Why We Vaccinate!

Dogs and cats are susceptible to many diseases, some lethal, some difficult to treat, and most are debilitating.  Vaccines have been developed for many of these diseases for both cats and dogs.  While vaccines can protect against certain diseases, none are 100% perfect.  Some pets may still become ill after exposure, but a vaccine will often shorten the duration they are sick, or limit how severely ill they become.  There has been much controversy with vaccination and “over vaccination” especially regarding children.  Some of this misinformation and hype has been translated to the veterinary field.  While most pets require some sort of vaccine yearly, certain vaccines can be given on a three-year schedule. This allows us to vaccinate less often but provide the same level of protection.  Typically, bacterial diseases require a yearly booster and most viral diseases have three year vaccines.  Below is a summary of the diseases and vaccines that are offered at Riverview Veterinary Clinic.  Please note, that Dr. Schifo and Dr. Marion will make recommendations on which vaccines and protocols would be best for your pet based on the lifestyle and exposure risk.  Vaccines are an integral component of pet wellness and Riverview Veterinary Clinic offers safe, reliable vaccines for your cat and dog.


Rabies: This is probably the most well-known vaccine because many counties require pets to be vaccinated for this deadly disease.  This virus affects many different species of animals, including cats, dogs, and humans.  Rabies is spread from an infected animal to another usually by a bite or scratch.  The virus travels along the central nervous system then to other organs, causing inflammation.  Once neurologic signs are present, the mortality rate is about 90% meaning 9 out of 10 infected patients will die.  Luckily there is a vaccine indicated for the protection of rabies that is available for cats and dogs.  Once the initial vaccine is given, the following year a 3 year vaccine may be an option.  This is considered a core vaccine meaning all dogs and cats should be vaccinated against Rabies.

Distemper:  Included in most combination vaccines, distemper is a viral disease that affects dogs and other wild species.  This disease causes disease of the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, respiratory system, and parts of the skin.  Dogs affected with distemper may display coughing, gagging, nasal and ocular discharge, vomiting, diarrhea, twitching, and or seizures.  There is no treatment for distemper and patients that can survive the disease will have both non-life threatening and life-threatening signs throughout the remainder of its life.  Typically, dogs will have abnormal thickening of the pads of their feet (non-life threatening).  In addition, the damage endured by the nervous system often leads to limited mental abilities, seizures, reduced sight, and stumbling.  Like Rabies vaccine, this is considered a core vaccine that all dogs should be protected against.

Adenovirus (Canine Hepatitis): Included with the Distemper Combination vaccines, CAV-1 protects against a viral disease that affects dogs and causes damage to the liver and kidneys.  Death associated with CAV-1 is usually due to damage and disease of the liver.  Treatment for this disease is supportive and surviving dogs have lasting effects and permanent damage to the liver.

Parvovirus: This highly contagious virus mainly affects dogs, usually young unvaccinated puppies.  “Parvo” is a highly lethal disease where mortality rates can reach over 90%.  This disease is associated with severe bloody diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, fever and abdominal pain.  The virus causes destruction of the intestinal cells leading to dehydration, loss of electrolytes, and inability to absorb nutrients.  Blood and protein loss is also common due to the “leakiness” that occurs with parvovirus infection.  In addition, the bacteria normally present in the intestinal tract can leak into the blood stream causing endotoxemia and sepsis.  Treatment is supportive for infected dogs and usually consists of intravenous fluids, anti-nausea medications and broad spectrum antibiotics.  Severe cases may require blood and/or plasma transfusions.  Surviving dogs can remain contagious for several weeks following apparent recovery and the organism is highly resilient and can survive in the environment for long periods of time.  This disease is included in the “distemper” combination vaccines and the series begins at 6 weeks of age for most puppies.  Prevention through vaccination is the most effective means to protect your dog against parvovirus.

Leptospirosis:  Illinois is a Lepto prevalent area, meaning this organism is readily found in the environment.  This bacterium is a spiral shaped organism that is absorbed through mucous membranes or ingested.  “Lepto” affects many species and each species with varying degrees of illness.  Many wildlife species are able to tolerate infection and spread the organism with their urine.  Our pets are exposed when they contact this urine in contaminated fields, streams, ponds, and even the backyard.  Unfortunately for dogs, infection causes fatal kidney and liver disease and treatment is often unsuccessful.  Additionally, since this disease is zoonotic (affects several species) people are at risk from contracting this disease from their pets.  There has been some controversy regarding the vaccine for leptospirosis, particularly regarding reactions.  While this was more commonly seen in the veterinary field 10-15 years ago, drastic improvements have been made with today’s line of vaccinations.  They are safer, cause less reactions, and maintain effectiveness for 1 year duration.  Riverview Veterinary Clinic is proud to offer the Ultra line of leptospirosis vaccines by BI that have been purified to lower rates of reactions.  These dosages are ½ ml versus the traditional 1.0 ml injection.  Most dogs are at risk for Leptospirosis in the area, therefore the doctors will likely recommend this vaccine for your dog.

