Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

What is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus? 
Virologists classify feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) as a lentivirus (or “slow virus”). FIV is in the same retrovirus family as feline leukemia virus (FeLV), but the viruses differ in many ways including their shape. FIV is elongated, while FeLV is more circular. The two viruses are also quite different genetically, and the proteins that compose them are dissimilar in size and composition. The specific ways in which they cause disease differ, as well.

How common is the infection? 
FIV-infected cats are found worldwide, but the prevalence of infection varies greatly. In the United States, approximately 1.5 to 3 percent of healthy cats are infected with FIV. Rates rise significantly-15 percent or more-in cats that are sick or at high risk of infection. Because biting is the most efficient means of viral transmission, free-roaming, aggressive male cats are the most frequently infected, while cats housed exclusively indoors are much less likely to be infected.

How is FIV spread? 
The primary mode of transmission is through bite wounds. Casual, non-aggressive contact does not appear to be an efficient route of spreading FIV; as a result, cats in households with stable social structures where housemates do not fight are at little risk for acquiring FIV infections. On rare occasions infection is transmitted from an infected mother cat to her kittens, usually during passage through the birth canal or when the newborn kittens ingest infected milk. Sexual contact is not a major means of spreading FIV.

What does FIV do to a cat? 
Infected cats may appear normal for years. However, infection eventually leads to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself against other infections. The same bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi that may be found in the everyday environment–where they usually do not affect healthy animals–can cause severe illness in those with weakened immune systems. These secondary infections are responsible for many of the diseases associated with FIV.

What are the signs of disease caused by FIV?

Early in the course of infection, the virus is carried to nearby lymph nodes, where it reproduces in white blood cells known as T-lymphocytes. The virus then spreads to other lymph nodes throughout the body, resulting in a generalized but usually temporary enlargement of the lymph nodes, often accompanied by fever. This stage of infection may pass unnoticed unless the lymph nodes are greatly enlarged.

An infected cat’s health may deteriorate progressively or be characterized by recurrent illness interspersed with periods of relative health. Sometimes not appearing for years after infection, signs of immunodeficiency can appear anywhere throughout the body.

  • Poor coat condition and persistent fever with a loss of appetite are commonly seen.
  • Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and mouth (stomatitis) and chronic or recurrent infections of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract are often present.
  • Persistent diarrhea can also be a problem, as can a variety of eye conditions.
  • Slow but progressive weight loss is common, followed by severe wasting late in the disease process.
  • Various kinds of cancer and blood diseases are much more common in cats infected with FIV, too.
  • In unspayed female cats, abortion of kittens or other reproductive failures have been noted.
  • Some infected cats experience seizures, behavior changes, and other neurological disorders.

How is infection diagnosed? 
Antibody tests detect the presence of antibody in the blood of infected cats.

Positive results

  • Because few, if any, cats ever eliminate infection, the presence of antibody indicates that a cat is infected with FIV. This test can be performed by most veterinary diagnostic laboratories and also is available in kit form for use in veterinary clinics. Since false-positive results may occur, veterinarians recommend that positive results be confirmed using a test with a different format.
  • Infected mother cats transfer FIV antibodies to nursing kittens, so kittens born to infected mothers may receive positive test results for several months after birth. However, few of these kittens actually are or will become infected. To clarify their infection status, kittens younger than six months of age receiving positive results should be retested at 60-day intervals until they are at least six months old.

Negative results

  • A negative test result indicates that antibodies directed against FIV have not been detected, and, in most cases, this implies that the cat is not infected. Nevertheless, it takes eight to 12 weeks after infection (and sometimes even longer) before detectable levels of antibody appear, so if the test is performed during this interval, inaccurate results might be obtained. Therefore, antibody-negative cats with either an unknown or a known exposure to FIV-infected cats-such as through the bite of an unknown cat-should be retested a minimum of 60 days after their most recent exposure in order to allow adequate time for development of antibodies.
  • On very rare occasions, cats in the later stages of FIV infection may test negative because their immune systems are so compromised that they no longer produce detectable levels of antibody.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are designed to detect short segments of a virus’s genetic material. While antibody-based tests are ideal screening tests for infection, in certain situations (such as confirming infection in antibody-positive kittens or determining infection of cats vaccinated with antibody-producing FIV vaccines), PCR-based tests, in theory, would be superior. Although PCR testing methods offer promise and are being actively explored, at this time unacceptable numbers of false-positive and false-negative results prevent them from routinely being recommended.

How can I keep my cat from becoming infected? 
The only sure way to protect cats is to prevent their exposure to the virus. Cat bites are the major way infection is transmitted, so keeping cats indoors-and away from potentially infected cats that might bite them-markedly reduces their likelihood of contracting FIV infection. For the safety of the resident cats, only infection-free cats should be adopted into a household with uninfected cats.

