Heartworm Infection Information

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What is heartworm?

Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a fairly large worm that grows up to 14 inches long. In adulthood, heartworm lives in the heart and pulmonary arteries of an infected dog. Dogs acquire this infection through mosquito bites as mosquitoes readily pick up larval heartworms from infected dogs and carry them to other dogs. Some geographic areas have severe heartworm problems while others have virtually none. In order for the parasite to establish itself in an area, the following conditions must be met:

  • Types of mosquitoes capable of carrying larval heartworms must be present
  • The weather must e warm enough to allow heartworm larval development within the mosquito
  • There must be infected dogs or coyotes in the area
  • There must be vulnerable host dogs in the area

When these conditions come together, an area becomes endemic for heartworm disease.

Let’s Follow the Worm’s Life Cycle!


Blood going to the lung to pick up oxygen is received first by the right atrium of the heart, then sent to the right ventricle (the pumping chamber) and then sent out to the lung via the pulmonary arteries.

The adult heartworm is fairly large, several inches in length, and it prefers to live, not in the heart, but in the pulmonary arteries. It swims into a cozy tubular artery, where it is massaged and nourished by the blood coursing past it. In the pulmonary arteries of an infected dog, the worm’s presence generates a strong inflammatory response and a tendency for blood to inappropriately clot. If enough worms are present, the heart must work extra hard to pump blood through the plugged up arteries.

If the worm infection is a heavy one (over 25 worms for a 40lb dog), the worms begin to back up into the heart’s right ventricle (the chamber which pumps blood through the lung). The worms actually take up a significant amount of space withing the heart, space that could have been taken up by blood. With less blood going through the heart, there is less blood being pumped out to the lung.

When over 50 worms are in the ventricle, it is completely full and the atrium, the chamber receiving blood from the rest of the body begins to fill with worms.

When there are over 100 worms, the entire right side of the heart is filled with worms and there is very little room for any blood to be pumped. This drastic phenomenon is call “Caval Syndrome” and most dogs to not survive it.

Mircofilariae (First Stage Larval)

When adult male and female worms are there, mating begins to occur. Heartworms do not lay eggs like other worm parasites; instead they give live birth and the baby worms are called microfilariae. Microfilariae are released into the circulatory system in hope that they will be slurped up by a mosquito taking a blood meal and carried to a new host. Microfilariae may live up to two years within the host dog in whom they were born. If, after this period, a mosquito has not picked them up, they die of old age. Microfilariae may also be transmitted across the placental barrier to unborn puppies if the mother is infected with heartworm. It is important to realize that such puppies will not develop adult heartworms or heartworm disease from these microfilariae; in order for a heartworm to reach adulthood, it must be passed through a mosquito.

Parasitic worms have five larval stages and are termed L1, L2, L3, etc. Heartworm microfilariae are first stage larvae, L1s.

Inside the Mosquito

Let us continue to follow the young heartworm’s development inside the mosquito who has taken it in with a blood meal. Within the mosquito’s body, the microfilariae will develop to L2’s and finally to L3’s, the stage capable of infecting a new dog. How long this takes depends on the environmental conditions. In general, it takes a few weeks. A minimum environmental temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit is required throughout this period. The process goes faster in warmer weather but if the temperature drops below 57 degrees, the mosquitoes will die and no heartworm can be transmitted.

Infecting a New Dog

When a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, the L3 is not deposited directly into the dog’s bloodstream. Instead, it is deposited in a tiny drop of mosquito spit adjacent to the mosquito bite. For transmission to occur, there must be adequate humidity to prevent evaporation of this blood droplet before the L3’s can swim through the mosquito bite and into the new host.

Once safely inside the new host, the L3 will spend the next week or two developing into an L4 within the host’s skin. The L4 will live in the skin for three months or so until it develops to the L5 stage and is ready to enter the host’s circulatory system. The L5, which is actually a young adult, migrates to the heart and out into the pulmonary arteries (if there is room) where it will mate, approximately 5-7 months after first entering the new host.


Note: information taken from Veterinary Partner


Fleas! Eek!

