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Baldness in Dogs (Alopecia)

Bald SetterI've been seeing a number of bald dogs in the consulting room recently, and it made me wonder how common a problem it is - and how many conditions there are that can lead to a dog losing his hair! Baldness (or alopecia, to give it its technical name) isn't generally a disease in its own right - it is almost invariably a symptom of an underlying disease condition. So, when I'm faced with a poor, balding dog in the consult room, my first task is to try and define what the underlying cause is. With a symptom with so many possible causes, what we do to narrow down the possibilities is to work out a differential list - a list of all the possible conditions that can cause baldness - and then eliminate them until we come to the actual cause in this specific case. So, in no particular order, here are the more common causes of hair loss in dogs, along with their other major signs or symptoms: Firstly, those disorders that give a symmetrical pattern of hair loss (i.e. the same pattern of hair loss on both sides of the body): Hypothyroidism Hair loss is symmetrical along the trunk and may also involve the tail, armpits and the belly. The skin isn't inflammed or itchy, but there may be a darkening of colour and dandruff or greasy skin. Caused by production of too little thyroid hormone, other common symptoms include lethargy, weight gain, and sometimes muscular weakness. To diagnose hypothyroidism, your vet will take a blood sample; treatment is simple, with daily tablets containing replacement thyroid hormone. Cushing's Disease Once again, hair loss is symmetrical, and there may be hard lumps in or under the skin (calcinosis cutis). Cushing's is caused by too much cortisol (an important natural steroid hormone) being produced by the body. Other symptoms include increased hunger, thirst and urination, development of a pot-belly, muscle weakness, skin thinning and "spots" or "blackheads" developing. To diagnose it, your vet may have to do a series of blood tests to see how your dog's body responds to injections of steroids or other hormones. Tablets to treat Cushing's usually act to reduce production of steroids, although some destroy the adrenal glands that make the excess hormones. Iatrogenic Cushing's Disease This is a form of Cushing's disease caused by long term use of steroid medications (e.g. Prednisolone for severe allergies). The only treatment is to VERY GRADUALLY reduce the steroid dose - but this needs to be done carefully, following advice from your vet, because if you reduce it too far, too fast, it can result in severe withdrawal effects, or even death, due to a lack of cortisol in the body. Sex hormone disorders Excess production of sex hormones (e.g. due to a testicular tumour) or insufficient sex hormones (usually after neutering) can, in rare cases, cause symmetrical hair loss. And now, those diseases where there are patches of hair loss in various sites across the body: Flea Allergic Dermatitis This is probably the commonest cause of all! Dogs with a flea allergy scratch and scratch, and wear the hair away. FAD is usually straightforward to diagnose (very itchy dog plus fleas is something of a giveaway), although in extreme cases, a single flea bite can set it off, which is harder to detect. Prevention is simple - avoid and kill fleas - although it can be hard in severe cases to keep the flea population low enough, and anti-allergy medication may be required. Sarcoptic Mange Mange mites burrow into the skin, creating a very itchy patch covered in little bumps. The dog scratches away at it, wearing the hair away, creating a bald patch. The most common site is on the ear; fortunately, there are some spot-on treatments available from your vet that will kill the mites and stop the itching. Demodectic Mange This is a different variety of mite, and unlike the sarcoptic mite, it doesn't itch at all. Most dogs have a few, and they don't cause any problems, living harmlessly deep inside the hair follicles. However, sometimes they can start to multiply, and the sheer numbers start to result in hair loss. Typically, it is a patchy disease, with hair loss in distinct regions that get bigger over time. Sometimes there is a bit of scale forming, but the mites themselves do not cause itching, although secondary bacterial infection may occur, which can. To diagnose Demodex mites, your vet will have to take a deep skin scrape, usually with a scalpel blade, and then look at it under the microscope. If Demodex mites are found, treatment may involve spot-ons like Promeris Duo, or bathing with Aludex for several months - sadly, it can take a lot of work to get it under control. Primary Pyoderma Bacterial skin infections are common in dogs, and can result in hair loss. The skin is usually reddened and inflamed, and there may be pussy "spots". Often the area is itchy and sore, but occasionally there are cases where the skin looks almost normal but hairless. The vet can diagnose it by taking scrapes and smears from