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What is Kennel Cough?

[caption id="attachment_101" align="alignright" width="284" caption="Dogs can pick up kennel cough playing in the park  as well as in kennels."]dogs_playing[/caption] As a boarding kennel owner and a vet, I am often asked about this illness. From my point of view it has an unfortunate name, which implies that it only occurs in kennels. In fact an outbreak can occur in any area, and because it spreads rapidly, sooner or later an infected dog is bound to enter the kennels. Outbreaks are more common in the summer months, but there have been several cases in my area recently. Perhaps the mild autumn we have had has provided the right conditions for spread. Kennel Cough is a contagious illness of dogs, the main symptom of which is coughing. It should correctly be called Infectious Canine Bronchitis, or Infectious Canine Tracheobronchitis, but it is often known as Kennel Cough because of the fact that it spreads most readily when dogs are in close contact with each other. As well as in kennels, this would also occur at dog shows, training classes, veterinary surgeries, grooming parlours and many popular exercise places eg parks, beaches etc. The infection is spread by air-borne droplets, like colds and flu in humans. Another similarity with flu in humans is that there are many different strains of infection, making it difficult to prevent entirely by vaccination. One of the most common forms of kennel cough is caused by Bordatella Bronchiseptica, but a mixture of both bacteria and viruses may cause it. These agents cause irritation to the lining of the dog’s trachea (windpipe) and upper bronchi. The period between exposure to infection and developing symptoms (the incubation period) is often fairly long, sometimes up to 2 weeks. The first symptom is usually a dry, harsh cough which may end in retching and will probably sound as if something is lodged in the dog’s throat. Some dogs will be very well apart from a cough, but others may develop a temperature, a runny nose, appear lethargic or go off their food. Rarely there are other symptoms such as diarrhoea or vomiting. Usually the infection is not life-threatening but it can be a nuisance, and it may take several weeks to clear up completely. As with most illnesses, it is more likely to be a problem in older dogs, especially if they have pre-existing heart or lung problems. If the infection is very mild, treatment may not be necessary. More usually, affected dogs will need to see their vet to distinguish the condition from other types of cough (such as heart conditions, foreign bodies, bronchitis, or more rarely, lung tumours). Treatment for kennel cough might include antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. There is no specific treatment for the viruses involved, but any secondary bacterial infection would be helped by antibiotics. Responsible owners will then take steps to keep their dogs away from others to prevent spread, although there is nothing you can do to stop spread during the incubation period before you know that your dog has the infection. It would be unfair to blame the kennels if your dog does pick this up during a stay as a boarder, as there is little the kennels can do to prevent infection spread in the air. An infected dog will have brought the infection in before its owner or the kennel owner was aware that it was infected. The risk is similar to that of catching a cold or flu from another guest while on holiday: unfortunate but not the fault of the hotel! However, it is always a good idea to inform a kennels, grooming parlour etc if your dog develops this condition after a visit. [caption id="attachment_96" align="alignleft" width="210" caption="Kennel Cough Vaccine with applicator"]Kennel Cough Vaccine with applicator[/caption] There is a kennel cough vaccination which can be given to dogs, and although it cannot prevent all cases, it will reduce the likelihood and possibly the severity of cases in an outbreak. The vaccine is a small volume of liquid administered by the vet into the dog’s nostril using a syringe with a special applicator on the end. Most dogs accept this fairly easily although some do dislike having it administered. Firm but kind restraint by a veterinary nurse will usually allow the vaccination to be given without too much fuss. The first vaccines were given every six months, but more recent ones have been shown to work for twelve months so only need to be given annually. It may not be advised to give it at the same time as the routine annual injections, but your own surgery can advise you about this. Boarding kennels will usually insist on vaccination to protect all their boarders, and it would also be advisable to have your dog vaccinated against kennel cough if you are intending to go to dog shows or if they have medical problems as mentioned above. Always check with your own veterinary surgeon, who knows your dog’s medical history, if you are not sure. Jenny Sheriff BVM&S MRCVS If you are worried that your dog may have kennel cough use the interactive symptom guide to find out what you should do.

