Backyard Hazard Series: Seoul Virus

The Backyard Hazards series of articles focuses on the diseases that you or your pet may be at risk of contracting, right in your own backyard.
Seoul virus (SEOV) is a type of zoonotic virus (meaning it can be spread between humans and animals) known as a hantavirus that is seen throughout the world in both wild and domestic rats. It is most commonly sees in the Black Rat (Rattus rattus) and the Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus).
Commonly, pet rats are from the same species of rats as the Norway Rat but appear in different varieties (Fancy, Hairless, Dumbo, Rex, etc.).
In December 2016, Ontario saw its first few positive cases of SEOV surface. Since then, both humans and rats have tested positive in an outbreak that has encompassed both Canadian and American rat-breeding facilities.
Since this outbreak was detected, Public Health Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Local Public Health Units, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Public Health Agency of Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have been working together to monitor this outbreak and provide direction to rat owners.
Rats who have contracted the Seoul virus will shed the virus through urine, feces and saliva. The virus is then passed to other rats when they come into contact with these, or when they are bitten by an infected rat.
Just like when rats pass the virus to other rats, humans can become infected when they come into contact with an infected rat’s urine, feces and saliva. This may occur when handling feeder rats (fresh or frozen food for reptiles) or pet rats, receiving a bite from an infected rat or while cleaning out their bedding in their cage. Sweeping and vacuuming rat habitats while cleaning should be avoided as the virus can be aerosolized and inhaled. People do not pass the Seoul virus to other people.
In rats Rats that have Seoul virus do not show signs or symptoms. Once a rat has Seoul virus it will shed the virus for life and may pass the virus along to other rats and people.
In people
Some humans may not show signs of SEOV infection either. Although, others may present with flu-like symptoms one to two weeks after exposure to the virus that include:
  • Headache
  • Backache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Redness/inflammation of the eyes
  • Flushed face • Rash
The CDC states: “While Seoul virus infection in humans is generally considered less severe than some other types of hantavirus infections, it can still cause a severe illness in some cases. Some people may develop a severe form of infection known as hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS), and an estimated 1% to 2% of people may die after being infected with Seoul virus.”
In these more severe cases the following may be seen:
  • Kidney failure
  • Low blood pressure
  • Signs of bleeding
  • Shock
  • Death
Those who are pregnant, children, elderly and immunocompromised may be more at risk of developing disease.
There is no specific treatment available for rats with SEOV. In some cases, blood testing can be performed on live rats to test for Seoul virus. If you are concerned that your pet rat may be carrying the Seoul virus you should reach out to your local public health unit to inquire what your next steps should be.
People who have developed symptoms of Seoul virus may be treated with supportive care until the virus runs its course.
First, clean the habitat in an area that is well ventilated. Cleaning outside is best if possible. If cleaning must occur indoors, make sure to open windows 30 minutes prior to cleaning and avoid areas where food is prepared. The CDC recommends the following steps when cleaning rat habitats:
When you begin cleaning, it is important that you do not stir up dust by sweeping or vacuuming up droppings, urine or nesting materials. Wear rubber, latex or vinyl gloves when cleaning urine and droppings. Spray the urine and droppings with a disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water and let soak five minutes. The recommended concentration of bleach solution is one part bleach to 10 parts water. When using a commercial disinfectant, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the label for dilution and disinfection time.
Use a paper towel to pick up the urine and droppings, and dispose of the waste in the garbage. After the rodent droppings and urine have been removed, disinfect items that might have been contaminated by rodents or their urine and droppings.
Mop floors and clean countertops with disinfectant or bleach solution. Steam clean or shampoo upholstered furniture and carpets with evidence of rodent exposure.
Wash any bedding and clothing with laundry detergent in hot water if exposed to rodent urine or droppings. Lastly, remove gloves, and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water (or use a waterless alcohol-based hand rub when soap is not available and hands are not visibly soiled).
Rats make great family pets and it is important to note that not all rats carry Seoul virus. If you are considering a rat as a pet for your family, it is important to look into the breeder you are considering purchasing your rat from and inquiring about their rattery’s Seoul virus status. A reputable rat breeder will not breed and sell infected rats and should be able to provide proof to you that their rattery is free from the virus. More information about the virus can be found on Public Health Ontario’s website by searching “Seoul virus.”
Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at