the skin, then looking at them under the microscope. Treatment nay involve antibiotic creams, washes, and sometimes tablets to kill the bacteria. Sometimes a yeast infection can cause the same symptoms; treatment then is usually with anti-fungal washes. Ringworm (Or dermatophytosis) is often diagnosed in practice, generally by using a Woods Lamp, which makes the fungus glow. Its appearance can vary widely, but most looking involves patches of hair loss, sometimes with scales, sometimes itchy (but not always). It's particularly a problem in dogs that are ill with something else, and have reduced immunity. To get a definite diagnosis, hair plucks have to be sent to a lab and cultures, but that can take weeks so vets will often start treatment while waiting for confirmation to come back. Treatment usually involves washes, shampoos and occasionally tablets to kill the fungus, but it can take a long time to completely clear a bad infection. Allergic Reactions (e.g. to a spot-on medicine, or a new floor cleaner, sometimes even to food!). Usually, there is reddening and inflammation of the skin, and itching, before the hair comes out, but occasionally hair loss is noticed first. There are other causes (e.g. genetic disorders, immune diseases like pemphigus) but they are generally far less common. It's important to remember the old adage that "common things are common" before jumping to conclusions. Baldness and hair loss in dogs can be a marker for a serious underlying condition - it's almost never due to simple old age! - but most of these conditions are either curable or at least manageable. And the dogs I saw this week? Well, one was a nice simple skin infection (although it didn't look like it to begin with, the tests were clear and she responded really well to antibiotics). The other one had been on steroids for several years, and the effect over that time had given him Iatrogenic Cushing's. His owners are working to reduce the dose (very, very gradually, as his body has become dependant on the tablets now), and to keep him warm, they've bought him a coat to wear when he goes out in the cold for a walk! If you are worried about bald patches on your dog, talk to your vet or check any other symptoms using our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help decide how urgent the problem may be.
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It may be getting cold outside, but it’s always flea season at home…

Daisy in her bedI see it almost every day, and constantly warn my clients about it, yet somehow even I wasn’t expecting it – yes, last week my very own cat came home with fleas. ‘How could this happen to me?’ I said, ‘I’m the vet!’ Well, the answer is very simple. I, like many of us, forgot to apply my cat’s flea preventative for the past few months. The weather was getting colder and she wasn’t going out as much, and with everything else going on the monthly treatment just slipped my mind. It sure was a wakeup call, however, to find the tell-tale rusty brown dirt on my cat’s favourite bed. And let’s face it, fleas are downright creepy. They eat blood and leave their faeces all over your pet, not to mention the fact that they can live in your carpets and even jump up and bite you. But at the same time, they’re pretty amazing little creatures, and successful ones at that. Did you know... ... there are more than 2000 species of fleas around the world? 63 of these are found in the UK, and 10 of these can be found in our own homes. The most common species seen however, is called Ctenocephalides felis, which although it is commonly called the cat flea can also be found on dogs. ... fleas are responsible for spreading the Bubonic Plague in people, and myxomatosis in rabbits? ... fleas can jump up to 150 times their own length, and consume 15 times their own body weight in blood daily? ... a female flea can lay about 50 eggs a day, and once these new fleas mature, they can each bite up to 400 times a day. Add all that up and you’ve got one miserable cat. How do I know if my cat has fleas? IndieThis sounds like a simple question but it can be a lot harder than you think to diagnose fleas in cats. Sure, sometimes you can see them scurrying around your cat’s fur but it isn’t always that easy. In fact, I have seen four patients with significant flea infestations in just the past week, and none of their owners were aware of the problem. Animals with fleas don’t always itch, and there are lots of other reasons why cats can be itchy. Also, cats can sometimes eat any fleas that they come across whilst grooming themselves, so you don’t always see them. The most reliable way to tell if your cat has fleas is to comb your cat well with a very fine-toothed comb (they make flea combs just for that purpose) over a piece of white paper or onto some cotton wool. This will result in the flea ‘dirt’ (which is actually their faeces) falling onto the white surface where you can see it. Then cover the specks with a bit of water and rub gently – if the dirt turns reddish-brown, it is flea dirt. If your cat