Tips from Vet on Keeping Pets Healthy, Happy

Courtesy photo  Little Puffball might seem excited to face the great outdoors, but kitten owners should be aware of the dangers Puffball could confront out there.

Tips from Vet on Keeping Pets Healthy, Happy


Question: Does my dog need a heartworm preventative all year ‘round in the Bay Area? The mosquitoes here are not as bad as in the South, and I don’t want to medicate her if I don’t have to.

Answer: Heartworm is a parasite transmitted by at least 70 species of mosquitos worldwide and in the United States. Once your pet gets infected, the worm matures and takes up residence in the heart, blood vessels, lungs, and other organs causing serious and potentially fatal disease. Heartworm disease is very easy and safe to prevent but can be costly and difficult to treat if your dog becomes infected. In addition, heartworm in its early stages is very difficult to detect.

Every three years, the American Heartworm Society gathers data across the United States. The most recent study, conducted in 2013, found that although the Deep South has the highest incidence of heartworm disease, it is prevalent in all 50 states, including Alaska. Unfortunately, the study also found that the number of cases and the geographic distribution of cases continues to grow.

The heartworm preventative recommended by your veterinarian is safe, effective and, compared to the potential cost of treating heartworm disease, very inexpensive. Many of these medications also kill other internal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms. For all of these reasons I recommend that all dogs in Northern California take a heartworm preventative all year round.

Question: We’re adopting a kitten and want to give it free roaming privileges so it’s happy, but we also want it to stay healthy and safe. Do you have any general health advice for outdoor cats?

Congratulations on your new kitten! I recommend that all cats be indoor only as they are much more likely to live longer. Outdoor cats have more parasites, both internal and external, and are exposed to more infectious diseases. They are also in danger of coming into contact with cars, poisons and wildlife. What’s more, they sustain injuries from other cats and often develop bite abscesses.

If your cat does go outdoors, try to supervise her outdoor time to limit exposure to stray cats or other animals. 

All cats (both inside and outside) should get the same preventative care from your veterinarian. Your cat should be examined annually and vaccinated against rabies (required in Alameda), feline distemper, and feline leukemia. She also should be tested for FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and FeLV (feline leukemia virus). In addition, I recommend she be microchipped, be on an effective flea preventative, and have regular parasite screening and treatment.

I see no reason why an indoor-only cat would be any less happy than an indoor-outdoor cat, especially since it is likely to live a much longer and healthier life. Best of luck with the new addition to your household.



Dr. Diana Levin is a veterinarian at Park Centre Animal Hospital. Ask A Vet is brought to you by Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter in partnership with Park Centre Animal Hospital, Alameda Pet Hospital and Providence Veterinary Hospital & Clinic. Send your pet health questions for possible inclusion to