Category Archives: wellness

Heartworm Information

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about Zika virus, a disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes and can make us ill. But did you know that mosquitoes carry diseases that can cause illness in our pets? Most pet owners are aware of diseases like rabies, feline leukemia, and canine kennel cough. These diseases are transmitted to our pets by contact with other cats, dogs or sometimes wildlife. Heartworm disease is an infection that can be transmitted to our dogs and cats by the bite of an infected mosquito. That means that our pets do not need to be around other animals to become infected with heartworm disease.

Luckily for pet owners, heartworm disease can be very easy to prevent. There is a variety of monthly medications that can be prescribed to your dog and cat, including flavored chewable tablets and topical medications.

Heartworm disease has been on the rise in Pennsylvania over the past few years. According to the American Heartworm Society, vet clinics in PA were reporting an average of 1-5 heartworm cases per year in 2010. Some clinics in northern PA were seeing even less than that. Then in 2013, at the next report, all surveyed clinics were reporting at least 1-5 cases per year, and many clinics reported 6-25 cases per year. This does not include the millions of pets who are never tested.

Heartworm disease affects dogs and cats in different ways. The heartworm larvae is injected into the bloodstream by the mosquito. In dogs, the larvae grow into adult worms in the heart and lung vessels, causing severe damage that may be permanent. There can be as many as 50 adult worms in the heart and lungs in an infected dog. Symptoms in dogs can range from a mild cough to full blown heart failure. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all! In cats, the worm burden tends to be much less but they are more sensitive to the larvae. The larvae can trigger a severe inflammatory reaction in the lungs similar to asthma. This inflammation can cause fatal respiratory disease.

Once infected, heartworm disease can be painful and expensive to treat. There is an injection for dogs that is given multiple times over the course of 1 month to kill the adult heartworms. There is no specific treatment for cats, only supportive care.

It is recommended to test for heartworm disease yearly, even if your dog is on year round prevention. This helps to ensure that the prevention is working. The test also checks for other diseases like Lyme disease. Reliable testing is not available for cats and they can be given heartworm preventive without testing. It is recommended to test your dog before starting the preventive. The preventives only kill the larvae that have been transmitted to your dog within the past 30 days. For example, if your dog was bitten by an infected mosquito on May 15th and you started your preventive on July 1st, your dog is NOT protected from heartworm disease. You should test again in 6-12 months to check for a mature infection. This is another advantage to giving heartworm prevention year round; the risk of missing an infection is much less. And with winters getting warmer, how do we know when the last mosquito left Pennsylvania? September? December? Or did they ever leave at all?

For more information about canine and feline heartworm disease, talk to your vet or visit the American Heartworm Society’s website at

Tech Talk with Sara: Red-eared Sliders

Hello readers!

Today I am going to be talking about Red-eared Sliders. These little guys are one of the most common type of aquatic turtles kept as pets. If you’re thinking of getting an aquatic turtle for a pet & have children, keep in mind that they are a high risk of carrying salmonella. Always remember to practice good hygiene when handling these animals. That being said, I can stop ranting and we can get to some fun facts!

  • The scientific name of the red-eared slider is Trachemys scrita elegans and they received their name from the red stripe behind their eyes.
  • Their life span ranges from 20 to 40 years, making them friends for life!
  • The average size of Red-eared sliders will range anywhere from 6 to 12” in length, and they can reach adult size around 12 to 18 months depending on the conditions in which they are raised.
  • Something you want to keep in mind as they grow is that you will need to upgrade his/her habitat so they remain comfortable throughout their life.

Aquatic turtles are NOT a low maintenance pet. They need to have fresh clean water and plenty of space to swim.  A good rule of thumb is that the turtle must be able to turn around completely without an issue, and aim for about 10 gallons per inch of total turtle length. A deeper swimming area is nice to have since the turtles like to stick their heads out of the water while their bodies are still submerged. In general, the water depth should be about twice the length of the turtle’s shell and there should be several inches of air between the water and the top of the tank to prevent escaping.  Tanks with lids are best to prevent the turtle from being able to crawl out.

It is important to keep your slider’s water clean since the turtles drink the water in which they swim, no matter how nasty I think it is.  This generally requires cleaning and water changes at least once a week.  Always try to keep the water clean & fresh.  Daily removal of any uneaten food & feces right away will help to avoid any illness. Getting your sliders accustomed to eating in a separate container will also help keep their tank clean, which means less work for you.  The habitat needs to be thoroughly cleaned & disinfected at least once a week with a 3% bleach solution & water.  After thoroughly washing & rinsing the enclosure, make sure the area is free of the aroma of bleach. Once done, add clean, dechlorinated water with a temperature ranging from 70 to 75° before returning your turtle to their home.

