Marijuana Toxicity in Pets: What you Should Know (and What’s the Deal with CBD?)

December 16, 2019

With January 1, 2020 just around the corner, the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital want to share important information with you and offer tips on how to protect your pets from marijuana toxicity (and address your curiosity about CBD).

With an increasing number of states legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana, the veterinary community has seen a notable rise in toxicity cases.  Pet Poison Helpline reports a 448% increase in marijuana cases over the past six years. Even if you do not use marijuana yourself, dogs and cats may find remnants of this drug outside as human use increases.  We want you to know how to protect your pets along with what to look for and what to do if marijuana toxicity is suspected.

What’s the difference between THC and CBD?

Although there are over 100 different cannabinoids that have been identified by scientists in cannabis, the plant genus that includes hemp and marijuana, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most commonly recognized, utilized and studied. 

THC is responsible for the euphoric high associated with smoking or ingesting marijuana.  Regular marijuana is typically 1-8% THC while hashish, which is made from the flowering tops of the plant and their resin, can contain up to 10%.

CBD, another topic frequently in the news and typically used for medicinal purposes, is also derived from marijuana or hemp plants and cannot contain more than 0.3% dry-matter of THC. CBD is non-intoxicating and has been used to mitigate anxiety, improve appetite, relieve nausea and control seizures in human medicine.

Can I use CBD to treat my pets?

CBD in veterinary medicine is a hot topic and assorted pet CBD products are widely available online and in pet stores.  Some differences between human versus pet use of CBD can be broken down to three main points:

  • Although use of CBD for humans is currently legal and recreational marijuana will soon be legal in Illinois, this is not the case for pets. The Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association (ISVMA) strongly recommends against veterinarians selling/prescribing CBD.
  • There are no current regulations for the products being manufactured for use in pets, meaning there is no mandated quality control or chemical analysis for these products.
  • Research is ongoing on what illnesses in pets are responsive to CBD.  At this time, we do not know what type of CBD works well in pets. 

Each CBD product contains a different cannabinoid and every individual has different cannabinoid receptors.  There is no test to determine which receptor(s) any individual has.  Therefore, you could end up having to purchase a wide range of products, which, as stated above, are not well regulated or consistently chemically analyzed.

While the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital are excited about the potential of CBD for our patients and pets everywhere, we want to be safe, accurate, and legal with our recommendations.  We anticipate that CBD will eventually be incorporated into veterinary medicine.  However, at this time, due to the limited research and lack of regulations regarding the production of products, we simply do not have enough reliable information to allow us to responsibly make recommendations regarding what conditions can be treated effectively, what dosing is appropriate, what products can be trusted, or what effects it may have when combined with other medications.  We look forward to continuing to follow research in this area.

Marijuana toxicity in pets

Recreational marijuana is typically used in two ways – inhaled and eaten. Pets can be affected by consuming either the edible form or the materials used for inhaling marijuana. Marijuana edibles – which are commonly dessert-type foods, such as cookies, brownies or gummies – are made with marijuana or laced with THC. These products are obviously enticing to dogs and are a common culprit of marijuana toxicity.  Both cats and dogs are attracted to marijuana in its bud form, which can be found both inside and outside the home in the form of discarded joints.

While marijuana ingestion is frequently not life-threatening for pets, it can make animals significantly ill and uncomfortable.

A recent case of marijuana toxicity at Family Pet Animal Hospital.

Common symptoms of marijuana toxicity include:

  • Unsteadiness
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Urine dribbling/incontinence
  • Sensitivity to sound and touch
  • Decreased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
  • Some cats experience episodes of quiet disorientation with episodes of agitation and aggression.

At higher concentrations or larger quantities, more serious effects are possible. Your pet may show signs of seizures or aspiration pneumonia. In extremely rare cases deaths have occurred after ingestion of foods containing highly concentrated cannabis, such as medical-grade THC. 