Vaccines to help protect against FIV infection are now available. However, not all vaccinated cats will be protected by the vaccine, so preventing exposure will remain important, even for vaccinated pets. In addition, vaccination may have an impact on future FIV test results. It is important that you discuss the advantages and disadvantages of vaccination with your veterinarian to help you decide whether FIV vaccines should be administered to your cat.

I just discovered that one of my cats has FIV, yet I have other cats as well. What do I do now? 
Unfortunately, many FIV-infected cats are not diagnosed until after they have lived for years with other cats. In such cases, all the other cats in the household should be tested, as well. Ideally, all infected cats should be separated from the noninfected ones to eliminate the potential for FIV transmission. If this is not possible-and if fighting or rough play is not taking place-the risk to the non-infected cats appears to be low.

How should FIV-infected cats be managed?

  • FIV-infected cats should be confined indoors to prevent spread of FIV infection to other cats in the neighborhood and to reduce their exposure to infectious agents carried by other animals.
  • FIV-infected cats should be spayed or neutered.
  • They should be fed nutritionally complete and balanced diets.
  • Uncooked food, such as raw meat and eggs, and unpasteurized dairy products should not be fed to FIV-infected cats because the risk of food-borne bacterial and parasitic infections is much higher in immunosuppressed cats.
  • Wellness visits for FIV-infected cats should be scheduled with your veterinarian at least every six months. Although a detailed physical examination of all body systems will be performed, your veterinarian will pay special attention to the health of the gums, eyes, skin, and lymph nodes. Your cat’s weight will be measured accurately and recorded, because weight loss is often the first sign of deterioration. A complete blood count, serum biochemical analysis, and a urine analysis should be performed annually.
  • Vigilance and close monitoring of the health and behavior of FIV-infected cats is even more important than it is for uninfected cats. Alert your veterinarian to any changes in your cat’s health as soon as possible.
  • There is no evidence from controlled scientific studies to show that immunomodulator, alternative, or antiviral medications have any positive benefits on the health or longevity of healthy FIV-infected cats. However, some antiviral therapies have been shown to benefit some FIV-infected cats with seizures or stomatitis.

How long can I expect my FIV-infected cat to live? 
It is impossible to accurately predict the life expectancy of a cat infected with FIV. With appropriate care and under ideal conditions, many infected cats will remain in apparent good health for many months or years. If your cat has already had one or more severe illnesses as a result of FIV infection, or if persistent fever and weight loss are present, a much shorter survival time can be expected.

My FIV-infected cat died recently after a long illness. How should I clean my home before bringing in a new cat?
Feline immunodeficiency virus will not survive outside the cat for more than a few hours in most environments. However, FIV-infected cats are frequently infected with other infectious agents that may pose some threat to a newcomer. Thoroughly clean and disinfect or replace food and water dishes, bedding, litter pans, and toys. A dilute solution of household bleach (four ounces of bleach in 1 gallon of water) makes an excellent disinfectant. Vacuum carpets and mop floors with an appropriate cleanser. Any new cats or kittens should be properly vaccinated against other infectious agents before entering the household.

Can I become infected with FIV? 
Although FIV is a lentivirus similar to HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) and causes a disease in cats similar to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) in humans, it is a highly species-specific virus that infects only felines.

A number of studies have failed to show any evidence that FIV can infect or cause disease in people.

Why should I have my cat tested?

Early detection will help you maintain the health of your own cat and also allow you to prevent spreading infection to other cats.

Under what circumstances should FIV testing be performed?

  • If your cat has never been tested.
  • If your cat is sick, even if it tested free of infection in the past but subsequent exposure can’t be ruled out.
  • When cats are newly adopted, whether or not they will be entering a household with other cats.
  • If your cat has recently been exposed to an infected cat.
  • If your cat is exposed to cats that may be infected (for example, if your cat goes outdoors unsupervised or lives with other cats that might be infected). Your veterinarian may suggest testing periodically (yearly) as long as your cat is exposed to potentially infected cats.
  • If you’re considering vaccinating with an FIV vaccine.

“This information was prepared by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Cornell Feline Health Center, Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, New York 14853-6401 and is reproduced here with their permission and our gratitude.”

Feline Leukemia Virus

What is feline leukemia virus?
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV), a retrovirus, so named because of the way it behaves within infected cells. All retroviruses, including feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), produce an enzyme, reverse transcriptase, which permits them to insert copies of their own genetic material into that of the cells they have infected. Although related, FeLV and FIV differ in many ways, including their shape: FeLV is more circular while FIV is elongated. The two viruses are also quite different genetically, and their protein consituents are dissimlar in size and composition. Although many of the diseases caused by FeLV and FIV are similar, the specific ways in which they are caused differs.

