Why Is My Dog So Itchy?



What is causing all that scratching?


All the veterinarians and staff at Family Pet Animal Hospital are pet owners and know how hard it is to watch your pet be uncomfortable in his/her own skin, literally! Just like humans, all pets will have an itch they need to scratch from time to time.  However, if your pet is frequently scratching, biting, rubbing, and licking himself/herself, he or she is likely suffering from one of the following problems:

  • Allergies:
    • Contact allergic dermatitis
    • Flea allergic dermatitis
    • Food allergies
  • Infection: Bacterial or Fungal
  • Skin Parasites

Itchy pets can be a frustrating experience for pets, pet owners, and veterinarians alike.  Keep in mind that there are entire books written on each category of issues listed above.  While our feline friends can also be itchy and suffer from similar problems as dogs, this post will focus on dogs in order to limit the scope.  Here, we examine the most common causes and treatments for all that itching and scratching in your dog.


Common Types of Allergies

Allergies often manifest as itchy skin with your pet scratching, biting, and licking especially under the paws and tail, conjunctivitis, and/or chronic ear infections.  Allergies can lead to skin infections due to a disruption of the immune system of the skin and the self-trauma caused by all of the licking and scratching.  These infections often manifest as red and flaky skin, scabs, and pimple-like pustules.  (See section below on bacterial and fungal infections for more information.)

It is important to note that most allergies are inherited, and while they can be managed, they cannot be cured.  Here are the most common types of allergies making our dogs itchy, methods of diagnosis, and courses of treatment.


Contact Dermatitis – Allergic or Irritant

Contact dermatitis is a skin condition that can occur when a dog’s skin reacts negatively after making physical contact with an allergen.  While allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis are technically two separate conditions, they are often grouped together because symptoms and treatment are typically quite similar.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when a pet becomes hypersensitive to substances in their environment, including substances that are seasonal, such as pollen (from weeds, grasses, and trees), molds, and dusts.  Allergies develop after a period of repeated exposure and sensitization and therefore typically develop between the ages of 1-3 years of age.  Due to the extreme seasons and the myriad of various allergens presented in those seasons, allergies are a common problem in Chicago.  Typically, the worst seasons for contact allergies are spring and fall, but can be a year-round problem.  Pay attention to the time of year and watch for patterns in flair ups of itchy skin.

Veterinary dermatologists can perform intradermal allergy testing (AKA “skin testing”) to determine what specific things in the environment are making your pet itchy.  More importantly, skin testing provides the information needed to custom formulate an allergy injection designed to desensitize your pet to the offending allergen.  Treatment with these custom injections is called allergen specific immunotherapy.

Allergen specific immunotherapy is a long-term treatment option which generally takes 3-12 months to reach maximal effectiveness.  As with people, allergy injections are not effective for every pet.  When allergen specific immunotherapy is successful in controlling allergy symptoms, while it may be possible to extend time in between doses, treatment will be necessary for the lifetime of the pet.

Irritant contact dermatitis

Unlike allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis does not require a period of sensitization and can occur from your pet’s first contact with a substance.  Examples of common chemicals and substances that cause irritant contact dermatitis are household cleaning chemicals or detergents, insecticides, poison ivy sap, and road salt.  Certainly, if you can easily identify the offending irritant, eliminate it from your pet’s environment entirely or minimize exposure.

At-home care

If your pet suffers from contact dermatitis, here are some at-home tips to help ease your pets itching that may be utilized in conjunction with additional supportive care treatments recommended by your pet’s veterinarian when necessary.  Ultimately, these are all methods to remove or minimize the irritant or allergen from your pet.

  • Bathing once or twice a week with an oatmeal based shampoo or other product prescribed by your veterinarian for your pet’s condition. Avoid over-lathering, over-fragranced, or drying shampoos, which may exacerbate the problem.
  • Wash your pet’s bedding more frequently. If you’re short on time, you can throw a clean blanket, sheet, or towel over your pet’s bed for the same effect.
  • Use disposable baby wipes to wipe down your pet in between baths to remove the offending allergens.


Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)

Flea allergic dermatitis occurs when a pet develops a hypersensitivity (allergy) to flea bites (specifically flea saliva) and is characterized by severe itching.

Because fleas can survive indoors even during the winter here in Chicago, FAD may be a problem year round.  Typically, veterinarians will diagnose FAD based on the clinical appearance – actually finding fleas, flea dirt, or skin lesions from the flea bites.  For pets with FAD, even a single bite can set off a reaction and a small number of bites can cause severe and prolonged itchiness.  So even though you or your veterinarian may not find a flea or flea dirt on your pet, he or she could still have FAD.

Treatment for flea allergy dermatitis is reducing or eliminating the number of flea bites and can be achieved by a number of products designed for the control of fleas.  Many of the products for flea control recommended by the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital are combination parasiticides (control various types of parasites such as heartworm, ticks, and/or mites as well as fleas).  Examples of the topical products we use to control fleas are Revolution, Parastar and Parastar Plus.  Bravecto is an oral medication that is effective for 12 weeks against fleas.  Your veterinarian can help you choose the right treatment for your pet based on his/her and your family’s lifestyle.

As with treatment of other causes of itchiness, additional supportive care and medications for secondary skin infections may be recommended by your dog’s veterinarian when needed.


Food Allergies

Similarly to humans, dogs and cats may develop hypersensitivities (allergies) to foods.  Symptoms of food allergies are most commonly skin irritation or gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea and vomiting.  The most common food allergens in pets are proteins, although virtually any food ingredient can produce an allergic reaction.  While food allergies account for approximately 5-15% of allergies in pets, it is an important possibility to investigate.  Additionally, many dogs can have both food and contact/environmental allergies.

Unfortunately, there is no simple and reliable test to diagnose a food allergy.  Instead, your pet’s veterinarian will recommend a strict food trial where your pet’s diet will be changed to a “novel” or hydrolyzed (broken down into small components) protein for a period of 8 to 12 weeks.  During that time, no other foods, treats, or supplements are to be fed.