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FleaFleas! Eek!
Fleas are insects that form the order Siphonaptera. They are wingless, with mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood. Fleas are external parasites living off the blood of mammals and birds.
Fleas are about 1.5 to 3.3mm long, agile, usually dark colored, with tube-like mouth parts adapted to feeding on the blood of their hosts. Their legs are long, the hind pair will adapted for jumping; a flea can jump vertically up to 7in and horizontally up to 13in, making the flea one of the best jumpers of all known animals (relative to body size). If humans had the jumping power of a flea, a 6ft person could make a jump 295ft long and 160ft high!
Atypical of other insects, fleas do not possess compound eyes but instead have simple eyes with a single biconvex lens. Their eyes are known as “eyespots’. Their bodies are laterally compresses, permitting easy movement through the hairs or feathers on the host’s body. The tough body is able to withstand great pressure, likely an adaptation to survive attempts to eliminate them by mashing or scratching. Even hard squeezing between the fingers is normally insufficient to kill a flea.
Fleas go through 4 lifecycles, egg, larva, pupa and adult. Adult fleas must feed on blood before they can become capable of reproduction. Flea populations are distributed with about 50% eggs, 35% larva, 10% pupa and 5% adults.
The fleas life cycle begins when the female lays eggs after feeding. Eggs are laid in batches of up to 20 or so, usually on the host itself, which means that the eggs can easily roll onto the ground. Because if this, areas where the host rests and sleeps become one of the primary habibtats of eggs and developing fleas. Eggs take around 2 days to 2 weeks to hatch.
Flea larvae emerge from the eggs to feed on any available organic material such as dead insects, feces, conspecific eggs and vegetable matter. They are blind and avoid sunlight, keeping to dark places such as sand, cracks and crevices, and bedding.
Given an adequate supply of feed, larvae pupate and weave silken cocoons within 1-2 weeks after 3 larval stages. After another week or two, the adult fleas are fully developed and ready to emerge. They may remain resting during this period until they receive a signal that a host is near-vibrations, heat, and carbon dioxide are all stimuli indicating the probable presence of a host.
Once the flea reaches adulthood, its primary goal is to find blood and then to reproduce. Its total life span can be as long as one and one-half years in ideal conditions. Female fleas can lay 5000 or mores eggs over their life, allowing for phenomenal growth rates. Generally speaking, an adult flea only lives for 2-3 months. Optimum temperatures for the flea’s life cycle are 21 C – 30 C and 70% humidity.
Now that you are itchy all over we’d like to let you know that for the month of April we are offering a 15% discount on Advantage topical flea control!

Myths and Dangers of Anesthetic-Free Dentistry

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We will sometimes get inquiries regarding anesthetic-free dental cleanings. Do we offer it? Why does my pet have to have a full general anesthetic? Are dental xrays really necessary?

As we all know, all dental procedures require a certain level of pressure on the teeth and gums and may cause pain. When we go to the dentist, we understand that what is happening is a necessary part of the procedure. Animals do not. Therefore anesthesia is essential for providing our furry friends the most comfortable teeth cleaning experience.


If you think of a tooth like an iceberg you will understand that what you see on the surface of the gum is not the entire story. The buildup of tartar goes well under the gumline and could potentially cause issues that cannot be seen without an xray. Unfortunately, pets need to be absolutely still while we do the xray. Our staff cannot stay to hold them due to radiation safely procedures.


When periodontal disease sets in, tissue and bone around the tooth start to deteriorate allowing bacteria to grow and pockets to form. We check for this by probing below the gumline. When awake this could cause discomfort and pain to your pet making it impossible to perform this procedure while awake. If the disease has progressed to the point that the tooth needs to be extracted then it is absolutely necessary to anesthetize.


Just as in humans, we scale and polish your pet’s teeth. At a human dentist, we keep our mouths open for the hygienist to perform this procedure and sometimes it is painful at times. Imagine your dog or cat laying on it’s back keeping it’s mouth open for the entire time? That would make our jobs a whole lot easier!