How common is the infection? 
FeLV-infected cats are found worldwide, but the prevalence of infection varies greatly depending on their age, health, environment, and lifestyle. In the United States, approximately 2 to 3% of all cats are infected with FeLV. Rates rise significantly—13% or more—in cats that are ill, very young, or otherwise at high risk of infection.

How is FeLV spread? 
Cats persistently infected with FeLV serve as sources of infection. Virus is shed in very high quantities in saliva and nasal secretions, but also in urine, feces, and milk from infected cats. Cat-to-cat transfer of virus may occur from a bite wound, during mutual grooming, and (though rarely) through the shared use of litter boxes and feeding dishes. Transmission can also take place from an infected mother cat to her kittens, either before they are born or while they are nursing. FeLV doesn’t survive long outside a cat’s body—probably less than a few hours under normal household conditions.

What cats are at greatest risk of infection? 
Cats at greatest risk of infection are those that may be exposed to infected cats, either via prolonged close contact or through bite wounds. Such cats include:

  • Cats living with infected cats or with cats of unknown infection status
  • Cats allowed outdoors unsupervised, where they may be bitten by an infected cat
  • Kittens born to infected mothers

Kittens are much more susceptible to infection than are adult cats, and therefore are at the greatest risk of infection if exposed. But accompanying their progression to maturity is an increasing resistance to FeLV infection. For example, the degree of virus exposure sufficient to infect 100% of young kittens will infect only 30% or fewer adults. Nonetheless, even healthy adult cats can become infected if sufficiently exposed.

What does FeLV do to a cat?
Feline leukemia virus adversely affects the cat’s body in many ways. It is the most common cause of cancer in cats, it may cause various blood disorders, and it may lead to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself against other infections. The same bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi that may be found in the everyday environment—where they usually do not affect healthy animals—can cause severe illness in those with weakened immune systems. These secondary infections are responsible for many of the diseases associated with FeLV.

What are the signs of disease caused by FeLV? 
During the early stages of infection, it is common for cats to exhibit no signs of disease at all. However, over time—weeks, months, or even years—the cat’s health may progressively deteriorate or be characterized by recurrent illness interspersed with periods of relative health. Signs can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Slow but progressive weight loss, followed by severe wasting late in the disease process
  • Poor coat condition
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Persistent fever
  • Pale gums and other mucus membranes
  • Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and mouth (stomatitis)
  • Infections of the skin, urinary bladder, and upper respiratory tract
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Seizures, behavior changes, and other neurological disorders
  • A variety of eye conditions
  • In unspayed female cats, abortion of kittens or other reproductive failures

I understand there are two stages of FeLV infection. What are they?
FeLV is present in the blood (a condition called viremia) during two different stages of infection:

  • Primary viremia, an early stage of virus infection. During this stage some cats are able to mount an effective immune response, eliminate the virus from the bloodstream, and halt progression to the secondary viremia stage.
  • Secondary viremia, a later stage characterized by persistent infection of the bone marrow and other tissue. If FeLV infection progresses to this stage it has passed a point of no return: the overwhelming majority of cats with secondary viremia will be infected for the remainder of their lives.

How is infection diagnosed?
Two types of FeLV blood tests are in common use. Both detect a protein component of the virus as it circulates in the bloodstream.

  • ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) and similar tests can be performed in your veterinarian’s office. ELISA-type tests detect both primary and secondary stages of viremia.
  • IFA (indirect immunofluorescent antibody assay) tests must be sent out to a diagnostic laboratory. IFA tests detect secondary viremia only, so the majority of positive-testing cats remain infected for life.

Each testing method has strengths and weaknesses. Your veterinarian will likely suggest an ELISA-type test first, but in some cases, both tests must be performed—and perhaps repeated—to clarify a cat’s true infection status.

How can I keep my cat from becoming infected? 
The only sure way to protect cats is to prevent their exposure to FeLV-infected cats.

  • Keep cats indoors, away from potentially infected cats that might bite them. If you do allow your cats outdoor access, provide supervision or place them in a secure enclosure to prevent wandering and fighting.
  • Adopt only infection-free cats into households with uninfected cats.
  • House infection-free cats separately from infected cats, and don’t allow infected cats to share food and water bowls or litter boxes with uninfected cats.
  • Consider FeLV vaccination of uninfected cats. (FeLV vaccination of infected cats is not beneficial.) Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of vaccination with your veterinarian. FeLV vaccines are widely available, but since not all vaccinated cats will be protected, preventing exposure remains important even for vaccinated pets. FeLV vaccines will not cause cats to receive false positive results on ELISA, IFA, or any other available FeLV tests.

I just discovered that one of my cats has FeLV, yet I have other cats as well. What should I do? 
Unfortunately, many FeLV-infected cats are not diagnosed until after they have lived with other cats. In such cases, all other cats in the household should be tested for FeLV. Ideally, infected and non-infected cats should then be separated to eliminate the potential for FeLV transmission. Other uninfected cats in the household should be vaccinated for FeLV as soon as possible.