The only treatment for food allergies is avoidance of the offending allergen.  Luckily, most pets are successfully treated with a hypoallergenic or other type of specialized diet.


Infectious Dermatitis

Infectious dermatitis is the inflammation of the skin caused by various bacterial or fungal (such as yeast) organisms.  Typically, infectious dermatitis does not occur spontaneously – meaning there is usually something else going on with your pet creating conditions for opportunistic organisms to create problems.  In a healthy pet, the skin provides a very effective protective barrier against bacteria and yeast.  However, allergies, damage to the skin (from bite wounds, irritants, parasites, scratching, etc.), autoimmune disease, or immunosuppression caused by certain medications or diseases can all create conditions in the skin that allow yeast and bacterial to invade and cause infections.

Yeast Infections

Malassezia pachydermatitis, which is a type of yeast, is a common culprit of infectious dermatitis.  Infected areas are usually odorous, greasy to the touch, and often affect the ears and/or other areas of the body.   The skin of a dog with a yeast infection can appear red and thickened.  Diagnosis is made via cytology – a sample is taken from the affected area and evaluated under a microscope.  Yeast infections are commonly treated with topical therapy or oral anti-fungal medications.

Bacterial Infections

Staphylococcus is a group of bacteria that are widespread and usually harmless.  However, they are opportunistic pathogens that can invade the skin and cause infections when conditions are right.  Diagnosis of staph infections is typically by visual examination and/or cytology.  The infected skin is often appears red and crusty and pimple-like pustules may be present.  Staph, like fungal disease, is generally treated topically with medicated shampoos, sprays, and/or wipes.  Depending on the severity of the infection, a course of oral antibiotics may be prescribed as well.

While yeast and bacterial skin infections are responsive to treatment, the underlying cause – parasites, allergies, skin irritants, or other medical conditions – must be addressed.  Pets with underlying causes of itching will scratch and damage their skin.  The skin is then prone to infection, which causes more itching.  The underlying cause of the itch must be addressed to halt the cycle of scratching and infection.


Ringworm or dermatophytosis is a contagious and zoonotic (can be transmitted to humans) parasitic fungal infection that can cause red and/or darkened skin, poor hair coat, hair loss (alopecia), often in patches, and severe itching.  Unlike Malassezia and Staphylococcus discussed above, ringworm is typically a primary problem.  Treatment of ringworm requires oral or topical anti-fungal medications and environmental cleaning.


Skin Parasites

While dogs can get the occasional bite from mosquitoes, biting flies, or other common insects, these types of bites do not frequently cause severe itching.  As discussed previously, fleas, specifically flea saliva, can be the cause of an allergic reaction.

Sarcoptic Mange

Sarcoptes scabiei mite

Sarcoptic mange or “scabies” in dogs is caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite.  This type of mite burrows into the skin of its host and causes severe itching.  The resulting scratching can cause a loss of fur, red, irritated, and/or crusty or thickened skin.  It should be noted that scabies is highly contagious and zoonotic.

Sarcoptic mange is diagnosed by a skin scraping examined under the microscope.  Unfortunately, it is common not to see the mites when performing a skin scraping because the mites can burrow deep into the skin and it only takes a few mites to cause significant itching.  Therefore, a presumptive diagnosis may be made based on clinical signs and ruling out other potential causes of your pet’s scratching.

Luckily, sarcoptic mange is treatable with a combination of therapies to resolve the infestation.  Your pet’s veterinarian will determine what treatment is right for your pet.

Demodectic Mange

Demodex canis

Demodectic mange is an overgrowth of the Demodex mite and is the most common form of mange in dogs.  All dogs have some of these types of mites on their skin, but a properly-functioning immune system keeps the numbers in check and they cause little to no harm to the dog.  Demodectic mange most often occurs in young dogs with immature immune systems or adult dogs with defective immune systems, which allows the numbers of skin mites to increase rapidly.

Demodectic mange is not contagious and is transmitted from mother to puppy during the first few days of life.  Interestingly, demodectic mange does NOT typically cause severe itching, although it does cause hair loss, generally in patches, especially on the face and around the eyes.


French bulldog with Demodex


A veterinary technician will examine skin scrapings under a microscope. A higher than normal number of demodex mites confirms the diagnosis.  Your pet’s veterinarian will determine the proper course of treatment, which may include topical and/or oral medications.




If your pet’s skin and coat are not in optimal health and he is scratching, biting, licking, rubbing and chewing, it’s probably making both of you crazy.  Be sure to have your pet seen by his veterinarian because he surely is not feeling well.

The process of determining the cause of your pet’s itch may take a good deal of time and multiple visits to your veterinarian or a specialist.  Each category of dermatitis must be evaluated carefully and rule outs made prior to a final diagnosis being reached.  Only then can proper, effective treatment begin.  Resolving these cases often takes time but the rewards are a happy pet, owner, and veterinarian.



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Why Are We Seeing More Ticks in Chicago?



Ticks – Not Just In the Woods Anymore

Experts predict that the tick population and the diseases they carry will continue to be more and more prevalent in our area.  Why?  While more temperate weather has provided conditions for ticks to be active for more months of the year and to grow in their habitats, there’s another big reason.  According to Dr. Susan Little, a veterinary parasitologist at Oklahoma State University, that reason is the increasing mouse population.

Immature black-legged ticks (AKA “deer ticks”), responsible for transmitting the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, prefer mice as hosts. (In their adult phase, black-legged ticks prefer deer as hosts, thus their nickname.)  Deforestation and reforestation over the last century created the forest fragmentation we see today.  These fragmented forest areas have significantly less biodiversity and cannot support the larger predators needed to keep the mouse population under control.  Fewer predators lead to more mice and subsequently more ticks.

Why does it matter?

Ticks can carry and transmit a multitude of diseases to our pets and to us, including:

  • Lyme disease
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Tularemia
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Babesiosis
  • Anaplasma

For a more comprehensive list, check out the Center for Disease Control’s website:  httpss://www.cdc.gov/ticks/diseases/

What should we do?

