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Ask a vet online – My dog has black dandruff!

Sheila Elcott asked: I have an 11 year old red fox lab boy who keeps getting a build up of black coloured dandruff type patches under his chin & his manly areas. Up to date with spot on. Is it his age & lack of my grooming care? After bathing & removing said patches the skin clears. He has hip & elbow dysplacia to boot. Tnx Answer: Hi Sheila, thanks for your question. Skin problems in dogs can be really frustrating to deal with, so I'll go through some of the possibilities, then talk about how they can be investigated and managed. So, what can cause patches of black dandruff material to appear? There are a number of possibilities that spring immediately to mind:
  • Flea dirt. Flea droppings are black flecks, sometimes comma-shaped.
    • I know you're up to date with spot-on, but there are a wide range of different products out there, some of which are more effective and longer-lasting than others. In addition, most spot-ons are water soluble, so regular bathing or swimming will reduce their effectiveness.
    • You'll very rarely see a live flea unless there's a really severe infestation. To check it out, try the wet paper test:
      • Scrape some of the black material onto a sheet of wet white paper.
      • If it goes red, it is probably a flea dropping - they're basically just dried digested blood.
  • Scabs. As blood dries, it turns black and crumbly. It can be caused by:
    • Lice. Heavy louse infestation can cause scabbing where the parasites suck.
    • Skin infections. In these areas, this would typically be a skin fold infection, where saliva or moisture is trapped against the skin, damaging it and allowing infection to become established.
    • Allergic reactions (e.g. contact dermatitis). Reactions to products such as surface cleaners, pesticides, some plants, etc etc; typically affect the high-contact surfaces - chin, elbows, hocks and belly.
  • Sebaceous matter. Sometimes, excessive secretion of sebum may give the symptoms you're discuss. This may be due to sebaceous adenitis (an inflammatory disorder), or simply from aging changes.
Unfortunately, without seeing the dog, it's difficult to know which of these is the most likely for your boy! So where do we go from here? Ideally, you want to rule out parasites - do a wet paper test; and ask your vet to do skin scrapes and tape strips to examine the black material and the skin underneath it. Also, try and see if there's anything that seems to trigger an episode - for example, if it always flares up after using a particular floor cleaner, I'd be really suspicious it was an allergic reaction. So what can be done? If a specific cause can be identified, obviously it should be treated (for example, a louse infestation should be treated; and you should avoid using any products that your dog is allergic to). Even if not, there are certain techniques that may be useful in controlling the symptoms. As the problem resolves with cleaning, I'm quite suspicious that it might be a skin-fold infection - these are often more common in older dogs. In general, these can be controlled with grooming, good hygiene, and the use of medicated antiseptic wipes (e.g. CLX wipes) to control the growth of bacteria in the area. Sometimes, bathing with an antiseptic shampoo can help as well - you should talk to your vet about the options. I hope that helps and you can get him sorted out! David Harris BVSc MRCVS
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Old cat, young cat: a bittersweet episode in the life of a companion animal vet

Mrs Kennedy was an elderly widow, whose only companion was a small seventeen year old cat called Puss. Mrs Kennedy had phoned me because she thought that Puss had broken her leg after chasing another cat.

I wasn’t expecting anything too serious. Cats commonly hurt themselves while fighting with each other. An owner may think that the leg is broken, but in most cases the problem is a simple cat bite abscess, which can be easily treated. However, this time it was different. The owner was right.

Mrs Kennedy explained how a neighbouring cat had sneaked into the kitchen, and Puss had leapt up to chase it away. Immediately afterwards, she’d started limping, and since then she had barely moved from her bed.

When I touched Puss’s shoulder I could feel heat and swelling, and when I gently probed deeper, I could feel the rough ends of broken bone. I asked a few more questions, and it turned out that Puss had been drinking more than normal for a few months, and she had begun to be fussy about her food. She had also started to vomit occasionally. The pieces of the jigsaw began to fit together, and I explained it to Mrs Kennedy.

Puss is very elderly and at this stage in her life, her body is gradually failing her. Her main problem is that her kidneys have stopped working properly, which is why she has developed an increased thirst and a poor appetite. As a result of her kidney failure, her bones have become very fragile. Unfortunately, advanced kidney failure in a seventeen year old cat is not easily treated. And worse again, a broken bone in a cat like Puss cannot be fixed. At this stage, all of her bones will be as weak as egg shells. If she carried on, Puss would continue to suffer from further broken bones during normal activities.”

