A Vets Insight

in Animals & Pets

Summer is upon us

The weather has warmed rapidly and with this comes the resurgence of the insects and the parasitic ones that can cause disease in your pets. Protecting your pet is of vital importance, otherwise your best friend could suffer chronic illness for the rest of its life . Today I will revisit a couple of the diseases. 

Locally the most significant problem and one that can cause serious illness in your pet is canine leishmaniasis . 

This disease is caused by a flagellated protozoa that is injected into dogs by Sandflies (phlebotominae), looks like a tiny mosquito. The female of this biting fly feeds on blood that it requires for egg production, however at the same time that it feeds it can infect the host with the protozoa, in a similar way that malaria is spread by mosquitos.

The protozoa can cause devastating damage to a dog, but the illness is a slow insidious disease that can damage pretty much any organ in the body, broadly speaking they can be divided into two types, the visceral type infecting the internal body organs, or the cutaneous one that infects the skin. This is a bit of a simplification as it can affect any body system and therefore can sometimes it can be a challenge to diagnose. One common complaint is that the dog ‘isn’t right’. In some cases the illness is asymptomatic until the animal becomes suddenly seriously ill , in some of these cases the dog has gone beyond the point of no return and does not respond to medical therapy.

Confirmation of the disease is done by doing a simple blood test, generally you can have the results back in under quarter of an hour. 

There are various treatment regimes used in the medical therapy of infected dogs, depending on their body condition, the body system affected and on the finances available. Sometimes the dog does not respond to one treatment and may need an alternative.

What is very unfortunate about this disease is that in the majority of cases after treatment the animal goes into remission and the parasite cannot be eliminated, it remains dormant in some hidden recess of the body, usually in the lymphatic system or the bone marrow.  Thanks to medical progress we can now actually look for DNA of the protozoa in the blood, so that we can check the level of infection in treated animals to make sure the parasite does not make an unwelcome reappearance.

Evidently prevention of leshmaniasis is by far the best option. Now not all dogs are at the same risk of contracting this disease so you can tailor your prevention strategy depending on the your particular circumstances.

There are two ways of protecting your pet, one is to vaccinate your pet and secondly to prevent its infection by the Sandfly.

Vaccination is a fairly recent option, it is more expensive than your standard vaccine, but be aware that the manufacturers do not recommend that you stop using ecto-parasite treatment to stop the vector.

However all pets do not require the same level of protection, the highest level must be for those dogs that are outside in gardens during the times of highest risk, dusk to dawn.  Those dogs living in flats in highly urbanised areas are at a smaller risk but there is never any guarantee that a female Sandfly will not sneak in and infect your family pet, do not become complacent.

The other main ectoparasite of concern at this time of year is the common flea. Although they do not carry serious illnesses they can cause many chronic skin complaints. The exception to this is a blood parasite in cats that is spread by fleas and this can kill your pet if not diagnosed early enough.

If an animal with a flea allergy dermatitis isn’t treated they the problem can snowball and the condition can become serious and very expensive to treat. In this day and age there is no excuse for your pet suffering from a flea problem; there are a multitude of decent products out there to prevent your pet from being infested with these blighters. 

In summary go and out get your pets protected NOW!!

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A Vets Insight

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A Lifetime Compressed into 15 Years

A common complaint I get from clients is that they take their pets more the vets than their own children. 

There are a few reasons for this:

Primarily these companion animals are totally dependent on humans for their existence.  They exist because man has bred these animals to fit certain stereotypes that are favoured by the whims of humans.  Animals have been selectively bred with short noses, long noses, short legs, long legs, big and muscular, thin and sinewy etc etc, the list is endless.  As a direct result of this we do not have natural evolution with the survival of the fittest but we have created animals with genetic defects that often leads to illness and physical deficiencies. As a direct result of this we generally have to take pets for veterinary care more often than a wild animal. 

Another reason is that our pets are totally dependent on us, they can’t make a judgement call and decide that they should pop down to the vets for a check-up. As they can’t communicate their health is totally dependent on their carer, who has to pick up on symptoms of malaise and seek medical care for them when necessary. 

Also we treat a pet earlier than we would treat ourselves in many cases. For example, we live in a dense urbanised environment so if you take your dog out and it has diarrhoea you will seek out veterinary care far sooner than if it was yourself. There are few things worse than having to pick up liquid stools!!