While many tick-borne diseases are treatable and/or manageable if diagnosed, some diseases can be fatal for both pets and humans.  Therefore staying vigilant and protecting your pets and yourself is incredibly important.  Here are some tips:

  • Check frequently. We recommend daily tick checks to limit the time a tick is attached.  Check more frequently if you and/or your pet are traveling through grassy or wooded areas.  Transmission times vary greatly based on the pathogen (15 minutes to 24+ hours).
  • Note the following attachment site preferences:
    • Usually areas of thinner skin
    • American dog ticks prefer the scalp & head
    • Black-legged tick tends to attach on trunk or legs
    • Lonestar tick generally prefers areas below the waist. These ticks are most common in the southern U.S. but have been moving north.  They are present in Illinois and most recently spotted in Chicago as well.
  • Use tick preventives for your pet. Family Pet Animal Hospital carries various effective products for prevention and control including topical and oral products.  While we used to recommend preventives from April through November, due to changing weather patterns and the increase in cases of ticks we’ve seen even in the winter months, our veterinarians now recommend year round preventives for most pets.  Talk to your pet’s veterinarian to determine which preventive is right for your pet and his/her lifestyle.
  • Vaccinate against Lyme, when appropriate.  Discuss the Lyme vaccine with your pet’s veterinarian.  We do vaccinate against Lyme in some of our patients which are at a high risk of exposure.  However, because the Lyme vaccine’s efficacy is not 100% and it provides NO protection for other tick-borne illnesses, the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital consider preventive measures (vigilant tick checks and prompt removal along with effective oral or topical preventives) to be paramount for protecting your pet.
  • Test annually for common tick-borne illnesses.  As we began to see more cases of these illnesses, Family Pet Animal Hospital changed our canine standards of care for annual wellness checkups to include a 4DX test, which tests for not only heartworm, but also Lyme, Erhlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis.


According to Dr. Little, another thing to keep in mind is that ticks typically do not fall from trees.  Instead, ticks typically will crawl onto an animal from grass or ground litter.  From there, they will attach to and crawl up your clothes until they find a good feeding site.  Because ticks want to feed undetected for days or even weeks, they inject an anesthetic into their host that numbs the skin and delays the immune response (such as swelling or itching).  You or your pets are unlikely to feel a tick feeding, so make sure your checks are thorough!

See the additional resources below for more information on ticks, the diseases they carry, and their growing prevalence.

Additional resources:

Start your Dog’s or Cat’s Flea/Tick Preventive Now (includes 2016 Cook County Parasite Prevalence infographic).

Choosing the Right Heartworm, Flea, and Tick Prevention for your Dog

Companion animal Parasite Council – Ticks

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – “Tickborne Diseases of the United States”

Beyond Lyme:  New Tick-Borne Diseases On the Rise in U.S.httpss://www.wbez.org/shows/all-things-considered/beyond-lyme-new-tickborne-diseases-on-the-rise-in-us/11ee9d0e-4c0d-450c-84b5-be8bd4f7ebc8


“Tick-Borne Illnesses Could Be On The Rise In Illinois This Summer.” WBEZ. N.p., 09 May 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.


Most Valuable Player of the Month for May 2017 – Sandy Gerstung


This is how Sandy relaxes during her time off. 😉


Sandy Gerstung was awarded Family Pet Animal Hospital’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the month for May 2017 by last month’s winner, Lilly Lam.  Lilly cited Sandy’s unparalleled dedication, timeliness with her responsibilities no matter the circumstance, and her affinity to help those in need.  Since day one when Family Pet opened its doors, Sandy has always been the bookkeeper/accountant, which she did in her free time since she had a full-time position at a local accounting firm.  When she retired from the accounting firm in 2004, she took a full-time position with Family Pet as the Finance/HR Manager.  We are all grateful for her dedication and the way she takes care of all of us in big and small ways.

Question and Answer with Sandy

Do you have pets?  If so, tell us about him/her/them.

Yes, a cat with attitude named “Chicken.”

What is your favorite thing about working at Family Pet?

The feeling that everyone is family – both staff and clients.

What is the moment at FPAH of which you are the most proud?

The day [Family Pet] opened, seeing Rae Ann’s dream become reality.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Travel – be with family and friends

If you could communicate with our patients, what would you most want them to know?

They will be given the best care possible.

What’s the strangest job you’ve had?

Working at a carnival on the midway

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Be true to yourself

Tell us something about yourself people would be surprised to know.

I traveled in an old converted school bus with an aunt, uncle, cousin and 5 dogs. They did a balancing act and dog show.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

People that do not take responsibility for the actions. Also, bad manners.

What would you choose for your last meal?

French bread and butter

What did you wear to prom?

A yellow formal.

What is your favorite junk food?


What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?


What fortune would you want to get in a fortune cookie?

“Your family and friends will never know sorrow.”


Congratulations, Sandy!  Sandy will get to choose next month’s MVP, so stay tuned…


Lilly Lam (April 2017)

Annika Hoffman, D.V.M. (March 2017)

Frank Fiacchino (February 2017)

Tony Tramultola (January 2017)

Emily Olvera (December 2016)

Janet Laz (November 2016)

Kate Van Eck (October 2016)

Jim Dinan (September 2016)

Katie Doan (August 2016)


Family Pet Animal Hospital’s mission, vision, and core values

Our Doctors

Our Staff


Most Valuable Player of the Month for April 2017 – Lilly Lam


Lilly’s pups – Milo, Miko, and Mooshu with the MVP milkshake


Lilly Lam, one of our Client Care Managers, was named as Family Pet Animal Hospital’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the month for April 2017 by last month’s winner, Dr. Annika Hoffman.  Dr. Annika cited Lilly’s dedication, efficiency, friendliness, positive attitude, and compassion along with her excellent communication skills as the reasons she awarded Lilly with the MVP honors.  Lilly has blessed Family Pet with her keen eye for detail and high expectations for herself and her team in delivering quality care at our hospital for over six years.  We are incredibly grateful for her talents, enthusiasm, and love of caring for our patients and clients.