**Information in this article is courtesy of American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Cornell Feline Health Center and is reproduced here with their permission and our gratitude!!**

Bee Stings and Dog (and Cats)

Bee stings in dogs can be serious and, in rare cases, life threatening, just like they are in people. Like young children, dogs may be more likely to be stung because they are curious and may try to chase, play with or snap at a flying insect. This makes them very susceptible to being stung in or on the mouth, nose, face or feet. If you notice that your dog has been stung by a bee or other stinging insect, the stinger should be removed. You should then immediately proceed to your veterinarian’s office. Call them prior to leaving the house so that they are aware you are on the way. They also may have further first aid that they would like you to provide prior to transport.


Symptoms of a sting or bite may vary greatly depending on the type of dog and how stoic they are. Many dogs hide pain well, and if you aren’t there to witness the sting you may not initially be aware it has occurred. Some dogs will cry out or run in circles. If they are stung in the mouth they may salivate heavily. If they are stung on an extremity they may be lame. They will frequently have swelling of the area, scratching, rubbing, licking or chewing at the sting site, and pain if the area is touched. Lethargy may also be a symptom. The stung area will often be hot to the touch, similar to the reaction we see in humans. Signs of a more severe, anaphylactic (potentially life-threatening) reaction include severe swelling of the area, encompassing a large circumference around the sting, severe swelling of the face, throat or neck, hives, vomiting, difficulty breathing and collapse. Sting reactions can be very mild and only appear as a slight pain or itch sensation that lasts only a few minutes. Stings that contain more venom cause the swelling, pain, itch and redness at the site. These are also the stings that can cause anaphylactic signs in severely allergic dogs.


It is important to remain calm if your pet is stung, as your pet will be calmer if you are. If you can remove the stinger, it may reduce the amount of venom injected to remove it immediately. Honey bees lose their stinger when they sting, but many other stinging insects retain their stinger. If it is not immediately visible in the area, proceed to your veterinarian’s office. Remove the stinger by scraping a credit card or other solid item across the skin to flick the stinger out. Do not remove it by pinching it as this may cause additional venom to be released. Anaphylactic reactions can happen very quickly. It is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible after a sting to prevent life threatening reactions. Your veterinarian can immediately administer medications to counteract an allergic reaction. If they suffer anaphylactic signs while in the veterinary office, they can be given emergency care to counteract the reaction and support their airway and maintain oxygen flow. If you were not able to remove the stinger, the veterinary professional can also make sure it has been removed. They will also likely prescribe medications to ease the pain and itching and prevent further reactions in the coming days. Hospitalization may be recommended in severe cases so your pet can be closely observed.


Insect bites and stings are difficult to prevent. Bees, hornets and wasps build their nests in the ground, flower beds, in the eaves of houses and in trees. Monitoring your property for nests and having them promptly removed will help decrease the likelihood of stings. Since bees are ubiquitous, having your veterinarian’s and the local emergency clinic’s contact numbers memorized or close to hand.

When in doubt, call your veterinarian!!

Whether it’s a long vacation or a weekend getaway, chances are that you are going to take advantage of the warm weather to sneak away this summer. And if your pets are traveling with you, it’s important to make sure everyone is prepared. Remember to keep pets safe too – a safety harness or carrier/crate is essential before beginning your trip. If the pet is in a carrier or crate, it should be stabilized to the frame of the car so that it is traveling flat. Most cars have hooks or grommets in the frame that can be used to tie down the crate to the car (use a luggage tie down). Covering the carrier with a breathable cloth for cats will help minimize sensory overload from road noise and traffic. Calming music may also help reduce anxiety in anxious pets. There are even CDs and apps that provide music specifically tailored to be soothing to a dog or cat’s ears. It is important to stop frequently during the trip to let your dogs stretch their legs and relieve themselves.  Make sure to keep current pictures of your pets on your cell phones and ID tags on the pets’ collars.

Assemble All Appropriate Paperwork

If you are traveling across state lines, you will need a health certificate, (otherwise known as a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection) for each pet you bring. This document shows that a veterinarian has examined your pet within the last 10 days and has found him/her to be free of any transmissible or infectious diseases and current on vaccinations. This, too, requires pre-planning so you can have the examination and certificate issuance ten days or less prior to travel. It is also wise to travel with a copy of your pets’ rabies certificates as additional proof of vaccination. A vaccination certificate listing all of the vaccines and tests that your pet has received in the last year is also obtainable from your veterinarian. You will need this information if you need to seek veterinary care away from home. If you are planning a long trip, or a trip out of the country, you may want to ask your veterinarian what additional vaccinations, parasite prevention and tests might be needed for the trip. Prevention of transmissible disease is much better than having to try to cure it later! Your veterinarian can also prescribe medications for motion sickness if needed.