However I don’t believe you do go more often to the vets more often than you do for yourselves or members of your family, relatively speaking. Our companion animals live for an average of 15 to 20 years, human’s life for an average of between 70 and 80 years. This means that their life and all potential illnesses are compressed into a far smaller timeline. Animals suffer from the majority of diseases that humans do, obesity, diabetes, liver, kidney etc , just at an accelerated rate due to their shortened life span . In my estimation over our lifetime we are probably more likely to seek medical assistance more than often than your pet, especially due to fact that many of us are hypochondriacs.   

So keep loving those pets and give them the care they deserve, their life is short, make it great!!!.

For more
information please phone Gibraltar
Vetinary Clinic on
200 77334

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Watch out for the processionary caterpillar

This month with the onset of warmer weather new risks come into play for your pets, in our climate one of the dangers that all pet owners should be aware of is the Processionary Caterpillar.

We have all seen these critters, lines of furry insects forming large trails, and always in the vicinity of Pine trees. The caterpillar has an annual cycle, the cycle begins in summer when the eggs are laid by the adult moth. These eggs hatch and the caterpillars build nests in pine trees over the cold winter. They can be readily seen and look like big lumps of cotton wool nestled in the branches of the trees. The caterpillars feed in these nests and grow over the winter period , when the warmer weather arrives this accelerates development and once they reach a certain size they make their descent down  from the dizzy heights of the trees in long lines . 

This is when your pets come into danger. This furry appearance is because these insects (yes they are insects, have 6 legs!!) have very fine sting hairs, these carry a toxin that cause very nasty reactions if handled or touched. The toxins are basically a type of poison which protects these animals from being eaten by predators (birds, rodents etc.) and therefore they are extremely successful in reproducing. 

Unfortunately for us their success as a species exposes us and our pets to this toxin. This toxin causes inflammation, swelling and pain, these reactions subside with time and treatment. The main risk is that they can cause acute vasoconstriction of extremities. So if your pet , or any animal eats one or licks one it will cause a the blood supply to the mucosa in the mouth , the main organ affected here will be the tongue, and on many an  occasion tongue tip necrosis will occur and your pet will lose part of its tongue . It is very rare for an animal to swallow one in its entirety as the toxic sensation is immediate when tasted and the animal will drop the insect, but by then the damage is done.  

If you or your pet is exposed to one of these caterpillars the first thing to do is clean any area affected as much as possible, if licked try and flush out the mouth with plenty of water, the less of the chemical that comes into contact with skin/mucosa the less the reaction is going to be and the damage to the area will be reduced so the pain will not be so intense and there will be less damage to the tissues. Try and get the animal to a vet so that it can be treated with anti-inflammatories and hopefully reduce the damage. 

In many cases when these animals are presented to be the damage is already done  , and all I can do is give  supportive therapy , treat the secondary effects of the toxin and in some cases amputate parts of the tongue or mucosa in mouth that have necrosed ( rotted). Often the clients have just noticed severe halitosis from their pet and hadn’t realised what had occurred. As a general rule pets have a much higher pain threshold than us humans so they don’t complain!!

In summary if you are walking your pets in Pine forests or in the vicinity of pine trees be extra vigilant over the next couple of months, prevention is always better than cure .

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Fireworks and your pets

Firework displays and loud flashy shows of exuberance seem to be part of the human condition where outlandish displays of grandeur seem to be necessary to embellish ones success or passing a specific anniversary etc. Personally I have never been partial to these displays of chest banging and neither does the rest of the animal world.

Sadly we can’t do much to protect most of the world’s animal kingdom from fireworks however we can do what we can for the animals under our care so that they don’t have to be scared as a result of this behaviour. 

Make sure your dog or cat always has somewhere to hide if they want to and has access to this place at all times. For example, this may be under some furniture or in a cupboard. It’s not the best scenario but at least it finds a degree of sanctuary and does not feel so exposed. Don’t try and force the animal out, remember it is scared so might be aggressive as a result of this. What you might feel is comforting is not necessarily the case for the pet.

Make sure your cat or dog is always kept in a safe and secure environment and can’t escape if there’s a sudden noise.  A petrified animal that has escaped into an environment where elements are out of your control could be a danger to themselves and to others.

During fireworks seasons, walk dogs during daylight hours and keep cats and dogs indoors when fireworks are likely to be set off.