Question and Answer with Lilly

Do you have pets?  If so, tell us about him/her/them.

I have 3 Havanese, all named after Disney characters. Miko (from Pocahontas) is my first born and although I love him to bits and pieces, he is a lemon. Milo (from Atlantis) and Mooshu (from Mulan) are Havanese rescues that I adopted from a group that I actively volunteer for – HALO (Havanese Angel League Organization).

What is your favorite thing about working at Family Pet?

The patients, of course!! Our team is pretty darn awesome as well. =)

What is the moment at FPAH of which you are the most proud?

Every day is a new adventure with many proud moments. I would say that the most memorable would be going through the interview process with Jim and Colleen. During my interview, I was so nervous that I started stuttering and nervous giggling. Coming from a finance and business management background, with no other animal health experience other than volunteer work and caring for my own pets, I didn’t think I would get the job. I am thankful/grateful every day, that Jim and Colleen took a chance on me to allow me to become the animal health professional that I am today.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I have WAY too many hobbies. First and foremost, my fur-children take up most of my free time. Cross-stitching has been a hobby of mine since I was a little girl. I try to maintain an active lifestyle and hit the gym as much as I can. I’ve also recently taken on rock climbing, snowboarding and self-defense tactical training.

If you could communicate with our patients, what would you most want them to know?

I love you guys and just want to help make you happy and healthy!!

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Mind control. No explanation needed… =)

How would you spend one million dollars?

I feel that our society focuses too much on materialistic luxuries. I would be happy leading a simple lifestyle. As long as there is a roof over my fur-children, warm clothes, and enough food to get us through, I’d be happy. So if I had an extra million dollars, I would opt to donate everything to organizations in which proceeds go directly towards helping those in need.

Describe yourself in three words.

Stubborn, intense, crazy

What’s your favorite activity to do with your pet(s)?

Lounge on the couch. ^_^

What song or movie are you ashamed to admit you absolutely love?

I have no shame in saying this and I’ll gladly scream it to the world: I love any song with Celine Dion in it!!


Congratulations, Lilly!  She will pick next month’s MVP, so stay tuned…


Annika Hoffman, D.V.M. (March 2017)

Frank Fiacchino (February 2017)

Tony Tramultola (January 2017)

Emily Olvera (December 2016)

Janet Laz (November 2016)

Kate Van Eck (October 2016)

Jim Dinan (September 2016)

Katie Doan (August 2016)


Family Pet Animal Hospital’s mission, vision, and core values

Our Doctors

Our Staff

Most Valuable Player of the Month for March 2017: Dr. Annika Hoffman


Dr. Annika with Mio, Daphne, and Apollo

Annika Hoffman, D.V.M., was awarded Family Pet Animal Hospital’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the month for March of 2017 by last month’s winner, Frank Fiacchino.  Frank cited Dr. Annika’s winning smile, professionalism, and enthusiasm for caring for Family Pet’s patients, along with her patience, listening skills, and teamwork as the reasons he awarded her with the MVP honors.  We couldn’t agree more.

Question and Answer with Dr. Annika

Dr. Annika answers our serious and not-so-serious questions.

Do you have pets?  If so, tell us about him/her/them.

I have 3 pets. Apollo is an almost 7 year old Doberman mix, who my husband and I rescued a month after I started vet school. I also have two 5-year-old Ragdoll cats named Mio and Daphne. They all love to cuddle and snuggle on the couch.

What is your favorite thing about working at Family Pet?

The team – it is rare to find a job where you enjoy working with every single colleague!

What is the moment at FPAH of which you are the most proud?

It is humbling to have been given this opportunity to be a part of the staff at Family Pet Animal Hospital; so just being able to say that I work at this amazing hospital makes me proud.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In the city, I like to go to musicals, the symphony, and occasionally the opera. However, my true passion is nature, so whenever given the chance I go to my home-country Sweden and hike, kayak, cross-country ski, swim in the lakes etc. I rarely get to enjoy outdoor activities in the US, but when I do my favorite place is Colorado.

If Family Pet Animal Hospital had a theme song, what would it be?

“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (the Toy Story version)

If you could communicate with our patients, what would you most want them to know?

As an ER Doc, I would want my patients to know that I am here for them, and I will do whatever is possible to make them feel better.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Fly- having a bird-eyed view is of great benefit in many situations.

If you could be any animal, what would it be and why?

Dolphin, because they are smart, fun, fast and I would absolutely LOVE to live under water.

Name three things on your bucket list.

  1. Backpack in New Zealand
  2. Scuba dive in Indonesia or close to that area in the pacific or Indian oceans.
  3. Horse-back riding trip in Montana

What would you choose for your last meal?

Boeuf bourguignon or Coq au vin

What song or movie are you ashamed to admit you absolutely love?

“The Police Academy”

What is your favorite junk food?

Deep dish pizza


Congratulations, Dr. Annika!  She will pick next month’s MVP, so stay tuned…


Previous MVPs:

Frank Fiacchino (February 2017)

Tony Tramultola (January 2017)

Emily Olvera (December 2016)

Janet Laz (November 2016)

Kate Van Eck (October 2016)

Jim Dinan (September 2016)

Katie Doan (August 2016)

More about us:

Family Pet Animal Hospital’s mission, vision, and core values

Our Doctors

Our Staff

Start Your Dog’s or Cat’s Flea/Tick Preventive Now


While the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital recommend year round heartworm preventive (for an explanation on why, click here), we’ve generally recommended preventives for fleas and ticks April through November with caveats based on temperatures.  Because of the higher than average temperatures and bouts of very unseasonably warm weather we’ve had in the last couple of months, we’ve seen patients with fleas and/or ticks or our clients have reported seeing them on their pets or in their homes.  If you have not started your pet on external parasite preventives yet this season, we recommend you go ahead and start now.