I t’s that time of year when Fluffy and Fido are due for their annual examinations, and while on the phone booking their next appointment the receptionist asks, “When you come for your next visit please bring along a fresh fecal sample?” You reluctantly agree, hang up the phone and wonder what they possibly could want with your pet’s poop. Turns out, your pet’s feces can provide some valuable insight into your pet’s health.
Once a stool sample has been brought into your veterinary clinic, the first part of any fecal analysis will be observing the stool for regularity. Feces should appear well formed, in a cylindrical shape that holds its shape and appears moist but not hard. Normal feces will have a chocolate brown appearance. Abnormal looking feces can indicate a digestive system concern such as:
  • Black, tarry stool — May indicate bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract
  • Red stool — May indicate bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract
  • Light-coloured yellowish-orange stools — May indicate liver or gallbladder issues
  • Grey or greasy stool — May indicate a pancreas issue
  • White speckled stool — May indicate parasites
  • Loose and/or mucus-lined stool — May indicate stress or intestinal inflammation
Fecal Floatation
A fecal floatation is a test often performed at your veterinary hospital. It is used to detect parasitic eggs from worms like roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, lungworms and tapeworms. They are also used to look for intestinal parasites known as protozoa, which are single-celled organisms, such as coccidia, giardia, toxoplasma and cryptosporidium.
A fecal flotation utilizes a small amount of feces mixed with a floatation solution in a small vessel that allows the parasite eggs/protozoa to float to the top of the vessel after a specified amount of time. The fluid at the top of this vessel is transferred to a glass coverslip and viewed on a slide under a microscope to determine if any parasites are present and to identify them.
This test is performed most often with general wellness visits or when your pet is encountering a digestive issue.
Centrifugation Fecal Floatation
The Centrifugation Fecal Floatation test may be performed in house or by an external laboratory. This test is also used to detect parasite eggs from worms like roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, lungworms and tapeworms. They are also used to look for intestinal parasites.
A small amount of feces, along with a floatation solution, is placed into a tube and is centrifuged (spun) at high speeds in the hopes of pushing any parasite eggs or cysts to the top of the tube. Once the tube has spun, a glass coverslip is placed on top to catch the parasite eggs and cysts that have been forced to the top, which is then placed on a microscope slide and viewed. This method of testing often yields more reliable results than both the fecal floatation and fecal smear tests as the centrifugation process forces any parasite eggs and protozoa to the top, versus having them passively float to the top like in the standard floatation test method.
This test may be used in place of the standard fecal floatation test or when a standard fecal floatation test returns negative results but signs of parasitic disease are present.
Fecal Smear
If your pet’s stool is loose and watery and there is not enough stool to perform a fecal floatation or centrifugation fecal floatation test, a fecal smear may be used. In most cases it is performed to look for protozoa that may have not been detected in a regular fecal floatation. This test is performed by placing a small amount of the feces onto a glass slide and examining it under a microscope.
Not much at all. Your veterinary healthcare team will be more than happy for you to only bring along a large marble-sized piece of poop. If there is a portion of poop that looks abnormal, be sure to include this too.
The fresher the better! Fecal samples should be tested within 24 hours. Worried that your sample won’t be fresh enough before you arrive for your pet’s appointment? No worries, just drop it off at the veterinary hospital after you have collected it ahead of your appointment.
Once you collect a fecal sample from your pet make sure that it is kept cool in the fridge. Samples are best stored in a small disposable leak-proof container. A cleaned and rinsed margarine or sour cream container works great.
Parasites can be harmful to your pet’s health and detecting them through fecal testing allows you veterinarian to treat your pet with the proper medication to rid them of these parasites. Some parasites your pet may carry can also be passed along to your human family members. Detecting parasites early in your pet and treating them helps to lessen your chance of getting them too.
Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at