At nightfall, close windows and curtains and put on music to mask and muffle the sound of fireworks.   

Never punish your pets if they are freaking out because they are scared, this will just compound the problem and make the animal more anxious.

Each evening before the fireworks begin, move your dog to the play area and provide toys and other things that they enjoy.

Do try not to leave a pet who has severe adverse reactions to fireworks alone. Your presence will be a comfort for the animal. 

Ignore the firework noises yourself. Play with a toy to see if your dog wants to join in, but don’t force them to play.

Pheromone diffusers and pheromone collars are available from the vet clinic. These disperse calming chemicals into the room and may be a good option for your dog. The collar centralises the pheromones around the dog so in some cases is more effective. 

In some cases your pet may prescribe medication. These are tranquilisers that will sedate your pet and make him less aware and therefore less frightened of fireworks. The effect varies with each individual animal but might be necessary especially in highly urbanised communities like ours. 

The best solution is to go to the country over the firework season far away from high population densities, probably the best way for you and your pet to de-stress. 

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Pets are companion animals, adding one to your household should be a well thought out process where the pros and cons are carefully weighed. Purchasing or acquiring animals on a whim often leads to a spate of unwanted animals soon after and also to many deaths of pets through sheer ignorance of people who do not know the requirements and costs of looking after animals. 

An animal acquired as a pet has many requirements that the new ‘care provider’ has to adhere to. The animal will need shelter, food and water and someone to care for it every day, they don’t know it’s a weekend or you are away for a couple of days etc etc. 

Christmas Pet Safety Tips

 Christmas is a wonderful time of year – but not always for your pets! Here are some tips for keeping your pets out of danger.

Food to avoid giving your pet at Christmas

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Chocolate (can be toxic to pets especially dark chocolate and cocoa powder)
  • Coffee
  • Mouldy or spoiled foods
  • Salt
  • Chicken or Turkey bones (they can splinter)
  • Raisins and grapes have on rare occasions caused acute irreversible renal failure in dogs, so be aware of this. 

Avoid giving your pet any of your leftovers as this can cause diarrhoea. This is particularly the case with dogs that are used to a dried diet, owners often feel that their pet has to partake in the Christmas binge and this can result in acute gastroenteritis.

 Also keep your pet away from cooked bones: they can splinter or get lodged in your pet’s throat or can cause serious damage by puncturing the intestinal tract.

Pet hazards around the Christmas tree

  • Fallen Christmas tree needles are very sharp and can easily get stuck in your pet’s paws or throat. Sweep tree needles up regularly.
  • Do not hang your chocolates from your Christmas tree: they can be toxic and your pet will be tempted if he can see and smell them.
  • Cover up electric cords and flashing tree lights so your pet can’t chew them and electrocute himself.
  • Try using fairy lights that don’t flash as some pets when up close can get very scared by these.
  • Christmas tree decorations can cause a nasty accident or be fatal to your pet. Cats, and young pets especially, will show a great interest in decorations hanging from your tree. Try to use unbreakable decorations and nothing too small. Avoid tinsel or ribbons as these are dangerous to the gastrointestinal tract if your pet swallows them. I have on numerous occasions had to perform lifesaving surgery on cats who have swallowed long strands of tinsel. 
  • Be very careful with any balls purchased for your dog to play with, if they are large enough to swallow but too small to pass through the intestines they will cause an obstruction.
  • Make sure your tree is well anchored so your pet can’t pull it over.
  • Cats have a fetish for eating tinsel, on many an occasion I have to operate on cats as a result of this. On one occasion the client waited too long before presenting the cat for surgery and sadly the animal died

Other Christmas dangers to pets

  • Remember loud noises will panic your pet, such as Christmas crackers, poppers, balloons, and champagne bottles.
  • Remove your Christmas wrapping paper (and toys) from the floor to avoid your pet chewing or swallowing it.
  • For your pet’s safety this Christmas always buy your pet’s presents from a reputable outlet.
  • In many households this is often the only time of year that your pet is exposed to large gatherings of noisy excitable people and children. This can scare your pet, and this may result in unusual behaviour, placid dogs have been known to get aggressive in this scenario. Therefore make sure your pet has some place where it can find a degree of sanctuary.
  • Locally lilies and poinsettias are seen as common Christmas decorations; these are poisonous to pets and must be kept well out of reach.

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