Verify Your Accommodations

Make sure your destination lodgings are pet friendly prior to leaving, whether it is a hotel or a friend or family member’s home. It’s also a good idea to bring a kennel or crate for your pet if you need to leave them unattended for any period of time. Remember that some pets may be noisy if left unattended. Make sure you have plans in place to bring them with you safely or keep them quiet and occupied in the hotel room. This could include making sure you are able to leave your car on but locked with air conditioning running. Remember, NEVER leave your pet in a locked car that is turned off in the spring or summer. Cars can quickly become ovens reaching temperatures over 160 degrees Fahrenheit and higher at external temperatures of only 70 degrees even with windows cracked!!!  Follow this link for more information on the studies of temperatures in cars vs. outdoor temperatures. Another alternative is to bring your dog’s favorite puzzle or stuffed Kong toys to keep him or her occupied while you are out of the room. Do not leave them unattended with a rawhide or other choking hazard. Leaving the tv on at a moderate volume can also mask hallway noises and prevent some alert barking. Be a good guest and and be sure to pick up after your pet. Follow this link for a list of pet friendly hotels and destinations.

Pet Identification Updates

Before leaving for your trip, be sure that your pet is wearing their identification. A flat buckle or martingale type collar with ID tags is essential. Make sure your pet’s ID tag has your cell phone number prominently displayed – or use a temporary travel ID tag with this information during your trip. It is wise to have your pet microchipped prior to any travel. A microchip is a permanent method of identifying your pet as yours if they become lost, especially if they lose their collar along the way. If your pet has a microchip, make sure it is registered to the current contact information in case your pet should become lost. Keep a current photo of your pet on your cell phone so that you can share it if needed. See our microchipping blog for more information!

Dealing with Motion Sickness

Many pets become nauseous riding in the car. Plan ahead and talk to your vet if you have noticed symptoms of nausea in your pet. These can include lip smacking, drooling, salivating, licking lips, panting and shaking. There are multiple medications available to help your pet with motion sickness. Most of these need to be given thirty minutes to several hours prior to travel, so it is important to have them ready prior to your departure date.

Stopping along the way

Make frequent stops to allow your dog to relieve him or herself and stretch his/her legs. Planning these stops in advance can take the stress out of travel and make for a more relaxing trip! Pet areas at rest stops are a poor choice for walking your dog. Heavy traffic in these areas makes them hotbeds of parasites and transmissible diseases. Choosing an exit with a state park to walk in, or a school or church with a wide expanse of fresh grass, are good choices for safely walking your dog. Be sure to pick up after your pet well! If you are traveling with a cat, be sure to pack a litter box and litter for your cat to use in the evening at the hotel room or friend’s house.

Be sure to pack with care!

Don’t forget to bring food, water, dishes, toys, treats, bedding, leashes and collars and your pet’s medication, if applicable. A favorite dog bed or an extra crate for the hotel may help them feel at home. A blanket to lay over the bed to prevent dog hair transfer to the linens is also a courteous thing to bring. Make sure your pet has every thing they need to feel comfortable and safe on the road just as they would at home. A pet first aid kit is also a very important thing to carry with you on every trip (see our blog post on Pet First Aid).

For more information on this or any other blog posts, feel free to contact us at alliedanimal@comcast.net or (804)672-7200!

What is a Mast Cell Tumor:

Mast cell tumors (MCT) are one of the most common tumors of the skin (cutaneous) in dogs, accounting for approximately 20% of skin tumors. Mast cells are a normal type of cell that originate in the bone marrow and travel out to the tissues of the body. These cells contain histamine and heparin and respond to areas of allergic insult to the body, creating the symptoms of allergic reaction (redness, swelling, itching) through release of histamine. The reason that the cells mutate and become a tumor is not known. Mast cell tumors can arise from many skin sites on the body, and have many different appearances. MCT are most frequently a solitary mass or lump on or under the skin but a small number (~10%) of dogs will have more than one tumor at a time.  MCT can be extremely varied in appearance, from lumps under the skin that mimic a lipoma to more angry/ulcerated masses. They frequently appear as pink, raised, hairless masses on the trunk of the body or the limbs.  Because the tumors frequently cause tissue reactions around the mass (from release of histamine), MCT can change very quickly in size. Some dogs might show signs of general illness, which is caused by some of the compounds that MCT release. Most MCT are locally invasive, meaning that the neoplastic cells spread out into the tissue surrounding the tumor. This makes them difficult to remove completely and will require your veterinarian to make a bigger incision around the tumor to make sure all of the tumor cells are removed. The behavior of MCTs depends on the grade of the tumor, a term used by pathologists and oncologists to describe how frequently cells are dividing, how recognizable the cells are, how much it has invaded other surrounding tissues, and other criteria. MCT have three grades, grade 1 being the least aggressive and least likely to spread to other organs (metastasize) and grade three being aggressive tumors with metastasis likely. Most Grade 2 tumors tend NOT to metastasize. When metastasis occurs, the tumor generally spreads to regional lymph nodes, spleen, liver and bone marrow.