Anesthetic is not without it’s risks but we take every step to ensure we are providing your pet with the latest, safest anesthetic protocols available. This includes pre-anesthetic blood testing, IV fluids, monitoring with high-tech computer equipment and a staff member present at all times during and after the procedure to ensure proper after care. If there are extractions we provide your pet with “freezing” at the extraction site plus anti-inflammatory medication for pain.

February is dental month at the Richmond Animal Hospital! Please book your pet’s cleaning today and enjoy a special discount as well as specials on dental diets and products.

Celebrate Senior Pets in the New Year!

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Happy New Year to you and your fur-friends!

Did you know that senior pets often will not show signs of illness until the illness has progressed significantly? Has your faithful companion been slowing down recently? Maybe not so interested in food as before? Losing a little bit of weight?

These can all be signs of illness in aging pets and are not signs of “normal aging” or “getting old”. The sooner that certain age related conditions can be detected the better we can treat them and the more time you can have with your beloved friend. Pets are considered to be senior at the age of 7 and it is recommended to have them checked twice yearly after they reach this age. We can diagnose many age related changes with an exam, blood testing and/or xrays and can often treat early issues with diet change, supplements and/or medication.

For the month of January we are offering all senior pets that come in for vaccines and/or wellness check ups a Senior Pet Wellness Package! This first package includes a full physical exam, geriatric blood testing, urinalysis, and an ECG! Package number two includes all that AND xrays!

Please call our office today to set up your Senior Pet Wellness appointment!

dog beside blue piggy bank with cash

The Cost of Veterinary Care

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The question regarding varying costs from clinic to clinic often comes up.  I am happy to explain how we come up with costs at our clinic.  Every two years, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association releases a recommended fee guide for Veterinarians based on the area which they are located.  These are suggestions of costs that allow business owners to run a business and be able to provide themselves, their associates and staff members with a reasonable living. We usually set our prices around or slightly below what is recommended by the association.  Unfortunately, the costs are only guidelines and are not mandated.  Clinics can choose to charge whatever they want for services.  This often causes a lot of confusion and misunderstanding for people who are doing price comparisons.

I am going to use spays and neuters as an example because this is often where cost variance comes in.   Our estimates include blood work, IV fluids, pain control, monitoring with equipment and staff (we always have a staff member dedicated to only monitoring vital signs of a pet who is under anesthesia) as well as follow up care.  Not all clinics will include these costs or offer these services when they are quoting over the phone.  They will simply quote for the surgery, but when you get your invoice, it can be higher than anticipated.  We feel it’s important to do our best to give as close to accurate estimates as possible.  We also include these additional benefits in our services to provide the safest and most comfortable surgical experience for our patients.

Clinics who offer discounted services need to make up their costs in other ways. This can sometimes result in over-inflating other prices, high mark ups on retail items, cutting supply costs or under-paid and under-trained staff. The end result can be a lower quality of care.

It is also important to remember that all practices are not equal. Not all veterinarians have the same level of experience, knowledge base or management skills. This is also the same for support staff. I am happy to say that the majority of our staff has been here over 5 years; the average length of employment here is 8 years, the longest has been here 31 years! This gives that added benefit of us knowing our clients and their pets. Those relationships are very important to us. Your pets are our pets. Our veterinarians and support staff are always here to answer any questions or go over test results and treatment plans. We want to be sure you understand and are comfortable with what is going on with your pet.

We are also an AAHA accredited hospital. Unlike human hospitals, not all animal hospitals are required to be accredited.   Accredited hospitals are the only hospitals that choose to be evaluated on approximately 900 quality standards that go above and beyond basic state regulations, ranging from patient care and pain management to staff training and advanced diagnostic services. AAHA-accredited hospitals are recognized among the finest in the industry, and are consistently at the forefront of advanced veterinary medicine. AAHA standards are continuously reviewed and updated to keep accredited practices on the cutting edge of veterinary excellence.

