Danville Express

Living - January 26, 2007

The pet Vet says...

by Dr. Heidi Strand

Q. My cat is getting long in the tooth. Over the past few weeks I have noticed that my cat's two top fangs are cutting into his chin. He looks very uncomfortable and I don't know what to do. He is approximately 15 years old.

A. In the early days of animal husbandry (that is to say, before people actually took care of their animals), people believed that an animal's teeth continued to grow as they aged. Hence the phrase "long in the tooth" was coined, often referring to horses. We now know that as animals age their gums recede, which makes the teeth appear longer. What you are describing, however, sounds like a problem called supereruption, where the teeth actually are being pushed out of their normal position in the maxilla. This occurs frequently in older cats with periodontal disease. An infection in the roots of the teeth, or possibly even a tumor, could be pushing them outward. You should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for an oral exam as soon as possible.

Q. I found my 1-year-old daughter playing near our cat's litter box. I'm very worried that she may have eaten some of the contents. Is there anything I should be worried about? My cat goes outside quite a bit.

A. I hear this question more often that you'd think. Children just can't resist playing with disgusting things. While it is extremely rare, children can be infected by coming in contact with eggs of certain parasites. With dogs and cats, the parasite of concern is a roundworm called Toxocara. Raccoons have a similar roundworm called Baylisascaris. When an animal infected with either one of these parasites defecates, the ground or litter box can become contaminated with eggs. Roundworm eggs can survive in soil in the right conditions for up to two years. They are also very sticky. People, usually children, can become infected by the hand-to-mouth route after playing in the contaminated area. The eggs hatch into larvae inside the human intestine and can cause a disease called larva migrans. The disease is easily treated. It is very uncommon in the U.S. and is more of a problem in developing nations where pets are not routinely dewormed. Nevertheless, it's always a good idea to wash hands after cleaning up after your dog or cat. Because the eggs take approximately five days to become infective, cleaning the litter box and the doggie doo frequently will prevent contamination. If raccoons defecate in your yard, clean it up regularly. It's also a good idea to wash hands and toys after playing at dog parks. These parasites are one of the reasons most playgrounds do not allow dogs any more. But stray cats can defecate in sandboxes so, again, have the kids wash their hands and toys. If you haven't stopped reading by now, then you probably can stomach the following information about hookworms. These parasites of the Ancylostoma species can infect dogs, and the eggs can develop in damp soil into infective larvae. Hookworm larvae infect humans by penetrating the skin. They migrate under the skin and cause an itchy skin condition. Again, hookworm infection is easily treated and is much more common in the tropics and developing countries than in the U.S. Still, I don't recommend walking barefoot in any area where dogs defecate.

The good news is that both hookworms and roundworms can be detected in a stool sample by your veterinarian. Since most infections are passed from mother to offspring, we routinely treat puppies and kittens with a broad-spectrum dewormer that gets rid of these parasites. Your veterinarian may recommend deworming adult dogs or cats on a yearly basis depending on their level of possible exposure. In addition, some monthly heartworm preventives also treat for intestinal parasites.

Update: The writer took her daughter to the pediatrician and was told there was nothing to worry about. Just to be on the safe side, she took the cat's stool to her veterinarian for a fecal exam. It was negative and she has moved the litter box.

--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to hstrand@eastbayspca.org. Her column runs every other week.


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