What to do if you suspect marijuana toxicity

If your pet is displaying symptoms similar to marijuana toxicity, but there was no known exposure, there are over-the-counter urine screening tests that could be used as a diagnostic tool for your veterinarian. This test does have drawbacks, however, since dogs produce different metabolites in the urine than humans. Thus, false negatives are common. Although animal specific tests do exist that can determine the level of THC in the urine, the time required to obtain results makes them impractical.

If you know or suspect that your pet has ingested marijuana, alert your veterinarian.  Due to the limitations and impracticality of testing, diagnosis is typically based on an accurate history and clinical signs. Providing accurate information about marijuana exposure to your veterinarian is crucial to quickly determining proper care for your beloved furry family members.

In dogs, clinical signs typically begin 30 to 90 minutes after the marijuana has been eaten. Because THC is stored in the body’s fat deposits, the effects of marijuana ingestion can last for several days. If less than 30 minutes have passed since the marijuana has been eaten, it may be possible to induce vomiting. However, after symptoms have started, the nausea control properties of the cannabinol make it difficult to induce vomiting. Furthermore, if the patient is extremely sedated, vomiting can be dangerous as vomit can be inhaled and cause a serious form of pneumonia called aspiration pneumonia.

While there is no true antidote for marijuana, veterinarians can provide supportive care to help pets through the clinical symptoms of toxicity.  Your veterinarian could induce vomiting or, if symptoms are already visible, s/he can start fluid therapy support, control hypothermia, and keep your pet safe and comfortable. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor for and treat low blood pressure or seizures if they occur. Depending on the severity of intoxication, more aggressive and extensive treatment may be warranted.

Keep your pets safe by storing marijuana edibles and any smoking paraphernalia well out of reach.  If your pet is exposed and becomes ill, provide an accurate and honest history to your pet’s veterinarian so that proper treatment can be provided without delay.

Introducing Our Newest Associate Veterinarian, Dr. Maggie Sharpe

Maggie Sharpe, DVM, Family Pet Animal Hospital's newest associate veterinarian
Maggie Sharpe, DVM, pictured with Frank and Otis.

Meet our newest associate veterinarian, Dr. Maggie Sharpe.  Dr. Sharpe is a 2014 graduate of Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and worked exclusively as an emergency medicine veterinarian for the five years prior to her joining the Family Pet team. We are thrilled to have her and can’t wait for you to meet her!

Find out more about Dr. Maggie with our Q & A below.

What made you want to become a vet?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian. I’ve always loved animals, and it just made sense that I be around them all day every day.

How did you find yourself at Family Pet?

I came to Family Pet from MedVet and I have been an ER veterinarian for the past 5 years. After so many long days (sometimes 15 hour shifts!), over nights, weekends, and holidays, when Dr. Van Pelt approached me about a position at Family Pet I knew I had to check it out. Not surprisingly, I felt at home when I visited, and chose to come on full time.

Did you study anything besides veterinary medicine in school?

I don’t know if it counts, but I studied Animal Sciences! I loved working with llamas, goats and dairy cattle— I still miss the adorable giant ears and crazy antics of baby goats, calves, and crias! Ultimately, I couldn’t stay away from the strong human-animal bond that I get to see every day in small animal practice.

What are the most common questions you answer as a practicing veterinarian?

Which food should I feed my pet, why is my pet licking his feet so much, and “is this normal” (about everything from the way they sneeze to the way they lay down)?

What do you see as the greatest danger toward household pets?

This is a great question, and I am a bit biased coming from the ER setting: the greatest danger in my opinion is having your pet off leash—even if they are well behaved you can never predict other animals/people/cars.

What has been your most rewarding moment as a veterinarian?

I have worked closely with rescues in the past, and it’s always rewarding to see a rescue pet go to their forever home. My favorite case was “Chance Christmas.” He came in on Christmas eve as an abuse case, and I was able to be a part of his medical team—he’s doing super well, and I still get updates on him. 🙂

If you weren’t a vet, what would you do?

Travel writer, or food/wine critic — In my off time I LOVE exploring the cities new restaurants.

What is your favorite comfort food?

Steak and an Old Fashioned. Whenever something has gone wrong in my personal life, my dad always says “Maggie, there are few things a great steak and some whiskey can’t fix.”