While plenty of healthy water is essential to sliders, this is not everything.  Sliders also need a dry dock, such as a slate, rock, or area of gravel, to give the turtle an optional area to eat, sunbathe, and dry themselves.  Like all reptiles, their environment should provide a temperature gradient so they can self-regulate their internal temperature.  The air temperature for the warmer basking side needs to be around 95°F & the cooler end, where the water would be, should have a water temperature of 75°F.  Basking bulbs are most commonly used for the area with the turtle dock and a submergible heater is most commonly used for the area with the water.  UVB rays with full spectrum lighting must be used for 10 to 12 hours a day.   This is required daily for the turtle to allow them to properly process the calcium their bodies need.  These bulbs are usually only good for 6 months, so be sure to change them regularly even if they are not “burnt out.”  Be sure your slider cannot burn or injure themselves with any of the objects in and around their tanks.


Aquatic turtles are omnivores & their main diet usually consists of a commercial pelleted diet with leafy vegetables, non-toxic aquatic plants, & sliced vegetables such as squash & carrots.  However, juvenile sliders are more carnivorous and become more herbivorous as the mature (trading in meat-based nutrients for plants and veggies).  Even adult sliders should to have comet goldfish, earthworms, & insects offered to them as treats to stimulate their hunting ability that may be lacking from their captive lifestyle.  As adults, sliders only need to be fed every couple days and try to maintain a ratio of 30% pellets and animal protein to 70% plant matter.


When thinking of getting an aquatic turtle for a pet, it is important to remember they do not enjoy being picked up or handled very much, and they are known to bite when frightened. Of course, they are excellent swimmers & they love to jump off their docks into the water. When the light is on for your turtle, you will see him/her basking regularly under the heat lamp to be warm & dry. Your turtle should be active & alert regularly. Of course he/she should be eating regularly. If not, then you should contact our hospital and have Dr. Balmer examine him/her.  You might notice as your turtle is growing that their shell looks to be slightly rough around the edges. This is normal!  It is normal for turtles to occasionally replace their individual scutes as they grow.  However, watch for lesions, sores, bumps, discoloration, or spots on the shell or skin; any discharge from the nose, eyes, mouth, or vent; or if he/she seems to be lethargic.  If you notice any of these signs, you should contact the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County for a physical exam.  Even if your pet is healthy, annual wellness visits are recommended and can reduce the risk of illness/injury. Some commonly seen health issues that aquatic turtles develop are listed below:

  • GI Tract Parasites
    • Signs & Symptoms: poor appetite, lethargic, diarrhea, & anal prolapse.
  • Respiratory Infection
    • Signs & Symptoms: Open mouth breathing, eyes, nose, or mouth discharge, sneezing.

      • This can be caused by a cold environment
  • Shell Rot/Ulcers
    • Discolored or foul-smelling patches or pits on the shell that can become infected

      • Most commonly seen in cases with poor unclean habitats or improper diets
  • Eye or Respiratory Infection
    • Swollen eyes & sides of head
      • Most commonly seen in cases with vitamin A deficiency

Tech Talk with Sarah: Macaws


By: Sarah Elizabeth




Hello! My name is Sarah & I am a vet tech from AHDC. Each month I will be posting a new blog about exotic pets. Things like at home care, pros & cons of having the responsibility of caring for an exotic pet, & general information.

Today I am going to be talking about Macaws! These colorful feathered friends of ours come in many sizes & colors. The personality of a Macaw is very unique.


Socialization and Behavior

When first starting the socialization process between you & your new pet macaw, it is best to first allow your pet to adapt to his/her new environment. Not only for them, but also for yourself. For a few days, interact from a distance. Let your new pet get adjusted to your voice, your smell, ect. Macaws are known to build a very strong bond with one specific person of their choosing & can become very protective of this person. They can even potentially become violent if felt threatened. Therefore, at a young age it is best to have multiple people handle your pet so he/she will not feel easily threatened.

Besides proper socialization, macaws need exercise and room to do this.  Macaws are active birds that love to climb, swing, chew, and need adequate mental stimulation (toys) so screaming or plucking doesn’t become a habit out of boredom.  Macaws should have a minimum of 2-3 hours of playtime outside of the cage each day.

If you are interested in learning more about socialization and other macaw facts, check out this website:


Macaws need very large cages in order to have a comfortable habitat. Although they come in all different sizes, larger macaws have a very wide wingspan  and their housing should allow them to spread their wings and stretch to preen (a minimum of 30in x 40in, height varies but usually about 57+in). Wooden perches are amongst their favorite places to rest, and they enjoy jumping from perch to perch safe from any harm below.  This also helps to stretch & move their muscles to avoid muscular dystrophy, or weakened muscles, which is common in poor environments.