External parasites, such as fleas, ticks, or mites, are an annoyance that many pets (and their owners) will experience at some point.  Not only can these parasites cause discomfort and skin problems but they can also carry serious diseases.  Modern preventives make treatment, control, and prevention of many external parasites easy and safe.


How does my pet get fleas?

Fleas thrive when the weather is warm and humid and can be found in areas frequented by other cats and dogs.  Unfortunately, fleas can also thrive in our homes.  In Chicago, fleas are typically a seasonal problem.  However, because fleas can also survive in our homes, if they are not eradicated in the home, problems may persist through times not typically associated with flea infestations (summer).

How do my pet and home become infested with fleas?

Adult fleas spent virtually all their time on their host, feeding, and laying eggs (for females).  Females begin laying eggs within 24 hours of landing on a host.  The eggs fall off of your pet into the environment, hatch into larvae, and burrow into carpets, furniture, bedding, or soil in the outside environment), where they can lay dormant for weeks.  Once they emerge as adults, they will seek a host to begin the cycle again.

How do I know if my pet has fleas?

Fleas bite the host and feed off the host’s blood.  You may not recognize that your pet has fleas until the fleas have multiplied to the point that your pet is experiencing visible discomfort – from skin redness and itchiness to open sores and skin infections.  Fleas are no bigger than a sesame seed and are fast movers.  Here are a few ways to check for fleas:

  • If you see a small red or brown, moving speck on your pet, it’s probably a fleaComb your pet’s hair the “wrong” way (back to front) to get a good look at his or her skin.
  • You can find flea combs at pet stores, but any fine-toothed comb will work.
  • Look for red, irritated skin on your dog’s neck, belly, or hindquarters
  • If you see specks of “flea dirt,” the digested blood the flea has excreted, on your pet’s skin or fur, he or she may have fleas.

Should you suspect a flea infestation, contact us to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.  Our doctors and staff will be able to determine if your pet has fleas and proceed with proper treatment.  Additionally, we can make recommendations on how to properly clean your pet’s sleeping quarters and the rest of your home to minimize the risk of re-infestation.

If my pet has fleas, what’s the big deal?

Besides the discomfort it can cause, flea infestations can drain enough blood from your pet to make him or her anemic.  Additionally, fleas also carry tapeworms which can infect your pet if your pet ingests the infected flea(s).

How does my pet get ticks?

Ticks are commonly found in wooded areas, brush and undergrowth.  Pets or people who frequent these types of areas are at risk of becoming a tick’s host.  In recent years, we’ve seen a slightly higher frequency of dogs that live in Chicago contracting ticks as well.  Immature ticks feed on small, wild animals.  Adults typically seek larger hosts such as dogs and cats.

What are the dangers of tick bites?

Ticks can not only cause skin irritation and anemia in pets, but are also capable of spreading serious diseases such as Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (uncommon in the Midwest), Anaplasmosis, and Erlichiosis to your pets.

How do I identify ticks on my pet?  What should I do if I find one or more ticks on my pet?

Ticks can be found anywhere on your pet, but are most commonly found around your pet’s neck, in the ears, between the toes, and in the folds between the legs and body.  These parasites use their tiny sharp teeth to embed themselves firmly into their hosts’ skin and tissue.  An adult tick is roughly 3mm in size and therefore visible to the naked eye.  In their larvae and nymph stages, they are much smaller and may be difficult to identify on your pet.

Ticks feed on the blood of the host and an adult female can ingest up to 100 times her weight in blood.  Typically, pet owners only discover ticks on their pet once the parasite has been feeding and has become engorged.  Prompt removal of ticks on your pet can lessen the chance of disease transmission.  Ticks should be removed properly, with care, to avoid leaving the mouth parts embedded in your pet, which can cause irritation and infection.

If you find ticks on your dog, we strongly recommend consulting with your pet’s veterinarian.  The doctors and staff at Family Pet Animal Hospital can remove ticks appropriately as well as provide recommendations for the appropriate treatment, tick-borne disease screening, and prevention.

What’s the best flea and tick preventive for my pet?

Family Pet Animal Hospital has various effective products for flea and tick prevention and control including monthly topical products and a three-month oral product.  There are many factors to consider when choosing the right preventive(s) for your pet.  The veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital can recommend and appropriate parasite control plan for your pet based on his/her and your family’s lifestyle and needs.


Additional resources:

Tick encounter resource center:  www.tickencounter.org


“External Parasites.” External Parasites. American Veterinary Medical Association, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

“How at risk is your pet? View CAPC Parasite Prevalence Maps.” CAPC Vet. Companion Animal Parasite Council, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Brush Up On Your Pet’s Dental Health


Pet Dental Care 101

Pet Dental Care

Do you know that periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in dogs and cats?  Periodontal disease is the inflammation or infection of some or all of the tooth’s support structures.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), it is estimated that by age three, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease. Can you imagine if you never brushed YOUR teeth?  Yikes.

Luckily, periodontal disease is entirely preventable.  The veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital recommend prevention first and foremost and can provide treatment for those already affected.

The speed at which pets develop periodontal disease and will need periodontal therapy (dental cleanings or oral surgery) depends on many variables including proper home dental care, diet, age, breed, and size of the patient, along with health status and genetic disposition.  Just like humans, some pets are born with better mouths than others.


OK, so Fido has bad breath.  So what?

Nobody wants his or her pet to be in pain or to be sick, right?  Halitosis (bad breath) is not the only repercussion of periodontal disease.  Pets suffering from this condition are sometimes silently living in pain. Additionally, bacteria underneath the gum line can travel to the heart, kidneys, and liver and lead to other serious health problems.  Unfortunately, besides bad breath, there are few signs of the disease that are evident to pet owners.  Here are some things to look for:

Signs of dental disease:

  • Bad breath
  • Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Indications of pain in or around the mouth
  • Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling or dropping food
  • Loss of appetite or refusal to eat

The buildup of plaque can cause gingivitis – inflammation of the gums around the base of the teeth – which can be a constant source of discomfort for your dog or cat.  As the disease progresses, your pet may experience difficulty chewing hard food, as well as drooling excessively, bleeding from the mouth, or difficulty opening/closing the mouth.  Without proper care and treatment, these problems will only worsen.