Mrs Kennedy sadly shook her head. “ So it’s time to say goodbye.” She knelt down beside her cat, and gave her a last, long hug. I gave the painless injection, and Puss quietly passed away, as her owner whispered into her ear.

Mrs Kennedy told me how Puss had originally been a wild stray cat. She had finally been tamed after months of coaxing her into the kitchen with food. She had been Mrs Kennedy’s closest friend, but she would never have another cat. She was elderly and she could not bear to think about what might happen if she died herself. I tried to tell her that somebody would look after her cat, and that this could be arranged in advance, but she just shook her head again. I felt very sad as I left her house.

Two weeks later, I received a call from someone who had a half-tame feral kitten in their garden. They were moving house, and they didn’t know what to do with it. An idea occurred to me. I collected the kitten, and drove on to Mrs Kennedy’s house. When she answered the door, I smiled and I said that I had something that might interest her.

Mrs Kennedy could not take her eyes off the kitten in the basket beside me. “He is just like Puss used to be –the poor frightened creature. Bring him inside”. She went to her kitchen cupboard and took out a tin of cat food. I stood back, as she spooned the food onto a plate, and opened the cat basket. The kitten licked the food hesitantly, and then began to eat heartily. As he ate, Mrs Kennedy chucked his cheek gently. He looked up at her, and to my surprise, he purred. A new friendship had begun.

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10 tips for keeping your horse cool this summer

While the sun's glorious rays may leave us jumping for joy, and our saddles, we must be vigilant about ensuring our horses' well-being. Here are some top tips to avoid the dreaded heat stroke, and ensure our four-legged friends have as much fun in the sun as we do! What is heat stroke? Heat exhaustion is characterised by: 1. An elevated body temperature (hyperthermia; a temperature exceeding 41oC/105 F); 2. An elevated heart rate (tachycardia; the normal heart rate of a horse is 36 – 42 beats per minute, although this may be higher in smaller ponies) 3. An elevated respiratory rate (tachypnoea – exceeding the normal 8 – 12 breaths per minute); 4. A tired, unresponsive horse; 5. The horse's gums will feel dry and tacky; if you press on them, the area under pressure will turn white, and the time to return to normal colour will be longer than in a non-thermally stressed horse. Vets may describe this as a capillary refill time in excess of 3 seconds. If there is no intervention, the condition may escalate to heat stroke where the horse may stagger, appear depressed or, in extreme cases with central nervous system damage, collapse and have convulsions. This is a serious medical emergency that we have the ability to prevent. [caption id="attachment_4392" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Horse Keep them cool![/caption] So how do I keep my horse cool in summer? 1. Water, water, everywhere! Often, people believe the old wives' tale that they should not allow a hot horse to drink water; however water is essential to maintain adequate hydration status. Horses sweat to lose excess body heat; the heat of their body then evaporates this water, leaving their skin colder. Excessive sweating without enough water to drink leads to dehydration, which can be very dangerous, causing a drop in blood pressure and an increased heart rate. Thus cool, clean water must be provided at all times, especially in outdoor grazers, to ensure they can replenish their hydration states. 2. Elect to keep your horse cool. When horses sweat, they lose essential salts from their body, known as electrolytes. Notably, horses lose proportionally more potassium in sweat than other mammals. Offering water with added electrolytes or a salt lick may be advisable. Salt stimulates thirst receptors in the horse's brain, so may have an added effect of encouraging them to drink. If providing electrolyte-infused water, ensure that there is ample fresh water available, as some horses dislike the taste (have you ever had Dioralyte? I can't say I blame them!). 3. Shady characters Horses in the wild and our domesticated critters will seek shade when turned out. Natural shade such as trees can be a great advantage. Bear in mind that the position of the sun changes throughout the day; ensure that your horse has protection from all angles of the sun, whatever the time. 4. Cool runnings Anyone who has been running in the searing midday heat has experienced the unpleasant (and in my case, unattractive) phenomenon of being sweaty, red-faced and exhausted. Horses' huge muscles will generate enormous amounts of heat. Try to time your rides for cooler times of the day, such as early mornings or evenings. If you are lucky enough to have access to beaches or woodlands, these cooler areas can be ideal for summer strolls. 5. Lose a coat like it's going out of fashion! Horses wear their beautiful coats all year round, but generally have a much lighter summer coat. However, some ponies, for example native breeds, will naturally have a heavier summer coat. Additionally, horses and ponies suffering from Cushing's syndrome may have hirsutism – failure to shed their winter coat. In such cases, clipping may be advisable, to ensure they are not excessively insulated. 6. Mystical creatures Misting your horse with cool water will help your horse to lose heat from the skin by evaporative cooling. 7. Splash about For many horses, a tepid bath can be most enjoyable. Be sure to use a sweat-scraper to remove excess water. If you choose to wash post-exercise, walking your horse gently in a cooler will prevent a sudden drop in temperature and aid in an effective cool down. 8. Ice queen Adding ice to water can be refreshing for your horse, though excessively cold water may put him off drinking it. Ice packs are frequently applied to horses' legs after intensive exercise, and there is no reason why this should not continue to be practiced throughout summer. 9. Be your horse's biggest fan American-barn style stables often have excellent ventilation. If it is safe (i.e. without trip, electrical or fire risks), using a fan in a stable with no air flow can help to keep your horse comfortable. 10. Always wear sunscreen Baz Luhrmann may not have been targetting horse-owners, but the 1999 hit rings true; animals with pale areas of skin are particularly susceptible to sun-burn. Think especially of cremellos, pink noses, white socks, pink sheaths and pink anuses – areas under the tail are more susceptible than you may think when your horse deploys his best fly-swatter while grazing in summer! Some owners elect to use specific horse suncreams which are available, and some will use high SPF human suncreams. Whichever you decide, be sure to ensure that your horse is not allergic to any of the ingredients before applying liberally. All of us here at VetDirect wish you and your horses a very happy, healthy summer! “Horses make a landscape look beautiful” - Alice Walker. Rachael McKinney
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Kittens with passengers: ear mites