Part of providing a good environment means providing a warm home as macaws come from the warmer environments of Central and South America. A good room temperature is between 70-75 degrees year round.  A heating lamp is a great way to heat an area for your companion, but be sure it is out of reach so your bird cannot harm itself.  Macaws are playful birds, and it is best to have objects that the bird can use to trim down its beak or nails naturally. Many people are under the impression that mirrors are a great thing for a bird so they can look at their reflection, but this is false information! Macaws & other birds tend to become very aggressive toward their own reflection, thinking that it is another bird in their space. Bowls should not be placed under perches, but rather near and beside perches so there is less chance of them soiling in their food & water.

It is best to have your macaw groomed frequently. Having the nails trimmed will keep both of you safe.  Some birds may also need their beaks smoothed or reshaped if they have overgrowth or peeling.  This can be done during an annual wellness for your macaw at AHDC or more frequently as needed.  While the vet and tech are performing such tasks, they are also monitoring your pet to make sure their stress level is okay & they are safe. During your bird’s annual examination, the veterinarian will do an overall exam of your pet & check for any signs of illness such as poor feather quality, damaged blood feathers, irregular breathing, and any other changes.  Blood feathers are new feathers that are developing on the bird and can be damaged due to wing cramping or a poor environment.  A way to keep their feather quality pristine & to be sure your pet macaw has great hygiene is to bathe your pet macaw regularly. It is common for macaws & many other avian breeds to bathe in the shower.  No shampoo necessary! In fact, although we love the flowery smells of most soaps, perfumes, and hand lotions, the smells are very overwhelming and irritating to birds.

I hope you enjoy this first newsletter and that we can help you and your companion enjoy a long and happy life together.


The average weight of a macaw is about 1.75 to 4 lbs. In length, a macaw can range up to about 30 to 35 in. long. Their wingspan can range between 40 to 45 in. long. Although macaws come in all different sizes & colors, I would like to focus on my personal favorite, the Blue and Gold Macaw.  Blue and golds are one of the most popular large parrot kept as companions due to their beautiful coloring and their overabundance of personality.  Most are a blue/turquoise color & have a yellow chest & belly. Their turquoise wings vividly flow into a beautiful green along the side of their bodies to the tip of their tail feathers which will sometimes fade into a dark green. The top of their head is caped with a vivid color of green, while their face is all white & will obviously blush red when excited. Their beaks are very large, curl, & are black in color. The average lifespan is about 50 to 60 years in captivity! A lifelong companion to have by your side.

General Information

The average weight of a macaw is about 1.75 to 4 lbs. In length, a macaw can range up to about 30 to 35 in. long. Their wingspan can range between 40 to 45 in. long. Although macaws come in all different sizes & colors, I would like to focus on my personal favorite, the Blue and Gold Macaw.  Blue and golds are one of the most popular large parrot kept as companions due to their beautiful coloring and their overabundance of personality.  Most are a blue/turquoise color & have a yellow chest & belly. Their turquoise wings vividly flow into a beautiful green along the side of their bodies to the tip of their tail feathers which will sometimes fade into a dark green. The top of their head is caped with a vivid color of green, while their face is all white & will obviously blush red when excited. Their beaks are very large, curl, & are black in color. The average lifespan is about 50 to 60 years in captivity! A lifelong companion to have by your side.

Pet Food and Nutrition

By Dr. Zajac

photo_weightIf you have a pet, you have probably noticed that there is a lot of overwhelming information about pet food and nutrition out there. It seems we are constantly bombarded by TV ads, internet sites and pet store promotions all claiming to have the best and healthiest foods for our pets. We also can get differing information from our neighbors, family members and friends, groomers, trainers, and pet store employees. If you feel confused or overwhelmed by what to feed your pet, here are a few simple tips to make that stroll down the pet food aisle less challenging.

First, determine into which “life stage” category your pet falls. This label can be found on pet food products in the fine print (the important stuff is always the fine print). It is determined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and is usually found under the ingredient panel of the food. This feeding guideline is established by AAFCO and helps to minimize the risk of malnutrition or oversupplementation if followed. Life stages define subsets of pets based on their nutritional needs at certain stages in their lives and include “growth/gestation/lactation,” “maintenance,” and “all life stages.” Puppies, kittens, pregnant and lactating pets would fall into the first category, adult dogs would be in the second, and the third group claims that it can be fed to any pet at any time. Watch out for the “all life stages” label. For a food to be labeled as such, it must meet the nutritional requirements of the life stage that needs the MOST nutrition (calories, fat, protein, etc.). That is the first category, the growing pets and those that are pregnant or producing milk. This means that if your pet food is labeled as an adult food but the AAFCO statement claims it is sufficient for “all life stages,” you are actually feeding a puppy food (or kitten food if it is for cats). This may be why some of our pets seem to not eat a lot of food, but they are overweight and can’t lose weight even when we decrease their food. Feeding an all life stage food to an older pet with kidney disease or heart disease may be detrimental to their health. These foods may be too high in protein, salt and phosphorous for diseased organs to process.