I understand that this is a confusing and frustrating issue for clients when they are doing price comparisons.  It is also a frustrating issue within the veterinary community.  Hopefully one day there will be a mandate put on pricing to avoid this issue. It would be a positive change for clients, patients and veterinary staff.  It would remove the stigma that veterinarians are “in it for the money”. I can assure you that nobody gets in to this industry for financial gain. It is a career based on passion and compassion for animal kind.

Please remember, it is important when researching veterinarians to ask about more than just price. Ask about things like surgical experience, anesthesia safety, pain control, pre and post-op care, facility standards, hospital mission and staff experience. All these things are, just as or more important than cost when it comes to taking care of our furry friends.


cartoon of dog veterinarian with syringe

The vaccination debate

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The topic of vaccination can cause quite a heated debate. There are so many opinions circling “shots” amongst the pet community that it can be difficult to make a sound decision about whether or not to vaccinate our furry friends. The internet is a great tool, however, it also gives a voice to many people and their opinions. It is important when making any choice, that you go to trusted and educated sources. Decisions about health issues need to be made based on facts and research, not merely on opinion.
Before writing this I wanted to see what information was out there about the risk of vaccines. A quick google search and I was amazed at the terrifying articles that were based on opinions, with no research or data to back them. However, they were well written and gave the illusion of being factual and legitimate. It was a scary eye opener. If I didn’t know better, I might buy in to these opinions.
The bottom line—vaccines are incredibly important in managing the health of your pet. We are lucky that we do not see many cases of the diseases that we vaccinate against. This is not because the diseases are gone, it is because we vaccinate against them. Vaccinating your pet will not give them cancer, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, bloat, behaviour problems or other health conditions. While there can be side effects from vaccines, these are generally mild and resolved quickly.
If you are concerned about vaccines, please discuss it with your veterinarian. They can help you determine which vaccines are appropriate for your pet based on its lifestyle. Not every pet needs every vaccine every year. The decision is based on individual factors, such as lifestyle and health status.
Many of the diseases we vaccinate against can be fatal to your pet. Preventing them through vaccination is far easier, safer and less expensive than treatment of the diseases. If you would like more information on vaccines, please ask your veterinarian.

Choosing the right food for your pet.

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Beaks, Feet and Feathers, Oh My!

When trying to choose the right food for your pet, you can often feel confused and mislead. We want to try to help you make the right decision for you and your pet. Let’s try to dispel a few of the myths associated with pet foods…

  1. By products—This term doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it just means a secondary product. By products are often found in pet and human food. For example, Vitamin E, gelatin, beef bouillon, beef liver and vegetable oils are all by-products. Heart, lungs, kidney, liver and other organs are used in pet foods. These are very high quality protein sources which will provide your pet with nutrients and minerals. Beaks, claws and feathers are rarely included in pet foods.
  2. Corn—Corn is an excellent source of protein, carbohydrates, insoluble and soluble fibres and omega fatty acids. Corn is also highly digestible, higher than several other grains such as rice, wheat, barley and sorghum. Some consumers are concerned that corn may be a filler. Fillers offer no nutritional value whatsoever. Corn, as mentioned above, is a superb source of nutrients.
  3. Grain “free” – Some companies will exchange carbohydrate source for another or use terms that consumers may not easily recognize. For example, peas and oats contain carbohydrates, and sweet potato contains more carbohydrates per serving than corn. Zea Mays is often on these labels and this is derived from corn.
  4. All “natural” – According to the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the term “natural” requires a pet food to consist of only natural ingredients without chemical alterations; except for added vitamins and minerals. The term “organic” was legally defined for human foods by the USDA. While final rules have not yet been made, pet food companies can currently use the term “organic” if they follow the same rules as applied to human foods. Foods that are “100% organic” or “organic” will carry the USDA Organic Seal on the package. Currently Hill’s does not offer an “organic” pet food product. Natural and organic are not interchangeable terms. “Holistic” has no legal definition. There is no regulation defining what the word holistic means with regard to pet foods. The term “human grade” was determined to be misleading by AAFCO. The use of “human grade” or “human quality” is not allowed in pet food marketing unless the food is made in a human food approved plant.

When shopping for pet food, there are a few things to consider…

  • Does the product offer different foods for many life stages to support your pet’s needs throughout its life?
  • Does the food company product spend a majority of their budget on advertising or research?
  • Is the product recommended by veterinarians or one that is recommended by pet store employees?


We are always happy to answer any questions you have. Our goal is for you to find the right pet food to keep your pet healthy and happy, whether you choose to buy it from us or from the pet store.


Guinea Pigs as Pets

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Is not actually a pig at all. Guinea pigs or Cavies originated in South America but were probably introduced into Europe soon after the first Spanish explorers returned from that continent in the 1500s. How the animals came to be called “pigs” is not clear. They are built somewhat like pigs, with large heads relative to their bodies, stout necks, and rounded rumps with no tail of any consequence; some of the sounds they emit are very similar to those made by pigs, and they also spend a large amount of time eating. They can survive for long periods in small quarters, like a ‘pig pen’, and were thus easily transported on ships to Europe. The guinea pig plays an important role in the folk culture of many South American groups, especially as a food source, but also in folk medicine and in community religious ceremonies.

Guinea pigs are wonderful family pets. However, they live 5-7 years, so the decision to adopt one must be made carefully. Guinea pigs will depend on you for food, water, medical care and affection.

Housing: Bigger is better. Larger cages need to be cleaned less and provide space for adequate exercise. Making your own cage from wire cubes and coroplast sheets is a great idea. This is more cost effective than buying a manufactured cage. It also enables you to create your own cage design. Check out for ideas.   Exercise wheels or balls should not be used because they can cause injury.

Diet: Like humans, guinea pigs are not able to manufacture their own vitamin C. You can supplement with a vitamin C tablet daily. But, generally feeding a high quality pellet and fresh vegetables is generally adequate. Guinea pigs should be fed about 1/4 c of a high quality pellet, a small amount of veggies and unlimited timothy hay daily. Parsley, Romaine Lettuce, Spinach, Tomato and Peppers are good vegetable choices. Make sure to avoid cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and bok choy should be avoided. Iceberg lettuce should also be avoided. Fresh water should be given daily via a drip bottle. Timothy Hay is an important source of fibre for guinea pigs. It also helps to wear their teeth, which are always growing, from becoming overgrown.

Bedding: Carefresh, Yesterday’s News, aspen shavings, pine shavings or fleece blankets are good bedding choices. Avoid cedar shavings, sawdust, corn cob bedding and clumping cat litter. Frequent changing will prevent odours and keep your piggy healthy.


Good Reasons to Spay and Neuter Your Pet

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Spaying and neutering your pet isn’t only about helping control animal over-population, it’s also about keeping your pet healthy.  A recent University of Georgia study report revealed a significant finding related to the lifespans of dogs that have been spayed or neutered versus dogs that were still intact (not spayed or neutered).

After scrutinizing 40,139 veterinary death records from a 20-year period, it was determined that:

The average age of spayed or neutered dogs was 9.4 years.

The average age of still-intact dogs was 7.9 years.

Conclusion: spaying or neutering could possibly add 1.5 years to a dog’s life.

While this is a limited study involving dogs seen at teaching veterinary hospitals versus regular veterinary practices, it does add to the many reasons pet owners should seriously consider spaying or neutering their dogs.

Proven spay/neuter benefits include:


Preventing “heat” or estrus.

Eliminating your dog’s urge to escape and find a mate during heat (this can be dangerous).

Eliminating your dog’s hormone fluctuations that cause false pregnancy.

Preventing pyometra, a serious uterine infection.

Preventing breast cancer, especially if your dog is spayed before the first “heat” (This reduces the chance of developing breast cancer to less than 0.5%).

Eliminating uterine and ovarian cancer risks.


Lowering the risk of serious conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatitis.

Reducing the risk of hormone-related (testosterone) diseases such as perianal adenoma.

Eliminating the risk of testicular cancer, the second most common cancer in intact dogs.

Removing sexual urges, which usually decreases roaming behaviors.

Reducing certain types of aggression, territorial dominance, fighting and bite wounds.