How is periodontal disease diagnosed?

During your pet’s annual or biannual exam, our veterinarians will check your pet’s teeth and gums for signs of a problem.  Your veterinarian will be to tell you if your pet needs a dental cleaning and polishing.  However, because the majority of the tooth structure lies below the gum line, we cannot fully assess the scope of your pet’s dental disease until your pet receives a full oral exam under anesthesia.


In addition to visual examination, radiographs (x-rays) are an integral part of this full oral exam, allowing your pet’s veterinarian to see if a tooth is beginning to abscess below the gum line or if chronic infection has caused bone loss.  This information allows your pet’s veterinarian to start treatment and spare your pet unnecessary dental pain.  The cleaner the teeth are the healthier the mouth, with less bacteria entering the blood stream and disseminating to the heart, liver, kidneys, and bladder.  Oral health is one of the keys to total body health.


Why does a dentistry procedure require general anesthesia?

When you go to the dentist, while you may not enjoy it, you understand the importance of what’s being done.  Therefore you accept what is happening during a dental procedure.  Our pets cannot understand the benefit of a dental procedure and certainly would not sit still and cooperate.

Anesthesia allows for less stress and less pain for your pet.  Additionally, anesthesia allows us to perform a thorough cleaning because your pet is not moving around and risking injury to him/her or others.  Proper radiographs for assessment by the veterinarian must be taken while the pet is very still, which would be unlikely without anesthesia.

Family Pet Animal Hospital requires blood work for a patient prior to any anesthetic procedure.  This allows our veterinarians to assess the level of risk of anesthesia for your pet and tailor the appropriate combinations of pain relievers, sedatives, injectable anesthesia, and gas anesthesia.  Although anesthesia always carries a degree of risk, modern anesthetics and advanced monitoring equipment greatly minimize this risk.  Generally, the risks to your pet associated with untreated dental disease far outweigh the risks of anesthesia.


What is the prognosis for periodontal disease?

Home oral care for your pet, including daily brushing, can improve his or her dental health, decrease the progression of periodontal disease, and decrease the frequency or even eliminate the need for professional dental cleanings.

Smiling cat 2

How do I take care of my pet’s teeth?

Daily brushing is the single most important aspect of regular dental care to help prevent dental disease.  In addition to daily brushing, dental treats, toys, and therapeutic diets specifically formulated to help manage your pet’s dental health can be part of your pet’s home care to delay the need for a dental procedure.


Dos and Don’ts of at-home dental care for your pet:

  • DO try to perform at-home dental care at least once daily. (Link to how-to video below.)
  • DO use these tips to teach your pet to enjoy having his/her teeth brushed.
  • DO use the resources listed at the bottom of this page to help you with proper oral care for your pet.
  • DON’T use human toothpaste for your pet. It contains ingredients that are harmful for your pet.  We recommend C.E.T. Enzymatic Toothpaste, which is specifically formulated for pets and comes in multiple flavors.
  • DON’T bother attempting to clean the side of teeth facing inside as natural saliva and friction from the tongue cleans this surface on their own.
  • DON’T let your dog chew on cow hooves or bones as these are too hard and they may end up damaging your pet’s teeth.


We look forward to working together with you in the prevention of dental disease and the maintenance of optimal oral and full-body health for your pet!


More resources on pet dental care:

Pet Dental Care 101

Teach Your Pet to Enjoy Having His/Her Teeth Brushed

Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) – Approved list of products to help control plaque and calculus

Videos – Brushing your cat’s teeth

Video – Brushing your dog’s teeth

Dental Care

Most Valuable Player of the Month for February 2017 – Frank Fiacchino


Frank, pictured with his “kids,” Scruffy and Riley.

Frank Fiacchino, one of Family Pet’s Client Care Coordinators, was awarded the FPAH Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the month for February 2017 by last month’s winner, Tony Tramutola.  Frank joined our team in August of 2015 after serving as an Assistant Clinic Manager at the PAWS Chicago Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic.  In a past life, Frank performed professionally in musical theater.  He subsequently spent many years honing his customer service skills in the hospitality industry.  His love of animals brought him to the veterinary world and we are so grateful to have his talents, patience, and humor here at Family Pet.



Do you have pets?  If so, tell us about him/her/them.

I have two: 1) Scruffy:  a grey and white 14 year young male Shih Tzu.  I adopted him from my cousin when he was two. [My cousin] was about to have her second child and said having a preschooler, a new born baby, a husband and a puppy was too much. THANK GOD, for my sake, she chose to part with the puppy. 2) Riley:  a gold 7 year young female Yorkshire Terrier.  On Halloween weekend of 2014 I was working for PAWS when Riley was brought in from Tennessee. She was brought in on a Friday to be seen by the doctor on Monday before being put up for adoption. I played with her all day and decided to bring her home for the weekend so she wouldn’t have to stay in a cage by herself. Well it’s been a really LONG weekend!

What is your favorite thing about working at Family Pet?

For 15 + years I worked in the hospitality industry so customer service is something I enjoy as well as its kind of innate at this point. Also, Ever since I can remember I have loved animals. Being a Client Care Coordinator I get to combine those two loves for a perfect blend.

What is the moment at FPAH of which you are the most proud?

I never had the pleasure of knowing Marla Minuskin, one of the original co-founders.  But after I started working at Family Pet, it did not take long to know her spirit is still very much alive here. I have heard many wonderful stories of her from coworkers and clients alike. So when Jane Lohmar , one of the managing partners told me Marla would have really liked me it made me VERY proud.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Spend time with my four legged children, binge watch Netflix and run outside in nice weather!

If you could communicate with our patients, what would you most want them to know?