Second, beware of labels that claim the food is “holistic,” “grain-free,” or “hypo-allergenic.” There is no legal definition for the term “holistic” when it comes to food. Any company can put that label on their food, but there are no actual requirements necessary for the food to meet. It just may mean a higher price tag. Some foods that are labeled as “grain free” or “hypo-allergenic” may in fact not have grain, but if your pet is allergic to a certain meat protein, it won’t help itchy skin or gastrointestinal discomfort. Also, there may be grain contaminants in the food because the previous batch of food may have contained grain (similar to how we have warnings on some of our foods that alert us that some products were made in the same factory where there are peanuts and other foods that may cause allergic reactions).

Third, it is important to consider the nutrition in the food, not just the ingredients. Animals can get essential amino acids, proteins and trace minerals from plant sources as well as meat sources, just as vegetarians can have a complete and balanced diet while avoiding meat. Even if the first ingredient on the label is not meat, it doesn’t mean that the food is nutritionally deficient.

If you have questions about pet food labels or what life stage food is appropriate for your pet, ask your veterinarian for more information. It may also be helpful to bring an empty bag or can of the food to your vet. There are so many out there that we sometimes aren’t familiar with every brand!

National Kidney Month

Hi Friends!

Some of you may have noticed I have been missing in action these past couple months.  Well the truth is I was a pretty sick cat.  On top of my diabetes, my kidneys decided to try and quit on me.  My AHDC buddies took very good care of me even though I was a pretty ungrateful patient.  Can you believe they wouldn’t let me wander the hospital and with an IV pole like people do on TV?!  Well I’m finally back to work and while my kidneys are not functioning at 100%, I’m back to my normal self and my vets say my values are stable.

So in celebration of National Kidney Month and my feeling better, here are a couple facts everyone should know about kidney disease:

  • Kidneys have many jobs. The filter the blood, tell the body to make red blood cells, help control the blood pressure, and help to keep water, electrolytes, and acid/base regulated in the blood stream.
  • As the kidneys stop working, the filter becomes less effective. Water leaks out and electrolytes and acid/base levels are out of control.  The kidneys also lose their ability to communicate with the rest of the body so you can get anemia and high blood pressure.
  • The good news is you only need 1/3 of your kidneys, the rest is extra (that’s why you can donate a kidney)
  • Now for the bad news… ~50% of cats over 15 years of age will develop some degree of kidney disease. Meaning they will have less than 1/3 of their kidneys functioning :(
  • Outward signs of kidney disease include: increased drinking and urination, decreased appetite, and weight loss.  Sometime you also see signs associated with high blood pressure such as weakness or sudden blindness
  • Luckily my vet friends can often see early signs of kidney disease on urine testing and bloodwork before these symptoms occur. This is why my friends recommend bloodwork monitoring even in healthy pets.
  • While kidney disease is irreversible and progressive, there are some things we can do to slow it down. If caught early, something as simple as a special diet can help us cats feel better.  After I was diagnosed, my vets started me on a new prescription food.  It’s delicious and good for me!
  • If we are very sick, sometimes my vet friends can help the kidneys in the short term by hospitalizing us to give us fluids directly in the vein to flush out the built up toxins.
  • Some other treatments that may be needed long term include fluids under the skin to help flush out our toxins and supplements to control our electrolytes and support the poor sick kidneys. I hate getting my fluids but I know it’s for my own good.  Please don’t tell the technicians I understand because then I might get less pity.  Shhh…

Healthy Pet, Healthy You Program

Many of us want to be healthier in the New Year, doesn’t your pet deserve the same opportunity?

Our new program called “Healthy Pet, Healthy You” offers you and your pet:

– Individualized exercise and fitness guidance for you and your pet
– Healthy feeding tips
– Nutrition Information

To jump start our program we will be having a “Getting to Know You” session on THIS SUNDAY, January 11th at 3PM. This session will go over basic exercises and nutrition information with our canine rehab therapist, Kelly Straub, and one of our veterinarians, Dr. Fletcher. We will also discuss our individualized “Healthy Pet, Healthy You” program at this session. Cost of attendance is only $22.50 to learn how to help your 4 legged friend reach his or her New Year’s Resolution.

Please contact our office at 717-652-1270 or email to RSVP or for more information.

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