What is your biggest pet peeve?

People who chew with their mouth open!

Name 5 things that people might be surprised to know about you:

  • I have studied abroad in 5 different countries for different lengths of time
  • I grew up showing dogs and llamas
  • I’ve never broken a bone
  • I went to finishing school
  • I was almost arrested for trespassing in Brazil for trying to pet capybaras (I couldn’t read Portuguese and they are so cute!)

Introducing After-Hours Veterinary Support – GuardianVets

Bella on phone duty


We are constantly striving to provide the best service for you and the highest quality of care for your pet and are excited to announce that we will now be providing you with after-hours veterinary triage support through a partnership with GuardianVets.

Starting the evening of Thursday, April 25, 2019, if you have a medical question after hours, simply call our practice and you will have access to advice at no charge.  You will be able to speak directly with a licensed veterinary professional who can help determine if the symptoms your pet is experiencing are indicative of an emergency or not.

If GuardianVets determines that your pet’s issue is non emergent, Family Pet will be provided with details of your call.  We will be able to follow up with you early the next morning and schedule your pet to be seen by one of our veterinarians as needed.  Of course, if your pet is experiencing an emergency, you will be provided with the information for the nearest emergency hospitals.

We understand your pet’s health doesn’t necessarily follow our hospital’s open hours and that questions may arise any time of day or night.  We hope that our partnership with GuardianVets will give you the advice and comfort you may need after hours, on weekends, or during holidays.  Our goal is to provide the best customer service possible and to be there for you when you need it.

You can find out more information about GuardianVets here:

As always, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.

Expanded Voluntary Recall of Hill’s Pet Nutrition Canned Dog Food



The following statement was issued via email to all Family Pet Animal Hospital clients with dogs on 3/21/19.

We have been notified that Hill’s Pet Nutrition has expanded its voluntary recall (original recall on January 31, 2019) of specific lots of canned dog food for excessive levels of Vitamin D.

None of the affected products on the expanded recall list were ever sold to Family Pet Animal Hospital by Hill’s Pet Nutrition.  Therefore we never sold any of these products directly to you.  As we did previously, because this is a manufacturer’s recall and you may have purchased affected product from another retailer, in an abundance of caution, we are sending this notice to all of our dog pet parents.

According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, a detailed review of their canned dog foods confirmed that the issue is isolated to the same vitamin premix used in canned dogs foods and limited to specific production lots.  However, the review did determine there were additional products affected by that vitamin premix, which led to this expanded recall.  No dry foods, cat foods, or treats are affected.

Please read the expanded recall notice and product list from Hill’s Pet Nutrition:

Although it is very unlikely that your pet’s health will be adversely affected by the consumption of these foods, our staff is available to discuss any questions or concerns you may have.  You are welcome to give us a call at (773) 935-2311 or send us an email at


All of us at Family Pet Animal Hospital

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Issues Voluntary Recall of Canned Dog Food for Elevated Levels of Vitamin D


Email issued to Family Pet’s Dog Owners:

We have just recently been notified of the Hill’s Pet Nutrition pet food recall due to potentially elevated levels of Vitamin D in a number of their canned dog food products. As your primary veterinarian, we want to make sure you are informed and aware of this if Hill’s pet foods are a part of your dog’s diet. Because this is a manufacturer’s recall and therefore independent of where your purchase was made, in an abundance of caution, we are sending this notice to all of our dog pet parents.

Please read the notice from Hill’s Pet Nutrition and make note of the lot numbers provided in the link below. According to Hills, this voluntary recall only impacts canned dog food. No dry foods, cat foods, or treats are affected. 

If you have purchased any canned Hill’s dog food from us whose lot numbers and date code match those in the list provided by Hill’s, please do not feed the food to your pet and bring the remaining food in for a full refund or exchange.  All the products we currently have in-hospital at Family Pet are NOT any of the affected SKU/date/lot codes.

