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Zoonotic diseases – what could you catch from your pet?

Zoonosis is any disease that can pass from animal to human. Although most are easily treated, some of them can be serious and even fatal. Below are several zoonotic diseases that can be passed from dogs and cats, sometimes via other organisms that use the dog and cat as their host.

Toxocariasis

These are the roundworms of the dog and cat (and other species). They can be transferred to humans via their eggs which are left in soil after infected animals have defecated. Children are more predisposed to ingesting the eggs as they might play in the soil and not wash their hands. Adults can also ingest the eggs from eating raw vegetables that have not been washed properly.

If the infection is heavy or repeated, it can cause the disease ‘visceral larva migrans’. This is when the worm larvae move through the body and causing swelling to the major organs and affecting the central nervous system. High-temperature, coughing even pneumonia are various symptoms. The disease is also known to cause ‘ocular larva migrans’ when the worm larvae enter the eye causing inflammation and even blindness.

Once this disease has been diagnosed it is treatable by medication from a doctor.

Dermatophytosis

More commonly known as ringworm this highly infectious disease, affects cats and dogs, it is not a worm at all, but a fungal disease. It can be transferred from animals to humans by skin to skin contact. It can also be spread by contaminated clothing, grooming brushes and other items that have come into contact with the animal.

The disease is characterised in cats and dogs by circular, raised and dry lesions that are normally crusty and cause hair loss. The disease often starts on the head and feet areas, but can spread across the body if left untreated. In cats ringworm is often difficult to detect as it sometimes causes only very mild symptoms. In humans the infected areas are often red rings with scaly edges.

Ringworm can be treated both in animals and humans with the correct medication, however full recovery can be prolonged.

Sarcoptic mange

This is caused by a mite known as sarcoptes scabei canis and is found predominantly on dogs, a different, but closely related mite causes scabies in humans. A similar condition is caused in cats by the mite Notoedes cati. In animals sarcoptic mange causes fur loss and intense itching, where in extreme cases animals can bleed by prolonged scratching, the sarcoptic mange mite that infests dogs can infest humans, however in most cases the mite will quickly die off as they cannot complete their life cycle.

 Leptospirosis

This is a bacterial disease that is carried through the body of the infected animal (in companion animals this is normally dogs) and excreted in the urine. Dogs can pick up the disease by wading through, sniffing or drinking contaminated water where rats have been. Humans can contract this disease with direct contact of the animal’s infected urine.

In dogs the disease can cause vomiting, high-temperature, dehydration, shivering and muscle weakness. In advanced stages it can also cause chronic kidney failure, causing death.

In humans common symptoms are like influenza, however severely infected people can get intense headaches, muscle weakness, high-temperature, vomiting and diarrhoea and meningitis. The infection can go on to produce jaundice and kidney failure. In humans the condition is known as Weil’s disease.

Although there is a vaccine for dogs, there is no vaccine for humans. In some cases people are known to have come into contact with leptospirosis are put on antibiotics by their doctor as a precaution. Toxoplasmosis

This is a parasitic disease carried by cats. It can be transferred to humans by contaminated soil which carries the parasite after the cat has defecated in the area. The soil may be on poorly washed garden produce, much the same as Toxocariasis can be contracted. It can also be transferred to humans by poor hygiene after cleaning cat litter trays.

In cats there are very non-specific symptoms of toxoplasmosis, they might display a lack of appetite, vomiting or diarrhoea, high-temperature, lethargy and weight loss. These symptoms can be attributed to many other cat illnesses. In humans the symptoms are usually mild but people may display a prolonged high-temperature. The main issue with toxoplasmosis is for pregnant women. Should women that are carrying unborn children contract the condition, it can result in miscarriage or severe disease in the new-born child.

Rabies

Although this condition in the UK is very rare, it is not unknown. With the stringent guidelines of the pet passport scheme and quarantine, animals are highly unlikely to carry the disease in the UK.

The disease itself is an acute viral infection that affects the central nervous system. Affected animals normally show behavioural changes, in further stages they can start to drool, become excited then aggressive, attacking people and other animals. Convulsions and paralysis normally follow, before death.