Because of the need for staging, MCT are usually closely examined by your vet prior to surgery. This often involves a fine needle aspirate – a test in which a small sample of cells is withdrawn from the mass with a needle. This is a quick and easy procedure that produces minimal discomfort and does not require sedation. If the surgeon knows the mass is a mast cell tumor, they will remove a wider margin around the tumor to try to ensure that all cancer cells are removed. Your vet will also likely recommend a complete blood count (measuring white blood cell lines, red blood cells and platelets), a biochemical profile (measuring enzymes from all of the major organ systems) and urinalysis. Results of these tests will help assess your pet’s overall health and provide information that may influence the treatment plan. Your vet may also perform a fine needle aspirate on the lymph node that drains the area of the tumor. Depending on the grade and type of tumor, your veterinarian may also recommend local imaging (ultrasound, computed tomography, MRI). After the tumor is removed, it will need to be sent to the pathologist for further evaluation and staging.

Determination of the Extent of the Tumor (Staging):

Staging of Mast Cell Tumors is done only in dogs that have Grade three tumors, but may be recommended for stage one or two in certain cases. Staging entails aspiration of cells from lymph nodes in the area, X-rays and/or ultrasound of the abdomen to examine the liver and spleen and in some cases bone marrow aspiration.


Removal through surgery is the most important treatment of canine mast cell tumors. Because the tumors are “locally invasive” (the cells spread out in the skin around the tumor), wide margins of tissue must be removed around the tumor to increase the likelihood that the tumor is completely removed. This means your pet may have a large incision even for a very small tumor. Do not be alarmed! They will heal well even if the incision is large.  If the tumor is large, your vet may prescribe a one to two week course of prednisone to shrink the tumor and reduce inflammation around it prior to surgery. Your dog will also need to take Benadryl (diphenhydramine) at a dosage prescribed by your vet until surgery is performed, and Famotidine, a medication that helps protect the stomach from overproduction of acid. After surgery, the tumor will be submitted to a pathologist to determine if all of the tumor cells were removed. In some cases and locations, the tumor may not be able to be completely removed. In these cases, radiation therapy is often the best treatment. Sometimes a second more aggressive surgical removal will be possible. Chemotherapy is also sometimes used, but only in dogs with Grade three tumors as chemotherapy tends to be unpredictable as a treatment for Mast Cell Tumors. Your veterinarian will likely recommend consultation with a veterinary oncologist if the tumor is a grade three or appears very invasive.


The prognosis for Grade one and two MCT that are completely removed is excellent. In most cases, there is no reoccurrence and metastasis is rare. Grade one and two tumors that are incompletely removed but are treated with radiation after surgery also have an excellent prognosis (90-95% of dogs do not have reoccurrence of the tumor). The prognosis for Grade three tumors is guarded – local spread of tumors and reoccurrence after surgery are both common. Metastasis is also much more likely with this grade of tumor. In most cases, radiation and chemotherapy are employed to help reduce these risks.

Future Treatment Options:

Research is ongoing to identify medications that may be beneficial in the treatment of mast cell tumors. Currently none exist, but the future may include drugs as adjunctive therapy for mast cell tumors.

Other things to remember:

Dogs that have had a mast cell tumor in the past are at increased risk of developing one in the future. This is not the same as metastasis, but can simply be the growth of a new, unrelated tumor. Any dog that has been diagnosed previously with a mast cell tumor should be monitored carefully for any new masses. If a new mass develops, it is important to have it evaluated by your veterinarian as quickly as possible. As long as tumors are caught while small, surgical removal is frequently an adequate treatment. It is also important to remember that Mast Cell Tumors can be very unpredictable. The rare grade one and some grade two tumors can become aggressive and metastasize, so it is important to address all masses early and follow your veterinarian’s advice for further diagnostics and treatment.

Other links that may provide more information:


What is a microchip, as it relates to pets?

The microchip is a computer chip that is about the size of a grain of rice. This chip is programmed with a unique identification number that will be individual to the animal in which it is implanted. The chip is enclosed in a tiny glass cylinder that is completely inert or “biocompatible” – it is not recognized as foreign by the body and therefore does not cause any sort of allergic reaction or rejection.

What’s the benefit of microchipping my pet?