has a lot of fleas, you may be able to see the dirt in their bedding or other favourite areas without even needing a comb. Of course, if you have any doubts, your vet would be happy to examine your cat for fleas and advise you as to the best course of action. Why is it important to prevent and treat fleas? • Adult fleas feed on blood, which in young kittens can result in weakness, anaemia, and even death. • Some animals are very allergic to flea bites, which makes them more likely to develop a bad skin infection as a result. Even one bite can set off a reaction, so you may not ever see the offending flea itself. So if your cat has an itchy skin infection but you can’t find any fleas, it’s probably worth treating them for fleas anyway. • Fleas carry tapeworms, which are spread to the cat when they eat the fleas during grooming. Therefore, if your cat has fleas, they should also be treated for tapeworms. • If all of that wasn’t bad enough, they can bite you too. Cat fleas won’t live on a human, but they won’t be able to resist a free meal... How do you treat a cat with fleas? Before going into battle against your cat’s fleas, it’s a good idea to understand a bit about their life cycle so you can plan the best attack. Adult fleas mostly live on the cat, but they can live up to two years and survive in the environment for up to six months. Once they find a host, they start eating and laying eggs. Both the eggs and the flea faeces fall off the animal, where the larvae hatch and feed on the flea dirt. The satisfied larvae then dig deep into carpeting or furniture, trying to escape the light and making themselves incredibly hard to kill. They then develop into pupae and build themselves a cocoon. The flea develops to adulthood inside the cocoon then waits until just the right moment to burst out and jump onto your unsuspecting cat by detecting changes in pressure, heat, noise or vibrations. The whole process takes about 15 days from egg to adulthood, but they can lie waiting in their cocoons for up to 2 years so modern conveniences like central heating can cause a resurgence in flea populations that you thought you had under control. As you can see, treating fleas doesn’t just involve putting a flea preventative on your pet (although that’s a very good place to start), you must treat the environment as well. 1. Ask your vet which flea medication is best for your pet and use this as directed. This will be either a long-acting insecticide to kill adult fleas or an insect development inhibitor to prevent eggs from maturing into adult fleas, or possibly both. These can come in the form of a spot-on liquid, spray, tablet, or injection. Collars and powders are not recommended for use in cats now that more effective and safer treatments are available. Flea treatments from the pet shop or internet may be just fine, but they also may not work as well and if used incorrectly, could seriously harm your cat. Be particularly careful never to give a flea product intended for dogs to your cat! If in doubt, ask your vet. best friends 2. Treat ALL animals in the house, provided there is a licensed flea treatment for that particular species. If you treat just one pet and not the others, the fleas will just go live on them instead. 3. Wash everything that you can. This particularly includes their bedding (and your bedding, if they have access to that too, eek!). 4. Hoover everything else. Frequently. This includes carpets, floorboards, skirting boards, sofas or other soft furnishings and any other little nooks and crannies where the young fleas may hide. 5. Once you’ve done your best to mechanically remove as many fleas as possible from the house, and if you still have a problem, go after the remaining residents chemically. There are several products on the market that can be used to safely treat fleas in your house, ask your vet for their recommendation. 6. Finally, be prepared to repeat these treatments if necessary, as flea eggs can hatch in waves that will need to be treated at different times. Be patient, be thorough, and be sure to follow all instructions carefully. As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If even the thought of fleas makes you shiver or perhaps you don’t fancy the extra housework mentioned above, I’d suggest you take steps to prevent your cat from getting fleas in the first place. Use flea preventatives on a regular basis as directed by your vet, which often means once a month. Don’t be tempted to stop the preventative in the winter months, which may be OK in colder climates but doesn’t apply to most of the UK, especially thanks to central heating. Remembering to apply the preventatives regularly can be difficult, so many come with stickers that you can put on your calendars, don’t be ashamed to use them! And remember, even vets’ cats are at risk – fleas can strike any pet, at any time. Be ready! If you are concerned that your cat is itching or has fleas, check their symptoms using our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to find out if you need to see your vet.
