Arizona Pet Threats

Cacti, Cactus's, Prickers or Whatever You Call Em' 

Dogs (and sometimes cats) will get into a cactus and when this happens, the treatment is the same for them as it is for you. The cactus spines in pets must be removed. The only difference is that you will hold still for the removal. It is unlikely that your pet will be so obliging. Always bring your pet to the veterinarian if you suspect a cactus encounter.  Sedation and a very close inspection with a bright light is needed to assure that all of the spines are removed. (This is especially important in the mouth - an almost certain location for cactus spines that you will miss.) Failure to get all of the cactus spines can lead to a foreign-body abscess later. You don't want to risk that, as it is quite expensive to treat an abscess caused by a foreign body (the doctor must surgically hunt for the hidden cactus spine) and the healing process can take months. So, don't just hope that you got all of the spines out, make sure. Let the veterinarian look closely to help assure that all spines are gone.

Coyote Attacks

Beware!  Coyotes will attack and eat small dogs and cats. It is very rare for a cat to survive a single night outside in Arizona. Be cautious when walking small dogs outside, as coyotes are known to attack small dogs even while leashed. Cat's should never be allowed to roam outside unsupervised. Coyote's hunt in packs and it is common for a pack to learn that a pet (living in your home) ventures outside at certain times. Once a pack member learns your pet's habits, the pack will then lie in wait to grab your pet on its next outing!


Rattlesnakes are out there, everywhere. They don't hibernate until the nights get close to freezing so rattlesnake season generally extends from April - December. Dog snake bites are common, but cat snake bites are not. There are 17 kinds of rattlesnakes in Arizona but the Diamondback is by far the most common and the Mohave is the most deadly. For the purpose of this article you don't need to know how to tell these two snakes apart because it won't matter to you in your response to a snake bite, nor will it matter in the treatment. If your pet is bitten you need emergency veterinary care! In and around Scottsdale, your pet is most likely to have a run-in with a rattlesnake on a summer evening (after sunset) or during warm days in the spring, winter or fall. If your pet does get bitten several outcomes can occur.

At best, nothing will happen (25% of snake bites inject no venom.) But, in most cases there will be severe swelling and pain and the venom can progress to affect the blood stream and then the nervous system. Death may result if not treated promptly. What should you do if your pet is bitten by a rattlesnake? If a leg is bitten, keep the leg immobile by splinting it. Preventing the leg from flexing helps to reduce the circulation and will help keep the venom localized. Place a tight bandage near the bite site between the bite and the heart.  Note that I did not say to use a tourniquet. (That would be bad.) The bandage should be just tight enough to allow a finger to be forcefully inserted between it and the skin with some difficulty. The goal is to slow down the blood circulation, but not to stop it. Then, get your pet to a veterinary hospital ASAP. There is a rattlesnake vaccine available for dogs which claims to help help if your dog is bitten by the more common Diamondback.  But, because the Mohave's toxin is different, it may not help so much if a Mohave bites your dog. Still, it's worth giving this vaccine to any dog that frequents the desert. (Remember, the Diamond back is the most common rattlesnake!) The rattlesnake vaccine will help to reduce the amount of anti-venom that is needed to treat the bite. And, at nearly $1000 a bottle, using one bottle instead of two really makes the vaccine a worthwhile investment.


A dog scorpion sting can be quite serious.  In and around Scottsdale, scorpions are found in various neighborhood pockets. They are not evenly distributed around the countryside. It's true, the larger the scorpion, the less potent the sting. It's the small Arizona Bark Scorpion that is the king of sting. This bad boy is the only real dangerous scorpion that your pet will face. A sting from the Bark Scorpion can range from only pain to pain plus swelling, numbness, frothing at the mouth, respiratory difficulties, muscle twitching, convulsions and even death.

Other Arizona scorpions have a sting that's more like a bee-sting.  Some pain and limping, maybe a fever. But not much more. It's not hard to identify a Bark Scorpion as it is a slender scorpion with long delicate pincers and tail. These delicate features distinguish it from other more stoutly-built, less venomous species in the state. Also, the bark scorpion is the only one that prefers to climb and it may be found many feet above the ground on trees and rock faces. It has a preference for cool moist areas and air flows. This makes the bark scorpion a frequent house guest. Inside the house they may be seen trapped in sinks and bathtubs or hiding in dark areas of the closet or storage room. They may also be found climbing walls or clinging to the ceiling. Outside, they frequently live in lumber or brick piles. There is one feature of scorpions that few people know; they are nocturnal and they glow under a black light. So, if you want to know if you have scorpions around your house, take a black light out at night and look around. If they are there, you'll see them glowing blue in the dark. What do you do if your pet has been stung by one of these bad boys? First, there is no home-care for scorpion stings.  Take your pet to the veterinary hospital ASAP!  Most pets respond well to care (intravenous fluids and pain relief). The stinger, if present, will be removed by the veterinarian.  Drugs may be used to reduce muscle tremors and seizure activity may require anticonvulsant therapy.