If a human contracts the disease through a dog or cat bite, it is invariably fatal. After the initial bite, a high-temperature followed by headache and nausea are common. Mood changes such as apprehension or excitability come before paralysis, fear of water and delirium. A respiratory paralysis is often the final cause of death. Other Zoonoses Of course it is not just cats and dogs that carry diseases that can be passed to humans. Other species such as birds, goats and cattle can also carry diseases which can, if severe and left untreated, cause death. Reptiles and tropical fish are known to carry salmonella which can make humans very ill and even be fatal. Scientists are constantly monitoring infection and trying to develop treatments for new strains of zoonotic diseases for example avian bird flu, CJD and others. There are numerous zoonotic diseases in the UK (and there are more carried by cats and dogs than are listed above). Despite this, by the use of proper vaccination (in the case of leptospirosis, regular boosters as well), parasitic treatments, stringent hygiene and common sense, risks to human health from animals can be minimised.

David Kalcher RVN, DipCW(CTJT), A1

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

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June bugs – stopping parasites from bugging your pets!

Hurrah, it’s June!  Which means the weather is (hopefully) warming up and summer is just around the corner!  However, just as we enjoy the sunny conditions, so do the bugs and beasties that live on our pets.  A little forethought and treatment now, can save a whole lot of trouble (and maybe some vets bills!) in the future. Fleas These irritating little creatures are the ones everyone thinks about as the weather warms but here’s an interesting fact; actually the worst time of year for fleas is the Autumn.  Then the few fleas our pets have picked up over the summer move into our centrally heated houses and have a party.  However, what that means is by protecting our pets over the summer, we not only keep them from getting itchy bites now, we can stop a house infestation later! It can be surprisingly difficult to know if an animal has fleas, especially cats who are good at grooming out all the evidence, but you need to look for small black flecks of flea dirt in the coat, small red raised bites on the skin, excessive scratching and, of course, the insects themselves.  Rather than waiting for them to appear (especially as you will probably miss them anyway), treating against them preemptively is best.  There are various ways of doing this including spot-ons, tablets, sprays, injections and collars.  However, whichever you chose to use, make sure it comes from your vet, who will provide far more effective products (and better advice!) than pet shops. Scabies The more common name for Scabies is ‘Fox Mange’ and certainly most dogs (it is very rare in cats) who contract it are often those who enjoy rolling in fox poo (why DO they do that?!) or poking their heads down fox holes.  The Scabies mite is a burrowing kind; it digs through the skin causing a great deal damage.  The most commonly affected body areas are the head, ears, limbs and groin, where the skin will lose the hair, be very red and inflamed, is often extremely scabby and always very itchy.  It is easily treated, and prevented, using veterinary spot-on medications. Ticks Although these little blighters are most active in the Spring and Autumn, if the weather remains warm but wet (which pretty much describes our summers!), they can survive longer.  When they are attached, ticks look like small, grey beans stuck onto the skin.  They remain in place for a few days and get larger over this time as they gorge themselves on our pet’s blood.  Left untreated they will eventually drop off but while they are biting they can infect animals with some nasty diseases, are unsightly and can leave the skin very sore.  There are spot-ons which kill ticks but usually the best way to remove them is manually.  Tick pullers are cheap and easy to use, your vet can give you a demonstration! Worms Regularly worming your pets all year round is important, especially if you have young children, but it is particularly vital in the warmer months.  This is for several reasons; firstly, many of the worms that infect our pets are passed from prey animals, so hunters (and it is mainly cats but some dogs are very good rabbiters!) are more vulnerable when prey numbers are higher.  Secondly, worm eggs (which are microscopic & are passed in faeces in their millions) can survive in soil for a long time and although most pets get out and about all year round, most inevitably spend more time outside, and more time snuffling though flowerbeds and undergrowth, in the summer. Like fleas it can be very difficult to know if a pet has worms.  Many people know about signs like itchy bottoms & bloated tummies but, in fact, most infestations are symptom free, another reason why regular treatment is vital.  There are spot-ons, tablets and liquids available and, again, your vet is the best source for advice on which kind to pick. I hope I haven’t made your skin crawl too much thinking about all these little blighters!  Just remember, prevention is always better than cure and the best people to ask for advice on what is best for your pets is always your vet! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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Ask a vet online- ‘I have been using frontline every four weeks but still find the odd flea’

