It’s been a nice start to 2015, even with temperatures dipping into the cold, single digits this week.  Please, everyone, make sure those of you who have pets that spend time outside have convenient, warm and consistent shelter during these turbulent, winter months.  Hypothermia cases do happen and are certainly life threatening, so please be cognizant and aware as you yourself shiver and slurp down hot toddies (for the individuals who partake is such beverages).

These words will not be uniquely regarding freezing temperatures and their negative consequences.  I recently had two cases, each similar in clinical appearance, that reminded me of words spoken by my epidemiology professor (epidemiology: the branch of medicine that deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health)  in veterinary school.  He said, “common things occur commonly”.  I always thought that was the most lame of statements and it wasn’t until I began practicing veterinary medicine that those words gained clarity.

A common condition I see is animals infested with Ctenocephalides felis, the famous cat flea (which also does love the flavor of dogs and other creatures).  Now, there are lots of folks who have told me that fleas are not active during the winter.  This, I have found to be patently false.  My experiences have shown me that not all winter seasons are the same, with some months being warmer/colder that others.  I have seen lawns during the week of Christmas display green grass and people meandering about only wearing light jackets.  Infestations can exist in basements, garages, sheds, any structure at all.  Basically, no state of nature can conceivably eliminate an insect pest for a specified duration of months. 

Fleas can cause a condition abbreviated as FAD (flea allergy dermatitis).   Dogs and cats with FAD display common clinical signs such as the following:  pruritis (itchy) along the spine especially at the base of the tail.  Scabs and crusts will be present along the spine, concentrating at the base of the tail and these sometimes extend down the backs of the rear legs.  When a patient presents with these clinical signs and there is no history of flea prevention, then FAD is 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 on the list of differentials (what could be going on).  It’s also 6th but I think that may be a bit too repetitive.

Recently at the hospital, during a winter that has seen us getting dumped on by 37 feet of snow and nailed with frostbite inducing cold, I came across two patients exhibiting sign of FAD.  Following is a brief excerpt from the pursuant transcript:

Me:  “This looks just like a flea allergy dermatitis.   Somewhere Lickalcious** got himself exposed to a flea or two”.

Client: “Can’t be fleas, Doc.  There’s snow on the ground and I haven’t seen a flea on him in 10 years”.

Me:  Thought bubble –> “Common things occur commonly……” and “Lickalicious** is only 6 years old”.

An empowering, satisfying victory is when one can prove oneself in the face of overt skepticism.  My first diagnostic test in this case was to use a technological marvel that takes years of training to develop the skill necessary to understand it’s nuanced existence.  I used a flea comb.  Aaaaaand, I found 2 live fleas.  🙂

The owner stood there, mouth agape, and appreciably winced when he heard the high pitched, chitinous crunch of the doomed flea’s exoskeleton succumbing to my mighty fingernail’s will on the unyielding stainless steel exam table.  I sort of expected to get a “he picked those up here!” rebuttal but alas, I did not.  We gave a steroid injection for immediate itch relief and started the pooch on appropriate flea prevention.  Lickalicious** stopped itching the next day and everyone was very happy.  Except the fleas.

All the best from us here at the VVC of H and hopefully good things will commonly occur for you and your family!


**All names have been changed in order to protect identities.  I just like the name Lickalicious.