Lyme Disease:  This tick-borne disease is being diagnosed in dogs with increasing frequency.  This may be due to newer testing protocols, such as the 4DX heartworm and tick panel that is performed at Riverview Veterinary Clinic, and/or due to spread of infected ticks and increased exposure of our pets.  In addition to detecting presence of heartworm infection, the 4DX test will determine if there is proof that your dog has been bitten by a tick, and been infected with several tick-borne diseases, including Lyme Disease.  Lyme Disease is caused by a bacterium called Borelia Burgdorfi and this organism is associated with joint swelling and pain as well as damage to the kidneys.  Treatment is often difficult and rarely leads to elimination of the organism from the body.  Dogs that are exposed to areas where ticks can be found can be vaccinated against this disease.  This vaccine is administered annually following the initial booster series.

Bordetella:  The disease commonly referred to as “kennel cough” is caused by a bacterial organism called Bordetella.  The name kennel cough given to this disease dates back to when it was first identified in kennel situations.  In an environment such as a kennel where several dogs are in close confinement, this disease can spread rapidly by oral secretions, directly or indirectly through a contaminated surface.  This causes an upper respiratory infection that affects the trachea where dogs have a dry, honking, and non-productive cough.  Dogs that are exposed to other dogs, or are in areas where other dogs go are at risk for kennel cough.  Places such as grooming facilities, pet stores, dog parks, or any dog-social gathering places risk for your dog.  Riverview Veterinary Clinic offers the oral vaccine that is given annually to protect your dogs.

Vaccinations are an important part of canine wellness.  They protect against fatal diseases that our beloved are exposed to.  They reduce the risk of illness and if infected may shorten the duration and lessen the severity of a disease to increase the chances of survival.  Dr. Schifo and Dr. Marion can ensure your pet is protected appropriately and safely during your pet’s wellness examination.


Nothing Heartwarming about Heartworm

Heartworm Disease

Heartworm is a long, string-like parasitic worm that has the scientific nameDirofilaria immitis. It earns its common name by living in the host’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Heartworm can cause severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and death. It is transmitted only through mosquitoes to a variety of species including dogs, cats, ferrets, wolves, foxes, ferrets, sea lions, and in rare instances, humans. Heartworm can affect any breed of dog or cat.

Heartworm infects animals all over the world. Once inside an animal, a heartworm can live five to seven years, and grow up to twelve inches long. Adult heartworms look like strands of cooked spaghetti.

Mosquitoes spread heartworm to the host animal.  When a mosquito bites the animal, it transmits infected larvae through the bite wound. Once inside an animal, it takes six or seven months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. These adult heartworms mate and the females release the offspring, called microfilariae, into the host animal’s bloodstream. Mosquitoes then ingest these microfilariae when they bite the infected animal, completing the lifecycle of heartworm.

The parasite lives  inside a mosquito, and develops into infective larvae in 10 to 14 days. Microfilariae cannot become infective larvae without first passing through a mosquito. This means heartworm is spread  only through mosquito bites and not by casual contact.

The presence of the parasites inside the heart and lungs causes a large degree of inflammation, and can severely interfere with blood flow. This can cause coughing, asthma -like signs, heart failure, weight loss, fluid build-up in the abdomen, or sudden death. If  your pet develops heartworm, your veterinarian will do tests including chest x-rays and blood tests  to determine how seriously it is affected.  Treatment includes doxycycline and an injectable drug named Immiticde ℞ which is derived from arsenic. The treatment takes several months, and can also cause side effects.

For all these reasons,  it is much better to just prevent heartworm in the first place.



American Heartworm Society

Vomiting Versus Regurgitation

When you come home to find a mess on the floor, it is easy to assume that the dog vomited. Vomiting is very common in dogs, as they often eat weird things! There are actually many other causes of vomiting, including parasites, kidney disease, liver problems, pancreatitis, and food allergies. Overall, there are probably at least 101 causes of vomiting.

When you take your dog to the veterinarian, the doctor will ask questions and determine if the dog is truly vomiting, or if the dog really has regurgitation, because they have different causes. You will be asked if you saw the process and what the mess looked like.


Vomiting has many causes, but results in the stomach ejecting its contents through the mouth. Very active vomiting can also cause intestinal fluid to be brought up. When vomiting, a dog will often precede the act by retching, actively using the abdominal muscles, to force the contents up and out of the body. The process is often strenuous and dynamic.

The vomitus, meaning the material that was vomited up, comes from the stomach or intestines, and therefore contains a lots of fluid. The fluid may be a range of colors, from clear, to white foamy, yellow, green, brown, or even red if there is fresh blood.  Blood that has been in the stomach longer will become digested, and look like coffee grounds when vomited up.

Of course, there could be many other things in the vomitus depending on what was eaten. There could be dog food, which will look like it is starting to digest rather than its original form. Non-food material may look digested, or it may look like the original form depending on whether the  material can be digested. Objects like metal, plastic, and many fabrics cannot be digested.