[caption id="attachment_4382" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Ear mites are very common in kittens Ear mites are very common in kittens[/caption] When a litter of rescued kittens were brought to see me recently, a careful examination of their ears was an important part of the check-up. I introduced the tip ofthe auroscope into each kitten’s ear, and by looking through the instrument I was able to see a magnified view of each ear canal. In normal animals, the pale blue-grey of the eardrum itself can often be seen. However, in these kittens, I could hardly see any normal ear canal. My view was blocked completely by thick, brown, sticky earwax. The cause of the excessive ear wax could be seen very clearly. Tiny white wriggling insect-like creatures could be seen swarming around the inside of each ear. The kittens were infected with ear mites. Ear mites are very common in kittens. They are very small mites, each measuring the size of a pin-head. They are very active, and they tend to move away from bright light. When examining an ear with an auroscope, ear mites can often be seen moving quickly out of the field of vision, as if running away from the vet. Ear mites are highly infectious, and they are especially common in feral colonies of cats. The adult mite feeds on the secretions produced by the lining of the ear. Eggs are laid inside the ear. These hatch out into tiny larvae which then mature into adults, and the life cycle continues. If one cat pushes its head against the body of another cat, ear mites can easily be transferred from one to the other. Kittens are obviously in very close contact with their mothers and with each other, so it is very common to find entire litters of kittens affected by dramatic infestations of ear mites. Most of us are familiar with the discomfort of an irritation in the ear, even from something as harmless as a small quantity of water lodging in our ears after swimming. The concept of live, wriggling insects crawling around inside the ear canal is very unpleasant! In many cases, kittens do show dramatic signs, such as repeated scratching of the ears. In other cases, an owner may have noticed the animal shaking their head more than usual,. However some cats, even with severe infestations, show no obvious external signs. Close examination of a kitten’s ears with an auroscope is essential to detect such ‘invisible’ cases. Ear mites can also affect dogs, but they are less common. Fortunately, there is no risk to humans. Those alarming, tiny, wriggly creatures are not going to crawl onto your hand, up your arm and into your own ear. However, if you have a household of dogs and cats, you do need to treat every animal individually to ensure that you have completely eradicated the infestation. Treatment of ear mites is not always easy. The mites are sensitive to most insecticides and a range of drops and ointments are available from your vet. The only complication is that the eggs of the ear mite are resistant to treatment, and these can remain unhatched for up to three weeks. This means that it may be necessary to continue to medicate affected kittens for an entire three week period, to ensure that all eggs have hatched with the resulting larvae being eradicated. Young kittens can be difficult to hold still, and they often learn how to escape from your grasp, so after the first few days of treatment it can become more difficult to continue. I saw the kittens again two weeks after their first visit. They were all in wonderful form, purring, playing with each other, and growing rapidly. Their ears were clean, both inside and out. They were ready for their new homes – with no passengers included!
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