Although it is very unlikely that your pet’s health will be adversely affected by the consumption of these foods, our staff is available to discuss any questions or problems you may have.  It is important to note that Hill’s was notified of a single, isolated case of a dog exhibiting symptoms of elevated vitamin D levels and that dog is doing well.

Please click on the following link for the complete list of affected foods and details from Hill’s Pet Nutrition:

If there are any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to give us a call at (773) 935-2311 or send us an email at


All of us at Family Pet Animal Hospital

Dr. Rae Ann Van Pelt Joins the Board of Directors of The Wingspan Project

Dr. Rae Ann Van Pelt pictured with Bella and Brady


by Rae Ann Van Pelt, DVM  |  12/26/18

The Wingspan Project’s Board of Directors

I’m excited to announce that I have joined the Board of Directors of The Wingspan Project.  The Wingspan project is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization committed to making mental health and related services available to under-served, marginalized, and/or disenfranchised people.  Our name is reflective of the scope and breadth of our initiatives.  These initiatives span a number of areas related to mental health and well-being, including the support of the human-animal bond.

Franklin’s Fund Initiative

I’ve teamed up with a wonderful group of mental health specialists to help oversee one of The Wingspan Project’s initiatives, Franklin’s Fund.  Franklin’s Fund recognizes the value of the human-animal relationship in enhancing and maintaining mental health.  It is common for people with mental health issues to depend upon the loving, unconditional bond that they share with their pet.  Due to various circumstances, these loyal companions may not be receiving the healthcare necessary to lead a good quality life so that they may continue to be a vital part of their pet parents’ lives.  Franklin’s Fund provides financial and other resources to people who otherwise would not be able to maintain their relationships with their animal family members.  Our goals are to keep those animals in their pet parents’ care and maintain quality of life for both animal and human.

Jeff Levy – Founder of The Wingspan Project

Jeff Levy, psychotherapist, social worker, and founder of The Wingspan Project, has been a client of Family Pet Animal Hospital since we opened almost three decades ago.  Franklin, a Poodle mix, was adopted by Jeff shortly after Franklin had undergone surgery to amputate one of his rear legs. Franklin’s strength, perseverance, and gentleness even in the face of such a life-changing event – the loss of a limb – amazed Jeff.  As one can imagine, Franklin needed a fair amount of medical care.  Because of Jeff’s experience with Franklin, as well as his observations of his clients who are strengthened by their relationships with their animal family members, Franklin’s Fund was born.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of providing veterinary care to Franklin as well as many of Jeff’s other furry family members.  I am incredibly grateful to Jeff for the opportunity to be involved in The Wingspan Project.  Although Franklin has passed, his memory lives on through the important work of Franklin’s Fund.

Additional Initiatives of The Wingspan Project

Franklin’s Fund is just one of many ambitious initiatives of The Wingspan Project.  We enact our mission through a variety of programs targeting different segments of the population we serve.

  • Access for All (AfA) provides and subsidizes direct mental health services to those who may have financial and/or logistical constraints that limit/prevent access to such services.
  • Violence And Loss Organizational Response (VALOR) provides support for individuals and organizations experience violence or sudden or traumatic loss, such as the death or injury of a client or colleague.
  • Franklin’s Fund (FF) supports people with mental health needs and/or physical disabilities and their relationships with their animals/pets.
  • Young Professionals Network (YPN) supports the growth and development of early career individuals committed to working with historically marginalized groups and communities.
  • Valuing Difference Awards (Sponsored by Live Oak, Inc.) provides financial awards to graduate students or activists whose work recognizes the consequences of privilege.

Supporting The Wingspan Project’s Efforts

For more information and/or to make a tax-deductible contribution, please click the image below.  Because we are just beginning our efforts with The Wingspan Project, we greatly appreciate general donations to the organization.  However, if a specific initiative speaks to you, the donation page allows you to earmark your contribution for your program of choice.


Additional Resources/Links:

The Wingspan Project’s Facebook page

The Wingspan Project’s LinkedIn page

Family Pet Animal Hospital’s Community Page


Grain-Free Diets and Heart Disease in Dogs – What’s the Link?



by Linda L.