Question from :Marilyn Ann Faulkner  ' I have a small but bulky pug cross jack Russell, who has had a problem with fleas, I have been using frontline every four weeks but still find the odd flea on him, have also treated the whole house with Acclaim household flea spray. Thinking of perhaps changing to advocate spot on. My dog weighs in at 10.5 kilos, so should I use up to 10kg size or maybe change to 10-25kg. This probably sounds like a silly question, but would hate to think that if I used the higher dose it would have a detrimental effect on my dog. Can you advise please.' Answer from: Shanika Winters Thanks Marilyn for your question regarding flea control on your dog.  It sounds as though you are doing all the correct things by treating your pet with a flea preparation regularly as well as having treated your home.  It is really frustrating for both dog and owner when the fleas just do not seem to be going away. What are fleas and where have they come from? Fleas are a parasite that lives on our pet and in our homes, the adult fleas need to feed on blood from your pet in order to survive.  It is important to be aware that adult fleas are not the only thing we need to get rid of, the flea life cycle involves eggs, which hatch into larvae, these then turn into pupae from which emerge the adult fleas.  Unfortunately the fleas we see on a pet are only the tip of the iceberg as most of the flea population is in the form of eggs, larvae and pupae. It is good to hear that you have used the household spray to treat your home; the household spray is aimed at killing the flea population that is not on your pet and therefore helps to break the flea life cycle.  Make sure you read all the instruction on household flea sprays, use the correct amount and take care if you have pet fish or caged birds as the chemicals can be toxic to them.  It is also important not to use the household flea spray on your dog itself. If the flea infestation in your home is severe and humans are also getting bitten then in some cases a professional household flea treatment may be needed.  The flea eggs larvae and pupae can survive in the nooks and crannies of your home, down between floor boards, skirting and soft furnishings. Changing flea treatment product? If you are finding that a product is not working for you and your pet then it is definitely a topic to discuss with your vet.  The correct product to fit your pet’s needs can then be found.  Some of the flea preparations cover various worms also such as round,tape, heart and lung worms.   Correct administration of the product and the correct dosage should also help ensure success in the battle against the fleas. If you are planning on bathing your pet then do this before applying the flea product and make sure your pet has a dry coat before applying its next dose.  Make sure that your pet has been weighed accurately ideally on the weighing scales at your vets to decide on which dose to use.  The safety margins on the products your vet dispenses to you have been tried and tested, so provided you use the correct dose then the product should be effective. Could the fleas be resistant to the drug I am using? Resistance is when the drug is no longer effective; in the case of a flea product it would no longer kill most of the fleas on your pet.  It is possible that the fleas are becoming resistant to certain drugs, but until any official data is released as vets we can’t say that fleas are definitely resistant to a particular product.  However as an owner if you are not happy with a particular product then you should ask your vet for alternatives. Have all in contact animals been treated for fleas? It is very important to know that fleas can be coming onto your pet from other animals from your own dogs and cats through to those of neighbours and even wildlife that passes through your garden.  We can’t treat the wildlife but we can ensure our own pets are treated for fleas; flea products are available in sprays, spot on and even oral forms so even a semi feral pet cat could be treated through its food.  It is tricky when the other in contact animals are not your own, a chat with the neighbours is always worth a try. I hope that I have managed to answer your question which was not at all silly.  If you are ever in doubt as to whether a product is working and which dose should be used please discuss this with your vet, this is what we are here to help you with. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment to see your vet - or try our online Symptom Guide.
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Ask a vet online-‘I have shih pooh bitch shes 16 months she always asks out for pee pee but on the other hand the pooh side shes not good’