Regurgitation, on the other hand, comes from problems in the esophagus, the tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach. A dog that is regurgitating will just burp up  material. There is no active movement from the abdominal muscles pressing on the stomach.

Since the food or other material does not make it to the stomach, it is not digested;  food will look much like it did when it was eaten. Sometimes there can be water in the material that is regurgitated if the problem is a megesophagus. This is a disease where the esophagus is not a straight tube, but becomes flaccid and dilates. Things that are ingested may just sit in this dilated area, not reaching the stomach, and will be regurgitated later.  Often, there can be fluid with food that is regurgitated.

Diseases of the esophagus include ulcers, inflammation, foreign bodies stuck inside the esophagus, tumors, and megesophagus. This is why it is important to know if that mess on the floor is caused by vomiting, or by regurgitation.

Catnip: Why Cats Love It

Few things stimulate a cat’s pleasure faster than catnip. Exposure to this simple herb can reveal a new side to their feline personality. Many cats will go crazy at the smell of this plant.

Catnip has a reputation of being a feline drug and many cat owners wonder if it is safe to give it to their pet. Giving catnip in small doses does no harm. Using it as a treat can be quite good for your cat’s emotional health. It relieves stress and can help them get rid of nervous energy.

What Is Catnip?

Catnip is a type of mint plant found  in many countries throughout the world. It can grow up to three feet high and has many branches filled with purple flowers and heart shaped leaves.

The catnip plant has an aromatic oil called nepetalactone. When cats smell this compound, it triggers the part of the feline brain that responds to happy pheromones. This is why cats react the way they do.

Many cats seem to go crazy when they smell catnip by rolling, rubbing and running around. Eating catnip seems to produce the opposite effect. Cats often become mellow when they ingest the plant. This response to catnip usually lasts up to 10 minutes before the cat loses interest.

Catnip as a Training Tool

Creative cat owners can use catnip as a reward or incentive to promote good behavior in their felines. Rubbing dried catnip on a scratching post or cat tree can entice your cat to go there when they need to sharpen their claws instead of tearing your couch to shreds.

Lacing a cat toy with some catnip can be beneficial for inducing an indoor cat to exercise. It will encourage them to be more active and play and prevent obesity. These cat toys should be stored in an airtight container when not in use, so the catnip stays fresh longer.

Growing Catnip

You can grow your own catnip plants in a home garden. You can buy more mature plants from a nursery or plant the seeds after the last major frost of the season. It is important to put the plant in an area where it has plenty of room to grow. Take steps to protect the growing plant from your cat so they don’t tear it out of the soil before it is fully mature.


“Catnip Confidential,” Veterinary Practice News. February 1, 2012.


Is Catnip Right for Your Cat?
Catnip does not have the same effect on every feline. Some cats don’t care about it at all.

The love of this plant is inherited, so only 50 to 70 percent of cats respond to catnip. Kittens typically ignore it until they are three to six months old.

Catnip is non-toxic but cat owners should use caution in giving it out too often. Some cats exhibit aggressive behavior when exposed to catnip and should not have it under any circumstances.

Consult your veterinarian if you notice problematic behavior when your feline uses catnip.

New Uses for Animal DNA

Advances in science have enabled the decoding of several animals’ DNA. Knowing the genome of a species has enabled medical professionals to detect some diseases that have a genetic basis. But it also has other uses, even in the criminal justice system.

The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory Forensic Unit at the University of California, Davis is the first accredited crime lab dedicated to animal DNA profiling. There are three main types of cases: where an animal is a victim, where the animal is the perpetrator, and where the animal is a witness.

DNA can be used to confirm the ownership of an animal that has been stolen or to identify the remains of a lost pet.  Tissue samples can be compared to items that would have the animals DNA on it, such as brushes, bedding, or food and water bowls.

When an animal is suspected of being the perpetrator, samples from the victim may lead to the culprit. Collection of samples from bite wounds, or clothing if the victim is a person, can be studied to determine what species performed the attack, and even to determine which individual is guilty.

Cases where animals are a witness are usually human crimes. Animal DNA can link a suspect with a crime scene or a victim. Transfer of DNA from saliva, blood, hair, stool, or urine can occur during the commission of a crime.  The UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Lab has been involved in solving or proving several serious crimes. One was a kidnapping and domestic abuse case in West Virginia where they analyzed hair from around a drill bit and blood on a hammer owned by the suspect and matched them to two puppies belonging to the victim. Another case in Texas involved a serial rapist who rolled in dog feces during an attack. The victim owned three dogs, and they matched the stool found on the suspect to the victim’s chihuahua.  He was found guilty after lab personnel testified.

In a triple murder case in Indiana in 2000, a suspect denied he had ever been at the location of the murders. An examination showed that he had a very small amount of dog feces on a shoe. The UC Davis lab was able match this to the only dog on the property where the slayings occurred. The killer is now serving life in prison.

The use of DNA is opening up a whole new field of science, just one aspect is its use in the criminal justice system. The UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Lab is still in the process of informing criminal investigators of their capability of analyzing any type of animal DNA. Who knows how many cases can be solved now?