In recent years, so-called “grain-free” pet foods have exploded in popularity as they have been promoted as more delicious, nutritious, and closer to the diet of Fido’s ancestors.  Many of these popular foods’ main ingredients are a novel protein – such as bison, rabbit, or kangaroo – with potatoes, peas, lentils or other legumes.  In July of 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine announced that it is investigating the potential link between a common type of heart disease, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), and certain “grain-free” pet foods.  The veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital want you to be informed about what this means (and doesn’t mean) for you and your dog.


What sparked the FDA’s investigation?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is typically seen in certain large breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Doberman Pinschers, as well as Cocker Spaniels. Evidence suggests that certain breeds are genetically susceptible to the disease.  The CVCA, a group of veterinary cardiologists in the eastern United States, alerted the FDA to atypical cases of DCM seen in a Shih Tzu, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, a Whippet, Miniature Schnauzers, and other mixed breeds.  According to the FDA, “early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicate that the impacted dogs consistently ate foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients in their primary source of nutrition for time periods ranging from months to years.  That’s why the FDA is conducting an investigation into this potential link.”


What is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that results in weakened contractions and poor pumping ability.  A progression of the disease results in the heart becoming enlarged and signs of congestive heart failure may develop.  Symptoms of DCM may include lower exercise tolerance, fatigue, excessive panting, difficulty breathing, coughing, and fainting, although early signs may be subclinical.


Is there a link between grain-free pet foods and dilated cardiomyopathy?

A link between these grain-free pet foods and DCM has not been confirmed and no recalls have been issued.  Although researchers have not ruled out other potential causes, the common factor among the dozens of reported cases of DCM in breeds that are not genetically susceptible to the disease was a diet heavy in legumes (e.g. beans, peas, lentils, peanuts) and potatoes – carbohydrates used to replace grains such as wheat, barley, oats, and rice.

In some of these uncharacteristic cases of DCM, low levels of taurine, an essential amino acid, have been noted.  Researchers speculate that legumes may interfere with the dog’s ability to make or absorb taurine.  However, taurine levels in other affected dogs have been normal, leaving researchers puzzled.  No definitive conclusions have yet been reached.


Aren’t grain-free foods better for my dog?

Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and researcher at Tufts University, says grain-free pet diets should be viewed with skepticism.  “Contrary to advertising and popular belief, there is no research to demonstrate that grain-free diets offer any health benefits over diets that contain grains,” Freeman recently told the New York Times.  Grains are an important source of protein and other nutrients in many meat-based pet foods, she continued. “Grains have not been linked to any health problems except in the very rare situation when a pet has an allergy to a specific grain.”


My dog is on a grain-free diet.  Should I switch my dog’s food?

We recognize that the decision about what food to feed your pet is a very personal one.  Given that there are no definitive conclusions yet regarding a potential link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy, and there are many other individual factors to consider (breed, health status, etc.), the doctors here at Family Pet Animal Hospital recommend that you seek the advice of your pet’s veterinarian to make an informed decision.


Family Pet Animal Hospital’s Position Statement Regarding Grain-Free Diets

  • Based upon recommendations from veterinary cardiologists at this time, if your pet appears healthy and is currently eating a grain-free diet from a pet store, consider changing your pet’s diet or supplementing your pet’s diet with taurine (ask your veterinarian how to do this).
  • If you do not wish to change your pet’s diet, consider testing taurine levels and/or a consult with a cardiologist to evaluate your pet’s heart.
  • If your pet has been prescribed a grain-free diet due to an illness, contact your veterinarian before considering any changes to your pet’s diet. Prescription, limited-ingredient diets have been used in veterinary medicine for decades without any negative side-effects and we do not recommend a change from these diets at this time.
  • Because the number of reported cases suggestive of a potential link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy is small and no definitive conclusions have yet been reached, many questions remain unanswerable at this time. We are confident that more details will become available in the near future and we will continue to be forthcoming with all new information.