Question from : Anne Docherty 'I have shih pooh bitch shes 16 months she always asks out for pee pee but on the other hand the pooh side shes not good at all i do take her out a lot and she gets into trouble when dirting carpet i never hit her but when she does it she knows ots wrong' Answer from: Shanika Winters Thank you for your question regarding toilet training your 16 month old bitch.  Toilet training dogs can sometimes be a challenge, some dogs just get the idea and others take longer.  It is good that your dog is able to hold her urine (wee) and ask to go out for this but a shame that she is struggling with faeces (poos).  Most dogs will be toilet trained for both urine and faeces somewhere between 6 and 12 months of age but some are quicker and others slower.  It is really important to always be positive and reward good behaviour rather than punishing them for bad behaviour or mistakes. What do we expect our dogs to do once toilet trained? By the time an owner would consider their dog to be toilet trained we would expect them to not pass urine or faeces in the house, to ask to be let out to toilet when we are there and to hold their urine and faeces when we are not there.  When you list what we expect of our dogs then you can see that toilet training involves our pet learning a lot, and it is our responsibility to help them and give then the correct cues as to what we want form them. How do we start the toilet training process? In most cases the toilet training process has begun before we collect our pet from the breeder, in the case of puppies they may be trained to go on shavings, newspaper and then outside.  With older dogs toilet training will be affected by the type of accommodation the dog is used to, some are kept in kennels and will not toilet inside them or may have a designated area in which to toilet in their kennel.  So it is really important to ask where your dog is up to and what toilet training has been achieved upon collection. We then need to carry on from this in our homes and gardens.  The most basic thing to remember is that when food and water go in to your pet then urine and faeces are likely to need to be passed.  So we should let our dogs out as soon as we can in the mornings, after a meal or drink and before they are going to be left in the day or night.  Try and encourage your dog to toilet in a specific area of your garden (corner away from play areas) or on your walk (ideally close to a dog poo bin) as this will make cleaning up much easier and helps build up a routine. When asking your dog to go to the toilet use a command such as ‘go toilet’ or ‘be clean’, which ever command you use be consistent and make sure all members of your family/household use the same command and routine.  When your dog toilets in the correct place reward them, this can be with a small treat initially and positive words and eventually you should be able to just tell them in words that they have been good. Initially you will have to let your dog out very frequently as they will not be great at holding onto their urine/faeces and also they are still learning.  It is also very important to remember that if your dog is suffering from a urine or gut infection this will affect their urgency to toilet.  Make sure that the area in which you expect your dog to toilet is kept clean and that your dog does not feel threatened there by other animals. What cues do dogs and humans use in toilet training? As the dog owner we can use words or signals to let our dog know we want them to go out and toilet.  Signals can include pointing to the door, getting hold of your dog’s lead if they toilet out on their walks, picking up the poo bags etc.  It is really important to give our dog clear simple cues then they have a much better chance of knowing what we expect of them. Cues that our dog might give us indicating that they need to go out to the toilet can include vocalisation (barking or whining), scratching at the ground and pacing around near the door through which they go out to toilet.  We as owners need to observe our dog and learn their toilet cues. How to reinforce the behaviour we want? I am a strong believer in positive reinforcement that means we praise/ reward for positive behaviour and try not to make too much fuss over mistakes/bad behaviours.  I know that it gets very frustrating when lots of toilet training mistakes happen; cleaning up urine and faeces from carpets/floors/furniture is no fun at all.  But we need to remember that we choose to keep dogs as companion animals and are asking them to adapt to our home/lifestyle and even the best trained animal at times will have an accident. So I would advise using treats, kind words and physical contact to praise your dog for good behaviour, try and make things easy for your dog by letting them out frequently and not leaving them alone for extended periods of time.. If however your dog is left for longer amounts of time it is worth seeing if a neighbour or pet sitter can let your dog out to toilet. Try to avoid negative reinforcement, which involves shouting or hitting your dog when they have had a toilet training accident.  Unfortunately negative reinforcement can keep the unwanted behaviour from happening as you are still giving your dog attention for the mistake.  As humans we assume that dogs feel the same range of emotions that we do and ‘guilt’ for having done the wrong thing is one such emotion.  It is really important to remember that however ‘guilty’ your dog may look for having made a mistake they are not thought to express this emotion (and certainly not sometime after the incident occurred). So in conclusion my advice would be that providing your dog is fit and well and not suffering from any infections or parasites that may be affecting her faeces that going back to basics as if she were a much younger puppy would be a good starting point to get her to pass faeces outside.  I hope that this answer will help you and your dog. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment to see your vet - or try our online Symptom Guide.
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