A microchip is a permanent way of identifying your pet that can be lost, changed or destroyed. There are many stories of pets that have been reunited with their owners after many years or after traveling hundreds or thousands of miles. For some microchip success stories, visit Home Again’s found pets site: http://foundpets.homeagain.com. The author’s personal experience was a happy one as well – my 16 week old puppy yanked the leash out of my hand one day when we were walking and a large, aggressive dog charged the fence. Terrified, she ran, and I was unable to catch her. She disappeared. After two days of endless searching, she turned up at a house several streets away. They took her to their vet, who scanned her for a chip and called me right away. Microchips work and are proof that the pet is yours!

How does microchip identification work?

A special scanner “reads” the chip by transmitting a radio signal to the chip when placed over it. The chip then sends its unique signal back to the scanner, which displays it on the screen. Each number is singular to the pet and the sequence of letters and numbers also identifies the registry in which the chip is maintained. Scanners are “universal” meaning that any scanner can read all chips. The person reading the chip can then contact the appropriate registry and then the owner.

How are microchips implanted?

Microchips are implanted with a needle beneath the skin between the shoulder blades. The injection is similar to a vaccine and the needle is very sharp. The sharper the needle, the less painful it is when it is inserted! Most animals do not react to microchip implantation. At our clinic, we ice the area prior to insertion so the skin is numb. Once inserted, the microchip cannot be felt or seen.

How early can puppies or kittens receive their microchip? Is it safe for toy dogs?

Young pets can be microchipped as early as 6 to 8 weeks of age. Microchips are all the same and the same chip and needle are used to implant tiny creatures like mice! Microchipping is safe for young puppies and kittens and for very small toy breed dogs.

How long does the microchip last?

The microchip is designed to last the lifetime of the pet. It does not contain a battery or other power source that might need replaced, and it has no moving parts. Once it is implanted, a thin layer of natural connective tissue forms around it, keeping it in place. The microchip does not require any future care, and it does not pass out of the body in any way.

Does implantation of the microchip hurt?

The microchip itself does not contain anything that might sting or irritate the tissue. Most pets do not react any more than they do to a regular vaccine or other injection. The needle used for implantation is very sharp, which minimizes discomfort to the pet. The microchip can be implanted while your pet is under anesthesia for a spay, neuter or other procedure, however it is not necessary that the pet be under anesthesia to be microchipped. Microchip injection is just like any other injection or vaccination.

Is it possible for my pet to be allergic to the microchip?

The microchip is a smooth device that is nontoxic, hypoallergenic and inert. According to microchipping companies, there is virtually no chance of the body rejecting the microchip or developing an allergy to it. In my experience, I have only seen one microchip problem (an abscess at the site) out of many thousands of chips implanted. I hypothesize that that one dog had another problem at the microchip site that compounded the problem.

If a veterinary clinic or animal shelter finds a microchip, how will they know who to call?

After your pet is microchipped, the veterinarian will give you information on how to contact the registry for that chip to give them your information. That information will be entered into a database that will forever link your information to your pet’s unique microchip ID. It is extremely important that you send in the registration paperwork! The most common way that microchips fail is when the owner has not registered the microchip to themselves after implantation. Please ask our staff to assist you if you have any questions about registration of your chip. Some registries, like Home Again, will register all chips, even if they are not home again microchips. For a nominal fee (currently 16.99 per year) Home Again also offers additional benefits with their microchip. This includes free calls to the Poison Control Hotline, which can be a valuable benefit! It is also important to remember to update your registration information for each of your animals (including your phone number(s) and email address) every time you move. Animal shelters and veterinarians routinely scan any lost pet for a microchip. Thankfully, more and more pets are being chipped and reunited with their owners! Shelters and vets are aware of all of the microchip registries and will contact them for owner information when a pet is found. They then contact the owner of the pet so the pet can go home!

Do shelters always scan animals for microchips?
Yes, scanning pets for microchips has become standard practice in animal shelters. However, if you have a lost pet, it is always important to be proactive! Call and visit all local shelters, multiple days, and hand out flyers at veterinary offices and shelters in your area. Many local businesses will also allow you to post Lost Pet flyers. Many of the microchip registries allow you to upload a photo of your pet, and will create flyers for you to post if you pet is lost.

There are many species of ticks in our area, and the adults and immature stages of the ticks can look very different from each other. Immature stages of some ticks can still transmit disease. Male and female ticks can also have different appearances. The below maps and photos are courtesy of the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) website on tick identification. Maps from the CDC show the expected distribution of ticks in the United States. We are focusing on the East Coast for the purposes of this blog, as that is the area in which we are located.