T he story will sound familiar to many. An unsuspecting Canadian travels outside of Canada for a vacation, and while away has their heart stolen by an innocent dog that seems to have been cast aside by the local community. After having their heart strings pulled, and realizing they can provide a better life for this animal, the quest to find a way to bring them home to Canada begins. But is it as easy as just booking the dog on the next flight home? Not exactly. The importation of animals into Canada has particular requirements.
The Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) monitors the influx of animals entering Canada at points of entry and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates the import of these animals.
The CFIA may require inspection of an animal at the port of entry. It is important to know though that not all ports of entry have a CFIA inspector available on-site at all times. To prevent delays at the border it is best to give advance notice of arrival to ensure the CFIA has staff available for inspection.
To determine if your animal requires inspection, the CFIA has provided an online tool called the Automated Import Reference System, which can be found at
Airlines that transport animals internationally will have their own set of rules. This may include health and behavioural restrictions and vaccination requirements. There will also be regulations regarding the type of kennel that can be used for transport on their aircraft. It is important to familiarize yourself with the rules of the individual air carrier you are using.
The CFIA requires that all dogs entering Canada must be current on their age-appropriate vaccinations. In the case of rabies vaccinations, animals must be at least 12 weeks of age before receiving the vaccine.
Different rules apply to animals that are imported for commercial, personal or assistive purposes. Upon arrival at the port of entry into Canada, the CBSA will perform a documentary inspection for the imported animal. Documents required may include a rabies vaccination certificate, a veterinary certificate of health and/or a veterinary certificate. The CFIA explains what is required in the following outlines:
The rabies vaccination certificate must:
• Be written in English or French; • Be issued and signed by a licensed veterinarian;
• Identify the animal (as in breed, sex, colour and weight);
• State that the animal is vaccinated against rabies;
• Indicate the date of vaccination;
• Indicate the trade name and the serial number of the licensed vaccine; and
• Specify the duration of immunity (otherwise, it will be considered valid for one year from the date of vaccination).
The veterinary certificate of health must:
• Be written in English or French;
• Be issued by the licensed veterinarian who performed the examination;
• Have the name and signature of the licensed veterinarian;
• Identify the animal (breed, sex, colour, and weight);
• Specify the date and time of the examination;
• State the animal is not less than eight weeks of age at the time of the examination;
• Declare the animal free of any clinical evidence of disease;
• Show the animal was vaccinated, not younger than six weeks of age, for distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and parainfluenza virus;
• State the animal can be transported to Canada without undue suffering due to infirmity, illness, injury, fatigue or any other causes; and
• Be issued 72 hours or less before the dog is imported into Canada.
The veterinary certificate must:
• Be written in English or French;
• Be issued and signed by a licensed veterinarian;
• Identify the animal (as in breed, sex, colour and weight);
• State that the animal has been in the exporting country since birth or for at least six months immediately preceding shipment to Canada; and
• Be accompanied by documentation from a competent government authority, stating that rabies has not occurred in the country of origin for at least six months immediately preceding the animal’s shipment to Canada.
A competent government authority refers to a veterinary agency or other government agency that manages a country’s  animal health and welfare situation, as well as handling the responsibility of veterinary certification for the purposes of international trade. The document can be either:
• A letter issued on the competent government authority’s letterhead, which must be dated, stamped and signed by an official of the competent government authority in the country of origin; or
• A letter by the licensed veterinarian who issued the certificate, which must be endorsed by the competent government authority.
Animals coming from different locals across the globe may also be carrying pathogens other than rabies that can be harmful to both people and animals. These pathogens may not be native to their new home location in Canada, which can be a cause for concern to the human and animal population. To minimize this risk, a visual inspection by CBSA will also be done to ensure the animal appears healthy and does not show any obvious signs of illness. Should the animal appear ill, the CBSA will contact the CFIA veterinarian. Inspections will be subject to a fee. An outline of these fees and taxes as well as the duty paid on imported animals can be found on the CFIA website at
As you can see, it is important to take into consideration not only the cost of importing a dog from another country but also the requirements that need to be followed. These requirements are in place to ensure the health and safety of animals and people in Canada, as animals travelling from foreign areas could potential bring along disease. Before you book your new furry friend on the next flight home, make sure you investigate the legal requirements for importation first!
Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She can be reached by email at Editor’s note: The CVMA has a position statement on importing aninals into Canada, available at



