Dear Daisy Dog: Dieter, my German wirehaired pointer, almost had a run-in with a porcupine while I was training him in the field. What do I do if he's ever harpooned by porcupine quills?

Daisy Responds: Rush him to a veterinary emergency clinic. If there are quills in or near his eyes, have someone restrain him while you're driving so he doesn't do further damage.

Quills are loosely attached to the porcupine's body, so they release easily when the dog touches the porcupine. Each quill is covered by what look like fish scales, designed to help the quill work in deeper, making removal difficult.

If a porcupine quill breaks off near the surface of the dog's skin, it can migrate through the body. If it reaches a joint, the quill will cause pain and limping. If it ends up in the heart, brain or other vital organ, it will kill.

Because the quill scales are designed to dig in, quill removal is painful and therefore best done when Dieter is anesthetized. After the procedure, the veterinarian will send Dieter home with pain medicine.

Unfortunately, quilled dogs rarely learn their lesson. Most continue to attack porcupines and get quilled again. If Dieter has this experience, you might reconsider his role as a hunting dog.

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Dear Christopher Cat: I give my dog a chewable heartworm pill every month throughout the year. Can cats get heartworms? Should I give my indoor cat, Big Bertha, a heartworm preventive, too?

Christopher Responds:
Yes, and yes.

Mosquitos, which transmit heartworms to dogs and cats in all 50 states, manage to get inside people's homes, so even indoor cats should be protected. Too many indoor cats in Berks County have been infected, and our mild winter means the air will be filled with heartworm-infected mosquitos this year.

Regular readers know that I often extol the many ways we cats are superior to dogs, and heartworms provide yet another example. We are relatively resistant to heartworms, so in a given geographic location, cats are infected only 5 to 20 percent as often as dogs.

Still, we cats need to be protected, because infection with a single worm or even just the immature heartworm larvae can cause serious disease and death. Moreover, the arseniclike drug used to treat heartworm-infected dogs is fatal to us cats.

Monthly heartworm preventives are applied to the cat's skin (Revolution or Advantage Multi) or given orally as a chewable tablet (Interceptor or Heartgard for Cats).

A heartworm preventive will protect Bertha from this life-threatening disease that causes much more severe clinical signs in cats than in dogs.

Infected cats can develop heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD), a chronic condition characterized by coughing and labored breathing. HARD, which mimics asthma and chronic bronchitis, often ends in death. Other infected cats die suddenly, without prior clinical signs.

Talk with your veterinarian about starting Bertha on a heartworm preventive this spring.

Ask the Vet's Pets appears Fridays in the print edition of the Reading Eagle. The animal authors of the column live with Lee Pickett, V.M.D., who practices companion animal medicine. Contact them at www.askthevetspets.com.