Heartworm Disease

Carried by coyotes and spread by mosquitos, Heartworms are a very significant threat to both dogs and cats in Arizona. These worms actually live in your pet's heart, reaching one foot in length! They cause devastating heart and lung damage. In 2008, the University of Arizona did a study to determine the incidence of Heartworm Disease in Arizona coyotes. They found that in metropolitan areas  ONE IN THREE COYOTES HAS HEARTWORM DISEASE!  Said another way, 1/3 of all coyotes living in our large cities are a source of infection for your dog and cat! Do not let your guard down.  It only takes one mosquito bite to spread this deadly disease to your loved pet. Give your dog a pill once monthly or use a long term injectable for prevention. Give your cat heartworm preventive tablets once monthly year-round in Arizona. For dog medicine, we recommend Proheart6, an injectable preventive that protects your dog for 6 months at a time. For cat medicine, we recommend Heartgard is a great once-monthly oral preventive chewable tablet.  Heartgard is available for dogs as well.

Hot Dogs

Summer is a time when we see a lot of dogs at veterinary hospitals with heat related injuries. We rarely (if ever) see cats for such injuries. So, let's address what you can do to help your canine family member stay safe in the Arizona heat:

  • First and most importantly, never shut your car's engine off and leave your dog alone in your closed-up car in the summer. It will take just a few minutes for the interior of your car to exceed 120 degrees and a dog will collapse of heat exhaustion (heat stroke) faster than you can run in to get a Starbuck's coffee to go.
  • Arizona pavement gets hot enough to fry an egg in the summertime. We don't notice that because we wear shoes. However, dogs will commonly be presented to the hospital with pealing, raw foot pads from 3rd degree burns. These thermal burns in dogs occur because we tend to walk our dogs on a leash and the dog cannot choose to walk on a cooler surface. He has to go where you lead him. Keep that in mind on hot summer days. Consider purchasing some dog booties from a pet store for those summer walks.
  • Know that dogs exhale a tremendous amount of water vapor when they pant. In the Arizona heat that will cause dehydration very rapidly if water is not available. Keep fresh water available at all times at home, but don't forget about hydration when you are exercising your dog outside the home. Avoid all of those dog-park water troughs and the water dishes that many businesses set out for their customer's pets. (They can transmit disease.) Take along a water bottle and a portable water bowl on all hikes, trips to the park and walks in town. Offer your dog water often when outside in the heat.
  • The desert surface is made of ground-up granite. The "sand" that you see is not the silica type that you find at the beach. Ground granite is very abrasive to the foot pads and can result in severe injury to the feet of any dog who is taken on a long hike through the desert. If you hike through the desert with your dog, keep an eye on those feet and cut the hike short if the you notice abraded foot pads (the pads begin to look tattered). Better yet, train your dog to accept booties to avoid the abrasiveness of the granite all together.


The Indian House Cricket is the most common cricket found in our houses in Arizona -- and cats love to hunt and eat them. (So do some nutty dogs.)  What's the big deal with that? An eaten cricket can't crick, right?  Isn't that a good thing? Well, although crickets are not toxic in any way, they carry intestinal parasites. Particularly, the stomach worm (Physaloptera) is transmitted by crickets. Pets that pick up this parasite start to vomit for no apparent reason. The dog or cat is perfectly happy and healthy in every way, but it will vomit with no warning and with no other ill effects. The short story about crickets is this: If your pet is vomiting for no apparent reason, and if you see it occasionally eating crickets, your pet may have a stomach worm. When you present your pet to us for vomiting, be sure to mention that you've seen your pet eating crickets! We'll run a fecal test for parasites and give worm medication if needed.  It may just save you the expense of blood work and x-rays.