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“No! Not on the carpet!” – Vomiting in Cats

I knew it was going to be a rough day when I walked in and saw that three of my ten morning appointments were vomiting cats.  Second only to the chronically itchy dog, vomiting cats can be one of the most frustrating things we have to deal with as vets because there are so many possible reasons why it can happen.  Anything from what the cat had for dinner last night to metabolic diseases that may have been brewing for years could be the cause, and distinguishing between them can take a lot of time, money and effort.  And that’s just for the vet – as the owner of a cat that vomits frequently myself, I understand how unpleasant it is to walk downstairs in the middle of the night and step in a pile of cat sick.  Be it on the new white carpeting or the beat up old sofa, it’s not pretty.  It may be a harmless hairball, but it can also be a sign of serious illness in your cat so it’s definitely worth getting it checked out by your vet.  If you are unlucky enough to have a vomiting cat, here are some things you may want to consider. Why do cats vomit so much? Amber prowl cropVomiting in cats is extremely common, but that doesn’t mean that it’s normal.  Some cats are simply prone to hairballs, especially long-haired cats or those that groom excessively.  Others are particularly sensitive to the kinds of food they eat and may not be able to tolerate a particular protein such as beef or additive such as wheat gluten.  Intestinal worms can cause vomiting sometimes, and you may even see them wriggling around after they come up!  Poisonings are rare (cats have a much more discerning palate than dogs) but do occur.  Sometimes playful kittens will swallow things such as pieces of string which can be very dangerous indeed.  Metabolic disorders such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and liver problems can all cause vomiting too as can tumours of the intestinal tract such as lymphoma.  Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, an organ which secretes digestive enzymes) or inflammatory bowel disease are other common causes which can present themselves in a wide array of confusing ways.  And of course there is one of my favourite terms, “dietary indiscretion”, which can describe the ingestion of anything from rancid rat remnants to last week’s chicken chow mein from the bin.  With such a huge range of possibilities, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to find the underlying cause. What should I do if my cat vomits? Amber-drinkAs with any medical condition, the best thing to do is contact your vet.  They may tell you to simply starve your cat for a few hours (cats should never be starved for long periods of time though, and should always be brought to the vet if they go more than 24 hours without eating, as this can lead to other serious problems) and reintroduce a bland diet such as plain boiled chicken, as this may fix many acute cases of vomiting.  As always, fresh water should be available at all times.  Or, if your cat is displaying other symptoms such as lethargy, inappetence or diarrhoea they may recommend you bring him straight down to the clinic.  The vet will do a physical exam and take a detailed history, so try to remember as many details as you can about your cat’s behaviour in the past few days.  They may take a blood test or check the urine to rule out metabolic diseases.  Depending on the symptoms they may also choose to take some x-rays of the abdomen to look for anything that the cat may have swallowed, or perhaps perform an ultrasound scan to check for any tumours or other problems with the internal organs.  Because there are so many possible causes for vomiting, sometimes many different tests will be needed so it can become quite expensive at times.  Yet another case where pet insurance is a real plus! How is vomiting treated? As previously mentioned, if your cat is otherwise well, you may be asked to feed him something bland such as chicken or white fish with no flavourings or fats added.  Although dogs often appreciate rice or pasta mixed with their meat, cats usually do better without the addition of a carbohydrate.  Or, if you’re not up for cooking, there are a number of prescription pet foods available that can help as well.  If hairballs seem to be the problem, there are special pastes and foods that will help them pass through the body instead of being vomited up.  A worming tablet or liquid may be prescribed if there is evidence of worms.  An anti-emetic (medication that stops vomiting) can be given to help calm things for a bit, and sometimes other medications such as antibiotics or steroids are used as well.  If a foreign body is found (in other words, your cat ate something that got stuck), surgery will be performed to remove it.  Surgery can also be used to remove some types of tumours, or to take biopsy samples of different parts of the intestinal tract to help diagnose the problem. Some cases of vomiting will resolve on their own, while others can require weeks of intensive diagnostics and treatments.  If left untreated, excessive vomiting can make the cat very ill and you also risk missing any underlying medical problems so make sure you talk to your veterinary surgeon right away if you are at all concerned.  But please be patient with your vet if they can’t fix the problem right away – and remember that we can be just as frustrated by it as you! If you are worried about your cat vomiting, talk to your vet or use our interactice Cat Symptom Guide to check how urgent the problem may be.