American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis)
The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is the species of tick that most often carries Rickettsia rickettsii, which is the organism causing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in humans and dogs. This tick occurs in a huge area east of the Rockies including all states along the east coast. The larvae and nymphs tend to feed on small rodents. Dogs and other medium-sized mammals are this adult tick’s preferred host, but they will also feed readily on humans and other large mammals.
Approximate distribution of the American dog tick in the United States of America
Blacklegged or Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis)
Blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis)
The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), commonly known as a “deer tick”, can carry the rickettsial organisms responsible for anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Lyme disease in pets and people. This tick has a large endemic area including the northeastern and midwestern states. I. scapularis larvae and nymphs feed on small mammals and birds, and adults feed on larger mammals including dogs. They will also occasionally bite humans.  It is important to note that the pathogen that causes Lyme disease is maintained by wild rodent and other small mammal reservoirs in certain areas of the country, and is not necessarily transmitted everywhere that the blacklegged tick lives.
                                    Approximate distribution of the Blacklegged tick in the United States of America

Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)

Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) is a tick that is present over the entire contiguous United States and are also distributed in many other countries in the world. Along with the American Dog Tick, these ticks harbor the organism that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, R. rickettsii, in the southwestern US and along the border with Mexico. Dogs are the primary host for the brown dog tick’s life stages, although the tick may also bite humans and other mammals. Approximate distribution of the Brown dog tick in the United States of America
Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum)
Lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum)
The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) transmits several species of Ehrlichia, which can cause Ehrlichiosis and Tularemia in pets and humans. This tick is most common in the south and east, and is very prevalent in Virginia.  White-tailed deer are a major host of all life stages of lone star ticks and appear to represent one of the natural reservoirs for certain types of Ehrlichiosis. A. americanum larvae and nymphs also feed on birds. Both nymph and adult ticks may be able to transmit disease to dogs and humans.
                                           Approximate distribution of the Lone star tick in the United States of America
Life Cycle of Ticks (hard ticks):
Most ticks go through four life stages: egg, larva (six legs), nymph (eight legs), and adult. Larval, nymphal and adult life stages require blood meals for survival. Because many hosts are required for tick life cycles, they can take up to three years to complete a full cycle. Many ticks die because of lack of host. Below is a photo from the CDC website of relative sizes of ticks during each life stage. Note the smaller size of the deer or blacklegged tick, which can make these ticks difficult to find in fur or hair.

ticks at different life stages

Ticks can feed on mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Most ticks prefer to have a different host animal at each stage of their life, as shown below:

tick lifecycle

This diagram shows the life cycle of backlogged or deer ticks that can transmit anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Lyme disease. Other hard tick life cycles are very similar in pattern, though they may use different hosts.

How do ticks find a host?

Ticks cannot fly or jump. Ticks are able to sense well used paths and will congregate in that area. They find hosts through sensing breath, body odor, heat, moisture, vibrations and in some cases a shadow. They wait for a host, exhibiting a behavior called “questing” in which they hold onto a stem or leaf with their back legs and hold the first pair of legs outstretched. When a host brushes past, the tick will climb onto the animal or human. Some wander to an area with thinner skin, while others attach quickly.

How do ticks spread disease?
Ticks transmit diseases during the process of feeding. Depending on the tick species and its life stage, preparation for feeding can take 10 minutes to 2 hours. When the tick finds a feeding spot it grasps the skin, cuts into it, and inserts it’s feeding mouthpiece. Many types of ticks secrete a substance like cement that keeps them firmly attached while receiving a blood meal. The feeding tube may also have barbs that keeps the tick in place. The saliva of many ticks have anesthetic properties that keep the animal or person can’t feel the tick attach. The tick may thus go unnoticed for a long period of time. Ticks then suck blood slowly for several days. If the host has any sort of blood bourne disease, the tick will ingest the pathogens along with the blood. Because small amounts of the tick’s saliva enter the skin of the host, if the tick is harboring blood borne parasites they will be transmitted to the host animal. After a complete meal, the tick will drop off and prepare for the next stage of its lifecycle. At the next feeding, it can transmit aquirec pathogens to the next host.
My dog/cat has a tick! How can I remove it?
If you find a tick on your pet, there’s no need to panic. There are several tick removal devices (such as a “tick key”) on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively. If you are concerned about leaving a piece of the tick behind, a quick trip to your veterinarian can ensure that it is removed properly. 1. Use fine tipped tweezers or a tick removal device. Be sure to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible – the closer the better to ensure you remove the head of the tick completely. Grasp hard and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick, this can result in the mouth-parts breaking off and getting “stuck” in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouthparts with the tweezers or seek veterinary attention immediately. If you cannot remove the mouthparts easily, was he the area thoroughly and seek veterinary attention. After tick removal, always thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water. Avoid painting the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly to make the tick detach. It may inject additional saliva in the process. Heating with a match can also be risky – possibly risking burning your pet in the process. After removing the tick, you should consult with your veterinarian. Tick bourne diseases can transmit in 24 hours of attachment, and blood testing to determine if your pet has been exposed to tick bourne disease can be very important. If your pet was bitten by the tick and develops any signs or symptoms, seeking immediate veterinary attention is very important. Lameness in shifting legs, malaise, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea are all signs that you should seek veterinary attention.