It's Not A Prince

There is a big toad that lives in Arizona -- The Sonoran Desert Toad (a.k.a., the Colorado River Toad).  It burrows into the soil to hide during the dry season and it comes back out of hibernation during monsoon season. The problem with this toad is not that it might cause warts. It's much worse than that. It is soooo toxic, that a pet can be fatally poisoned by just playing with one! Toad poisoning is very common in Arizona pets. All toads have skin that secrete toxins. These toxins lie on the toad's skin and act as a protection against predators. But, this Sonoran Desert Toad is a heavy-weight. It has 3 toxins; all of which are extraordinarily potent and dangerous -- so, kissing one could make you a dead princess. If a pet grabs or licks this toad the toxins are absorbed very rapidly through the pet's mouth.

The first signs that you will see is drooling.  I mean a lot of drooling. The pet's lips will look like they have shaving cream on them and he'll be dripping froth like Cujo. From there, labored breathing, diarrhea and vomiting may all occur. Lastly, seizures, total collapse and death may follow. All of this is dose dependant. Lick a little toxin - drool a lot. Lick a lot of toxin - collapse and die. It's that dramatic. Dogs who have gotten a mouth-full have been known to become comatose in 30 seconds without ever showing any of the other warning signs. These toads are known to sit on the rim of a pet's water or food bowl while enjoying a stolen meal or drink. (Do you keep bowls on your porch?)  Toxins are left on the bowl and when your pet next eats or drinks - WHAM! The pet collapses. Because you didn't see anything happen to cause the collapse you'll have no idea what happened.

What can you do to avoid toad poisoning?

  • Toads are out at night so don't allow pets out at night without supervision.
  • Whenever it's raining, accompany your pet outside and watch for toads.
  • During early morning hours toads hide under bushes & plants. Keep pets away during the rainy season.
  • Keep pets out of backyard washes during monsoon season.

What should you do if you see your pet messing with a toad?

  • Wash its mouth out immediately with running water! A lot of running water! Rub its gums and tongue with your fingers while flushing its mouth with a hose - until all slimy mucus is gone. Flush from side to side, not front to back You don't want to drown your pet while saving it!
  • Cats tend to bat toads around so be sure to wash their feet before they have a chance to groom themselves.
  • You know the signs to look for. If any develop, get your pet to a veterinarian immediately. Things tend to progress rapidly so don't dally! Emergency veterinary care is critical.

Tick - Tick - Tick

ARIZONA HAS THE HIGHEST INCIDENCE OF TICK FEVER IN THE NATION!  Whoever named the tick must have had a premonition about the danger they posed to both humans and animals. These blood sucking critters transmit diseases that are ticking time-bombs inside of the animal they infect. Tick-borne disease such as Lymes and Tick Fever (Canine Ehrlichiosis) can take months or even years to show their devastation. Tick fever is a very serious (and very common) disease of dogs that is transmitted by a single tick bite.

Tick season in Phoenix starts in March and does not end until our winter chill (usually after Christmas). So you must do all you can to keep even a single tick from biting your dog! Infection occurs when a tick attaches to the skin and begins to feed. Pets who get tick fever can exhibit a variety of signs. Bleeding is often considered the hallmark of Tick Fever -- specifically, nose bleeds. But this does not always occur.  Actually, any number of signs can occur like: lethargy and depression (from a fever), difficulty breathing, wobbliness, pain in any area of the body, inflamed eyes, swollen lymph nodes, weakness from anemia, seizures, a head tilt to one side, (shall I go on?).  Seem confusing? You bet!  Tick fever can look like anything! That's why it was so often a missed diagnosis in years past!  Today, most veterinarians include a tick fever test in the blood panel that is run on any sick dog; a very wise thing to do!

So, what can you do?  During the months of March thru December:

  • We highly advise that you keep a tick repellent on your dog. Most flea & tick products on the market kill ticks after they bite, but that can be too late. The best approach is to avoid the bite all together. We recommend Vectra-3D by name, specifically because it contains a very good tick repellent (and mosquito repellant, which helps prevent Heartworms!).
  • For dogs who are sensitive to topical products (and for owners who do not wish to use a topical product) we recommend Nexgard oral tick preventive.   Although no oral product repels ticks, Nexgard does kill any tick that attaches, and it kills it fast!  By killing the tick quickly, Nexgard helps to prevent the tick from passing along Tick Fever to your dog.
  • If you ever see a tick on your pet - pull it off.  There is nothing special about the technique. Just grab with tweezers and yank! Be aware that this may leave behind an inflammatory, scabby knot due to the tick saliva irritation. This knot is not likely to be an embedded tick head but if you are concerned, bring your dog by the veterinary hospital and let us check it out.
  • If your dog does get a tick attached, make special mental note of the this and, if your pet becomes ill within a couple of months, mention it to the veterinarian! There is a very good blood test for tick fever and the veterinarian needs to know about the previous bite.
  • Finally, if your pet ever does get tick fever there is a treatment. But, the ravages of the disease may haunt your pet forever in the form of arthritis or some other chronic disorder. The best treatment is avoidance. In regard to Ehrlicheosis, an ounce of prevention is worth tons of cure!

