact your veterinarian right away if your pet eats wild mushrooms.

Anti-freeze is a killer. One to two teaspoons of it can kill a 5kg dog – much less can be lethal to cats. Take care when topping up your car’s fluids and wipe up spills immediately. If you suspect your pet has ingested any, call your vet immediately or go straight to an emergency clinic.

Remember to keep human treats away from pets. Some foods that are fine for us are downright toxic to pets – grapes, onions, chocolate – others will just cause g.i. troubles such as vomiting, diarrhea, and gas. Cooked bones can splinter and get caught in your pet’s throat or even perforate their stomach or intestines! No one wants an emergency trip to the vet during Thanksgiving or Christmas, so keep garbage out of your pet’s reach and don’t be tempted to let Fluffy enjoy some of that delicious dinner.

What Is Leptospirosis?

What Is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis (Lepto) is a bacterial infection that occurs in mammals like rats, raccoons, skunks, horses, cows, pigs, dogs and humans.

Symptoms of Lepto

Lepto tends to attack the liver and kidneys. As a result, symptoms are usually associated with liver and / or kidney problems. Symptoms include:

  • Nothing
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Increased drinking
  • Increased urinating
  • Icterus (yellow skin and eyes)
  • Pain (especially muscle and kidney)


Lepto is typically transmitted via the urine of an infected animal. When another animal comes into contact with the Lepto bacteria from the infected urine, the Lepto bacteria can infect that animal through the mouth (if they are drinking), or through cuts on the skin. Lepto bacteria are very hardy and can live for a long time in wet environments that an infected animal has urinated in.

Since Lepto likes wet (but not freezing) environments, Lepto is most common in the spring and fall.


Dogs that drink from stagnant water, especially in wooded areas where wildlife is abundant, are particularly at risk. However, dogs that live in densely populated cities are also at risk due to the concentration of urban wildlife (racoons and skunks).

Human Health

Since Lepto, like rabies, is zoonotic (infected dogs may infect people), it is an especially important disease to consider vaccinating against.

Transmission to humans can occur when urine or blood from an infected dog contacts a person’s skin or mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, or nose). For this reason, Lepto can be a serious health risk for both your pet and your family.


Fortunately, there is a vaccine to help decrease the risk associated Lepto. It is particularly important for dogs at increased exposure risk.

Types of Lepto

There are a number of different serovars (types) of Leptospira bacteria in nature. Each serovar is unique and must be vaccinated for specifically. Most serovars pose little risk to pets, but recently some newer serovars have emerged as a serious health concern to both dogs and people in Ontario.

Lepto Has Re-Emerged

With a decrease in natural habitat, raccoons and skunks are adapting to life within our cities and urban areas, leading to a larger number of encounters with our pets. This increase in exposure to the main reservoir hosts for newer types of Lepto has lead to a re-emergence of the disease.

Older Vaccines May Not Be Effective

These new serovars are not those for which vaccines have traditionally been available in years past. As a result, using older vaccines may offer less protection for your pet than newer vaccines.

Lepto Vaccination Today

A vaccine, which has now been available in Canada for six years has been designed to protect against most of these newer types of Lepto. It vaccinates for the 4 most common types of Leptospira bacteria, and is the best prevention we have for this disease.

When to Vaccinate

Late summer and early fall are the best times to vaccinate your dog against this bacteria, since this season usually brings the optimum conditions for the occurrence and persistence of Lepto in the environment. Please understand that our decision to recommend vaccination of your dog against Leptospirosis has only come following consultation with independent veterinary specialists who are experts in the area of infectious diseases.

Yearly Boosters

Unfortunately, since Lepto vaccines are designed to protect from a bacterial infection, residual immunity only lasts for one year. Please note that this is different than vaccines that are designed to prevent viral infections which have longer durations of immunity. If you require more information please contact us.

All About Hairballs

Hairball Warning Signs

White fluffy Persian

White fluffy Persian

Do you cringe when you hear your cat heaving? If so, you are one of many devoted cat owners whose pet may be suffering from hairballs. While coughing up hairballs is fairly common for cats, it’s important to keep track of how often it happens. Frequent hairballs could be a sign of gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.If your cat is suffering from frequent hairballs, please contact your veterinarian for an examination.

Does your favorite feline leave you hairballs as gifts? If so, you’re not alone. Although we love cats for being meticulous groomers, it’s safe to say we don’t like finding hairy presents around the house. Let’s explore what causes hairballs and how to prevent them.
What Causes a Hairball?
Hairballs are clusters of fur, or hair, that your cat unintentionally swallows while grooming himself or herself. When enough hair is ingested and collects in your cat’s digestive tract, it forms a “hairball.” Cats that have long hair, shed excessively or constantly groom themselves are prone to developing hairballs.
Is It Harmful to My Cat’s Health?
Most hairballs are harmlessly coughed up by your cat and do not pose a threat to his or her health. Hairballs are usually passed in vomit or through fecal matter. However, frequent hairballs could be a symptom of abnormal gastrointestinal motility or inflamed intestinal tissue.
Please contact your veterinarian for an examination if your cat:
·         Continues gagging for more than one day
·         Seems constipated
·         Suffers from chronic diarrhea
Ways to Prevent Hairballs
You can decrease the amount of fur that your cat ingests while grooming himself or herself by brushing your cat regularly. This should help prevent the formation of hairballs. If your cat has long hair, it’s recommended that you brush him or her daily. (In some cases, cats with long hair who are not brushed often enough can suffer from extremely matted hair, which can be difficult to manage. Once the hair is matted, it is often too difficult to brush and may require shaving.)
There are dietary options for your cat that may help decrease the risk of hairballs as well. Many brands of commercial cat food now include formulas to help reduce hairballs while improving the health of cats’ coat and skin. Feeding your cat these types of products may also decrease shedding and increase your cat’s fiber intake. If you do not wish to change your cat’s diet, you can opt for a hairball remedy or lubricant to help your cat pass hairballs through the digestive tract.
Another simple, and fun, solution is to purchase your cat a new toy. This will redirect your cat’s attention from grooming to playing with the new toy — and provide an opportunity to enjoy some quality time with your pet.
If your cat suffers from frequent hairballs, contact your veterinarian to discuss possible treatment options, including changing your cat’s diet.

Common Parasites

It’s Finally Here!

It’s so great to get out into the warmth and sunshine, and our pets love it too, but as every pet owner knows, this is also the time of year that parasite problems gear up. In Toronto the most common parasites that we see are fleas, ticks, roundworms, tapeworms, and giardia.

Pulex irritans isolated on a white background.

Pulex irritans isolated on a white background.

Fleas are extremely common and almost every pet owner has encountered them at some point. Their bites not only cause itching but some pets get a severe skin reaction called flea allergy dermatitis or FAD for short. Fleas can also carry the infectious phase of tapeworm and, in fact, these two parasites are so closely associated with each other, that when we treat a pet for fleas, we also treat them for tapeworm.

Fleas2 Annex
Ticks are becoming increasingly common even in downtown Toronto and every year we see dogs who have never left the downtown core with live ticks on them. Ticks, like fleas, also survive on blood, but they’re different in many ways. First, they bury their heads in the pet’s skin and feed for days while fleas stay on a pet and take frequent meals. Second, ticks’ bodies expand as they feed so while they start as a brownish, flea-sized insect they grow to be almost dime-sized while fleas never get bigger than a few millimetres. Third, ticks carry different health risks than fleas including Lyme disease and several other blood-borne diseases. Ticks are also active earlier in the spring than fleas – as soon as the temperature is 4 degrees or higher

Four life stages of a black-legged tick

Female black-legged ticks at various phases of feeding

Fleas tick 2
Giardia is a protozoa that is most commonly picked up by pets when they drink infected water or eat feces from an infected animal. This is a nasty parasite that can be difficult to get rid of and which causes flatulence, watery diarrhea, and lethargy. The symptoms may come and go as the parasite goes through it’s life cycle.

Roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms can all be passed on to your pet through the environment (ringworm isn’t actually a worm; it’s a fungus), and of the three, roundworm is the most common in Toronto; we regularly see pets, mainly dogs, for roundworm infections.

Heart worms are in a league of their own. The adult worms lodge in the blood vessels around the heart and in the heart itself causing inflammation and blockages. If left untreated they cause permanent damage and death. Unlike other types of worms, heart worms are not transmitted through feces, but by infected mosquitoes so even indoor pets are at risk. Luckily, the risk in Ontario is much lower than in the south-eastern U.S., and up the Mississippi river, but thanks to climate change, heart worm infected mosquitoes are here, and have been for decades, and every year dogs are diagnosed with heart worm disease right here in Ontario. The procedure to kill adult heart worms is expensive and dangerous so as we do for all parasites, we recommend using safe medications to prevent infection in the first place. Check out this video http://youtu.be/P6F9KApqkII for a great overview of heart worms.

Today’s preventives are generations better than what used to be available. Gone are the days of stressful flea baths and messy flea powders; prevention can be as easy as putting drops on your pet’s skin or giving a delicious chew. Veterinarians will tailor parasite prevention programs to each pet’s needs and an important part of every program are blood and stool tests to see what parasites, if any, your pet already has.

Digestive Upsets & Bite Wounds

It’s warming up!

The sun is getting warmer, the snow is melting, and birds are beginning to return to the great white north; it’s spring – finally!

This time of year we see some common themes in our appointments with two of the most common ones being digestive upsets and bite wounds.

Now that the snow has melted, all those strange and wonderful things that were covered are being exposed and it takes one second for you dog to gobble one of them up while you’re taking her for a walk. That one second can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, a week of giving medication, and a special tummy-friendly diet. It could even mean surgery to remove something blocking your dog’s intestinal tract. Not a nice beginning to the warm weather.

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For dogs that keep their heads down and their mouths open, we usually recommend using a basket “muzzle” when you go for walks (you can purchase one at our webstore – link above), that way, she can breathe normally but can’t eat anything. If your dog does get into something, give us a call and we will be happy to make some recommendations specific to your situation. It may include coming in right away so we can help your dog get whatever she ate right back up, or simply monitoring at home while providing a bland diet such as boiled rice and chicken.


Some wild animals are becoming more active now which means your pet may have more encounters with raccoons, skunks, opossums, bats, and others. Number one consideration? Make sure your pet is current with vaccinations. Many mammals carry viruses that can be passed on your pets (and some can be passed on to you!), including distemper, leptospirosis, and of course, rabies. If you aren’t sure if your pet is up-to-date, check with your veterinarian.

Because of the bacteria in animals’ mouths, bite wounds are almost guaranteed to become infected, so clean up all wounds immediately just as you would do for yourself and give your veterinarian a call. If the wound is large or if you’re unable to adequately clean it up, book an appointment to have your clinic take care of it for you. Because cats’ teeth are so narrow, the wounds they cause close up, trapping in bacteria. If your pet is ever bitten by a cat we strongly recommend bringing them in for care and some preventive antibiotics. Don’t wait until the wound becomes infected.

If your cat goes outside we strongly recommend having him microchipped. We get many well-intentioned people calling about or coming in with cats that have shown up in their back yards, believing them to be lost or strays. Without a permanent way to identify these cats, it is impossible to know who the owner is and these little ones frequently become someone else’s pet or are taken to a shelter and put up for adoption. Microchipping is a quick, permanent way to link your cat to you. It can be done during a routine visit and if your pet is current on her health evaluation, you won’t even need to see a vet as one of our great technicians can place it.

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We also recommend putting a bell on your cat’s collar to alert birds that he’s around. Did you know that cats take a huge toll on birds? Scientists estimate that Canada’s 5-10 million house cats kill 100-350 million birds a year. It is mainly the wild roaming cats that do the damage (another excellent reason to spay or neuter your cat so it doesn’t add to the feral population), but pet cats contribute to this carnage as well. Better still, keep your pet indoors if possible. There are several great websites, such as the Indoor Pet Initiative , that can help with making an indoor environment a rich, and satisfying one for your cat.