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Diary of a Puppy’s First Year

[caption id="attachment_292" align="alignleft" width="267" caption="The litter of puppies at 5 weeks old"]The litter of puppies at 5 weeks old[/caption] Choosing our pup We had decided the time was right to get a second boxer for all sorts of reasons. Most importantly, it was right for our older boxer to get a new companion while she was still young enough to enjoy her instead of finding her a chore. We chose a breeder who owned both parents of the litter and went to see them all when the pups were 5 weeks old. We met both parents and found them to be lovely dogs. We wanted a bitch puppy and were lucky enough to have 4 to choose from. Luckily we both liked the same pup best, so we paid our deposit and went home to prepare for her arrival. [caption id="attachment_308" align="alignright" width="293" caption="Tilly came to our house at 8 weeks old."]Tilly came to our house at 8 weeks old.[/caption] Tilly comes home We had decided as a family on the name Tilly, although her full pedigree name is Milkyways Mad Discovery! The middle name is particularly apt. Like most pedigree puppies who are Kennel Club registered, she came with 6 weeks pet insurance cover and we made sure to take out our own policy before this expired. Although I’m a vet myself, I want to be sure that even if she needs specialist treatment one day, she will be able to have it. House training We chose to use a crate for Tilly, which worked really well. The idea is that because the puppy will not soil its bed area, as long as she is taken outside every time she wakes and after each feed, she will quickly learn to toilet outside. It’s vital that the puppy does not think of going into the crate as a punishment; it must be a comfortable den which becomes the pup’s own space. Microchipping I implanted a microchip as soon as Tilly arrived, to make sure she was permanently identified. Although she was not going to be out of our sight, we weren’t taking any chances! It was painless and she was as good as gold. Feeding We chose a good quality proprietary puppy food and Tilly was a good eater from the start. Having another dog can encourage a healthy appetite! Vaccinations & Worming Tilly had her first and second puppy vaccinations at 10 weeks and at 12 weeks old. She had a full examination first and was completely healthy. She also continued her worming course, which is very important as most pups are born with worms even if the dam was wormed properly. [caption id="attachment_319" align="alignleft" width="293" caption="Tilly looks up to Martha and has learned a lot from her. Martha scolds her when she gets too big for her boots."]Tilly looks up to Martha and has learned a lot from her. Martha scolds her when she gets too big for her boots.[/caption] Training Classes A week after vaccinations were finished, Tilly could start exploring the outside world and get used to walking on a lead. She didn’t like it at first, but soon grew in confidence when she saw that Martha liked it. We enrolled her in a puppy training class because we think that all puppies benefit not just from training but from the socialisation that goes with it. The first few months are a very formative time in a puppy’s life and an ideal time to learn from new experiences. With this in mind she was taken for walks in the country, in town and on the beach. We took her on a train ride and visited a dog-friendly café. It was also important to us that she should get used to young children. Kennels We also wanted Tilly to be used to going into kennels from a young age. This was easy for us as we run our own kennels and we have made a point of boarding both dogs regularly. Luckily, she loves it. Sometimes when the kennel staff go back to work after tea breaks she tries to tag along with them! Neutering Tilly has not been neutered because we have not yet decided whether to breed from her. We will only do so if she has a suitable temperament and is free of hereditary conditions common in boxers, so she will be seeing a cardiologist before deciding. If anything is amiss we will not breed from her and will have her spayed. I would always recommend spaying a bitch which is not going to be used for breeding. Although spaying is a major operation, great care is taken to make sure that the risks involved are very small. The benefits are much greater than the risks. Spaying will prevent several serious conditions such as pyometra (infected womb), ovarian cancer and uterine cancer. It will also minimise the risk of mammary cancer and, importantly, will prevent unwanted pregnancies. First Birthday At one year old, Tilly has almost reached full adult size, but still behaves very much like a puppy. One minute we are very proud of her mature behaviour; the next she is chasing her tail like a whirling dervish, or doing a double take at her own reflection in the oven door. When the oven is opened, I think she half expects the dog that lives inside to pop out! We are looking forward to many more years of fun with Tilly. [caption id="attachment_327" align="alignleft" width="288" caption="Tilly can’t understand how the cats manage to use this door "]Tilly can’t understand how the cats manage to use this door [/caption] [caption id="attachment_328" align="alignright" width="275" caption="She has just a few favourite toys at any one time, but they have to be close to indestructible"]She has just a few favourite toys at any one time, but they have to be close to indestructible[/caption] If you have any concerns about your puppy's health, please contact your vet or use the interactive dog symptom guide to help you decide what to do next.
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Beware of Slugs and Snails and Angiostrongylus (lungworm)

snailTo a gardener, slugs and snails can be a nuisance because they eat your plants, but to dogs, they can pose a serious health risk because they act as an intermediate host for one of the most serious types of internal worms. The worm called Angiostrongylus Vasorum is sometimes referred to as lungworm or heartworm (although other types of lungworm and heartworm also exist). It affects dogs and foxes, and in the last few years, it seems to have spread across most of Northern Europe including the U.K. I have seen two cases in the south-west of England in the last year. I am pleased to say that both dogs survived but they were both very ill for a time. The life cycle of this parasite takes place partly inside the dog (the host) and partly inside the snail or slug (the intermediate host). An infected dog or fox will have adult worms in the lungs and blood vessels, which produce eggs. These worm eggs are coughed up and swallowed by the dog, and then passed out in the faeces. They are then eaten by the slug or snail, which completes the cycle of infestation when eaten by another dog. dog_drinking_puddleIt can be easy to see, or hear if your dog eats a snail because of the crunching sounds, but it is much harder to know if they eat slugs. Unfortunately, some of the slugs are quite small and any dog which grazes on grass or drinks from puddles could be swallowing tiny slugs. The symptoms of infection with this parasite can be quite varied. The effects on the lungs may cause coughing or breathlessness on exercise. Various bleeding disorders can be caused by the blood failing to clot, which may show as nosebleeds or bleeding in the mouth or eyes, or unexpected bleeding after surgery. Less commonly the brain, kidneys or central nervous system can be affected. All of these are serious and can be fatal. Diagnosing the cause of the problem is by a combination of a physical examination, blood tests and faecal tests (to identify worm larvae). Other tests such as x-rays or ultrasound imaging may be necessary in cases where the symptoms are less clear cut, to distinguish this from other conditions. The good news is that treatment is available with a number of drugs available from your vet. Some commonly prescribed worm tablets and some commonly prescribed flea treatments will kill this parasite (when used as directed by your vet, which may be more frequently than for other parasites), and this is just one reason why all dogs should follow a suitable parasite treatment regime. Dogs with more serious symptoms will require intensive care and possibly blood transfusions and other drugs. The best advice to dog owners to avoid this problem is:
  • Ask your vet which is the most suitable product to use for routine worm and flea treatment, and use it regularly, even if you don’t suspect that your dog has any parasites.
  • Try to stop your dog eating slugs and snails if you can.
  • Pick up your dog’s faeces and dispose of properly.
  • Don’t be tempted to use slug bait, as this can be very poisonous.
Please ask at your veterinary surgery if you would like more information or advice on this very unpleasant parasite. Jenny Sheriff BVM&S MRCVS 3/12/09 If you are concerned that your dog is coughing or having nosebleeds use the interactive dog symptom guide to find out what you should do.
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