Not to be scared. I would let them know that they were in good hands with good people that will do EVERYTHING in their power to make them feel better!

What’s the strangest job you’ve had?

I once hosted a live NICKELODEON game show where the prize was getting slimed.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Flying, I hate driving!

How would you spend one million dollars?

First off I would hire an accountant, because I am awful with money. Then I would have him/her set it up so my Mom, siblings their families and I could live a comfortable life without worrying about money! Oh and I would adopt a TON of dogs!

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Everybody’s perception is different and a person’s perception is their reality.

What is your personal motto or mantra?

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Tell us something about yourself people would be surprised to know.

I once had a role in a NBC Monday night movie.

Congratulations, Frank!  Frank will pick next month’s FPAH MVP, so stay tuned…


Previous MVPs:

Tony Tramultola (January 2017)

Emily Olvera (December 2016)

Janet Laz (November 2016)

Kate Van Eck (October 2016)

Jim Dinan (September 2016)

Katie Doan (August 2016)


More about us:

Family Pet Animal Hospital’s mission, vision, and core values

Our Doctors

Our Staff


Myths (and Truths) About Grains in Pet Food

by Linda L.

“What is the best food to feed my pet?”

This is one of the most common questions posed to our veterinarians here at Family Pet Animal Hospital. Answering this question has certainly become more complicated than it once was.  Good nutrition for your pet means feeding him or her food that provides the building blocks and energy components that allow him/her to grow, develop properly, and remain healthy and active throughout his or her lifetime. Because every pet is unique, there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The goal is to find the right food for your pet that is nutritionally balanced to produce optimal health.

Navigating through the abundance of information and misinformation, deciphering cryptic pet food labels, and being constantly inundated with food manufacturers’ marketing buzz words can create a lot of confusion. It is important to think of food in terms of providing the energy, vitamins, and minerals necessary for normal body functioning.  Energy comes from proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. In recent years, grains, especially corn, have developed a bad rap. Is there any truth in the claim that a grain-free diet is best for your pet?  We’re here to debunk some of the most common myths about grains (and other ingredients) in pet food so you can make more informed decisions about what to feed your pet.

According to Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, DACVN, an associate professor of clinical nutrition at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California Davis, “Grains, and any other single category or individual ingredients, are neither good nor bad.  Rather, what is important is how the ingredients work together to create the full nutritional profile of the diet.  Likewise, carbohydrates, as an energy source, are utilized by the body the same way regardless of source, such as grain, legume, or tubers, and different sources of carbohydrates also bring other nutrients, such as fiber, fatty acids, and amino acids.  Again, no ingredient has a simple effect since each provides multiple nutrients, and it’s not consumed in a vacuum.”

Let’s talk about the most common MYTHS and TRUTHS about grains (and other controversial ingredients) in pet food.


Myth vs Fact - Grains in Pet Food (1)


Myth #1:  Dogs and cats did not evolve eating grains and therefore cannot digest them

“In fact, modern dogs have adapted/evolved eating a high starch diet during their domestication,” says Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, DACVN, the founder and president of Veterinary Nutritional Consultations, Inc.  She cites a 2013 study reported in the journal Nature, which states that in a comparison of a domestic dog’s genome versus a wolf’s, the three genes responsible for the digestion of dietary starch were expressed 7-12 fold higher in the dog.  Remillard adds, “…digestibility studies published in the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition … have clearly demonstrated that both dogs and cats digest better than 95% of the starch in a properly cooked diet containing 50% corn or rice.”

Ann Wortinger BIS, LVT, VTS, is a veterinary nutritionist who has worked in the field for over 20 years.  She notes that with any grain, “when higher levels are included in the diet, protein digestibility can go down… All plants, due to their cellulose layers, have decreased digestibility when compared to meats.  But when ground and cooked, so that the cellulose layer is broken, digestibility is comparable [to meat].”

Myth #2:  Grains are responsible for pet allergies

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, meat ingredients are the more common culprit of food allergies than grains. There is no current evidence to support that pets on grain-free diets have lower incidence of food allergies than pets on conventional diets.  Larsen adds, “… to my knowledge, there is no inherent characteristic of any particular grain that would make it more likely to elicit an immune response.” She states that historically, the most common allergens for dogs and cats are beef and dairy.  While she suspects that this may be changing due to ingredient trends, no change has been recently reported in scientific literature.

While some dogs do have allergies to wheat, Celiac disease (allergy to wheat gluten) is very rare in pets and has primarily been reported in the Irish Setter breed.  Wheat gluten is more than 80% protein, highly digestible, has an amino acid profile similar to other proteins (meat), and enhances the texture of food.  Anyone who has a pet that is a finicky eater can tell you that last one can be a top priority.

Myth #3:  You can determine the quality of a pet food by reading the ingredient list

Remillard says, “Despite aggressive marketing campaigns by various manufacturers and self-appointed websites, the ingredient list according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) should not impart any information regarding the quality, nutritional balance, or digestibility of the pet food product… The ingredient list was simply not designed, or is not regulated, as a measure of pet food quality.  So the source of the meat or carbohydrates in a pet food is not important to the nutritional profile in a complete and balanced product.”

Does your pet food boast the labels “all natural,” “holistic,” or “human-grade”?  According to AAFCO, the term “natural” requires a pet food to consist of only ingredients that have not been subjected to chemical synthesis.  There are no legal definitions of the terms “holistic” or “human-grade,” therefore under pet food laws, anyone can claim these terms for their food.  These terms may sound appealing but are, in fact, meaningless.

Are all “by-products” bad?  Not at all, in fact, we eat them!  By definition and regulation, by-products are the non-meat parts of chicken, beef, pork, etc. after the meat has been removed.  However, by-products are NOT feathers, beaks, fur hooves, or teeth.  Examples include animal fats and clean internal organs – pork, chicken, and beef liver, heart and kidneys.  All these items have nutritious value and are often preferred over muscle meat by animals.  Other examples are treats we commonly give our pets – bully sticks, raw hides, pig’s ears, cow hooves, trachea, and lamb lung.  By-products are a valuable source of energy, vitamins, and minerals.  And while it may sound good to feed your pet a meat-only diet, muscle meat alone is deficient in many nutrients, which could lead to poor growth, bone fractures, and loose teeth.