Commissioner, Office of the. “FDA In Brief – FDA In Brief: FDA Investigates Cases of Canine Heart Disease Potentially Linked to Diet.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, 12 July 2018,

“Researchers Getting Closer to Understanding Dietary Taurine and Heart Disease in Dogs.” Morris Animal Foundation, 17 Sept. 2017,

Hoffman, Jan. “Possible Link Between Grain-Free Dog Food and Heart Disease, F.D.A. Says.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 July 2018,

Freeman, Lisa M. “A Broken Heart: Risk of Heart Disease in Boutique or Grain-Free Diets and Exotic Ingredients.” Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School, 4 June 2018,



August 15th is “Check the Chip Day!”


by Linda L.

Do you know your pet’s microchip number?  When is the last time you updated your registration information – address, phone numbers, or other contact information?  Is it accurate?

On Monday, August 15th, stop by Family Pet Animal Hospital and we’ll scan your pet for his/her microchip, look up your pet’s microchip number in the American Animal Hospital Assocation’s (AAHA’s) universal microchip lookup tool, and tell you when you last updated your information!

Microchips greatly increase the chance of getting your pet back if he/she is lost or stolen… but a microchip only works if its registration information is accurate. The doctors and staff at Family Pet Animal Hospital are reminding all pet owners in Chicago that August 15th is National Check the Chip Day, when pet owners are encouraged to check and update the contact information registered with their pet’s microchip.  Even if your contact information hasn’t changed, it’s a good idea to double-check that your correct information is included in the microchip registry.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) established “Check the Chip Day” in an effort to ensure more happy endings for lost or stolen pets.  This year, with support from HomeAgain, there’s a video reinforcing the importance of registering pet microchips and keeping that information up to date.



Checking a chip’s registration information is easy, and can mean the difference between heartbreak and a happy family reunion if you ever get separated from your pet.  And if you don’t yet have your pet microchipped, there’s no better time than now. Microchips help reunite families! Call us to talk about the benefits of microchipping and schedule an appointment for your pet.

Hope to see you on the 15th! To learn more about microchips, call us or visit the AVMA’s website at


Related resources:

Microchipping at Family Pet Animal Hospital

FAQs about microchipping from the American Veterinary Medical Association

Hot Weather Safety Tips for Your Dog


by Linda L.

Chicago is set for a heat wave this weekend!  The veterinarians and staff here at Family Pet Animal Hospital would like to remind you how to keep your dogs safe in the extreme heat.

Provide water and shade

Do your best to keep your furry family members of out the direct sun by providing access to shade, although if the temperature and humidity are high enough, shade might not be enough.  Allow your pets to cool off indoors with air conditioning when possible.

Pets can become dehydrated quickly in the heat so be sure to provide plenty of fresh, cool drinking water.

Never leave your pet in a parked car in the heat


Our pets are family, so it’s tempting to bring them with us on car rides when we’re out on the town.  Sadly, many people believe that cracking the car windows is enough to moderate the temperature inside the car.  They are wrong!  According to the ASPCA website, when it’s 80 degrees outside, in less than 30 minutes, the inside of your car could be a staggering 114 degrees!

Dogs cannot cool themselves off as easily as people.  Once they overheat, they can suffer severe organ damage or die.  Don’t risk it!


Stay off the asphalt

Keep your pets off the asphalt, which can get dangerously hot during the summer.  Not only can they burn their delicate paw pads, but because your dog’s body is so low to the ground, he/she is in danger of overheating quickly when walking over hot surfaces.

Limit exercise in the heat

While our pets may love the outdoors, some of them simply do not know how to self regulate their activities to stay safe and healthy.  Be your pet’s advocate!  Keep walks and outdoor activity minimal during peak daytime temperatures, choosing instead to walk your dog during early morning or evening hours when temperatures are lower.

Watch for signs of heat stroke

Knowing how to detect signs of heat stroke could mean the difference between life and death for your furry family member.  Breeds with flat faces (such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Persian cats, etc.), as well as pets who are overweight, elderly, and those that have heart or lung disease are particularly susceptible to overheating easily.


Know these signs of heat stroke:

  • Excessive, prolonged panting or difficulty breathing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Dark red and/or tacky tongue/gums
  • Staggering and lack of coordination, lethargy, or even collapse
  • Increased and/or irregular heartbeat
  • Rectal temperature above 104 degrees F
  • Vomiting and diarrhea


As soon as you recognize signs of heat stroke in your pet, you should begin a cooling method.  Soak towels in lukewarm water and wrap your pet in the towels.  Although it may seem counterintuitive, we do not recommend using cold water!  Cooling your pet too rapidly could be detrimental to your pet and actually inhibit quicker dissipation of heat from your pet’s body.  You may also use fans on your dampened pet to encourage heat loss by convection.

Once you’ve started the process of cooling down your pet, call your pet’s veterinarian immediately for further instructions.  Pets affected by heat stroke may require hospitalization, intravenous fluid therapy, administration of oxygen, and other supportive care.

Dangerous medical conditions can occur after heat stroke including kidney failure, liver failure, heart abnormalities, abnormal clotting of blood, cerebral edema, among others.  These conditions may occur hours or days after the incident and your pet will need to be very closely monitored.  Early recognition and aggressive treatment of heat stroke are critical for you pet’s well-being.



Rats, Your Dog, Your Family, and Leptospirosis

by Linda L.


There are many reasons to brag about this amazing city that we call home – the food, the museums, that skyline, those beaches, the sports teams (OK…at least some of them), the layout (YAY grid system), our diversity, and our culture.  With all Chicago has going for it, we also hold the unfortunate title of being America’s rattiest city. That’s right.  Last fall, Orkin bestowed this title on Chicago for the third time running.

If this is old news, why are we talking about it?  As the weather has warmed up, chances are you and your two-legged and four-legged family members are spending more time outside. Those rats (and other rodents and mammals) will also be out and about enjoying the various bounties the city has to offer them.  We wanted to remind you of one of the dangers for your pets AND the two-legged members of your family in this rattiest city in America – leptospirosis.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic (can be spread from animals to humans) disease that is caused by infection with the Leptospira bacteria.

Why are we talking about leptospirosis and rats?

Instances of leptospirosis in dogs have been on the rise, as have the complaints about rats in Chicago.  Leptospirosis is typically contracted by drinking or absorbing, through mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth, or cuts/abrasions in the skin), water that has been contaminated by the urine of infected animals.  Infected wildlife, most notably rats in urban areas like Chicago, urinate in/near puddles, lakes, streams, or other areas with standing water and help spread the bacteria.

Common risk factors for leptospirosis:

  • Exposure to or drinking contaminated water from rivers, lakes or streams
  • Roaming on rural properties (exposure to infected wildlife, farm animals, or water sources)
  • Exposure to wild or farm animal species, even if in the backyard
  • Contact with rodents or other infected dogs, such as in urban areas, dog parks, or multi-dog facilities

Can people get leptospirosis?

According to the CDC website, cases of leptospirosis in children are on the rise in urban areas, although potential reasons for the trend were not listed.  The AVMA website states, “Most cases of human leptospirosis result from recreational activities involving water.  Infection resulting from contact with an infected pet is much less common, but it is possible.”

Can cats get leptospirosis?

According to the AVMA, dogs are most commonly affected.  “Leptospirosis in cats is rare and appears to be mild, although very little is known about the disease in this species.”

What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?

The signs and symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs can vary greatly based on the specific strain of bacteria as well as how the dog’s immune system reacts to the infections.  Some dogs may be asymptomatic while others will develop severe, life-threatening illness.

Signs of leptospirosis can vary and be similar to those of other illnesses.  We advise you to seek veterinary care for your dog if you observe the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Muscle tenderness and/or reluctance to move
  • Increased thirst
  • Changes in frequency or amount of urination


As with dogs, signs and symptoms of leptospirosis in humans can vary widely, but are often flu like – high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.  Symptoms usually appear 1-2 weeks after exposure.  In the majority of human cases of leptospirosis, there are minimal to no symptoms.  However, severe cases can lead to meningitis or encephalitis, as well as Weil’s disease (kidney and liver failure, pulmonary hemorrhage).  It is important to seek treatment in cases in pets or people, as recovery will be greatly prolonged without it.