In praise of the Guinea Pig

guinea_pigI love Guinea Pigs, I think they are fabulous little creatures, friendly, full of character and very easy to keep.  I recently did some work for a vets based at the back of a large pet store and one of the highlights of my day was walking past the Guinea Pigs and watching them all running about! Guinea Pigs make great pets but are particularly good for children. They are easy to handle and calm when held, in contrast to rabbits, who although very cute to look at, can cause nasty scratches if they wriggle in your arms.  They are easy to tame and rarely bite, unlike hamsters, who can nip if they are disturbed and are not used to being handled.  Guinea Pigs are also great pets to do things for; make them a little house from an up-turned shoebox and they will be straight in there; pop in a couple of toilet rolls and they will get to work shredding them immediately, another reason why I think they are so good for children, who will be delighted their efforts are well received. Guinea Pigs are very sociable creatures and will soon learn to 'talk' to you when you appear with their dinner!  They should be kept with at least one other of their own kind and watching them play is a great distraction.  However, although Guinea Pigs and Rabbits are often kept together, it is not an ideal pairing.  Not only are their dietary requirements different but rabbits can often bully the Pigs and sometimes cause nasty bites.  Also, rabbits can carry a bacteria which doesn't affect them but can cause flu like symptoms in guinea pigs. Guinea Pigs are easy, and cheap, to keep and, as long as they are looked after well, tend to be relatively healthy.  They should be fed a diet consisting of a majority of good quality hay, a small amount of pelleted Guinea Pig food and a daily amount of fresh vegetables.  These, and the Guinea Pig food, are particularly important as, like humans, they cannot make Vitamin C in their bodies.  They cope equally well outdoors or indoors but they should always have enough room to have a good run about and be provided with different toys to keep their interest.  They should be handled and played with everyday as they thrive on human contact and interaction. I don't see many Pigs in my consultations (much to my disappointment!), particularly not for the number of them there are out there.  The biggest issues they have are fur mites, which can make them very itchy, or dental problems.  It is difficult to prevent the mites and some pigs are very sensitive to them (it is quite common to see two together where one is badly affected and the other is fine).  However, they are easily treated with medications and anti-mite spot-ons (just like the kind used for cats and dogs) from your vet and these spot-on products can be used to ward off infestations, which can be a good idea for those Pigs who are vulnerable.  The majority of dental problems are caused by over-grown teeth; Guinea Pig's teeth grow continually and can develop nasty spikes if they are not fed correctly.  A Pigs diet should consist of at least 80% hay, the tough woody stems help to keep the teeth ground down and the correct shape. So, if you are looking for a new pet who will be a great companion without being too much trouble, who will be less wriggly than a Rabbit, more handle-able than a Hamster and less giddy than a Gerbil, why not try a Guinea pig?! Cat is the resident vet at Pet Street

Epulis: a gum problem seen mainly in boxers.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Tilly aged 1 year and Martha aged nearly 11"]Tilly aged 1 year and Martha aged nearly 11[/caption] Although I love dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds, I do have a bit of a soft spot for boxers. We have owned one or more for over 20 years. Personality-wise, you might describe the boxer as a mixture of boisterousness, joyfulness, fearlessness, even brainlessness, but with a huge enthusiasm for everything about life. All breeds have certain conditions to which they are pre-disposed, that is, more likely to suffer from than their friends of other breeds. One such condition in boxers is epulis, a lumpy overgrowth of gum tissue. Other breeds can get epulis, but not as commonly as in boxers. Epulis is a benign growth of the gum tissue, which begins as small bumps on the gums and continues to grow, sometimes becoming cauliflower-like and almost enveloping some of the teeth. Unlike a malignant growth, it does not spread to other areas of the body. It can cause problems when the growths become large and when food and bacteria become trapped in the crevices, causing infection, a bad smell and sometimes bleeding. Sometimes the centre of the growth will become quite solid and almost bone-like. Removal may be necessary if it is extensive or causing these problems. It is carried out under general anaesthetic to prevent pain and to allow access to all the affected areas of the mouth. The growths are simply cut away, either with a surgical blade, or more commonly, by thermocautery or electrocautery. These techniques seal blood vessels as they cut and so prevent bleeding. Thermocautery uses heat to do this, and electrocautery uses an electric current running through the cutting instrument. Pain relief is usually given after the procedure and any infection will be treated with antibiotics. Examination under a microscope of the removed tissue (histopathology) may be advisable as it can be difficult to distinguish from other types of mouth tumour with the naked eye. The condition is likely to re-occur given time. Martha, for example, has had two anaesthetics in her life for the removal of epulis, and each time she has also had some minor dental work done. She currently has a lovely full set of nearly-pearly-white teeth and healthy gums. Jenny Sheriff BVM&S  MRCVS If you are concerned that your dog may have an epulis you should consult your vet for advice. Use the interactive symptom guide if you are unsure how urgently you need an appointment.