Is whole meat better than meat meal?  Here are the AAFCO definitions of what constitutes “meats” and “meals.”

  • Meat – “Meat is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart, or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
  • Meat meal – “Meat meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain added extraneous materials not provided for by this definition…. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin, it must correspond thereto.”

As with all ingredients, if the meat is from a well-known provider and is of good quality, it can be an excellent source of protein.  According to “Myths and Misconceptions Surrounding Pet Foods” on the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center’s website, “Because of the variation in meal content, and in meat and meal quality, purchasing a food from a well-known company who stands behind their product and has the feeding trials and evidence to support its quality is best.”

We recommend that you look at the nutrients rather than the ingredients in foods.  According to Wortinger, “The body does not care if the meat is chicken, beef, or reindeer; what is cares about is the amino acids included in the food.  The body does not care whether the fat is animal or plant-based, but whether all the essential fatty acids are present.  Look at nutrients, not marketing.”

Myth #4:  Grains are non-nutritive fillers

“I’ve heard concerns about them [grains] being ‘filler,’ which is nonsense,” Larsen says.  Grains are added because they are a good source of carbohydrates, which are essential for growth in puppies and kittens and are an important source of energy for most cells of the body (young or adult).  Corn and wheat, two common grains found in pet foods, are excellent sources of quality protein, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants.  Corn meal, which commonly appears in a list of pet food ingredients, is simply corn minus the water and fat and is highly digestible.  Properly processed and cooked grains are generally well-utilized by both cats and dogs.  Furthermore, the fiber provided by grains is essential for the health of the gastrointestinal tract.

Martha G. Cline, DVM, DACVN, is a clinical veterinary nutritionist at AAHA-accredited Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Fall, N.J.  She states, “Although fiber is not a required nutrient, I find that it can be very beneficial in optimizing the stool quality and the overall health of my patients.   Grain-free diets can provide optimal nutrition for cats and dogs, however, diets containing grain can do the same.”

Now What?

We’ve debunked some of the biggest myths about grains and ingredient lists, but you’re still asking, “What should I feed my pet?”    There is no “best” food for all pets because of each pet’s unique factors that determine what is “best” – life stage, body condition, level of exercise, environment, and health status.  The most important considerations are if the food is nutritionally adequate and if your pet is healthy when you feed him or her that food.

All pet food labels in the United States must include the AAFCO adequacy statement.  This statement confirms whether the diet is complete and balanced, for which life stage the food is intended, and how the food company determined that the food is complete and balanced (recipe or analytic testing of the finished product; or feeding trials).  If you are home-cooking your pet’s food, then a diet formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist is recommended so that the food isn’t nutritionally deficient.

Raw diets, produced to supposedly mimic what cats and dogs eat in the wild, have become increasingly popular.  Generally, these raw diets consist of variable combinations of raw meats, grains, vegetables, and bones.  As with grain-free diets, there is no scientific evidence that feeding a raw versus conventional diet is advantageous to your pet’s health.  While we recognize the desire for some people to feed a raw diet to their pets, we stress the importance of understanding the risks.  Raw diets are much more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.  Exposure to these pathogens has the potential to cause serious illness in both pets and humans.  If you have a household with very young, old, or immunocompromised inhabitants, the risks are even greater.  Anyone feeding a raw diet should follow strict handling guidelines such as these outlined by the FDA:  https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm206814.htm

In summary, no matter how good the company, how pretty the packaging, how yummy sounding the ingredients, the only TRUE test of whether a food is good for your dog or cat is what happens when you feed it.  Don’t let your decisions about pet food be based on marketing messages instead of objective nutritional data.

Additional Resources

Pet Nutrition – Separating Fact from Fiction

Pet Nutritional Counseling

Searchable Pet Health Articles Database


Smith, Kelly. “Myth Busters: Corn Edition!” NEWStat. American Animal Hospital Assocation, 17 Jan. 2017. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

Freeman, Lisa M., DVM, PhD, DACVN. “Pet Food Myth Busters: Answering Common Questions Owners Ask About Pet Food.” (n.d.): n. pag. Clinician’s Brief. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2017. <https://www.cliniciansbrief.com/sites/default/files/attachments/Pet%20Food%20Myth%20Busters.pdf>.

“Myths and Misconceptions Surrounding Pet Foods.” The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

Most Valuable Player of the Month for January 2017 – Tony Tramutola

Tony & FinnTony Tramutola, Family Pet Animal Hospital’s longest standing staff member and one of our Technician Managers, was awarded the FPAH Most Valuable Player (MVP) for January 2017 by last month’s winner, Emily Olvera.  Tony joined the Family Pet team as a teenager back in 1990 just after the practice first opened.  He is an incredibly skilled, no nonsense technician and manager that our doctors and staff call on for assistance incessantly.  Around here, he is often referred to as “Dr. Tony” for his wealth of knowledge and experience.  He may not have a DVM degree but he is certainly invaluable to our team.

His patience and skill with especially scared or aggressive dogs has earned him the title of “dog whisperer.”  Many of our clients request him by name to be the technician to handle their pets when they come to see us, knowing he “speaks their language.”

QUESTION AND ANSWER WITH TONY (he is a man of few words):

Do you have pets?  If so, tell us about him/her/them.

Yes.  Tank is a pitbull mix and full of energy.

What is the moment at FPAH of which you are the most proud? 

Working here for 26+ years.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Playing video games, watching TV, and taking long walks with Tank.

How would you spend one million dollars?

Buy a house and car and eat well.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

When someone says something happened a million times (over-exaggeration).

What would you choose for your last meal?

New York strip steak and baked potato.

Congratulations, Tony!  Tony will pick next month’s FPAH MVP for February, so stay tuned…