How is leptospirosis diagnosed?

In order to reach a diagnosis, the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital will consider various factors – your dog’s vaccination status, information from your pet’s history, likelihood of exposure, clinical symptoms, physical exam findings, along with routine and specialized laboratory tests.

Routine tests, including a complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry, may reveal typical clinical symptoms of leptospirosis infection – an elevation in a pet’s white blood cell count and/or changes in liver enzymes, thrombocytes, and kidney values (BUN and creatinine).  Because there are many diseases in dogs that will have identical clinical symptoms to those seen in cases of leptospirosis, you pet’s veterinarian may run more specialized tests such as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or microscopic agglutination test (MAT), although each has its limitations.

The leptospirosis PCR test can detect the presence of Leptospira in your pet’s blood and/or urine, can be an effective diagnostic test during the early stages of infection and before antibiotics have been started, but under certain circumstances, can give false positives or negatives.  A “MAT” or microscopic agglutination test can detect the presence of antibodies against Leptospira in a dog’s blood but also has its limitations.  The time frame required to obtain results of the MAT test is longer than that of a PCR test and a follow-up test may be necessary confirm infection.  Additionally, if the pet received antibiotics recently or was previously vaccinated for leptospirosis, the MAT results can be inconclusive.

Due to the limitations of these specialized tests based on each individual pet’s circumstances and history, the zoonotic nature of the disease, and the fact that infection can be life threatening, our veterinarians will begin treatment for the patient if leptospirosis is suspected but not definitively confirmed via testing.  Delaying treatment could be highly detrimental to your pet’s health.

Treatment and prevention of leptospirosis

Treatment for leptospirosis generally involves hospitalization, antibiotics, and supportive care.  If treated early and aggressively, chances for recovery are good.  However, there is a risk of permanent kidney or liver damage.  If treatment is delayed or not sought, the disease can be fatal.

Vaccination is the best protection for your dog against leptospirosis.  There are 10 serovars (strains) of Leptospira and the current vaccine used by the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital protects against four serovars (the most coverage available).  V accinating your dog does not guarantee s/he will not contract leptospirosis, however it is the best defense available.  The veterinarians at Family Pet highly recommend vaccinating your dog against this serious and potentially deadly disease.

Due to the zoonotic potential and high mortality rate of leptospirosis, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) strongly recommends leptospirosis vaccination for all dogs.

Because leptospirosis can be transmitted to humans, you must take precautions to protect yourself, your family, and the community if your dog is infected:

  • Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for treatment of your dog.
  • Avoid contact with your dog’s urine. If you have to clean up your dog’s urine in your home, wear gloves and clean the area with a household disinfectant.
  • Encourage your dog to urinate away from standing water or areas where other people or animals will have access.
  • Wash your hands after handling your dog.


At Family Pet Animal Hospital, we dedicate our lives to the health and well-being of our patients.  It is our passion to help our patients live long, healthy, and happy lives.  Additionally, it is our responsibility to educate our clients about the risk factors that affect pets in the Chicago area.  Please contact us for more information about leptospirosis, the available vaccine, or to schedule an appointment.

Additional resources:

Spike in Leptospirosis Cases in Chicago (October 2016)

Leptospirosis and DHPP Vaccinations



N/A.  “Leptospirosis.”  AVMA. American Veterinary Medical Association.  n.d.  Web.  6 Jun 2018.

N/A.  “Chicago Tops Orkin Top 50 Rattiest Cities List for Third Time.” Orkin. Orkin, LLC, 16 Oct 2017. Web. 6 Jun 2018.

Wooten, Sarah J. “Not Your Grandpa’s Canine Leptospirosis Cases.”  Dvm360.  UBM,  19 Jan 2017.  Web.  6 Jun 2018.

N/A.  “Leptospirosis.” Centers for Disease control and Prevention.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.  Web.  6 Jun 2018