When the time is right to bring a new furry, scaled or feathered family member home, one of the first questions that arises is, “Where should I adopt from?” It won’t take long for most people to become embroiled in a conversation about no-kill versus kill animal shelters. These terms are alarming, and quickly paint a picture that suggests one is better than another.
Historically, animal shelters have had the reputation of being quick to euthanize animals and, in some cases, doing so simply because of a lack of space or funding. The reality is that this practice has changed significantly over the years as animals have become an important part of people’s family life, which has also encouraged animal advocacy that has brought about positive changes in how animals in sheltering facilities are dealt with. Unfortunately, the no-kill versus kill terminology is still quite active in today’s discussions about animal adoption, although it does not reflect the work being done in each facility to provide care to animals.
Don’t let the term mislead you. No-kill shelters may not euthanize animals, but this may be because they have a limited intake policy. This means that they may be selective in what animals they take into their care due to a lack of space available in the shelter or the funding needed to care for the animals. This may mean that the shelter will exclude taking in animals who are sick or injured, or those that have behavioural problems that will require investment in medical or behaviour treatment, or whom may have little chance of finding adoptable homes. In these cases, the most humane treatment for these animals may be euthanasia. By limiting intake to only healthy and adoptable animals, that don’t require euthanasia, they meet the no-kill criteria.
Realistically, if an animal is suffering and in the care of a no-kill shelter, it would be inhumane not to provide euthanasia. This is why a small percentage of euthanasia does still occur in no-kill shelters. With confusion surrounding the term, a more suitable term that is now being recognized is Limited Admission Shelter.
Despite the mental images the term may conjure, these shelters are also run by people who are just as passionate about animal welfare as their counterparts in nokill facilities. They are, however, saddled with a different burden.
Kill shelters are often those who accept all animals. Commonly, these are your municipal animal control service shelters who have a responsibility to their community to provide safe places for animals and people. Kill shelters often deal with both wild and domestic animals who are sick or injured (or have behavioural issues), and are not able to turn animals away.
These animals need to be dealt with in the most humane way, for both the welfare of the animal and the safety of the community. Kill shelters also want what is best for the animals in their care — an adoptable forever home — but unfortunately, this is not possible for all animals. The work these shelters do every day is incredibly difficult, and to better reflect their approach the term Open Admission Shelter is becoming more common; it better explains that they care for all animals, regardless of health or behavioural status.
It is important to understand that working in any shelter can be a thankless job, especially when work is misunderstood. Ultimately, shelters are caring for animals who have no one to look after them. Whether it’s because animal owners are negligent in their responsibilities to their pets, or because they are doing the responsible thing and surrendering their animals when they can no longer provide for them, it comes at both a financial cost to the facility and an emotional cost to those who fill these roles.
Those working in shelters, regardless of facility type, have a passion to provide the best care for the animals in their charge. No matter what shelter you choose to adopt from, your new family member is just as deserving of a home as pets in other shelters. Let’s not lose sight of this most important detail.

Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at

Cat Scratch Disease

Cat scratch disease (CSD), also known as cat scratch fever, is a bacterial infection in humans that is can occur when a bite or scratch from a cat breaks skin and introduces a bacteria called Bartonella henselae into the tissue. This bacteria may also be introduced to an open wound if licked by a cat that has the bacteria in their saliva.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “CSD is caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae. About 40% of cats carry B. henselae at some time in their lives, although most cats with this infection show NO signs of illness. Kittens younger than one year are more likely to have B. henselae infection and to spread the germ to people. Kittens are also more likely to scratch and bite while they play and learn how to attack prey.”

Although most cats with this bateria do not show any signs of infection, humans that are infected through exposure from their cat may notice the following symptoms develop up to two weeks after exposure:
• Swelling around the wound that may be hot and painful;
• Swelling and pain in lymph nodes near wound;
• Red, raised and sometimes pus-filled lesions;
• Headache;
• Fever;
• Fatigue;
• Loss of appetite; and
• In rare cases: muscle pain, encephalitis and eye infection.

In cats, treatment may involve a long course of antibiotics, but this is usually only the case if the cat is actually symptomatic of infection, which is rare. If you have a concern that your cat may have a bartonella infection you should seek the advice of your veterinary healthcare team. If you suspect that you may have contracted CSD from a cat, it is important to seek medical attention from your family physician. Depending on the severity of the case, you may require a treatment of antibiotics based on your individual case. According the the CDC, most cases of disease resolve on their own without antibiotic treatment.

Cats can acquire this bacteria when they are bitten by fleas that carry the bacteria, or when flea dirt (feces) enters a wound. Cats are self groomers and may inadvertently ingest the bacteria or get it stuck under their nails. Your veterinary healthcare team can offer you advice on a flea prevention treatment that can help to reduce risk. Transmission to cats is also possible if an infected cat bites or scratches another cat and passes the bacteria along. Supervising your cat and preventing their ability to interact with other cats, if it may result in bites or scratches, is ideal. This includes keeping cats indoors to prevent interaction with stray cats. When it comes to those people who may be immune compromised, it is important that their interaction with certain cats, such as those that are more rambunctious (kittens) or have a tendency to bite and scratch, are limited to prevent the spread of infection.

Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health, she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at