There's A Fungus Among Us

Valley Fever in pets is a very serious disease caused by a fungus. The proper medical name for this disease is Coccidioidomycosis because the fungus that causes the illness is named Coccidioides immitis.  But, everyone calls the disease Valley Fever because that's much easier to say. This fungus lives in the soil of the Southeastern United States. Because it lives several inches down in the soil, it is pretty much harmless until it is stirred up by a wind storm or, worse yet, construction. Digging in the soil here releases a storm of fungus elements into the air. (Roll your windows up when you pass a construction dust cloud!) This is why we have a law here that mandates that water be sprayed on construction dig sites to keep the dust down.  It's a health hazard.

Your pet (or even you) can catch Valley Fever by inhaling fungus-laden-dust or by getting fungus-laden-dirt into a cut. Valley Fever occurs commonly in dogs (because they constantly have their nose to the ground, sniffing) and only rarely in cats (because cat's don't sniff around in the dirt as much as dogs do). The fungus usually enters the body through the lungs. After the fungus sets up housekeeping, it will spread around by way of the bloodstream. Where it finally settles in the body will dictate the subsequent problem that the pet will have. Joint or bone infection results in pain which is often mistaken for arthritis (or even bone cancer). A spinal infection will cause excruciating back or neck pain. A liver infection results in general illness and liver disease. Lung infection results in a cough & maybe pneumonia. A brain infection may cause headaches (you'll notice this as lethargy) or disorientation or even seizures. On and on - you get the idea.  The bottom line is that almost ANY health problem can be caused by this fungus. That's why most savvy veterinarians suggest testing for Valley Fever for any unexplained problem that your pet may have.

Thankfully, Valley Fever is easy to diagnose. X-Rays will show typical lesions in the bones. Blood tests will find the fungus for sure. So, don't hesitate if a veterinarian suggests a blood test for this disease. It's always wise. Approve the test without question. Treatment is another matter. Although most pets (90%) respond very favorably to treatment, the prognosis is always "guarded" and not all are cured.  It usually takes 4 months or more of treatment with a relatively expensive drug (Fluconazole) before a cure can be expected. Many pets take 6 months or more before the drug can be stopped.  Some pets will develop the disease over and over again once they have been infected. (These pets require repeated treatment over their lifetimes.)  And then, then there are those pets who can never go off the drug.  These pets are chronically infected for life.  There is no real way to prevent infection. Just be aware of the possibility of Valley Fever and seek veterinary care if your dog (or cat) develops an unexplained cough or other sign of illness. Ditto for yourself!

On A Trivial Note: Contrary to local belief, Valley Fever did not get its name from "The Valley of The Sun" (Phoenix). It was named for its discovery in the San Joaquin Valley of California (where they call it "San Joaquin Valley Fever"). Valley Fever is prevalent in the San Joaquin and Central Valleys of California, in the hot, desert regions of southern Arizona (this includes the major metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson), southern Nevada (including Las Vegas), southern Utah, southern New Mexico, western Texas (including El Paso), and Mexico (especially in the states of Sonora and Chihuahua). In addition, this disease is found in parts of Central and South America.

Foot Burns

Foot Burns are a common injury in dogs during the Arizona summer. Remember that pavement and concrete can get hot enough to fry an egg during the daylight hours. Never walk your dog on concrete or pavement during the hot hours of the day. If it is too hot for you to walk barefoot, it is too hot for your pet to walk barefoot! Limiting walks to sand, gravel or grass. If you must walk your dog on pavement or concrete during the heat of the day, purchase booties available at most pet stores or on the web at


Leptospirosis is a bacteria that damages the liver and kidneys. It is primarily spread through the urine of rodents. There was an out break of Leptospirosis in Phoenix in early 2017 and the number of cases that we see continue to rise. It is a zoonotic disease which means that the disease can be passed from animal to human. If you and your pet commonly visit dog parks, go hiking, visit areas with standing water, or if you have a backyard where  wildlife has access, be sure to ask us about the leptospirosis vaccine. Follow this link for more information on signs, symptoms, and treatment: